County auditor finds barriers to access, disparities in outcomes for people seeking protective orders

County auditor finds barriers to access, disparities in outcomes for people seeking protective orders

The auditors made several recommendations to improve the protection order process.

In King County, people seeking an order of protection, a legal restriction on contact from a harasser or abuser, face complex processes, insufficient help and racial disparities in outcomes, she reported. a new report from the King County Auditor’s Office.

The audit findings were presented to King County Council’s Law, Justice, Health and Human Services Committee on May 3.

The audit, which analyzed petitions for protective orders in King County Superior Court between January 2016 and June 2021, found that while many petitioners received temporary orders, fewer received protective orders total

Of the 5,512 petitions filed in the High Court in the 18 months between January 2020 and June 2021, 78% resulted in a temporary order and 35% of petitioners obtained a full protection order.

The goal is to make protection order procedures accessible to self-employed petitioners, but the process set by the state can be complicated and lengthy, according to the audit. The process is a multi-step legal process, with multiple forms and a minimum of two court hearings.

The audit found that petitioners are more successful in getting a full order when they have a lawyer or attorney, but most people don’t have that help. Between 2016 and mid-2021, only 9% of petitioners, across all types of orders, had a lawyer.

Attorneys in the King County District Attorney’s Office who assist petitioners experiencing intimate partner domestic violence provided detailed assistance to only 11% of applicants for domestic violence protective orders, and another assistance to about half of domestic violence petitioners, between January 2020 and mid-2021.

Auditors also identified racial disparities in protective order outcomes. From 2016 through mid-2021, black and American Indian petitioners were less likely than other petitioners to obtain full protection orders. Only 33 percent of black petitioners and 34 percent of American Indian petitioners obtained full orders, compared with 37 to 49 percent of petitioners of other races.

Even after the new state requirements are implemented, auditors are concerned that some barriers in King County may persist without additional improvements. Unless addressed, these types of barriers can make it difficult for people to navigate the process and can contribute to racial disparities in outcomes, including: limited resources to provide personalized assistance, gaps in language support for people who they don’t speak English, inconsistent information on county websites. , and the lack of regular data analysis.

The auditors noted that the King County Superior Court did not choose to fully participate in this audit, so they did not have the full and unrestricted access to all people, property and records that the County Code gives them by King.

Instead, they based their findings on observations of public court proceedings, interviews with people from other agencies who play a key role in High Court protection order processes, and reviews of publicly available documents about High Court processes . With this approach, the auditors were able to see the protection order processes as a person going through the process might see them.

County auditors recommended a number of measures and actions to improve access and remove barriers to these orders for those who need them, including: a task force to work with stakeholders to improve the process, a better data tracking for protection order outcomes, better assistance for self-represented protection order petitioners, comprehensive state legislation on the issue, better information resources for petitioners and better access and resources for non-English speaking petitioners.

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Jennifer Ahdout

Jennifer Ahdout

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