Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Luiz Simmons’ Abuser Expungement Bill (Updated)

Delegate Luiz Simmons (D-17), who is a trial attorney, has introduced a bill enabling accused domestic abusers to expunge their court records. No, folks, we are not making this up.

HB 1181, sponsored by Simmons, states the following in its header:

For the purpose of authorizing a respondent in a certain domestic violence proceeding to file a written request to expunge court records relating to the proceeding under certain circumstances; providing that a certain request for expungement may not be filed within a certain time except under certain circumstances; requiring the court to order the expungement of all court records relating to the proceeding under certain circumstances; providing a certain exception; requiring certain custodians to notify the court and the respondent of compliance with the order; defining certain terms; and generally relating to domestic violence and the expungement of certain court records.
According to this bill, if an abused spouse petitions a court for a protective order and that petition is dismissed or denied, the accused abuser can have the records expunged after three years. This is a rare protection under civil law. If a defendant is sued for fraud, breach of contract, negligence, defamation or just about anything else, the court records are preserved even if the case is settled or thrown out. But this bill would give accused abusers a special ability to expunge denied to almost all other civil defendants.

This bill also gives tremendous leverage to abusers over victims. Suppose a victim tells an abuser she wants to seek court protection. The abuser can say he will hire a lawyer, get the court to deny the petition and expunge his records. The abuser can then claim that any action by the victim to pursue court protection will be futile and produce zero consequence to the abuser. The victim could then very well be deterred from seeking a court order.

On February 27, the House Judiciary Committee voted 18-3 to approve the bill. Among Montgomery's Delegates, Simmons and Ben Kramer (D-19) voted in favor and Kathleen Dumais (D-15), Susan Lee (D-16) and Jeff Waldstreicher (D-18) voted against.

The bill is now moving along with the Governor’s two bills protecting domestic violence victims. If the House passes this bill but stalls the Governor’s efforts to prevent domestic abuse, the chamber will be drenched in shame.

Update: The expungement bill was defeated today on a 64-69 vote. Four Delegates were present but did not vote and four were excused.