GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Personal protection orders, which are easy to get in Michigan, can quickly put their target on the defensive and in some cases out of their own home.
They’re free and flying off the shelves in Kent County, where court officials say there were 2,058 PPOs issued in 2015. An entire office staffed with full-time employees is dedicated to dealing with the petitions and orders at the county courthouse in downtown Grand Rapids.
Unlike most legal actions where the accuser has the burden of proof, PPOs put the burden on the defendant. The subject of a PPO must prove to a judge that the accusations against them are without basis.
Grand Rapids-based attorney Christian Krupp of Krupp Law Offices said he gets calls about PPOs almost daily. In many cases, they’re being used to manipulate someone.
“People are using them offensively,” Krupp said. “It turns into chaos.”
“I would say the judges largely are overwhelmed with applications for PPOs,” he continued.
Krupp said that in his experience, judges typically grant PPOs and deal with objections if they are raised. Their goal is to keep those requesting the orders safe.
“It really started out and spawned from a very legitimate need,” Krupp said. “Everything that has a legitimacy to it, somebody will figure out a way to abuse it, unfortunately.”
Monday, Target 8 featured the case of a man who rented out a room in his home using Craigslist. He said that when the tenant failed to pay, he attempted to kick him out. Soon after, the homeowner was served with a PPO filed by the tenant.
The homeowner, Tomy Johnson, has not been allowed home since and says he has been living in his car. He says he was concerned by what friends told him they saw of his home on 24 Hour News 8. He fears the tenant has stolen some of his property.
“[The police are] watching me and not watching him,” a frustrated Johnson said Tuesday. “I say, ‘What the hell is this?'”
Johnson has filed paperwork to fight the PPO, but that takes time to process. In the meantime, he is not allowed anywhere near the tenant or the property.
“It ultimately takes at least a couple weeks to get into court,” Krupp said. “I think the judges are somewhat frustrated with that type of gamesmanship.”
The number of PPOs issued in Kent County has remained relatively flat over the past five years, with just over 1,900 orders filed each year. 2015 saw a 6 percent jump in the numbers, bumping filings over 2,000 for the first time since 2011.
Krupp said he thinks requiring hearings before PPOs go into effect might help — though he admits it could defeat the purpose of the orders, giving a perpetrator an opportunity to have legal contact with the complainant. He also suggested that adding a fee to filing the petition might help curb abuse.
“It’s amazing how something’s free, it gets abused,” Krupp said. “If you have to pay a dollar, all of a sudden it doesn’t get abused.”
He said people served with PPOs containing false claims should file a response even if they’re OK with the terms of the order. A response must be filed within 14 days after the order is served.
“That’s a permanent record as to these allegations,” Krupp said. “They can come back to haunt you.”
24 Hour News 8’s Barton Deiters contributed to this report.