A Washington Lawyer’s Opinion on Removing Permanent Civil Protection Orders
In Washington, the legislature created civil protection orders to solve a social problem … how to end disputes that don’t rise to criminal behavior but are still considered domestic violence or as harassment or stalking according to Washington civil law. While a protection order’s length is most commonly a year or two and civil in nature, some Washington Courts have taken it upon themselves to enter permanent orders. Early on, these orders had fairly limited impact but with the proliferation of more laws, databases and various agency access, these civil orders now impact:
- Border crossings
- International travel
- Traffic ticket stops
- Gun rights
Why? In part because the law mandates that these orders get entered into a statewide judicial information system. State and Federal agents can now access the system as part of traffic stops, traveling abroad, border crossings … under the credible reason of making sure you are not violating Federal Law … specifically the charge of Interstate Violation of a Protection Order. Do they need to do this every time? As with most government employees, the answer is they are just doing their job and in practice, this means repeated stops. If gun rights are effected, this means entry into the national instant criminal background check system and will likely mean more potential complications in the future as databases merge, more laws are passed and regulation grows.
Unfortunately, as times change or relationships heal, not all these situations continue to deserve permanent orders. Whether someone ignored a hearing and the court only heard half the story, or an order has been in place a long time (5 plus years) and the situation changed, sometimes people need or want these permanent orders lifted. Keep in mind that from practicing lawyers who handle these kinds of motions all over the state, the work necessary to ask a court to lift a permanent protections order is the same or more than fighting one originally so they must be done right, in writing and not rushed into. The question is what can you do?
The Permanent Protection Order Solution – A Motion to Modify or Rescind
In Washington, if you asked to lift a permanent protection order, you used to be at the mercy of the courts and the courts were not that merciful. In 2010, the Washington Supreme Court confirmed that Washington Court judges needed to use discretion and common sense when hearing requests to drop these permanent orders. This bit of Washington case law outlined some relatively clear rules regarding when a judge should or should not consider lifting a permanent protection order. Subsequently, the Washington legislature formalized the process of asking a judge to lift, modify or rescind a permanent protection order under law passed in 2022 in RCW 7.105.500. In short, one can ask a judge to lift an order by presenting evidence that there has been a substantial change in circumstances such that the order is no longer necessary. Courts consider:
- Issues after the Order was entered like
- allegation of similar behaviors
- violations of the order
- suicide attempts or ideations
- subsequent issues with the protection order, violations of it or did further allegations of similar behaviors happening after the order was entered
- criminal activity
- acknowledgment or responsibility for the behaviors leading up to the Protection Order
- subsequent counseling or other treatment
- the Petitioner’s input
- drug or alcohol problems
- distance between parties
- anything else that might matter or persuade a judge
Concluding Thoughts on These Hearings
In our opinion, it is extremely important for the respondent to file the strongest possible written motion possible to terminate the first time. In our opinion, there are three reasons for this:
- Judges, as a generality, do not like to go back and change a ruling or second-guess another judge’s ruling.
- Judges, as a generality, do not like the exposure of lifting permanent orders as victims can complain and there is “political” danger in doing so.
- Judges as a generality, like finality in judgment, meaning, they do not like to go back and re-open and re-litigate rulings they have already made. Practically, this makes sense otherwise cases would be an endless argument that would never resolve. When you ask a judge to re-address a previous order, on some level psychologically, you are asking a judge to second guess a previous opinion or ruling.
With these ideas in mind, it becomes clear why we recommend that if you are going to ask a judge to lift an old protection order, do so in the most professional and persuasive manner possible. Courts do not care about personal hardship in these situations; they care about the law and fact. In our opinion, this means submit a motion with carefully organized exhibits attached to a well-written brief. Do not make a judge “find” your argument, make it so organized that all the judge understands it and is persuaded by it.
Keep in mind that the Washington rules require a judge to make an initial finding on a Motion to Modify a Permanent Protection Order to determine whether there is adequate cause for a hearing. If the court thinks your organized and well laid out argument is persuasive enough, you will earn the right to have a hearing. That said, if your motion is not strong or clear enough, you do not even get a hearing.
In our opinion, if the court denies your first attempt, psychologically it becomes that much harder to convince a judge with a second attempt. In our opinion, a weak first motion means a higher likelihood of losing a second time or potentially a judge considering the motion to be frivolous and imposing fees.
Motions to modify or change a Permanent Civil Protection Order are not easy, but winning rarely is. If you are going to go through the effort and expense of addressing this issue, follow the law and do the best job possible the first time. In our opinion, these motions are best filed by Washington lawyers, who have civil and criminal experience, who regularly fight protection orders, understand the psychology and issues surrounding this area of law and these kinds of cases. Judges know that competent counsel will appeal unfair rulings, and in our opinion, this makes a difference.
Rhodes Legal Group PLLC is founded on a work ethic, attention to the detail and the law, client satisfaction, common sense and intelligence. Collectively, we have an enormous amount of experience in these waters. Our online reviews from past clients speak for themselves. Given the number of calls we get, you will need to schedule a paid for appointment to discuss the specifics of your case. Hit the “Book a Consultation” button on the right or email or call 206-708-7852 to arrange for an appointment.