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Ex parte is a Latin phrase meaning 'one side only.' An ex parte legal proceeding is a court hearing that is conducted in the presence of only one of the parties to a dispute. Under the United States legal system, constitutional due process protections require that individuals be given notice, and an opportunity to be heard, before a court renders a decision on a matter in which they have a liberty or property interest. As such, ex parte relief is granted only if the party seeking a court order can demonstrate existing circumstances that would justify denying an another, adverse party the opportunity to be heard on the matter.
A party seeking ex parte relief from a court must demonstrate that he will suffer irreparable harm unless the relief is immediately granted. In these circumstances, the party seeking relief may argue that the situation is so urgent and compelling that the time required to give notice to the other party would subject him to injury. For example, if a woman is threatened with imminent harm from a physically abusive husband, a court may immediately issue a restraining order without hearing from the husband. In order to comply with constitutional due process requirements, immediately after the restraining order is issued, the court would schedule a full hearing on the matter with adequate notice to the husband. After hearing from both parties, a determination would then be made as to whether to make the temporary restraining order permanent.
The term ex parte is also used to describe an unauthorized communication made by one attorney with another attorney’s client, concerning a pending legal matter. Any communication by one attorney to an involved party — outside the presence of that person’s attorney — is prohibited by the Canons of Professional Responsibility, by which all attorneys are bound. A lawyer who engages in ex parte communication with another attorney’s client can be subject to disciplinary proceedings. Similarly, contact by a judge or arbitrator with one of the parties to a pending lawsuit, over which he is presiding, outside the presence of the other party, or his counsel, constitutes ex parte communication. Such contact is considered unethical as it violates the dictates of fundamental fairness, and the ability of a judge or arbitrator to be truly impartial.
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