Antiharassment Protection Orders. A Lawyer’s | Attorney’s Perspective these Civil Actions
“Serious, personal harassment through invasions of a person’s privacy by an act, acts, or words showing an intent to coerce, intimidate, or humiliate the victim is increasing. The legislature finds the prevention of such harassment is an important governmental objective, and that victims should have access to a method to prevent further contact between the victim and perpetrator. A person may be targeted for harassing behavior due to his or her identity, such as age, gender, sexual orientation, race, religion, disability, or immigration status. The legislature finds that unlawful harassment directed at a child by a child is not acceptable and can have serious consequences, but that some negative interactions between young people, especially in schools, do not rise to the level of unlawful harassment..” The Legislative Findings for Anti-Harassment Orders.
In Washington, unless the police will arrest someone, stopping harassing behaviors means Petitioning and winning a civil Order of Protection. A valid civil Order of Protection functionally shifts the police and law to your side as a Court Order gives the police and courts immediate authority to act against your harasser. Our lawyers have represented clients involved in anti-harassment protection orders originating from neighbor disputes, business disputes, money disputes, family disputes, employee disputes, harassment based on discrimination and disputes and harassment coming out of schools and colleges. Those who decide to engage in harassing behaviors come in all shapes, forms and sizes. Here is a video we put together on antiharassment protection orders that still covers the relevant concepts though the section of law has changed. The below written material is linked to the new laws passed in 2022.
Who can file and where do you file an Antiharassment Protection Order?
- Antiharassment Protection Orders can be filed by any person or on behalf of another who cannot do so themselves.
- As of January 2023, all courthouses are mandated to allow for online filing that gets requests for orders quickly before a judge. Till then a paper form may need to be filed.
- In general, anti harassment protection orders can be filed in any District Court in Washington unless one of the following apply, then you must file in a Washington Superior Court:
- the action would interfere with the care, custody or control of the responding person’s child.
- it would interfere with the use or enjoyment of real property or exclude someone from a shared dwelling. RCW 7.105.050
- any party is under the age of 18.
- Pick a court that is closest to where the harassment took place, closest to your residence, or in the county you had to move to get away form the harassment. RCW 7.105.075
Harassment Coming from out of State
In cases where the harassing party lives out of state, there is a specific provision of the law that allows for written statements sent by electronic mail or the Internet to be deemed to have “occurred within this state.” Consult with the lawyers | attorneys in our office about your specific situation as this issue can become tricky because you have to prove a local court has jurisdiction to force someone out of state to appear in court.
How is an Antiharassment Protection Order Filed?
There is a set of forms that need to be filled out and filed either electronically or with the court clerks at the courthouse. This set forms used to ask for an anti-harassment protection orders are universal throughout the State of Washington at this point though each Court requires their Courthouse be specified in the heading.
These forms, along with the declarations and facts that support your story are submitted and filed with the Court. To get an idea of the time you should put into this to do it right, our lawyers usually spend 1-2 hours strategizing and taking notes before deciding how best to arrange a case for court. We also generally spend a similar period of time, or more in some cases, organizing argument, declarations, police reports, emails, Facebook, photos and any other evidence into the Petition before submitting to court. In our cases, winging it is not an option so we practice to the gold standard. As lawyers, we find we spend an average of 10-20 hours in total arguing one of these Orders though some complicated false accusation cases and litigious disputes have required more. Our point? These can be time consuming and serious enough so why file anything but the best quality possible. Also most people are not filing these unless there is a real problem that cannot be solved any other way. Given this means the other party has already been put on notice to stop and has not or will not, you really don’t want to make a mistake in filing that prejudices you. Put the time in and do things right if you are really interested in winning.
Filing these forms electronically or with the front clerk at the local court will automatically give you a court hearing (often the day you file them) where a judge or commissioner will decide whether to:
(1) Immediately enter a Temporary Anti-Harassment Protection Order preventing further harassment and simultaneously set a hearing in 14 days to hear argument from the other side as to whether the court should enter a full Anti-Harassment Protection Order for a longer period of time (generally at least one year). This will happen if the allegations filed include evidence of serious immediate harm or irreparable injury.
(2) Not enter a Temporary Anti-Harassment Protection Order for immediate protection, but still set a Hearing in 14 days to hear argument from both sides before deciding whether a long term Anti-Harassment Protection Order should be entered.
(3) Deny your request for an Order.
If your request for an anti-harassment Order is denied, you can always come back to court at a later time with new facts and ask the court for an Order. The law starts drawing the line at three times.
If your request for an anti-harassment Order is granted, a copy of this Order must be served upon the offending party (if they appear in court, its judge functionally “serves” it on them when entering the court’s decision) and it becomes effective upon service. Though we have seen people try to use friends or family to serve paperwork, this is actually a terrible idea. As a policy, the lawyers in our office use police officers and/or professional servers to serve anti-harassment orders as this avoids unnecessary conflict, assures there is no argument about when and where the other party was served as well as it reinforces how serious the process is. That said, the legislature has introduced new rules for service by email after two failed attempts to serve in person. The law on this still requires some sort of confirmation that the documents were received before a court can enter a lawful order.
At the hearing 14 days later, all parties attend and the court will decide whether to enter an order after hearing both points of view. The court is mandated by Washington law to consider evidence in the following manner:
Hearings may be conducted upon the information provided in the sworn petition, live testimony of the parties should they choose to testify, and any additional sworn declarations. Live testimony of witnesses other than the parties may be requested by a party, but shall not be permitted unless the court finds that live testimony of witnesses other than the parties is necessary and material.
If a party is served and fails to show, they default and an Anti-Harassment Protection Order is entered. If the other party does show up, you will have a hearing where the judge will determine by preponderance of the evidence whether unlawful harassment took place. Keep in mind, the party who is harassed has a duty to provide, in advance, of any paperwork they wish to submit to the court against the person who harassed them or risk a continuance of the case to assure everyone had adequate time to prepare. If service of the anti-harassment protection order paperwork is made late in the two week period (it happens), expect a judge or commissioner to grant a continuance for an additional period of time to allow the other side to prepare.
If a Temporary Anti-Harassment Order was initially granted and a continuance is granted, expect a judge to renew the Temporary Order until the full hearing takes place.
Again, in order to win a hearing, you must prove harassment by a preponderance of the evidence and follow the court rules in presenting your case. In general, we always proceed using written motions as this assures that wrong rulings are easily appealed and the record of what was done wrong easily understood. In preparing for any hearing, lawyers always prepare clients for any potential questions, issues and pitfalls. It is wise to always do this.
What Happens if I Win the Hearing?
If you win the hearing, the judge will issue an order for no more than one year unless the judge believes the harassment will resume upon expiration (there are some unique aspects to this rule if minor children are involved). Judges are generally cautious about entering longer orders because the law allows the winning party to renew a protection order three months before its expiration.
An Antiharassment Protection Order will be sent to a statewide police database and will allow the police to arrest if probable cause is found that the Order has been violated as it is a crime punishable as a gross misdemeanor, or, the matter can be brought back in front of the same judge to rule on whether someone should be held in contempt of court for failing to follow the court’s order. In general, we find police departments take these orders very seriously. Valid Orders generally prevent any contact, surveillance and generally set distance restrictions from homes, work and the person(s) protected.
Over the course of our lengthy legal careers, our lawyers | attorneys have handled a wide variety of complicated and emotionally tangled cases in the criminal, civil and administrative legal arenas. Our office is a unique blend of courtroom experience, knowledge, skills and temperament. Our lawyers know cases are rarely as simple as police reports or accusations claim. Our clients hire us because they want trained listeners who are staunch, uncompromising and effective. They want counsel who takes the time to listen and fight vigorously for the right result. Whether acting in our role as counsel, advocate, negotiator or litigator, we have years of experience manipulating, working and fighting to resolve cases with our clients’ best interests in mind.