PAYING ATTENTION WITH TOM DUGGAN
By: Tom Duggan – November, 2011
The Massachusetts Fatherhood Coalition is trying to repeal the state’s 209A restraining order law saying that the law makes criminals out of men who have not broken the law, “often with only the word of an angry wife or girlfriend who has an ax to grind,” says Joe Ureneck Chairman of the Massachusetts Fatherhood Coalition.
The coalition is gathering signatures to have a ballot measure placed before Massachusetts voters hoping to get a repeal of the restraining order law saying the entire law needs to be completely scrapped.
Under the 209A law a woman can claim they are in fear of a boyfriend or husband (and with no evidence) the police have no discretion but to issue the order immediately placing custody of the children in the hands of the accusing party even if no crime has been committed and no evidence of threats or violence exist.
“We feel the 209A law which has been in effect for twenty years, is a big problem for a lot of families in Massachusetts. It’s a discriminatory law against men and it doesn’t prevent violence. It doesn’t prevent abuse. If someone is crazy a piece of paper isn’t going to stop them from committing violence. In fact, a restraining order will usually push people like that over the edge since, at that point they fee like they have nothing to lose,” Ureneck added. “The deck is stacked against men in these cases and children are being deprived of their fathers.”
“The problem is that the media only shows one side,” Says Fatherhood Coalition member Doug George of Quincy. “The few men who are violent get all the headlines and it gives the public the impression that men can’t be trusted, that men need laws to stop them from committing a crime in the future. But it’s a betrayal of what our system of justice is built on. Instead of the police and the court system reacting to crimes and prosecuting crimes that have actually been committed, they are jailing men for what they might do based on the word of an ex-wife or an ex-girlfriend who clearly has a motive.”
That motive, George says, “is money.”
“Follow the money. There’s a cash incentive in all this for the woman making the accusation. There’s a cash incentive for the lawyers who profit from it. There’s a financial motive for the woman because, just an accusation and the presence of a 209A restraining order on a man’s record affects who gets custody. It determines who pays child support. You know there’s a substantial amount of money for police training and the courts get millions in funding for programs associated with restraining orders. We understand the original intent of the law was to protect women and families but the law is doing the exact opposite,” he charged.
Ureneck agrees. “We did some research, and we found $100M comes from the feds to Massachusetts to fund state agencies, the courts, the police, social services, health services, all to support the 209A law. It’s an industry now. On the other hand we have budget of zero. We just want laws that are fair to fathers and children. Did you know that because of the way the law is written, if a man has a 209A protection order against him he can be arrested for unintentional contact? That means if you happen to be in the same place as the woman who took out the order you go to jail.”
Ureneck says he has been arrested multiple times for bogus allegations of violating a restraining order and has won in court every time, “but,” he adds, “I have spent countless thousands in lawyers bills, and I have spent so much time in jail, time I will ever get back, even though I was found not guilty.”
In one case he admits, “I was arrested for violating a restraining order one day because I was in traffic when my ex pulled up next to me. She went the police saying I had violated the order and they said I was technically in violation so I spent 18 days in jail.”
“And,” he adds, “even if the woman who takes out the order initiates contact, calls on the phone or sends an email, merely responding to the communication lands you in jail. Just imagine. Your ex takes out a 209A and then sends you an email or calls you and the minute you communicate with her you land in jail. Tell me that’s a just law? Tell me that complies with innocent until proven guilty? In some cases the communication doesn’t even take place but on the word of the woman, again with no evidence, the guy goes to jail. This is an outrage and it’s really unconstitutional. The public needs to know the details of what is going on and how this law is destroying families.
Ureneck admits that repealing the 209A law in Massachusetts is an uphill battle and doesn’t expect to win this time around but educating the public about the unfairness of the law will help them get it repealed in the future.
“We know we are not going to win, but we are trying to get the information into people’s minds and our long term goal is to show people how this law is destroying families so that some day we can repeal the law. Let me put it this way,” he added. “We have gone to The Governor’s Council to raise the issue for years. (The Governor’s Council approves judges for confirmation to the bench).
“When we first went there we said it’s a problem and 209A laws are being abused and destroying families. We have to have judges who understand this. And when we first went to them they looked at us like we had two heads. Now, years later, the Governor’s councilors are raising the issue on their own before new judges are confirmed. No issue changes overnight we know we are not going to have an immediate affect but the more you raise issues the better your chances of winning the battle in the future, in our opinion that’s what makes it worth doing.”
Doug George says that the current assault and battery laws are more than sufficient to protect women and families from violent domestic partners. “Let the current A&B laws be the standard. There has to be evidence and the person gets a trial and can defend themselves they are not considered guilty till proven innocent. Look, we have daughters, we want the laws to protect them against violence but this law doesn’t do that. This law creates broken families and makes criminals out of men who have not broken any laws.