Stalking. Protective order. Cobb Superior Court. Before Judge Cox, pro hac vice.
David J. Maher, The Cherry Law Firm, Diane Cherry, for appellant.
Susan Raines, pro se.
William John White appeals from the trial court's order continuing an ex parte temporary protective order (" TPO" ) entered against him. Because the trial court lacked authority to extend the TPO, we reverse.
The record shows that on April 17, 2014, White's ex-wife, Susan Raines, filed a " Petition for Stalking Temporary Protective Order" against White pursuant to OCGA § 16-5-94. Alleging that White had, among other things, flooded her with unwanted telephone calls and text messages, accessed her bank account, and followed her, Raines claimed that White's actions placed her in reasonable fear for her and her family's safety. The petition requested a hearing and entry of a 12-month protective order.
[331 Ga.App. 854] On the same day, the trial court entered an ex parte TPO enjoining White from harassing, contacting, or approaching within 500 yards of Raines or her immediate family. The order also directed White to appear before the court on May 9, 2014, to " show why the demands of [Raines] should not be granted." Shortly after the trial court issued the ex parte order, Raines reported to police that White had violated the TPO, and White was arrested for aggravated stalking.
Both parties appeared at the May 9, 2014 hearing. The trial court began by asking Raines, who was proceeding pro se, about White's arrest. Counsel for White interjected that the parties were there " on the ex parte TPO," not the arrest warrant. Asserting that the warrant was " part of the evidence," the court questioned Raines about the circumstances leading to the arrest. The court then asked her generally about the allegations underlying her petition. Raines described the conduct by White that she found objectionable, including his constant effort to communicate with her. White's counsel responded that White and Raines had enjoyed consensual communication since their divorce, with both parties contacting each other and spending time together.
At that point, the trial court halted the proceedings. Rather than addressing Raines's petition, the court continued the hearing, stating:
Here's my solution: I'm going to continue this hearing today. [White] clearly ignored the order that was issued as filed on April 17, to the extent that the police found probable cause to arrest him for aggravated [stalking]. But I'm going to continue this hearing today, leaving the order in place, and then we'll come back in 60 days and depending on what his conduct and behavior is in the next 60 days, I'll make a determination to either extend the order or dismiss the petition.
In a written order, the trial court rescheduled the hearing to July 11, 2014, and extended the TPO through that date. At White's request, the trial court issued a certificate of immediate review. We subsequently granted White's interlocutory appeal application, and this appeal followed.
[331 Ga.App. 855] 1. White argues that the trial court erred in continuing the ex parte TPO without addressing the merits of Raines's allegations. We agree.
A person who claims to have been stalked may petition the trial court for a restraining order against the alleged stalker. See OCGA § 16-5-94 (a); see also OCGA § 16-5-90 (a) (defining the offense of stalking). Based on the allegations in the petition, the court " may order such temporary relief ex parte as it deems necessary to protect the petitioner." OCGA § 16-5-94 (c). Mere allegations alone, however, cannot sustain continuing relief. After ...