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Back in the Courthouse

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By Rachel Abell, WCA Court Advocate Coordinator

Being back in person at the courthouse has been extremely beneficial for us as advocates, as well as for the clients that we serve.

While there is still an option to file a Civil Protection Order (CPO) online, there are a number of Petitioners (someone filing for a CPO) who come into the courthouse to fill out petitions in person. When this happens, the clerks downstairs offer our assistance. More often than not, Petitioners will come upstairs seeking our assistance and this gives us an opportunity to explain what it is the Judge is going to be looking for to grant a CPO, and it also gives us the opportunity to explain the process/next steps.

Many Petitioners don’t realize that after they file a petition, they are usually set for an Ex Parte hearing that very same day which typically allows them the opportunity to speak with a Judge and explain what led them to seek the CPO. It is during the Ex Parte hearing that a Judge usually decides whether or not to grant a Temporary Emergency CPO. When we explain this to Petitioners, one of the most common questions we are asked is “Are you going to be at the hearing?” Thankfully we are able to bring some comfort to Petitioners who are commonly in crisis by assuring them that there will be an advocate present at their hearing.

Being in person also means that we have the opportunity to provide more in-depth follow-ups after a hearing. This can be extremely helpful for Petitioners who may have had their Petitions dismissed and are looking for additional resources such as legal referrals, safety planning, address confidentiality program, etc. During the pandemic, Ex Parte Zoom Hearings rarely happened, and most of the time Petitioners were just sent an outcome, whether that was a granted Temporary Emergency CPO, or a dismissal with little to no explanation. It was extremely difficult to offer insight on a dismissal when you were not there to assist with the filing, and there was no hearing. Being back in person allows us to better explain the reasoning behind a dismissal, which in turn helps Petitioners make more informed decisions about what steps they will take next.

The main reason being back in person has been such a blessing, is because it truly allows us to do our jobs and advocate for people.

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