Pointers for Contesting a Restraining Order

Posted on August 12, 2015


One of the earliest posts on this blog (from 2011) offers some procedural orientation to the falsely accused. The author hasn’t revisited the post except to update a link to attorney Gregory Hession’s blog, MassOutrage, which is recommended reading.

Much of the author’s early advice is important: show up early, dress well, be polite, organize your defense and rehearse it ahead of time, make three sets of whatever evidence and exhibits you intend to present, etc. It can also be boiled down to (1) mind your p’s and q’s, and (2) don’t “wing it.”

This post offers some more seasoned counsel to the defendant who can’t afford representation:

  1. Be direct. If something alleged against you is false, say it’s “false.” Be explicit. Don’t “defend yourself” by explaining how the accusations against you couldn’t be true. Say they aren’t true (and then offer what proofs you can). If allegations are “mostly” not true, if they’re hyped or skewed or exaggerated, they’re “false.” Say so right off the bat.
  2. The author suggested this statement as a “for example” to a recent commenter who wanted to know how to defend herself against false allegations. She reported her ex falsely alleged on a temporary restraining order petition that she had threatened to kill herself and her son. She said her ex took their son, refused to return him, and filed for a restraining order on bogus grounds so that he’d never have to return the boy or pay child support. Consider how a statement like this is much more effective than a long rehash of a relationship history that might only distract the judge from hearing what’s important.

    You’re the bad guy, so present an argument instead of an explanation. You won’t win over the judge by appealing to his or her sympathy.

  3. Be humble. Judges are vain, proud, and self-important, and some resent it if you sound like a smarty-pants. (Yes, a judge is capable of finding against you just because s/he thinks you’re haughty. The rules are whatever s/he wants them to be.)
  4. Keep it simple. These procedures are in-and-out. If your story is long and convoluted, change it. CHANGE IT. The truth that serves you is what’s important, not “facts.” Facts may not tell the truth. In these procedures, what counts are impressions.
  5. Be straightforward. Use brief, declarative sentences. Don’t backpedal. Some qualifiers are okay, like these: “I believe,” “I think,” or “Plain to me, Your Honor, is that….” Prefacing remarks like this expresses humility and honesty. Some qualifiers aren’t okay: “Well…,” “What I meant was…,” “Then again…,” “Perhaps….” They sound wimpy and uncertain, and they inspire suspicion; they say you’re guilty.
  6. Don’t leave anything up to a judge’s interpretation. Don’t submit an exhibit and expect the judge to see what you want him or her to see. Tell the judge what s/he should see (“What this shows, Your Honor, is…”). The judge doesn’t know anything, and s/he’s not on your side.
  7. Don’t mince. Use loaded words. Instead of saying something was “untoward,” for instance, say it was “sexual.” Graphic words make an impression. Careful ones don’t.
  8. Cross-examine (question) your accuser. Put him or her on the defensive. Some accusers are vehement fraudsters and will deny the truth and lie freely. If you can trip your accuser up, however, possibly by getting him or her to commit to a lie that you can disprove with evidence, this can be a winning move, as can be forcing your accuser to own an inconvenient truth because s/he knows you have proof of it.
  9. These procedures are contests between personalities, not just competing facts. The person who looks and sounds best, fares best. Aggressive defenses make an impression. Limp ones do, too, but not a favorable one.
  10. Expose lies to make an impression, but don’t depend on it that proving the plaintiff lied about something will impact the judge’s ruling. No one in these procedures is ever sanctioned or prosecuted for perjury. Presenting proof of lying can mean absolutely nothing; a restraining order petition will not be dismissed simply because a plaintiff demonstrably told a lie. Your accuser’s behavior is not what the judge is there to form an opinion on; yours is.
  11. You’re right; your accuser is wrong—that’s the impression you need to make. To win, you must convince the judge that the accusations against you are without merit.

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