Essay:Vice-mayor restraining order LTE
The recent article “Judge grants Warrenton vice mayor protective order against council opponent” shows why we need to reform Virginia's laws concerning restraining orders.
Warrenton Vice Mayor Sunny Reynolds was able to obtain a restraining order under a statute, Code of Virginia § 19.2-152.9, that required only that she prove she had been “subjected to an act of violence, force, or threat by a preponderance of the evidence.”
This is a much lower standard than the “beyond a reasonable doubt” standard which is used in criminal court. That higher standard exists because of the principle that a person's liberty should not be taken away without strong evidence that he broke a law. Yet without having been convicted of any crime, Reynold's challenger in the May election, Keith Macdonald, has been deprived of his First Amendment right to petition his government (specifically, his vice mayor) for a redress of grievances. He also has been deprived of his Second Amendment right to possess a gun.
The article says, “Reynolds also said she felt taken advantage of as the only woman member of the Warrenton Town Council”. But it will have a chilling effect on free speech if men feel they could easily be deprived of their liberty just for confronting a female elected official about her public policies and threatening to run for office against her. The voters lose out too, because now any prospect of these two candidates' appearing together in a forum to debate issues of public interest is gone.