TPO abuse?

Nevadans for Equal Parenting (NEP) last week escalated its charges over the county Temporary Protection Order Office in the courthouse annex.

In a letter to four candidates for Family Court judge, NEP Co-director Graeme Reid accused the Committee to Aid Abused Women (CAAW), which operates the office on a contract from the county, of engaging in the unauthorized practice of law. Reid also argues that the TPO Office duplicates functions already performed by a county self-help center in the same building that was created after the TPO Office.

“The self-help center is capable of providing forms and explaining the procedure for obtaining protection from the court… Any assistance over and above this constitutes the unauthorized practice of law. This identical issue has been raised in California and has been addressed as such by their State Bar. … In addition to the self-help center CAAW as a private organization, if they wish, can provide forms and explain the procedure for obtaining protection from the court on an ex parte basis to whomever they want, but any assistance over and above this constitutes the unauthorized practice of law. CAAW is currently engaged in the unauthorized practice of law.”

Reid also accused divorce attorneys of trafficking in TPOs as a routine tactic to gain an advantage in court: “While temporary protection orders may be effective in reducing some forms of domestic violence, they are also very powerful weapons in child custody litigation. This abuse of the process is a regularly used tactic, and it has now gotten so bad that attorneys are encouraging the abuse.”

Nevada Bar Association President Ann Price McCarthy responded, “I have no knowledge of any attorney encouraging abuse of the temporary-restraining-order process. Such ‘encouragement’ would probably be a violation of one of the Supreme Court rules governing the practice of law and could very likely subject a lawyer to discipline by the State Bar. On a personal level, I was offended by the statement.”

TPO Office Director Barbara Spring responded that her office has a long list of dos and don’ts describing what TPO workers can and can’t do to avoid straying into practicing law. The list, she says, was updated in March when the Nevada Supreme Court issued a new rule on the subject. Spring also disputed the contention that the self-help office and the TPO Office overlap in their functions. The only time the self-help office deals with TPOs, she says, is when opposing parties—husband and wife or opposing partners—both come to the TPO Office for assistance. To avoid a conflict of interest, the TPO Office will refer one of them to the self-help office.

NEP also disagrees with the way the judgeship candidates described its recent candidate forum (“Disorder in the family court,” RN&R, Aug. 5) and has posted video clips of the candidates at that event on its Web page (www.nevadansforequalparenting. org/video.html). It will also make available the full tape of the event or a transcript to members of the public.