A protective order is basically what its name says — a legal tool to warn an abuser to stop actions that cause or put a victim in fear of serious bodily harm. The order requires the abuser to stay away from the victim. But no surprise, COVID-19 has forced some changes in the process of obtaining protective orders.
Maryland law provides that a judge may issue a temporary protective order when courts are open, if she has reason to believe the person seeking the order has been or will be a victim of violence. Other law provisions allow a court commissioner to issue an interim protective order for immediate protection when courts are closed. Both provisions remain in effect during the pandemic. A hearing will be scheduled to determine whether an order — temporary or interim — should remain in place.
The pandemic prompted District Court commissioners’ offices ― which remain open 24 hours a day, seven days a week — to begin handling orders such as domestic violence protection orders, peace orders or extreme risk protective orders as interim orders.
“Interim” means that the commissioner will place a hearing date on the order, based on the expected reopening of the court where it was issued, or based on another procedure established by the local administrative judge. An interim order, whether pre-pandemic or current, directs the alleged abuser to stay away from the person requesting the order.
When courts are open, a victim may seek a temporary protective order without the interim provision. After a hearing, the temporary order may be terminated or become a final protective order. Protective orders can be issued for assault, rape or sexual assault, or for acts that cause bodily injury such as kicking, punching, hitting with an object, stabbing or stalking.
What if the courts do not reopen by the date posted on the interim order? The answer is that all pending interim and temporary domestic violence protective orders, peace orders and extreme risk protective orders — those that take away an accused person’s guns — will remain in effect even if the date on the order has passed until the court conducts a hearing or communicates with the parties.
District Court commissioners’ offices “remain open 24 hours a day, seven days a week … If an individual needs to file a petition (for an order) they can do so by visiting a commissioner office located closest to them,” according to a statement from the state Office of the Chief Judge.
In Carroll County, the commissioner’s station is in the District Court building, 101 N. Court St., Westminster. The telephone number is 410-871-3520.
Donna Engle is a retired Westminster attorney. Her Legal Matters column, which provides legal information but not legal advice, appears on the second and fourth Sunday each month in Life & Times. Email her at email@example.com.