What can I expect when I return to court for the hearing?
The judge may hold what is called a “case management conference,” which is a meeting between you, your harasser and the judge. If you or the harasser has a lawyer, the lawyers may also attend. This meeting is not a trial and, therefore, witnesses do not attend at this stage. Generally, the purpose of a case management conference is for the judge to see if both parties are willing to settle the case (i.e., the harasser consents to you having a final protection order) and to plan for the trial if the case cannot be settled.
The judge may also require that you and your harasser try mediation or some other out-of-court process to see if you can settle your issues without a full court hearing.1
If you and the harasser can agree to the terms of an order, this is called a “consent agreement” and you can get a protection order issued without going to trial. 2 The judge will usually approve whatever terms you both agree upon and make it into a court order.1
If you cannot agree to the terms of an order, the court will hold a hearing following formal rules of evidence and procedure. At the hearing you must explain to the judge under oath what happened. You will want to describe each event of harassment to the best of your memory, what your harasser did and said, what emotions s/he was displaying, and how you felt and responded. You can also bring witnesses who saw or heard the harassment. The judge will listen to your story and the defendant’s story and make a decision. It is generally best to have a lawyer at a hearing, especially if the harasser has one.
If the defendant does not show up for the hearing and you have proof that he was served (the “Return of Service” form) some judges will still ask you to tell your story briefly under oath before granting you a final protection from harassment order.1 You might hear this type of one-sided hearing referred to as an “inquest.”
1 See Pine Tree Legal Assistance’s “Protection from Harassment”
2 5 M.R.S.A. § 4655(1)