Credibility Regarding Domestic Violence
Suddenly, without prior notice, our client lost his job, his house and his car.
In this case our client had been separated from his prior girlfriend for many months when, seemingly out of the blue, she filed a petition for a domestic violence protection order (DVPO) and obtained a temporary protection order without any notice to him. Amazingly, the temporary order not only prohibited our client from contacting his former girlfriend (which he didn’t want to do anyway), but ordered him to vacate his home and give her possession and use of his car, both of which his girlfriend had never owned!
The courts routinely grant DV petitioners whatever they request because they have no other evidence before them than what the petition contains. In this case, the girlfriend checked boxes asserting that she was still living with our client, when she wasn’t. To make matters worse, she worked in the same building complex as our client and the temporary order prohibited him from coming within 500 feet of her “workplace”, which his employer interpreted to mean the entire building complex, thus preventing him from going to work. Desperate to get his job, his house and his car back, he came to us.
As with most DV cases, the case basically came down to credibility: who would the court believe about key facts. She alleged that several months prior he had tried to kill her, viciously attacking her without provocation and slamming her face to the floor. She presented pictures of her face claiming they showed the bruising that resulted. He admitted they had a physical altercation, but that she attacked him and in defense he gently held her arms and took her to the floor without injury, to her. She bit his hands and kicked him and he released her and stepped back encouraging her to calm down. No one else was present.
Usually judges take a “better safe than sorry” approach to such credibility dilemmas when the evidence is ambiguous and the primary sources of information are the testimonies of the parties. Thus, they usually grant the DV protection order. In 2013 there were 2,713 DVPO cases filed in King County Superior Court, of which 2,682 went to hearing. That means there were an average of 11 DVPO cases heard each court day (and that’s not all of their cases, by any means). If you were a judge how would you resolve these cases with a limited time to hear evidence in each case?
In this case the opposing counsel clarified that the pictures offered by the petitioner had been taken by her right after the altercation. We noticed that she was turning her face in the pictures to more clearly show the right side of her face, where she claimed there was evidence of injury. We also remembered that in her declaration she claimed she had landed hard on her “left temple” when falling to the floor. Why would she show the right side of her face if she had fallen on the left? We pointed out this inconsistency to the judge.
The judge denied the petitioner’s petition, deciding instead to keep a temporary order prohibiting contact for 6 months, but allowing our client to return to his work, his home and to keep his car. The judge did not find the evidence warranted granting the full protection order requested by the ex-girlfriend. Mission accomplished.