Suppose that you were suffering harassment by neighbor, a co-worker, a former friend, or a business rival. After deciding that you were sick and tired of suffering this harassment, you went to the district court and filled out forms including a Complaint for Protection From Harassment and an Affidavit.
The court held a hearing and you explained to the judge exactly how you have been harassed. In particular, you demonstrated that there were, “3 or more acts of willful and malicious conduct aimed at a specific person committed with the intent to cause fear, intimidation, abuse or damage to property and that does in fact cause fear, intimidation, abuse or damage to property”. See G. L. c. 258E, § 1.
The court issued a harassment prevention order for your protection. The defendant was ordered not to abuse, harass, or contact you. Additionally, the defendant was ordered to remain away from your residence or workplace.
How long is this order good for? G. L. c. 258E, § 3 (d), states in pertinent part: “Any relief granted by the court shall not extend for a period exceeding 1 year. Every order shall, on its face, state the time and date the order is to expire and shall include the date and time that the matter will again be heard.” G. L. c. 258E, § 3 (d), first sentence.
Hopefully, the defendant has abided by the order and left you alone. But what if the plaintiff is concerned about further harassment by the defendant despite the court’s order? In that case, the plaintiff can ask the court to enter a permanent order.
“If the plaintiff appears at the court at the date and time the order is to expire, the court shall determine whether or not to extend the order for any additional time reasonably necessary to protect the plaintiff or to enter a permanent order.” G. L. c. 258E, § 3 (d), second sentence.
“The criterion for extending a protective restraining order is a showing of continuing need for the order. . . . In the context of an HPO, the specific question to be determined by the judge is whether the plaintiff has demonstrated reasonable, continuing fear of harassment. If, so, the judge has the authority to extend the order for any additional time reasonably necessary to protect the plaintiff or to enter a permanent order.” Lanigan v. Mirsky, 84 Mass. App. Ct. 1116, Appeals Court No. 2012-P-1858, (Oct. 29, 2013).
“At a hearing to extend a protective order, a judge’s discretion is broad. She may permit the existing order to expire without renewal; she may issue a permanent order; or she may issue an order of shorter duration of ‘any additional time reasonably necessary to protect the plaintiff.’” Finn v. Flaherty, Appeals Court Nos. 2015-P-1142, 2015-P-1278 (Aug. 23, 2016).
At the extension hearing, the plaintiff should show why there is a continuing need for the order, and why the order should be made permanent. The plaintiff should seriously consider hiring a lawyer to help them make the best arguments possible. Even though parties frequently represent themselves in cases like this, it is helpful to seek the assistance of an experienced lawyer who has handled these cases before.
If someone is seeking a harassment prevention order under G. L. c. 258E, or an abuse prevention order under G. L. c. 209A, against you, or if you need help in obtaining or extending such an order, contact Robert Nislick, a Massachusetts lawyer based in Framingham, today to discuss your options. For additional insight, I also invite you to read my first two articles in this series, Harassment Prevention Orders in Massachusetts, and Free Speech, Fighting Words, True Threats, and Massachusetts Harassment Prevention Orders.