Hon. Robert J. Bryan American Inn of Court

At the February meeting of the Hon. Robert J. Bryan American Inn of Court in Tacoma, Washington, the program was focused on extreme risk protection orders (ERPOs). The pupillage group provided an informative and contemplative presentation, led by retired Judge Anne Levinson and Patrick Lavin, Esquire, a senior deputy prosecutor from the Regional Domestic Violence Firearms Enforcement Unit. At their core, ERPOs are court orders issued after evidence shows an individual poses a significant danger such that access to firearms should be prevented. ERPOs were first enacted in Washington by referendum in November 2016, then legislatively expanded in 2019 to include future access of firearms, provide for juveniles as respondents, and remove restrictive mental health language in the statute.

Despite both popular referendum support and legislative expansion, the process, application, and enforcement of ERPOs is still largely unfamiliar to many local legal practitioners. Levinson and Lavin fluently covered who may file for an ERPO, a properly supported petition, and procedural aspects of the ex parte hearing for a temporary order and the full return hearing for a final ERPO order. The presenters took time to examine the connections between ERPOs and attempts to decrease firearm-related dangers in interpersonal relationships, societal mass shootings, and self-harm situations such as suicide. They provided numerous examples of actual ERPO cases, as well as an introductory skit hinting at the potentially hampering individual effects that could occur from issuance of ERPOs.

Along with Washington, 16 other states have enacted versions of ERPO laws, as well as 14 additional states that are considering similar legislation. With our local and national discourse immersed in trying to reduce firearm deaths and injuries while still balancing individual Constitutional rights, the presentation provided food for thought for Inn members.