Protection available for victims of stalking

ESCANABA — Stalking can happen to anyone from anyone — a former partner, an acquaintance or a complete stranger.

January is Stalking Awareness Month and those involved in the process to help those in a stalking situation provided an insight in how prevalent stalking and harassment are in the area and the personal protection order (PPO) process.

A personal protection order (PPO) is a court order to stop threats or violence against the petitioner. A PPO has a minimum expiration date of 182 days after issuance, but can be extended no later than three days before it is set to expire. A PPO is different than a “no-contact” order. A “no-contact” order is usually a bond condition in a criminal case, once bond or parole ends or criminal charges are dropped the order concludes, as well.

According to Delta County Clerk Nancy Przewrocki, people can file a petition for a personal protection order at county clerk offices in any Michigan county.

She explained a PPO is meant to protect someone whose life is in danger, not for someone who is being verbally harassed by phone, text or social media.

There are different classifications of personal protection orders, but the two most common in Delta County are non-domestic stalking PPO and domestic relationship PPO.

The non-domestic PPO protects you from someone you have not dated, lived with, married, or had a child with. The domestic relationship PPO protects you from someone you have or used to have a domestic relationship with, either dated, lived with, married, or had a child with.

Przewrocki said a total of 120 PPOs were applied for in Delta County last year. Of the 120 applied for, 55 were issued — 12 non-domestic and 43 domestic.

It takes about 15 minutes to file for a PPO, Przewrocki said.

“However, don’t wait until a Friday to submit paperwork. The court schedule may not allow the judge to get to it until after hours,” she said.

Przewrocki noted filing for a personal protection order does not require an attorney, but if a hearing is involved it may be advisable.

When someone petitions for a PPO, a hearing is scheduled in circuit court where both the parties are notified of the hearing.

Delta County Circuit Court Judge John Economopoulos, who handles PPO requests regarding adults in Delta County, explained in cases of emergency, an individual can petition for an ex parte relief PPO — or being granted a PPO without a hearing.

“Normally, for any event that effects the rights of an individual there has to be notice of a hearing, there has to be a hearing to allow the court to make certain findings and applications of law,” he said. “But in an emergency scenario, the personal protection orders allow for ex parte relief without notice to the other party.”

Most of the PPO requests in Delta County are ex parte, he said.

When it comes to ex parte PPOs, Economopoulos said the court takes action within 24 hours of the request being made.

“At times, it may be necessary for the petitioner to be communicated with to supplement information that was given so the court can make an informed decision about a request for ex parte relief. When that becomes necessary, we convene a hearing with the petitioner present testifying under oath to further inform the court as needed,” he said.

According to Economopoulos, he rarely has to do that though, as he is most often able to make a decision based off the content within the request.

For an ex parte PPO to be granted, it has to meet a certain threshold of immediacy.

“It would have to clearly appear from specific facts shown in the motion that immediate and irreparable injury, loss or damage will result from the delay required to effectuate notice or that the notice itself will precipitate adverse action before a personal protection order can be issued,” Economopoulos said.

If an ex parte PPO is granted to the petitioner, it goes into effect once it’s entered and the respondent is notified.

Law enforcement, usually county sheriff departments, are assigned the task to notify individuals about PPOs.

Economopoulos noted an individual cannot violate a PPO if they have not been notified by either orally or written evidence of the PPO by law enforcement officers.

“The respondent has to be given an opportunity to comply,” he said. “And they can’t comply until they know the PPO has been issued.”

Even though ex parte PPOs can be granted without a hearing, the respondent has the right to due process and can request a hearing to terminate the PPO against them.

Economopoulos said if the respondent files a motion in a timely manner to terminate the PPO, then a hearing would be scheduled and the petitioner would have to show that reasonable cause exists.

“If the motion to terminate filed by the respondent is not timely filed, then the respondent first has to show good cause for filing late before the matter can proceed any further,” he said.

A petitioner can also request a hearing if their ex parte relief was denied.

When it comes to hearings, Economopoulos said he usually makes his decisions on either granting or denying PPOs on the record.

“These hearings can last — they can be relatively short, sometimes they can last for hours depending on how much evidence, based on the record, and how many details have to be sorted through,” he said.

Overall, there are few that violate PPOs, according to Economopoulos.

“I’d say that not as often as you’d think,” he said. “Which surprised me when I began serving on the bench. They do happen from time to time and we deal with them as they come. But I’d say, if I had to guess at a percentage I would be surprised if 10 to 20 percent end up with violations, which means that probably 80 plus percent seem to be complied with during their duration and until their expiration.”

Economopoulos said most often in Delta County the PPOs are being set for six months to one year.

“Usually one or the either, sometimes more if we’re dealing with a more serious case,” he said. “And if there is a need to extend a personal protection order, there is a provision in the law to allow that. The petitioner can file a request to extend a PPO no later than three days before the order is to expire, they can make that request ex parte, and the respondent can still contest that once being served.”

Just like anything else, PPOs can also be abused.

“Personal protection, as the term would suggest, the center of the issue and it’s a matter for the court to be able to discern — whether it’s an ex parte request for relief or whether it’s an actual hearing where the proofs are laid out — to be able to discern where this type of help is really needed and when it’s being used as a device or tool to … be abused. Like anything else … in the spectrum of the law, there are certain tools that are available to the public for legitimate reasons and those tools can also be abused,” Economopoulos said.

He explained it is far more often PPO requests are legitimate and necessary, but every once in awhile there are PPO requests for reasons other than what the statute intended.