Are Harassing Telephone Calls A Reason To Obtain A Restraining Order?
Yes. Repeated and/or seriously alarming phone calls are grounds to obtain a temporary (and potentially a final) restraining order in the state of New Jersey. Below please find this lawyer’s take on a recent decision from the New Jersey Appellate Division that explains how both judges and attorneys evaluate domestic violence cases of this nature.
In C.G. v. M.G., wife and former police officer, M.G., appealed an order of the Superior Court of New Jersey, Family part of Morris County, dated October 8, 2014, that entered a final restraining order against her under New Jersey Statute 2C:25-17 to -35. Her husband, C.G., who was a police officer for over twenty years, filed a domestic violence complaint against her and alleged harassment. The New Jersey Appellate Division reviewed the factual record in light of the arguments on appeal and affirmed the decision of the Family Part to enter a final restraining order.
On the hearing day, the Family Part judge told the parties that while they did not a constitutional right to court appointed counsel, on they could seek an adjournment to find an attorney, and they would be afforded a reasonable opportunity to do so. The Family Part judge also informed the parties that serious consequences stem from the entrance of a final restraining order such as a prohibition on firearms, fingerprinting, and a restriction on certain forms of employment.
C.G. and M.G. got married in 2000, and had three children together. They were in the middle of a divorce when the incident that gave rise to the final restraining order at issue occurred. The Division of Child Protection and Permanency was alerted of M.G.’s alleged mistreatment of the children by one the children’s therapist, and become involved with the family. While M.G. was ordered to take part in psychiatric and psychological evaluations, she failed to comply. At this time, she was no longer living with the family, but a court order allowed her two hours of visitation time a week with the children, organized and supervised by the Division of Child Protection and Permanency.
Starting on October 2, 2014, M.G. began texting and calling C.G., trying to have him supervise electronic visitation through Skype so she could speak with the kids. On that day, she called C.G.’s home phone seventy-two times, between 8:00 p.m. and 11:08 p.m., and called his cell phone over thirty times after 8:00 p.m., along with several text messages sent that afternoon. C.G. testified that M.G. had acted similarly in the past, and was known for exhibiting troubling behavior such as screaming, yelling, and displaying an overall need for total control. He further testified that while she suffered from serious psychiatric problems, she was still not taking part in therapy. More troubling, C.G. alleged that M.G. owned a firearm, even though M.G. disputed this fact. C.G. claimed that he was afraid of M.G.’s behavior, and scared by her threats to tell newspapers that he abused her so that he would lose his job.
C.G. also described another event that showcased M.G.’s “explosive” personality. On the day the Division of Child Protection and Permanency came to the home, M.G. began banging her head against the concrete wall in their garage after they left. He claimed that he did not know what she was capable of, and was losing sleep because of the harassing texts and phone calls she sent him. C.G. also testified that she had threatened to hit him a cutting board in the past. Conversely, M.G. minimized her behavior in her testimony. She contended that it was reasonable for her to seek out the father of her children to try and facilitate contact with them, because she was not able to reach the Division of Child Protection and Permanency, and she believed that the agency might have approved C.G. as a supervisor.
The Family Part judge found C.G. to be credible, and concluded that a final restraining order was needed to protect the safety of the both C.G. and the kids, due to M.G.’s disregard for the order made by the Division of Child Protection and Permanency. M.G. only asked for attorney, after the Family Part judge made his findings.
M.G. appealed the final restraining order and argued that her behavior did not rise to meet the statutory definition of domestic violence enumerated in the Prevention of Domestic Violence Act, New Jersey Statute 2C:25-19(a). She further claimed that the Family Part judge did not provide her with due process because he failed to inform her of the stern consequences of a final restraining order, her right to be represented by counsel, or her right to request an adjournment to consult with an attorney. The New Jersey Appellate Division stated that her second claim was so flat out inconsistent with the factual record that it did deserve to be discussed or reviewed in the opinion.
The New Jersey Appellate Division started its opinion by stating that appellate review of Family Part judge’s finding of fact is limited. A judge’s factual findings are controlling on appeal as long as they are supported by substantial, adequate, and credible evidence. This deference is based on the fact that Family Part judges see witnesses first hand, and have a feel of the case that a cold review of the record could never match. Moreover, Family Part judges are afforded additional deference in regards to findings of fact, because they have a special expertise is family matters, therefore the New Jersey Appellate Division does not second-guess their sound discretion. That said, the same deference is not given to a judge’s findings, when those findings are based upon a misunderstanding of controlling legal principles.
When a Family Part judge is tasked with deciding whether or not to enter a final restraining order under the Prevention of Domestic Violence Act, he or she must first consider if the moving party has proven, by a preponderance of the evidence, that the other party has committed one of many predicate acts enumerated in New Jersey Statute 2C:25-19(a). Harassment is incorporated into this statute as conduct that constitutes domestic violence. New Jersey Statute 2C:33-4(c) defines harassment as taking part “in any other course of alarming conduct or of repeatedly committed acts with the purpose to alarm or seriously annoy such other person. The Family Part judge in C.G. v. M.G., listened to both parties’ recollection of the facts, and concluded that the incredibly excessive number of text messages and phones that M.G. made to C.G., in violation of the court order that directed her to contact the Division of Child Protection and Permanency to schedule visitation, constituted harassment. Just because M.G. might have also had the alternative purpose to contact her children in addition to alarm or annoy her husband, did not mean the finding of harassment should be negated.
A Family Part judge has the duty to view any alleged acts of domestic violence in light of the history between the couple so to better comprehend the totality of the circumstances revolving around the relationship and to completely analyze the reasonableness of the victim’s alleged fear of the perpetrating party. After a predicate offense of domestic violence is proven, then the judge has to determine if a restraining order is needed to protect the victim from immediate danger or future harm. The New Jersey Appellate Division found that the Family Part judge did in fact perform this analysis and rightly determined that a final restraining order was necessary to protect C.G. and the children.
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