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Testimony favors change in protective-order standard

ANNAPOLIS — The O’Malley administration urged legislators Tuesday to ease Maryland’s uniquely onerous statutory requirement that domestic-violence victims prove the likelihood of future attacks by clear and convincing evidence to secure a protective order against their abusers.

Every other U.S. state has an easier-to-satisfy burden-of-proof standard, which in turn provides greater protection for women and men who are victimized by their domestic partners, Jeanne D. Hitchcock, Gov. Martin O’Malley’s chief lobbyist before the General Assembly, told the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee.

Hitchcock testified in favor of Senate Bill 333, which would change the clear and convincing standard to a preponderance of the evidence showing, the same burden of proof generally applied in civil litigation. In 2012, Maryland judges rejected 3,500 motions for final protection orders because the person seeking it could not meet the clear and convincing burden, Hitchcock said. The change to preponderance of the evidence is “needed … fair [and] sound public policy,” she added.

Representatives from the House of Ruth, the Maryland Coalition Against Sexual Assault, the Maryland State Bar Association’s Family and Juvenile Law Section Council and the office of Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake also testified in favor of the measure, in person or in writing.

No one spoke in opposition to the bill on Tuesday, but Sen. Judicial Proceedings Committee Chairman Brian E. Frosh, the bill’s chief sponsor, said some people have voiced concern that easing the standard could spur meritless motions for protective orders from people angry at their domestic partners.

The measure is cross-filed in the House of Delegates as House Bill 307. The chief sponsor is House Speaker Michael E. Busch, D-Anne Arundel. The House Judiciary Committee is scheduled to have a hearing on the bill Feb. 13.