Even Sealed, a PFA Is Forever
The light from a rising star in the Republican Party is faltering as allegations of domestic violence taint the reputation of Sean Parnell, a Pennsylvania candidate for the U.S. Senate.
Parnell's ex-wife Laurie Snell has made serious claims in a bitter custody battle over their three children. Making matters worse, Jeff Bartos, another senate candidate, has revealed the existence of two supposedly sealed temporary restraining orders against Parnell, known as temporary PFAs (Protection From Abuse).
He Said, She Said
A custody hearing is not a trial. The court's primary purpose is to rule in the best interests of the children. Snell has filed for sole custody of their school-age children. Separated for three years, the two parents had been sharing joint custody equally. Snell has claimed in court variously that Parnell choked her, was verbally abusive, and that he hit one child and caused injury to another.
A decorated Afghanistan war veteran, Parnell has vehemently denied Snell's claims and produced evidence that Snell has said he is a good father. A former Army Ranger, Parnell suffered a traumatic brain injury (TBI) in Afghanistan and came home with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
As of November 17, 2021, the judge has not yet made a ruling in the custody dispute.
Two Civil PFAs Exposed
As if the bitter custody fight were not politically damaging enough, political rival Bartos dug deep into Parnell's personal affairs. He found Snell had obtained two temporary PFAs against Parnell in 2017 and 2018.
In Pennsylvania, a temporary or emergency PFA is issued as a civil court order. However, any violation of the PFA or the imposition of a “permanent” (three years) PFA creates a permanent criminal record that cannot be expunged (entirely erased).
At the time, Parnell did the right thing. He did not violate either of the orders. While the details are unknown, the final-hearing officer dismissed both civil charges, thus relieving Parnell of a criminal record. Parnell again did the right thing. He got the records of the two civil PFAs sealed because expungement is not possible.
Sealed Records Are Vulnerable
When civil PFA records are sealed, they “enter a statewide database or registry to which only court and law enforcement personnel are supposed [emphasis added] to have access,” said Joseph D. Lento, an experienced PFA defense attorney.
Sealed records are hidden from the background checks done by employers, schools, creditors, and the general public, Lento said. Nevertheless, “with a little more effort than the usual background check,” anyone, like an enterprising political operative, could break the seal.
Even though Parnell has only been accused, not convicted, of domestic violence, his front-runner status as a Senate candidate is waning. Moreover, he represents a risk to the Republican Party itself. That's how serious a PFA can be.
Don't Face a PFA Alone
If you or a loved one is served with a PFA, do not violate it—and call a Pennsylvania PFA defense attorney right away. The final hearing happens about ten days after the PFA is served. Evidence must be gathered, witnesses recruited, and defense arguments prepared. Your personal reputation and professional occupation are at stake. For experienced PFA legal representation, call attorney Joseph D. Lento and the Lento Law Firm today at 888-535-3686.