Part 4: Public Access to TPO Records
As set forth in Parts 1 through 3 of this four-part article, because cases involving Temporary Protective Orders (TPOs) in Georgia can have significant consequences for either party involved, each party – both the Petitioner and the Respondent -- should be familiar with the basic procedural mechanics of the TPO process, including the public accessibility to TPO records.
The TPO process is not a criminal case, but rather a civil case. As such, a TPO case will not result in an entry onto someone's criminal record, unless someone commits a crime related to violating the TPO. However, any TPO order, ex parte or otherwise, is placed on the 'family violence registry' to which law enforcement personnel have access in order to determine if a particular individual has contact-restrictions. The family violence registry, which is not public record or part of someone's criminal record, is intended to be confidential except for purposes of law enforcement investigation.
Nonetheless, even if a TPO case is not a criminal case that might appear on someone's criminal record and even if the results of TPO are entered into a non-public family violence registry, a TPO case itself is treated just like any other civil case. This means that the documents filed in a TPO, ex parte or otherwise, will be public record and available for viewing in-person at the clerk's office or online (if the county supports such a web-based record system).
In certain instances, a TPO case can be sealed by a superior court judge, but success in sealing these records can be very limited. Effectively, that does make a TPO and the allegations either party makes against the other, a public record.
Sealing of TPO records is governed by the Georgia Civil Practice Act in Title 9, as well as the Uniform Superior Court Rules. If the prejudice to be suffered by one (or both) of the TPO parties due to the public availability of records outweighs the public interest in having court records remain public ('sunshine' laws), then a TPO court Georgia has the authority, on written motion, to seal the records. If a TPO petition is sustained, it is virtually certain that any motion to seal would be denied. If a TPO petition is dismissed, however, a judge may find that the potential harm to a TPO litigant justifies the sealing of the records. The decision to seal is purely in the wide range of discretion given to the presiding judge, however.
Therefore, the consequences of having the TPO records available to the public is yet another crucial reason that one ought to seriously consider having professional representation. To view the other parts of this article that detail the basic procedural process of a TPO in Georgia, please visit Parts 1, 2 and 3 of the corresponding parts of the article, How Does A Typical Temporary Protective Order Work in Georgia?
All in all, when someone facing a TPO case in Gwinnett County or elsewhere in metro Atlanta or Georgia, considers not just the public availability of TPO court records or the maze of hearing procedures or the complexity of the rules of evidence, but also the significance of consequences on the future relationship between the litigants and possibly their children, it is a prudent decision to seek the aid and assistance of an experienced and successful TPO attorney like Douglas N. Fox, who, as founder of Fox Firm, P.C., has handled countless TPO cases in his career in representing both petitioners and respondents. You can contact me at my office at 770.277.4883 or through my email address: firstname.lastname@example.org.