Allegheny County PFA Hearing
Should Pennsylvania adopt stricter gun laws in an attempt to reduce domestic violence?
Many states have recently done so. For instance, Maine last year passed a law prohibiting people convicted of domestic violence crimes from owning guns for five years after completing their court-ordered sentences.
In Pennsylvania, people with active Protection From Abuse (PFA) Orders against them are prohibited from possessing firearms. PFA defendants must either relinquish weapons to their local sheriff’s office or give them to a friend or family member for safekeeping.
Some activist groups want to further restrict PFA defendants by eliminating the state’s third-party safekeeping provision.
Spivak Law Firm handles all matters of family law and criminal defense with a focus on domestic violence. Call us at (412) 344-4900 or toll free at (800) 545-9390.
Attorney Todd Spivak recently participated on a panel at Duquesne University School of Law to advocate reforming Pennsylvania’s Protection From Abuse (PFA) laws.
A PFA, also commonly known as a restraining order, is a powerful tool that can evict you from your home, restrict you from your children, and prohibit you from possessing firearms.
Attorney Spivak has long advocated for reforming the PFA law to curb false claims of abuse. Proposals for reform include as follows:
- Courts should make it easier to allow defendants to recover attorney fees when a PFA is withdrawn or dismissed.
- District attorneys should criminally prosecute serial filers of bogus PFAs.
- Temporary PFAs should be removed from the public database when a PFA is later withdrawn or dismissed.
Other panelists included Allegheny Court of Common Pleas Judge Kim D. Eaton and Attorney Tom Putinsky, winner of the Edgar G. O’Connor Fellows Award for outstanding public service.
Spivak Law Firm provides strong representation at PFA hearings for plaintiffs and defendants. To speak with an experienced PFA attorney, call Spivak Law Firm at (412) 344-4900 or toll free at (800) 545-9390.
The process for securing a Protection From Abuse (PFA) Order in most Pennsylvania counties starts by filing a paper called a petition at your local county courthouse. In the petition, you tell the court why you feel you need protection. The petition describes the abuse you have suffered and the protection you want from the court. The courthouse has people who must help you fill out the petition.
After you complete your PFA petition, the court will read it and may ask you questions. The alleged abuser is not present during this proceeding.
The judge will likely grant you a Temporary PFA and set a final hearing date within 10 business days. The defendant will get a copy of your petition. At the Final PFA hearing, you may be required to testify about the things you wrote in your petition. A Final PFA Order can last up to three years.
Spivak Law Firm provides strong, aggressive representation for plaintiffs and defendants at 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 lawyer, call Spivak Law Firm at (412) 344-4900 or toll free at (800) 545-9390.
The 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.
If 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.
On December 30, 2014, Pittsburgh resident James Karr tied up his estranged wife Maureen, doused her with vodka, and set her ablaze. “He was threatening to set the house on fire,” Maureen Karr wrote just two weeks earlier in a Temporary Protection From Abuse (PFA) petition filed in Allegheny County.
Charged with homicide and arson, James Karr currently sits in Allegheny County Jail awaiting his preliminary hearing set for January 9th.
Below is a transcript of the Temporary PFA petition that Maureen Karr wrote out herself with a pen just two weeks before she burned to death:
Approximate Date and Time: 12-12-14 @ 7:00 a.m.
Place: 132 Friendship St., Duquesne, PA 15110
James [Karr] threw bottles out onto the street causing glass to go on sidewalk & street. He was threatening to set the house on fire. After I fleed [sic] the house to a neighbors. We witnessed him going outside & stabbing my tires flattening all 4. James then pulled car window down & threw sewing machine & ceiling fan on the street. He called police stating I threw the bottles. While talking with 911 police came & handcuffed James & took him from the premises as he was still outside. He was later 302’d to the hospital. Have received numerous harassing & name calling phone calls[….]
Describe Any Prior Incidents Of Abuse: James becomes irrate [sic] & flips out breaking items in the home. About 3 years ago had a PFA against him because he pulled me down the steps causing me to fall down last two steps injuring my ribs & hip.
Spivak Law Firm provides strong, aggressive representation for plaintiffs and defendants in all domestic violence matters, including PFA, child custody, criminal, and CYF. Call us at (412) 344-4900 or toll free at (800) 545-9390.
There are three types of Protection From Abuse (PFA) Orders:
- Emergency PFA Orders are issued by a District Justice when the Court is closed during non-business hours. An emergency PFA Order expires at the end of the next business day for the Court.
- Temporary PFA Orders are issued by the Court of Common Pleas until a final hearing can be held, which is scheduled within ten business days.
- Final PFA Orders are entered as a result of an appearance before the Court where both parties have the chance to be heard by the Judge.
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 lawyer, call Spivak Law Firm at (412) 344-4900 or toll free at (800) 545-9390.
In Pennsylvania, Protection From Abuse (PFA) Orders obliterate a person’s constitutional right to possess firearms. A person served with a PFA is immediately ordered to:
–Relinquish to the sheriff any of the defendant’s firearms;
–Relinquish to the sheriff any other weapons or ammunition of the defendant that were used or threatened to have been used in an incident of abuse against the victim or the victim’s children;
–Relinquish any firearm license that the defendant may have;
–Not acquire or possess any other firearm for the duration of the PFA;
When relinquishment is ordered, the defendant must surrender any firearm, weapon, ammunition, or license ordered within 24 hours after service of the temporary PFA order or 24 hours after entry of the final PFA order.
The defendant has the option to relinquish for safekeeping to a third party, who has signed an Affidavit of accountability with the sheriff’s office.
Served with a PFA? We strongly defend your rights and reputation. Call Spivak Law Firm at (412) 344-4900 or toll free at (800) 545-9390.
China appears close to passing a law empowering courts to issue restraining orders for victims of domestic violence, child abuse, and elder abuse.
Chinese culture has traditionally regarded family abuse as a private, not a criminal, matter, according to a recent article in The New York Times. Currently, someone who goes to the police seeking help against a violent family member will generally be advised to return home and “work it out,” the article states.
The Chinese bill is comparable to Pennsylvania’s Protection From Abuse (PFA) law, which nearly 40 years ago enabled courts to issue emergency no-contact orders at a time when filing criminal charges was the only legal recourse for victims of family abuse.
To speak with an experienced Pittsburgh PFA lawyer, call Spivak Law Firm at (412) 344-4900 or toll free at (800) 545-9390.