The Supreme Judicial Court on Tuesday supported the concept of a permanent restraining order in domestic violence cases, in refusing to vacate a 14-year-old stay-away order for a Utah man who had claimed he had “moved on with his life.”
The court ruled that the man, Kevin Caruso, had a greater burden of proving that the order should be lifted, and yet he showed no evidence that he has not harmed anyone since the restraining order was first issued.
“To prove that he had truly ‘moved on with his life,’ the defendant in this case needed to demonstrate not only that he has moved on to another relationship, but that he has ‘moved on’ from his history of domestic abuse and retaliation,” the high court said in its rulings Tuesday.
The SJC recognized that Caruso had the burden of proving that the order should be vacated and that he faced a high standard. However, the court found that he showed no evidence that the circumstances have changed, other than that he moved to Utah and married.
The court suggested that Caruso could have submitted affidavits from his wife, or the police chief in his community, noting he has not violated any restraining order. “The only relevant issue is the safety of the plaintiff,’’ not the passage of time, the court said.
Thomas Arthur Hensley, of Taunton, who represented Caruso before the Probate and Family Court in Plymouth County, and again before the SJC, said he was disappointed by the decision, saying his client has moved across the country, has married another woman and has never violated the existing order.
“He’s going to be very disappointed,” Hensley said. “These things never are expunged, ever. And that sort of complicates things.”
The victim in the case did not contest the vacating of the permanent restraining order.
But a lawyer who represented victim and women’s rights advocates who had been following the arguments and submitted filings with the court welcomed the ruling, saying the court “has clarified the importance of leaving permanent restraining orders in place.”
“The reason why that is important is that domestic violence victims should not have restraining orders that they have relied on and that may have informed their life decisions, victims should not have those overturned or altered unless there is very good reasons or showing for doing that,” said Claire Laporte, a partner with Foley Hoag LLP.
Laporte was not representing the victim in the case, who did not present a case to the Supreme Judicial Court.
Laporte worked with several lawyers from Foley Hoag to represent a coalition of groups in the case, including the Domestic & Sexual Violence Counsel, the Women’s Bar Association of Massachusetts, Dove Inc., and the Justice Center of Southeast Massachusetts, among others.
The victim in the case first filed a restraining order against Caruso in New York in 1994. She left that state in 1995, saying he threatened to kill her. Then in 1999, she said, she started receiving “odd mail” in Massachusetts where she had lived, postmarked in the region where Caruso was living, stating that she had inquired about numerous products; one of the items bore Caruso’s handwriting. Caruso also used her social security number and forged her signature to acquire a credit card in her name.
Then, in November 1999, the victim said she saw Caruso on a boat ramp in Plymouth, near where she lived.
The victim first obtained a restraining order in Plymouth County in 1999, and it was renewed after one year. The order was then renewed again in 2000, and in 2001 a judge agreed to issue a permanent order, which is allowed after two orders have been issued and a fear of imminent serious physical harm still exists. Caruso did not appeal the order at the time. Caruso sought to vacate the order in May 2011, however, saying it had been in place for more than a decade, with no allegations of violations.
He said he has moved to Park City, Utah, and has been married since 2004, “and happily so.” Caruso said he had retired from the business world and has been traveling. The restraining order has prevented him from being able to obtain a pistol permit and from participating in any charities that require record checks. He also says he undergoes increased scrutiny at airports.