Proposed legislation gives many father’s an even playing field
By Jeffery M. Leving
Proposed legislation by State Rep. La Shawn K. Ford, D-Chicago to automatically expunge a petition for a protective order that was either withdrawn or dismissed is long overdue and something anyone who believes in the principle of innocent until proven guilty should support.
Unfortunately, for too many people in our country, especially divorced fathers, the concept of innocent until proven guilty hasn’t applied because a record of a petition of a protective order that was withdrawn or denied stayed in the public record, often hurting their chances for employment and also used against them in divorce and paternity cases.
Keep in mind that this is NOT any type of arrest or conviction. It is not even an order of protection that was granted. Rather, it is a record that shows that someone at one time requested an order of protection against them (which was ultimately withdrawn or dismissed).
The fact that these denied and withdrawn petitions remain in the system erases the presumption of innocence for many, unfairly impacting the accused and hurting the integrity of the justice system.
Yet, this record lingers in Illinois and has the potential to hinder the ability of many to get decent jobs or lose their jobs if discovered later, as they often come up in background searches.
For many divorced men — this is an unjust hurdle precisely because often these requests are made by former spouses who only made them to spite them, not because of any actual danger these men presented.
In my own practice, I have seen many cases where lawyers use these denied and withdrawn requests as leverage in both divorce and paternity cases. I’ve had lawyers call me up and offer to withdraw an order of protection in exchange for something, often an astronomical amount of child support or a larger share of the marital property. This is not right, as they are unsubstantiated precisely by their withdrawn or denied status. Yet, they are allowed to remain in the public record and used as a tool of extortion.
In a society that prides itself on the principle of innocent until proven guilty — there is no reason why a withdrawn or denied allegation — and that’s really what these are — should linger in perpetuity.
In another case that I was involved with, a father hasn’t had any contact with his daughter, who is now an adult, for years because she believed — based on finding a denied petition for an order of protection — that her father was abusive towards her mother. That is a shame because I believe the allegations were false, created by her mother to get a better divorce settlement. And not only has it impacted the daughter’s relationship with her father — but it’s also impaired her ability to have a relationship with any men in her life as an adult.
I’ll reiterate again to ensure I’m not accused of standing up for abusers —this is not about orders of protection that were granted. This is about a petition, i.e. request — of an order of protection that was either withdrawn or denied.
Recently, Lake County State’s Attorney Eric Rinehart spoke to attorneys in my office in support of Ford’s proposed legislation. Last week, Matthew Stanton, chief of ethics and training in Rinehart’s office, told me that there are many instances where withdrawn or denied petitions for orders of protection have hurt someone looking for a job — and that there is an urgent need to pass Ford’s legislation because advances in technology have made finding these petitions easier than ever.
“It used to be that if you wanted to look that up you’d have to do a deep dive of personal research. Now, anyone can find them and people are not going to stop and wonder if this was legitimate or not.”
Representative Ford told me last week that he is looking to find supporters before filing it for consideration with state legislatures. For the sake of fairness and to uphold the principle of innocent until proven guilty, all lawmakers and members of the public should support this, and soon.