More than 43 percent of those who requested civil protection orders in Clark County failed to show up in court or voluntarily dismissed their case over the last five years, costing taxpayers nearly $134,000, a Springfield News-Sun investigation found.
That dollar figure is based on an estimated cost of $110 to process each request, according to Clerk of Courts Ron Vincent’s Domestic Relations Division, which by law it’s not allowed to charge for.
The figure doesn’t account for costs to the Clark County Sheriff’s Office in serving summonses related to the average of more than 550 cases a year.
Most of the 43 percent who file then don’t show or dismiss the request don’t follow through not because the requests were frivolous, according to Project Woman Director Laura Baxter. Rather, it’s because of fear of their abuser and of the future, Baxter said.
And at least one study has found protection order benefits greatly outweigh their costs.
A civil protection order, called a CPO, is a form of civil action requested by a member of the public (petitioner) that, if a court grants it, orders a person (the respondent) to do or not do certain things while it’s active, according to Clark County Common Pleas Court documents. For example, someone might be ordered not to call a petitioner or to stay away from them. The orders are often requested for things such as stalking and domestic violence.
Violation of a CPO is a crime, and the respondent can be arrested, jailed and fined if they disobey an active CPO. A CPO is different than a temporary protection order, which is tied to criminal cases and ordered by the court.
Most petitioners have good intentions when they ask the court for a CPO, Baxter said, but those who don’t follow through most often fear retribution by the abuser or fear the unknown of future finances or living situations.
“It’s … an emotional barrier for many victims to get the courage to put that in place and — especially if there’s a delay in processing — from the day that they say ‘I need a protection order,’ the more rapidly we can get it into and through the court and in place, they more likely they’ll (be to) follow through,” she said. “When there’s any kind of a delay, then the clock is ticking, so to speak, to increase the risk that they will step back (and) become afraid.”
And those who fail to appear are terrified to face their abuser in court, she added.
“Some of them just can’t bring themselves to do it, and that’s why they don’t come. It’s not because they didn’t have a good case, or it’s not because they decided the abuser wasn’t an abuser any more. I think more than anything it’s they’re terrified,” she said. “It’s extreme. Your whole body feels the fear, you know that if he can get his hand on you and you’re in front of him, I think that fear is the biggest factor.”
And fear is often used by an abuser to get the petitioner back together with them, causing the petitioner to voluntarily dismiss their case, she said.
By law, entities designated to process the orders aren’t allowed to charge the petitioner for their request, so costs from processing aren’t recouped.
During the years 2008-12 — the most recent available from the clerk’s office — an average of more than 130 petitions each year were dismissed by the court, triggered by the petitioner failing to appear for their court date.
Over those years, more than 660 requests — nearly 24 percent of all petitions — were denied for failure to appear, costing taxpayers more than $73,000.
Another 551 petitions were voluntarily dismissed during those years, costing more than $60,600. That’s nearly 20 percent of all petitions.
Over the last decade, there have been about 5,580 petitions filed, which in today’s dollars has cost about $614,000 to process.
The Clark County Sheriff’s Office doesn’t have an estimate on how much it costs to serve the summonses.
Because it’s also not allowed to charge, officials don’t keep track of processing or the number of attempts and mileage its deputies make in serving them, according to Debbie Garman, warrants clerk with the sheriff’s office.
But a National Institute of Justice report, citing an NIJ-funded research study by the University of Kentucky, said that protection orders actually saved that state money.
While they may cost taxpayers initially, they actually save money through less use of tax-funded health and mental services, shelter, advocacy, and others, according to the report.
“Every dollar spent on the protective order intervention produced $30.75 in avoided costs to society. The state of Kentucky saved about $85 million over a one-year period because of significant declines in abuse and violence,” author Nikki Hawkins wrote, citing the study.
BY THE NUMBERS - 2008-12
Total CPOs requested: 2,789
Average CPOs requested/year: 558
Total petitioner failure to appear: 664
Total petitioner voluntary dismissals: 551
Source: Clark County Clerk of Courts