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Spivak Law Firm In Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

TS Headshot - FINALThe Pittsburgh Post-Gazette has again featured Attorney Todd Spivak, owner of Spivak Law Firm, as an authority in Protection From Abuse (PFA) and child custody law in Pennsylvania.

In Crack Down on Domestic Violence in Allegheny County, Attorney Spivak addresses the issue of Allegheny County registering more domestic-violence fatalities than any other Pennsylvania county. The article focuses specifically on the grisly death of Pittsburgh resident Maureen Karr that occurred over the holidays, and calls for increased judicial involvement at PFA hearings.

In Improve Pennsylvania’s Domestic-Abuse Law, Attorney Spivak proposes ways to fix Pennsylvania’s PFA law to limit false claims of abuse. His recommendations include criminally prosecuting filers of bogus PFA petitions and removing PFA records from the public database if the order is withdrawn or dismissed.

In Child Custody For Rapists?, Attorney Spivak exposes a loophole in Pennsylvania law that enables men who father children through rape to assert child custody and visitation rights. The Pennsylvania legislature may make it easier for a woman who has become pregnant as a result of rape to have her assaulter’s parental rights terminated while maintaining his duty to pay child support.

To speak with an experienced Pittsburgh-based family law and criminal defense attorney, call Spivak Law Firm at (412) 344-4900 or toll free at (800) 545-9390.

Crack Down on Domestic Violence In Pittsburgh

PFA Pic9The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette published the following article by Attorney Todd Spivak, owner of Spivak Law Firm, which handles all areas of family law and criminal defense with an emphasis on child custody and Protection From Abuse (PFA).

Maureen Karr got a temporary protection-from-abuse order against her husband on grounds that he threatened to burn their house down. Two weeks later, according to police, James Karr made good on his promise and his wife died in the fire.

In Pennsylvania, more than 150 people die every year from incidents involving domestic violence. Astonishingly, Allegheny County for two straight years has tallied more domestic-violence fatalities than any other Pennsylvania county, even Philadelphia. In 2013, there were 28 domestic-violence related deaths in Allegheny County, representing nearly one-fifth of such fatalities statewide, according to the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Domestic Violence.

“Some conclude that PFAs are useless, that they’re just a piece of paper,” says Spenser Baca, a third-year student at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law who represented Maureen Karr at a PFA hearing hours before she was killed. “But PFAs help the majority of clients.”

In December, after 14 years of marriage, Maureen Karr told her husband she wanted a divorce. According to her PFA order, James Karr flipped out: he broke her stuff, slashed her car tires and threatened to set fire to their home in Duquesne. Ms. Karr took refuge at a neighbor’s house and called police. James Karr was arrested, briefly incarcerated and charged with public intoxication.

Charges of harassment and terroristic threats would have served Ms. Karr better. James Karr’s bond conditions did not even include a restraining order.

So, on Dec. 15, Maureen Karr obtained the temporary order that evicted her husband from their home and prohibited all contact. “He was threatening to set the house on fire,” Maureen hand-wrote in the PFA petition.

Similarly, last September, Nancy Bour of Ross Township wrote on a PFA petition against her husband: “Threatened to burn the house down if I try to get divorce.” The next day, according to police, Thomas Bour poured gasoline on their house and set it ablaze. Thomas Bour faces trial next month on multiple felony charges of arson and risking catastrophe.

Defendants always make threats,” says Mr. Baca. “It’s surreal when they make true on their threats.”

On Dec. 29, Maureen and James Karr appeared separately on the third floor of family court Downtown. Ms. Karr sought a final PFA order lasting three years — the maximum allowed under Pennsylvania law. But a hearing never occurred, as the defendant suddenly dropped to the floor and convulsed violently. Although James Karr receives disability benefits based on a seizure disorder, Mr. Baca suspects he faked a seizure to avoid the hearing. The parties left the courthouse without even seeing a judge.

In Allegheny County, court administrators estimate that only 5 percent of PFA cases ever go before a judge for a final hearing. Attorneys frequently work out agreements and draft court orders signed by the parties. An administrator will stamp a judge’s signature on them, but there is no direct judicial involvement whatsoever in the vast majority of cases.

Other counties surrounding Pittsburgh handle PFA cases differently. For instance, Westmoreland County judges insist that all parties appear before a judge regardless of how the case is resolved. It’s impossible to know if a judge’s finger-wagging lecture or threat of grave consequences for another infraction would have saved Maureen Karr’s life, but it might have. Allegheny County’s practice of letting administrators stamp court orders must stop.

Moreover, to promote consistency, Allegheny County should have specialized judges with extensive domestic-violence training to handle all PFA hearings. That’s how PFA cases are handled in Philadelphia County, which saw its number of domestic-violence fatalities drop by 33 percent last year.

This is also how things are done across the street in criminal court, where just two judges oversee all of Allegheny County’s domestic-violence cases. But for PFA hearings, 17 family court judges and three senior judges take turns, ensuring an egregious lack of consistency in court rulings.

On Dec. 30, just hours after appearing in court, James Karr showed up at the couple’s red-brick house set on an orange-brick street. The temporary PFA order remained in place, but, according to police, James Karr went in, slammed his wife’s head against a wall, knocking her unconscious, then tied her wrists with floral wire used for making Christmas wreaths, doused her with her favorite Smirnoff vanilla-flavored vodka and lit a match.

Maureen Karr died from smoke inhalation and carbon-monoxide poisoning. James Karr, a South Park native, has been charged with criminal homicide and aggravated arson. The Allegheny County district attorney’s office plans to argue for the death penalty.

It is impossible to know if Maureen Karr’s death might have been prevented. But immediate action should be taken to curb the number of domestic-violence fatalities in Allegheny County. Increased involvement at PFA hearings by judges with advanced training in domestic-violence cases, and the tougher rulings that likely would result, could make the difference.

To speak with an experienced PFA attorney, call Spivak Law Firm at (412) 344-4900 or toll free at (800) 545-9390.

Domestic-Violence Deaths In Allegheny County

BU010665The Pennsylvania Coalition Against Domestic Violence this month plans to release its annual report on domestic-violence fatalities throughout the state, which includes summaries of each incident and a county-by-county statistical breakdown.

In 2013, there were 158 domestic-violence fatalities in Pennsylvania, including 28 in Allegheny County, which for two straight years has tallied more than any other Pennsylvania county.

Spivak Law Firm provides strong, aggressive representation for plaintiffs and defendants in Protection From Abuse (PFA) hearings in Pittsburgh and all nearby counties, including: Allegheny County, Beaver County, Butler County, Fayette County, Indiana County, Washington County, and Westmoreland County.

To speak with an experienced PFA attorney, call Spivak Law Firm today at (412) 344-4900 or toll free at (800) 545-9390.

Pittsburgh Man Faces Death Penalty

140464335The Allegheny County district attorney’s office last month said it will seek the death penalty against Pittsburgh man James Karr, who is accused of knocking his wife unconscious and setting her on fire. The announcement came just ten days after Pennsylvania’s governor placed a moratorium on the death penalty.

Maureen Karr, an administrator at UPMC Mercy, got a Protection From Abuse (PFA) Order against her husband in December on grounds that he threatened to burn their house down. James Karr ignored the court order, killing his wife just hours after appearing at PFA Court in downtown Pittsburgh, according to police.

Prosecutors say the grisly incident met several criteria for the death penalty, which will be sought if James Karr is convicted of first-degree murder.

There are 186 death-row inmates in Pennsylvania, including nine from the Pittsburgh area. The state’s last execution occurred in 1999.

Spivak Law Firm provides strong, aggressive defense in all PFA and criminal hearings. Call Spivak Law Firm at (412) 344-4900 or toll free at (800) 545-9390.

Governor Stops Death Penalty In Pennsylvania

Criminal Pic3Gov. Tom Wolf last month announced a moratorium on the death penalty in Pennsylvania.

Although the state has not executed a prisoner since 1999, there are currently 186 death-row inmates in Pennsylvania, including nine from the Pittsburgh area. Terrance Williams, who was convicted of murder and scheduled for execution by lethal injection this week, has been issued a reprieve.

Associations of Pennsylvania district attorneys and state troopers criticized the move, which Gov. Wolf says was necessary to review the “fundamental fairness” of capital punishment administered by the state. Specifically, the governor cited death-row inmates later exonerated and disproportionate sentencing of African Americans as evidence that the system is flawed.

Pennsylvania may eventually join 18 other states that have ended the death penalty.

Spivak Law Firm provides strong, aggressive defense in all criminal matters. Charged with a crime? Call Spivak Law Firm at (412) 344-4900 or toll free at (800) 545-9390.

Stalking and PFAs in Pennsylvania

DV Pic9A Protection From Abuse (PFA) Order is an important tool for any stalking victim because it allows the police to arrest the stalker, even if the police did not see the stalking behavior. You will need to prove the following two things in order to get a PFA:

  • You are either related to the stalker, married or previously married to the stalker, you have a child with the stalker, or you have an intimate relationship with the stalker (either sexual or dating); and
  • You were followed or contacted by the stalker for no lawful reason and you fear that the stalker will cause you serious bodily injury.

Once you get a PFA, you can ask the court to order that the stalker have no contact with you at home, work or school, as well as many other protections.

Spivak Law Firm provides strong, aggressive representation for plaintiffs and defendants at PFA hearings in Allegheny County, Beaver County, Butler County, Fayette County, Indiana County, Washington County, and Westmoreland County.

To speak with an experienced PFA attorney, call Spivak Law Firm at (412) 344-4900 or toll free at (800) 545-9390.

PFA Violations And Child Custody

PFA Pic3Violating a Protection From Abuse (PFA) Order by contacting the victim can land you in jail for up to six months. But what about violating the custody provision contained in a PFA? You can be arrested for that, too.

For instance, let’s say your PFA Order grants you supervised custody only. If you are seen alone with the child, you may be arrested and charged with Indirect Criminal Contempt (ICC).

Or, for example, if you withhold the child by not showing up at a custody exchange per the PFA Order, you may face criminal charges.

Spivak Law Firm provides strong, aggressive representation for plaintiffs and defendants in all PFA and child custody cases. Call us at (412) 344-4900 or toll free at (800) 545-9390.

Where Do I Go To Get A PFA?

Family Pic8A person seeking the protection of a PFA restraining order can file in one of the following places:

–The county where the plaintiff resides;

–The county where the plaintiff works;

–The county where the defendant may be served; or

–The county where the abuse occurred

If you are going to ask the Judge to remove the abuser from the home you share, you must file the petition in the county where the home is located.

Spivak Law Firm provides strong, aggressive representation for plaintiffs and defendants at PFA hearings in Allegheny County, Beaver County, Butler County, Fayette County, Indiana County, Washington County, and Westmoreland County.

To speak with an experienced PFA attorney, call Spivak Law Firm at (412) 344-4900 or toll free at (800) 545-9390.

Will Police Enforce A Child Custody Order?

Family Pic5If your ex violates a child custody order, the police generally will not get involved. Instead, you can file a motion for contempt requesting a hearing, have a mini-trial on whether the other parent really was in contempt, and then, if you win, receive make-up time with your child and maybe some money for your attorney’s fees.

In other words, the relief is limited and may take a long time to achieve.

But that changes if the child custody arrangement is part of a Protection From Abuse (PFA) Order. In such cases, the defendant may be arrested for simply not showing up at a scheduled custody exchange.

Spivak Law Firm provides strong, aggressive representation for plaintiffs and defendants in all PFA and child custody matters.

If you are a PFA defendant, we help assert your child custody rights while also working to ensure that you’re not arrested for violating the restraining order.

If you are a PFA plaintiff, we can help to maximize your child custody time while also working to ensure that you and your child receive the protection you require.

Call Spivak Law Firm today for a free consultation at (412) 344-4900 or toll free at (800) 545-9390.

What Is Stalking?

PFA Pic2Stalking involves following someone in a way that causes the victim to feel fearful or emotionally distressed. Stalking frequently occurs when someone tries to leave an abusive relationship.

Here are some examples of stalking behavior:

  • Following someone on foot or by car
  • Watching someone at work or at home
  • Sending unwanted letters or emails
  • Making unwanted telephone calls
  • Leaving unwanted cards, flowers, or gifts

If you are the victim of stalking, you may be entitled to the protections of a Protection From Abuse (PFA) Order. Spivak Law Firm provides strong, aggressive representation for plaintiffs and defendants at PFA hearings and all criminal hearings in Pittsburgh and nearby counties, including: Allegheny County, Beaver County, Butler County, Washington County, and Westmoreland County.

Call Spivak Law Firm today at (412) 344-4900 or toll free at (800) 545-9390.