The spread of the coronavirus, or COVID-19, is impacting nearly every segment of American life. One of the casualties has been the court system in Philadelphia, which has closed to all non-essential matters.
Even the cases that the courts will still hear, though, may not be heard in their entirety until courthouses reopen. Protection from Abuse Orders are among these cases, and that can be a serious problem to anyone who is defending against one: While courts will hear PFA plaintiffs make their case for an emergency restraining order, they will be shut on the defendants who will have to suffer under the temporary order until courts open back up.
Pennsylvania Courts Closed by Coronavirus
Back on March 18, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ordered all of the state's courts closed for two weeks in an attempt to stop the spread of COVID-19. While some courts in the state had already been shuttered, the order closed the rest of them to the general public. The order included trial and appellate courts, as well as magisterial and municipal courts.
While ongoing trials would continue and emergency hearings could still be scheduled, everything else has been delayed until April 3.
Emergency PFAs are Exempt
One of the types of hearings and proceedings that has been deemed an “emergency” that courts could still hear is a temporary Protection from Abuse hearing, or PFA. The purpose of this exception is obvious: It lets people who are in imminent fear and danger to get a restraining order to protect them from abuse or violence.
Defendants and Subjects of PFAs Deprived of the Ability to Defend Themselves
Unfortunately, temporary PFA orders are still ex parte hearings. The plaintiff asks for a restraining order against the defendant, presents their case, and the judge makes a decision based on their evidence, all without the defendant's presence.
It should come as no surprise that temporary PFA orders are relatively easy to get. Unfortunately, they can be incredibly costly to the subjects of those orders. They can find themselves evicted from their home and made to surrender their firearms without the ability to defend against the allegations.
Typically, when a court orders a temporary PFA, it will also schedule an evidentiary hearing for the defendant to present evidence to fight the restraining order. Under Pennsylvania law, defendants have a legal right to that hearing before 10 days have passed.
With courts closed, though, defendants who have been evicted from their home because of a PFA will have to wait until courts reopen. While this is scheduled for April 3 – a delay that could add more than a week to the 10 day period, already – as the coronavirus shows no signs of slowing down, it could be much later than that. Defendants facing PFA orders may have to wait weeks before they are even given their first opportunity to set the record straight.