On Friday, February 27, 2015, I traveled to Annapolis, Maryland, to the Lowe House Office Building to testify before the Judiciary Committee of the Maryland House of Delegates. I testified concerning a bill to clarify jurisdiction over peace orders and civil protection orders. The bill, if passed, would add to the peace order and civil protection order statutes a sentence stating that the Courts have subject matter jurisdiction over a case as long as the petitioner is a resident of Maryland, even if the respondent lives out of state and regardless of where the violence occurred. The purpose is to make clear that these statutes are intended to protect Maryland residents where they live. The bill came about as a result of a case in which our client, a Maryland resident, filed for, and obtained, a Maryland peace order against a defendant who had been violent toward her in an incident that occurred outside Maryland. When the defendant violated the peace order by continuing to contact her, we pursued penalties against him for contempt of the peace order. At the trial court level we were successful, but the defendant appealed the order to the Circuit Court, claiming that the court did not have jurisdiction over him because he was not a Maryland resident, and the violence had occurred outside the state. At the trial level the District Court judge found that a Maryland-resident petitioner created jurisdiction to hear the case, but the Circuit Court disagreed, overturning the trial court’s ruling and dismissing the case. It was an interesting afternoon of bills being presented to the Judiciary Committee. All were bills concerning either juvenile justice or domestic violence. On the subject of domestic violence, there were bills to: (a) specifically include electronic communications and monitoring within the definition of harassment and stalking, (b) expand the definition of a “person eligible for relief” in the civil protection order statute to include people in a dating relationship, and (c) add harassment to the bases for relief under the civil protection order statute. All, including our jurisdiction bill, would be helpful improvements for those in abusive relationships seeking protection from the Courts. When we went before the Judiciary Committee, there were five speakers on our panel. Delegate Vanessa Atterbeary, a freshman delegate from Howard County, introduced the bill. It was her first sponsorship of a bill in her first Legislative session. After Delegate Atterbeary spoke of the need to clarify jurisdiction, my client told her moving story of an abusive dating relationship, and her attempts to escape it and end all contact with her abuser, which were frustrated by the vagueness in the peace order statute concerning jurisdiction. I then testified, describing the procedural history of the case through the Courts. After I spoke, representatives from the Maryland Coalition Against Sexual Assault and the Maryland Network Against Domestic Violence spoke about the need for women to be able to obtain protection from the Courts where they live. They also noted the need for this bill in this particular geographic area, where people are crossing state lines on a daily basis to and from the District of Columbia, Virginia, Pennsylvania, etc. It was an exciting experience, and we are hopeful the bill will receive a favorable report from the Judiciary Committee so that it can move to a floor vote from the House.
About Marjorie Just
Marjorie Just’s practice as a family law attorney focuses on the negotiation, settlement and litigation of complex family law matters in Maryland and the District of Columbia, including issues of property distribution, custody, child support, alimony, same-sex marriage and domestic partnerships. She prepares family-related agreements such as, pre-marital agreements, separation agreements and reproductive agreements. She is also trained as family mediator and collaborative lawyer. You can connect with Offit Kurman via Facebook, Twitter, Google+, YouTube, and LinkedIn. WASHINGTON | BALTIMORE | FREDERICK | PHILADELPHIA | WILMINGTON | VIRGINIA