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by ZontaDoris

The headline “Law fails to keep pace with technology” grabbed my attention.

Sue Carlton, a Tampa Bay Times columnist, wrote earlier this month about victims of domestic, dating, or repeat violence (each action is defined separately in Florida law) and stalking.

Summary: She explained that a victim cannot seek protection when there are “no workers deputized as court clerks … available to take her sworn statement about what happened to her.” This could be after courthouse hours or when she, the victim, cannot get to a place–courthouse or certified DV (domestic violence) shelter–during the times when deputized staff are available.  I say “she” because 85% of violence victims are women.

Carlton, backed up by Hillsborough Court Clerk Pat Frank, would like Florida to allow victims to be able to initiate petitions online for temporary injunctions against domestic, repeat and dating violence, and stalking without having to be in the physical presence of a court clerk or notary public.

Carlton’s column raises valid questions on how and where victims may seek protective injunctions.

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The victim seeking protection may have good reasons for not signing a form in the physical presence of a court officer or a clerk deputized by the court to act offsite. These could include not having transportation or being afraid of going to the courthouse or other site that may be watched by the abuser.  Maybe she is physically challenged, too, as a result of the abuse heaped on her.

Carlton notes that in this easy digital age of text and voice, with Skype & a half-dozen other communication apps, accessible by tablets and smartphones, a victim could swear an oath with her driver’s license next to her face to prove her identity and that she has completed and signed the petition.

The other need I see here is to review the petition form for length.  It is 9 pages long!

Do it electronically: Other parts of the judiciary rely on digital devices and the internet to manage workload while maintaining confidentiality and documentation.

Carlton observed that judges may sign court orders electronically, for instance. They do not have to be in the courthouse to advance the paperwork.

Petitions and pleadings under the ”Florida Rules of Judicial Administration are filed electronically except in certain circumstances,” such as when they are filed by “self-represented litigants.”

After a sheriff or certified process server serves the respondent (abuser) with the petition, the “Florida Rules of Judicial Administration now require that all documents required or permitted to be served on the other party must be served by electronic mail (e-mail) except in certain circumstances.

I liked Carlton’s call for victims to be able to e-file petitions for protective injunctions on their own from where they feel safest. It did make me wonder though if victims would be able to use their cellphones to complete the long petition form. Completing applications on a cellphone requires more patience than I have.  A 9-page legal form would daunt many in the best circumstances. Victims completing the petition form could be reeling from betrayal and injuries. Therefore, I was intrigued to see a Florida bill introduced this year that offered more supported options for DV victims to file petitions.

Senate Bill 988, 2016 Session: Senator Jeremy Ring, from State Senate District 29 in Broward County introduced a bill this year to set up the Protective Injunction Electronic Filing Pilot Program within the Office of the State Courts Administrator. However, it did not advance beyond the Judiciary Committee.

It proposed to start a three year pilot program in 3 counties in Florida whose performance would be reviewed annually. It increased the number of staffed locations where victims would file their e-petitions.  See the graphic below for current and proposed locations.

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I wish Sen. Ring’s bill offered DV victims more opportunities to e-file petitions outside regular business hours. But it shows he was thinking about victims earlier this year!  The best thing IMO about Sen. Ring’s bill is that it allows victims of violence to “testify from a remote location by video teleconference or other similar method at a final injunction hearing.” DV advocates tell me that it is fear-provoking for many DV victims to testify in the courtroom with their abuser only steps away. So this bill provided options for victims to request the court to extend the temporary injunction without being personally threatened by their abuser. That’s all good.

I hope other lawmakers pick up this issue because Sen. Ring term-limited out this year. And I appreciate Sue Carlton’s writing about opening up options for DV victims.

The electronic filing process should be as easy as possible and voluntary. Victims must not be mandated to do it online because some might not have the skills to do it on their own or have access to an internet connected device.

What do you think about e-filing to expedite DV victims’ initiating protective injunctions?  Good or bad idea? What’s the best way to do it?  Please give us feedback here.  Thanks for reading and helping DV victims with your donations of dollars and in-kind support and advocacy.

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The views expressed in this blog post are mine (informed by Sue Carlton and online research) and may not reflect the stance of the Zonta Club of Pinellas County or Zonta International. — Doris Reeves-Lipscomb

“Mobile web” and “Violence Evaluation Route” pictures from Pixabay artists. Graphic is

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