For Immediate Release

Fatherhood Coalition Director to be Tried for 209A Restraining Order Violations

Courthouse protest to be held at Quincy District Court

QUINCY, March 10 -- After months of delay, Fatherhood Coalition south shore director Harry Stewart will finally receive his trial today at Quincy District Court for several alleged violations of a domestic (209A) restraining order.

Coalition members will hold a protest demonstration on behalf of Stewart and in opposition to 209A outside Quincy District Court, as they have on prior trial dates that have all resulted in postponements. That should not happen today (Wednesday, March 10), as the prosecution has been warned that no more delays will be tolerated.

Stewart has chosen a bench trial; he will not be tried by a jury. "I want the court to be responsible for their decision. If they are going to put me in jail for being a loving father to my two sons, I don't want them to be able to hide behind a jury verdict," says Stewart, who has indicated that he will not accept a plea bargain. "The law is wrong. It is chapter 209A of the Massachusetts General Laws that is on trial here, not Harry Stewart."

All of Stewart's alleged violations have been of the no-contact provisions of the 209A protection orders his ex-wife has held against him since the breakdown of their marriage. Like thousands of other fathers in divorce/custody litigation, contact between Stewart and his children has been criminalized by allegations of "domestic abuse." There have never been allegations of violence made against Stewart.

In addition to the three previous violations, a new charge has been made. Late last year, Stewart's ex-wife had the existing order amended at a hearing where he wasn't present. The amended order forbade him to leave his vehicle when he picks up his boys at their school four days a week. The order already prevented him from leaving his car when picking up his children at his ex-wife's home-one of the violations is for doing just that. The latest charge resulted in an attempted handcuffing by police in front of his children at their school. Stewart spent the night and next day in jail on that occasion. At the time, Stewart, a Full Gospel minister, was in the company of a Congregational minister friend.

Research study on 209A restraining orders threatened

In a related matter, last week Attorney General Thomas Reilly announced the filing of legislation to prevent the public's access to 209A court dockets. Steve Basile of Gardner, co-director of the north central chapter of the Fatherhood Coalition, is engaged in researching the use of 209A in Gardner District Court.

According to Coalition spokesman Mark Charalambous:

"The Stewart case is a textbook example of restraining order abuse. It is incomprehensible that a loving father who has never even been accused of domestic violence should be facing ten years in jail for violating the terms of an abuse protection order. It is precisely these kinds of judicial abuses that the public needs to know about, but the government is doing all it can to maintain the conspiracy of silence regarding restraining order abuse."

The attorney general's legislation aims to amend the Public Records Law, Massachusetts' version of the Freedom of Information Act.

Restraining orders are abused in divorce and custody cases

Father's rights advocates have maintained for years that 209A orders are routinely abused by women against innocent men for a variety of reasons. Because of the sweeping provisions of the law, men can be thrown out of their homes simply on the request of the woman at an ex parte hearing (where the defendant isn't present). A 209A order can remove a father's parental rights, including the right to contact his children by telephone, simply because the mother claims that she is in fear of him. 209A orders have become the consequence-free weapon of choice in divorce and custody battles.

According to Stewart, with respect to 209A and domestic violence policies, "The court creates more violence than it prevents."


CPF - The Fatherhood Coalition

A non-profit, all volunteer organization of men and women advocating for fatherhood since 1994


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