A Minnesota resident returned home today after a judge vacated an unfounded harassment retraining order requested by my client’s significant other. In its oral ruling, the court warned the significant other against using a harassment retraining order as a way to circumvent the family court process.
According to Minnesota law, a petitioner may request the district court to sign a harassment retraining order forbidding a respondent from having contact with the petitioner. In order to prevail, the petitioner must establish that the respondent engaged in either “a single incident of physical or sexual assault,” or “repeated incidents of intrusive or unwanted acts, words, or gestures that have a substantial adverse effect” on the safety, security, or privacy of the petitioner.
In this case, my client’s marriage to the significant other began to deteriorate. Rather than filing a dissolution petition with the court and requesting an ex parte order, the significant other accused my client of harassment. The court granted a temporary restraining order and scheduled the matter for a contested hearing. My client had to leave the house and stay with a friend for nearly one month.
At the contested hearing, my client’s significant other took the stand. During the significant other’s testimony, the petitioner could not cite specific, factual instances to substantiate the harassment allegations. Instead, the significant other explained how the marriage deteriorated and how the significant other wanted my client out of the house merely as a convenience.
The judge afforded me the opportunity to cross examine the petitioner. I decided not to question my client’s significant other. Instead, I moved the court to vacate the harassment restraining order and dismiss the petition based on the petitioner’s unfounded accusations. I explained to the judge that the petitioner, who bears the burden of proof, did not explain how my client physically or sexually assaulted the petitioner. Further, I told the court that the petitioner did not describe any repeated incidents of intrusive or unwanted acts, words, or gestures.
Why couldn’t the petitioner substantiate the harassment allegations? Because my client never engaged in harassing conduct.
The court sympathized with the petitioner’s situation but recognized the significant other did not substantiate the claims of harassment. As a result, the court granted my motion and dismissed the petitioner’s motion on the merits.
This case illustrates the importance of finding an attorney who understands the law and can effectively advocate his client’s position. In this case, the court deprived my client of going home for nearly one month until the judge had the benefit of gauging the weight of the petitioner’s allegations at a contested hearing. Because we effectively identified the petitioner’s failure to substantiate the harassment allegations by confidently moving for prompt dismissal, my client can now sleep in his own bed tonight.
By the way, we successfully requested the court to mark the file as confidential and sealed. In other words, this case will never come up if potential employers run a background check on my client. This demonstrates another reason why it is imperative to find a defense attorney who knows the law and uses that knowledge to his client’s advantage.