Since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, many families were – and still are – exposed to domestic violence. During the first lockdown in 2020, it was reported that domestic violence cases were at their peak, and now these cases are still persisting.
As of last year, the Los Angeles Superior Court granted applications for temporary restraining orders and divorce filings to be filed by email and fax. However, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department is at odds with this decision and denies submitted files by fax or email.
In many domestic violence cases, individuals submitted the request for a temporary restraining order by email or fax to avoid crowded places, out of fear of contracting the virus, especially individuals with an autoimmune disease or pre-existing health issues. Also, many clients from low-income backgrounds don’t have access to a vehicle, computer, or printer, which forces them to use public transportation and expose themselves to crowded places to gather all their documents and reach a courthouse.
Individuals must first file their request with a court, which a judge usually grants the request for a temporary restraining order the same or the next business day, and then gives the petitioner a hearing date to come back for the permanent restraining order. If the petitioner is in immediate danger, the judge can grant an ex parte temporary restraining order, which expires between 10 and 15 days or until the court hearing. Regular temporary restraining orders last between 20 and 25 days. The petitioner then needs proof of service to deliver a copy of the order to the respondent, which the client can’t do in person and must either contact another neutral person, or the local sheriff’s department – which many usually rely on.
This is where the dilemma starts since the LA County Sheriff’s Department does not approve requests to serve a respondent if they were sent by email or fax. This is a time-sensitive matter because the sheriff needs to serve the defendant within five days of the actual hearing, otherwise, the temporary restraining order expires and the client has no protection and needs to start the process again.
It is uncertain why the LA County courthouses don’t send orders to serve temporary restraining orders directly to the sheriff’s department which would speed up the process, instead of having the client contact the sheriff’s department on their own. The LA County Sheriff’s department declined to comment on why temporary restraining orders are being denied by email or fax.
Many domestic violence survivors are already hesitant to come forward to report a domestic violence case, not to mention to file for a restraining order. However, according to the sheriff’s department, requests filed online or by fax oftentimes include errors or are missing other supporting documents.
Other counties have changed their policies during the pandemic. According to Carrie Braun, a spokesperson for the Orange County Sheriff’s Department, that department started accepting service instructions for restraining orders through drop-off boxes located outside courthouses or department buildings, as well as by mail. Braun also said at times restraining order instructions would be sent from the courthouse, which granted the order, to the sheriff’s department, directly.