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Supreme Court Says "Permanent" Restraining Order in Family Case Doesn't Have to Last Forever

Trial judges can end family violence protective orders in some circumstances, Ga. Supreme Court rules

, Daily Report

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Justice Harold Melton wrote that a family violence protective order should be subject to modification.

"Permanent" protective orders for victims of domestic violence won't be so permanent under a recent decision by the Georgia Supreme Court.

The Oct. 21 ruling says trial judges may terminate a permanent protective order in certain circumstances. The decision affirms a ruling of a state Court of Appeals panel that a phalanx of lawyers had fought as harmful to those fearing abuse.

But Bradford Sperr, a legal services lawyer who represented the woman who sought protection from her ex-boyfriend, put a positive spin on the ruling. "We are happy that they've at least adopted a standard for these termination actions," he said. "I think it does take into account the seriousness of domestic violence."

The issue arose in litigation between Lynda Mandt and William Lovell, who have one child together but never married. In April 2007, Mandt asked the Mountain Circuit Superior Court for a temporary protective order against Lovell, alleging acts of violence by Lovell going back to 2003. According to a brief filed by Mandt's lawyers, Lovell had repeatedly choked and scratched her and kicked her in the stomach when she was pregnant with their child.

After a hearing at which both Mandt and Lovell were represented by counsel, Superior Court Judge Ernest Woods III granted a temporary protective order, prohibiting Lovell from coming within 500 yards of Mandt or contacting her by any means for a period of one year. The following year, Mandt filed a motion to convert the temporary order into a permanent one, claiming that Lovell continued to harass her. Woods granted the motion, retaining essentially the same restrictions as the temporary order but allowing exceptions for contact between the parties to facilitate visitation with their minor child or to comply with other court orders.

The order provided it "shall be permanent" with "NO expiration date." But two years later, Lovell filed a motion to terminate the protective order. According to the appeals court ruling, he contended that circumstances had changed, including that a different court had granted him unsupervised visitation with their child, that neither he nor Mandt had custody of the child and that the child's paternal grandfather and step-grandmother had petitioned for custody in another court.

At a hearing, according to a brief by Mandt, Lovell testified that the protective order made him reluctant to apply for new jobs for fear that a criminal background check would disqualify him and that he believed the protective order prevented him from being promoted at his current job. According to Clarkesville lawyer Lorne Cragg, who represented Lovell in the appellate courts, Lovell sold jewelry on a home shopping television network. Sperr, Mandt's lawyer, said that although a protective order can be found in superior court records, "it should not come up" on an employer background check.

Lovell also testified that the order caused him embarrassment when he voluntarily disclosed it to a woman he dated, according to Mandt's brief. A brief filed by Cragg said that since the protective order had been issued, Lovell had "fulfilled every condition of the court pertaining to counseling and anger management," with counselors finding Lovell didn't have an anger management problem and posed no threat to Mandt.

Although Lovell denied violating the permanent protective order, according to Mandt's brief, Mandt said he had called her shortly after it was entered and threatened to kill himself if she did not come to his home. She testified that the protective order was the only thing preventing Lovell from contacting her and that she was concerned for her own safety if the order were terminated.

Mandt's lawyers also objected that the superior court didn't have the authority to modify the permanent protective order because it was a final judgment. But Judge Linton Crawford Jr., who was elevated to the Superior Court bench after Woods resigned, granted Lovell's motion. Although he terminated the permanent protective order, Crawford (who also has since left the bench) ordered both Mandt and Lovell "not to contact each other in any manner whatsoever."

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