Expungement of Protection from Abuse Case for Future Medical Doctor Granted
My client, "Alex," called my firm to inquire about the possibility of getting the records pertaining to the Protection from Abuse (PFA) action against him "cleared." Because PFA cases often involve allegations of domestic violence, Alex had serious concerns about how his involvement with the Philadelphia court system could affect his future and that of his family. Alex is a nurse who is close to becoming a doctor; he will be starting a medical residency soon and was concerned about how the PFA records may hold him back from achieving his goal of becoming a medical doctor.
Specifically, Alex had been the defendant in a PFA case in Philadelphia that, despite the burden involved while the proceedings were taking place, fortunately resolved itself in his favor. The plaintiff was Alex's sister-in-law who had alleged that Alex had threatened her with physical violence and verbal threats of violence. The plaintiff had appeared "ex parte" at the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas - Domestic Relations Division (also known as "Philadelphia Family Court"). "Ex parte" means that the plaintiff appeared by herself (as would always be the case when a plaintiff seeks a temporary protection order against another person). (The person who the allegations are being made against - the defendant - would often have no knowledge that the plaintiff intends to seek a temporary order; therefore, the defendant would often have no knowledge that an "ex parte" hearing is taking place.)
Unlike most "ex parte" hearings where a plaintiff seeks a temporary PFA against a defendant or defendants, the judge who presided over the "ex parte" hearing at Philadelphia Family Court did not grant a temporary PFA for the plaintiff because the judge did not believe the plaintiff was in need of temporary protection at that time and/or the plaintiff's claims against the defendant were insufficient to allow the judge to grant a temporary PFA at that time. The judge nonetheless granted a "final" hearing date for the defendant to be served notice of the Protection from Abuse action against him and to have the opportunity to defend against the plaintiff's claims of physical violence and verbal threats of violence.
Despite the burden of the claims against him, fate smiled on the defendant at the final PFA hearing because at that time, the plaintiff asked the judge at Philadelphia Family Court (the same judge who presided over the ex parte hearing) to "discontinue" the action against the defendant. The judge granted the plaintiff's request. It was shortly thereafter that Alex contacted me to find out if he was eligible to have the PFA records expunged.
What are the eligibility requirements to get a PFA case expunged in Pennsylvania?
After Alex contacted me, we discussed the specific circumstances of his Protection from Abuse case. We also discussed how the PFA case started, how it proceeded through Philadelphia Family Court, and also the final outcome. With that information in mind, I explained the following to Alex:
In 1998, the Pennsylvania Superior Court addressed whether a PFA can be expunged in Pennsylvania. In the case of P.E.S. v. K.L., a PFA was filed, but neither the plaintiff or defendant appeared at the PFA trial in the Court of Common Pleas. Because neither party appeared, there was no finding of abuse at the final hearing, but the plaintiff's original PFA filing remained on record. The Superior Court, in P.E.S., stated that the expungement of a PFA from a person's record would be allowed in limited circumstances where a PFA respondent, also known as the defendant, seeks to protect his or her reputation. Alex's case was similar to P.E.S. in that a final order was not issued; in P.E.S., there was only the original PFA filing that was not pursued by the plaintiff and was not addressed by the defendant.
The Pennsylvania Superior Court again addressed the issue of whether a PFA record can be expunged again in 2002. In the case of Carlacci v. Mazaleski, the plaintiff's PFA filing was addressed by the trial court and a "temporary" PFA order was issued against the defendant. After the temporary PFA order was issued, but before the final PFA hearing took place, the plaintiff and defendant executed an agreement that the temporary PFA order was null and void. The Superior Court reasserted what was stated earlier in that a PFA defendant has the right to petition the Court to expunge a PFA petition against them to protect their reputation. In Carlacci, the Superior Court added that when a PFA petition is dismissed as was the case in P.E.S., or the PFA proceedings do not go beyond the stage where a temporary PFA order was issued, the Court does not need to go further in determining if a defendant has the right to have the record cleared.
Who decides if a PFA expungement will be granted?
In light of Pennsylvania case law, I explained to Alex that he was in fact eligible to ask Philadelphia Family Court to expunge the PFA records. I also explained that the final decision regarding the request would be made by the judge who presided over the PFA case itself, and that the plaintiff's position regarding the defendant's request, in the sense of whether the plaintiff objected to or consented to the request, would also be a factor in the judge's decision.
Alex understood what would be involved and was eager to move forward. I therefore drafted the necessary pleadings, filed the pleadings with Philadelphia Family Court, and obtained a court date within ten days of the filing as required by Pennsylvania law. The pleadings were thereafter submitted to the judge for her approval, and once she signed the pleadings, I arranged with my process server to have the plaintiff served the petition for expungement and notice of the court date (as also required by Pennsylvania law).
Alex and the plaintiff continued to have limited interaction with each other, although the parties did not have direct contact. Both the plaintiff and defendant attend the same church, and because of their family relations, other parties had been in contact regarding the circumstances and what Alex hoped to accomplish by our petitioning Philadelphia Family Court for an expungement of his Protection from Abuse records. Through the communications between family members, Alex and I learned that the plaintiff would not object to our expungement petition. Because it would be in Alex's best interests and per my due diligence on his behalf, I suggested to Alex that the plaintiff be asked to appear in court at the expungement hearing to make it known to the judge that she did not object to our PFA expungement petition.
What happens if the other party objects to the petition for the Protection from Abuse expungement?
The day of the Protection from Abuse expungement hearing came, and Alex and I and also the plaintiff appeared. I spoke to the plaintiff to confirm her agreement. The case was called and we all appeared before the judge. For the purpose of creating a "record" of the proceedings, the judge gave a detailed review of what had taken place thus far regarding the PFA case from its start until the present. The judge asked the plaintiff her position, and with the agreement of the parties, it was not necessary to have a contested hearing. (If the plaintiff had opposed our request, testimony, evidence, and argument would have to be presented to try to have the judge rule in our favor, and against the opposing party and the opposing party's attorney if applicable.)
Ultimately, the judge indicated that she would grant our petition and thereafter specifically referenced how she wanted the expungement order to read so that all records pertaining to Alex's PFA case would be cleared as necessary and as comprehensively as possible. The judge specifically noted that, among other parties involved in Alex's PFA case, the Prothonotary of the Philadephia Court of Common Pleas - Domestic Relations Division, the Domestic Violence Unit of Philadelphia Family Court, the Deputy Court Administrator of the First Judicial District of Pennsylvania (the judicial body governing the Philadelphia County), the Pennsylvania State Police, and the Philadelphia Police Department, should all be served notice of the PFA expungement order.
Alex was relieved that we were able to accomplish what he had hoped to accomplish. Alex is eager to continue his education towards becoming a doctor, and was concerned about completing anticipated employment background checks in the near future. With the judge granting the expungement of his PFA record, Alex will be able to focus on striving towards his goals for the future for both himself and his family. As with all clients, I am pleased to have been a part of helping Alex move forward in life.
Pennsylvania PFA Expungement Attorney | Philadelphia PFA Expungement Lawyer
If you or a loved one has questions or concerns regarding a Protection from Abuse case in Pennsylvania or how such records can affect one's future, whether you are a doctor, nurse, other medical professional, or have employment concerns of any kind, contact the Lento Law Firm today.
Practice area(s): Criminal Defense, Domestic Violence
Court: Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas