Leslie Budewitz: Protective Orders

Leslie Budewitz: Protective Orders

Leslie Budewitz is the author of Books, Crooks and Counselors: How to Write Accurately About Criminal Law and Courtroom Procedure (Quill Driver Books, October 2011). She is a practicing lawyer and a mystery writer living in northwest Montana. Read an excerpt and more articles for writers, or send her a question, at www.LawandFiction.com


A recent double homicide in Helena, Montana spotlights protective orders. Joe Gable and Michelle Coller married in 1986. They separated two years ago, and Michelle moved out of state. In September, she returned to Montana unexpectedly, and began what Joe viewed as harassment and intimidation. In one incident, she drove to his apartment, blocked his car with hers, entered, threw his laptop down the stairs, and refused to leave–all while he was changing the locks to keep her from getting in. http://helenair.com/news/local/crime-and-courts/shooting-details-emerge/article_8a5e5de6-f6ea-11e0-b9d6-001cc4c002e0.html

Joe requested a temporary order of protection. The judge concluded that his evidence did not establish personal danger or threat, and denied the request. http://helenair.com/news/local/protection-order-denied-by-judge/article_34a52548-f62b-11e0-8e0b-001cc4c002e0.html

Three weeks later, Joe filed for divorce. Two days later, Michelle entered his apartment at 6:00 a.m., and shot and killed him and another woman. She’s been charged with two counts of deliberate homicide.

I can only imagine how the judge feels. The situation proved more volatile–and violent–than the evidence before her had indicated. News accounts suggest she did not know the couple’s troubled history, including previous calls to police, or recent concerns by friends about Michelle’s mental health. http://helenair.com/news/local/crime-and-courts/joe-and-michelle-gable-timeline-of-a-troubled-relationship/article_87ca364a-f6ea-11e0-ba97-001cc4c002e0.html

So what’s the process for getting a protective order–also called a restraining order or “no contact” order? State laws vary, so writers, check your story state. (Start by Googling “protective order” and the state name.) Most court systems provide forms, requiring some or all of the following information:

– Relationship between applicant and respondent, e.g., married, divorced, separated, dating, parents of a minor child.

– Recent abuse, including when and where the incident occurred, who was present, any injuries, whether a gun or other weapon was threatened or used, and whether police were called.

– Past abuse, with the same information.

– Does respondent have a gun?

– Past or pending court cases between the parties.

– Protection sought. This may be as simple as checking boxes.


– No threats or acts of violence against applicant and other persons specified.

– No calls, emails, or other contact or communication with applicant and specified family members, victims or witnesses.

– Not take specified children out of the state or county.

– Maintain a specified distance from applicant or other persons protected in specific locations, e.g., home, work, vehicle, school, or day care.

– Not possess firearms.

– Not take, sell, damage, or dispose of specified property.

– Possession or use of specified property, e.g., a residence, vehicle, or other personal property, regardless of ownership.

– Is law enforcement help requested to obtain the property?

– The court may also order anger management counseling, or alcohol or chemical dependency counseling or treatment.

– Any other protection applicant thinks necessary. The judge can impose any conditions she thinks appropriate. Most courts use pre-printed orders with blanks for additions.

– Applicant should bring any witnesses to the hearing, along with any threatening letters, texts, voice mail messages, and so on.

– Applicant can request that her address be kept confidential. Obviously, that wouldn’t have helped Joe Gable, unless he had moved.

Orders are usually temporary, e.g., 20 days. The parties are required to come to court for a hearing on whether an order should be renewed, modified, or made permanent.

State law may also allow use of protective orders to grant temporary custody of minor children, establish visitation, and order temporary support payments.

Sample forms:

Montana: http://www.doj.mt.gov/victims/domesticviolence.asp

Texas: https://www.oag.state.tx.us/victims/protective.shtml

Maryland: http://www.courts.state.md.us/family/forms/protectorder.html

If Joe Gable had shown sufficient danger or threat, would Michelle have honored the protective order? No way of knowing. Orders are often violated, sometimes with tragic consequences. But they are an important tool in decreasing violence, and protecting us all.

*     *     *

By the way, folks, Leslie is my go-to expert for all things legal. Her new book is a must-have for every crime writer.

Get a copy here.

And Leslie’s just accepted a three-book offer from Berkley Prime Crime for The Food Lovers’ Village Mysteries, set in NW Montana, debuting in 2013!

7 replies
  1. Jennifer Oberth
    Jennifer Oberth says:

    I didn’t know some protective orders came with court-mandated counseling – anger management/alcohol/drug. THAT is something that could help because the ‘attacker’ is now under the watchful eye of professionals who can identify a potential violent situation and maybe prevent it. And it might actually help correct the underlying behavior of the ‘attacker’. Great post and thank you for the useful information. It is a massive problem with thorny issues springing from every turn.

  2. SZ
    SZ says:

    I think someone is danger of another should indeed get an order. However I have also seen men get them and have to answer them from vindictive women with an agenda not a fear. It is a serious accusation.

  3. Leslie Budewitz
    Leslie Budewitz says:

    I am sorry to hear the stories of individual experiences with domestic violence, and hope that you are all now safe and no longer at risk. Domestic violence is a terrible problem that affects far too many in this country, in all regions and at all socioeconomic levels.

    A recent editorial in a Montana newspaper — prompted by the same double homicide that sparked my post — likewise expresses concerns about the rate of domestic violence. It cites statistics from the National Institute of Justice showing that protective orders do discourage some types of abusers, that women who obtain protective orders are “less likely to be physically abused than women without them,” and in one Texas study, a significant decrease in physical abuse over a 2 year period, from 68 to 23 percent, if the victims maintained the orders. That last statistic highlights another problem in the complicated relationships between victims and abusers: victims often continue or initiate contact themselves, despite having obtained protective orders. The reasons are complicated and far beyond the scope of this post, but can make a thorny situation even more difficult.

    Another benefit of protective orders is that they make it easier for LEO to follow up on reports of abuse, and for prosecutors to successfully prosecute a violator, which can be easier than sorting out what happened in the incidents that led to the order.

    Do protective orders always work? No. Are they critical tools? Yes. I urge anyone at risk to seek an order, break off all contact, report violations, and obtain any other assistance needed to keep themselves and their children safe.

  4. MyMomIsAPsycho
    MyMomIsAPsycho says:

    I have never understood why one has to PROVE one needs a protective order since the good psychos are hard to prove stuff on. I know they often aren’t worth the paper they are printed on but like GunDiva’s mom saying just the right thing maybe being what had the impact they are (it seems to me) part of a trail of behavior by potential victims letting the psychos know that they will be held accountable eventually even if they are not stopped in time.

  5. Elaine Splaver Abramson
    Elaine Splaver Abramson says:

    I lived in Baltimore County during the 1970’s. In spite of the fact that my now ex purposely left two loaded guns where my minor children could play with them, kicked my dog down the stairs, yanked the front door off the house while I was out on a date and left it lying on the front lawn, pulled the bathroom sinks out of the walls, shoved a bloody rat in my face, and yanked me out of a shower; the police and the court would not help me get a restraining order because we were “legally separated” but not divorced at the time. At the time, Maryland had a five year separation law before a divorce could become final. If not for the governor wanting to dump his wife and marry his girlfriend, I would have had to have put up with this treatment for more than the three years that I did. After the governor got his speedy divorce, all divorces became final after a six month separation.

  6. GunDiva
    GunDiva says:

    My personal thought on protective (restraining) orders:

    They’re not worth the toilet paper they’re written on. They don’t come with police protection 24/7; they don’t come with a cloaking device or some magic powers to keep you safe.

    Sadly, a lot of people request and are issued protective orders, yet do nothing to ensure their own safety – they think that the orders are the solution to the problem. They are not. They are ONE part of the solution – the legal part.

    My father walked through my mom’s restraining orders so many times that she finally told the police that the next time she called them it would be to pick up his dead body, because she wasn’t putting up with it any more. I don’t know who it made a bigger impact on – the police officers or my dad, but I do know she never had a lick of trouble after that.

Comments are closed.