Wednesday, January 22, 2014

How to get a 28 year Protective Order lodged against you and then waste time appealing it

22 January 2014

The Indiana Court of Appeals delivered an opinion in A.N. v K.G. Yesterday which it chose to publish. [A published opinion is one that can be used as precedent and usually reflects an important legal decision or a change to prior decisions] The matter was originally heard in the trial court by Barbara Crawford, Judge Marion County Superior Court.

On May 18, 2010, K.G. filed an ex parte motion for a protective order against A.N., which the trial court granted the same day. On June 11, 2010, following a hearing, the trial court granted him a protective order for two years. The protective order prohibited A.N. from acts of violence, stalking, and “harassing, annoying, telephoning, contacting or directly or indirectly communicating with” K.G. and three other persons.

Over the course of two years K.G. filed multiple information for contempt alleging that A.N. had in addition to making “non-stop” phone calls to his home phone and his ex-wife’s phone, A.N. had “spray painted [his] knew [sic] house.” Upon the first hearing, April 5, 2011, the trial court found A.N. in contempt. She received a suspended sentence of 120 days in the Marion County Jail and was ordered to complete 80 hours of community service and pay a fine. K.G. later claimed that A.N. had made numerous calls to his home and that he possessed a picture of his home phone that recorded the telephone number A.N. used. K.G. alleged that on one occasion, he spoke to A.N., who said, “I’m back[.] [Y]ou better watch your ass.” When reminded by K.G. that a protective order was in place, A.N. allegedly responded, “F*** that protective order[.] I can do what I want.” Apparently so but that can come with consequences. The trial court found that A.N. violated the protective order and ordered her 120 day sentence executed and placed her on home detention. The trial court thereafter extended the protective order to November 29, 2040, for a total of 28 years.

I won't go into a detailed legal analysis of A. N.'s appeal as most of it was without merit. However, the one issue that deserves attention was her claim that the judge acted as an advocate. This is something that it often brought to me as a concern by potential clients when the judge asked questions during the proceeding or made sua sponte [on the judge's own motion] objections. The Court of Appeals addressed it in this manner;

The record shows that the trial court’s questions were neutral, served to clarify K.G.’s testimony, and did not discredit A.N. or her defense. Although A.N. alleges prejudice since the trial court cited the photograph when explaining its rationale for finding A.N. in contempt, A.N. was not prejudiced because she cross-examined K.G. on the photograph. We therefore conclude that the trial court did not act as an advocate by asking K.G. foundational questions regarding the photograph. See Trotter, 733 N.E.2d at 532.

A trial court has a duty to remain impartial and refrain from making unnecessary comments or remarks. Cook v. State, 734 N.E.2d 563, 566 (Ind. 2000), reh’g denied. However, not all untoward remarks by a judge constitute reversible error. Id. at 567. The remarks must harm the complaining party or interfere with the right to a fair trial. Id. Further, the court does not engage in improper advocacy by stopping improper cross-examination on its own motion. Id.

The record reveals that each time the trial court interrupted A.N.’s cross-examination, the questions posed either mischaracterized K.G.’s testimony or were argumentative. However, the critical question here is whether the trial court’s remarks harmed A.N. or denied her a fair trial. See id. They did not. In the first instance, A.N. simply rephrased the question and proceeded with cross-examination. After intervening in the three instances of argumentative questioning, the trial court sought to move the proceedings forward, for example, by instructing A.N.’s counsel to “stick with the facts of these contempt petitions.” Consequently, A.N. has not shown that the trial court’s remarks constituted improper advocacy or interfered with her right to a fair trial. See Cook, 734 N.E.2d at 566.

Legal analysis of the proceedings aside, the important fact to take away from this is that violation of a Protective Order or a No Contact Order can result in a civil order of confinement. It can also lead to a separate criminal charge. As in this case A.N. is going to be burdened with being required to comply with this order until the year 2040. She seems to demonstrate a clear unwillingness to comply for the first three years, even after incarceration, and if it doesn't cease a criminal charge will likely follow.

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