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New Jersey Division of Youth and Family Services v. J.T.

October 15, 2002


On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, Cape May County, FN-05-05-02.

Before Judges Coburn, Collester and Alley.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Collester, J.A.D.


Submitted September 18, 2002

Defendant J.T., biological father of J.R., an infant, appeals from a judgment of the Chancery Division, Family Part entered pursuant to N.J.S.A. 9:6-8.21(C)(4)(b) following a fact finding hearing in which the hearing judge determined that J.T. neglected or abused J.R. by exposing him to substance abuse and domestic violence, thereby putting him at risk. We affirm.

Born May 28, 1999, J.R. is the biological son of defendant and D.R., who were not married. The New Jersey Division of Youth and Family Services (the Division) sought care and supervision of J.R. through the filing of a complaint and order to show cause on July 19, 2001. The Division permitted D.R. to live with J.R. at the residence of her sister and brother-in-law, C.M. and L.M., who were granted custody of the child. At a hearing before the Family Part judge on October 4, 2001, D.R. stipulated to facts which constituted abuse and neglect of J.R. A civil judgment was then entered against D.R. pursuant to N.J.S.A. 9:6-8.21(C)(4)(b).

On March 27, 2002, a fact finding hearing was held on the complaint against J.T. The Division called no witnesses. The hearing judge permitted introduction of a referral report from the Hawaii Department of Human Services (DHS) which reported both J.T. and D.R. were substance abusers and domestic violence had occurred between them. The report concluded J.R. would have been placed in protective custody had the family remained in Hawaii.

Other documents received from Hawaii DHS included a certified petition for custody of J.R. and a case summary prepared for the Hawaii Family Court. The petition alleged a reasonable, foreseeable and substantial risk of harm to J.R. based on incidents between J.T. and D.R. in Hawaii. It included statements by D.R. that she fled from New Jersey with J.R. to hide from J.T. by living with her sister in Hawaii. The report noted J.T. called DHS on June 7, 2001, to say D.R. had a substantial drug problem, including overdosing on heroin and cocaine, and was incapable of caring for J.R. J.T. called DHS again on June 19, 2001, this time reporting D.R. told him that she was going to kill herself and J.R. He claimed D.R. was sexually promiscuous, drug addicted and had severe psychiatric problems.

As a result of these calls, a DHS worker met with D.R. and confirmed that she had overdosed on heroin prior to living in Hawaii. D.R. blamed her heroin addiction on J.T. and said he was physically and emotionally abusive. She was deathly afraid of him because he threatened to have someone tamper with her car brakes and throw acid in her face and kill both her and her sister. D.R.'s sister, L.T., also told the DHS worker that J.T. had called them from the mainland approximately forty times a day, causing them to move and change their telephone number.

The DHS record related that D.R.'s sister, L.T., called the DHS worker on July 5, 2001, concerned because D.R. and J.R. could not be located. J.T. later called the caseworker and said he and D.R. were getting married, and D.R. then got on the phone to say she had gone back to live with defendant. The caseworker went to D.R.'s residence and found the door locked with the majority of D.R.'s belongings still in the residence. Her car was found parked at the airport.

Hawaii DHS referred the matter to the Division of New Jersey. A Division caseworker located D.R. at the home of her sister, C.M., in Marmora. She told the caseworker that J.T. convinced her to leave Hawaii and meet him in Philadelphia. They traveled to Florida where J.T. forced her to use many drugs and abused her physically and sexually. She called the police and J.T. was arrested and taken to jail. D.R. then moved to New Jersey to live with her sister and brother-in-law, C.M. and L.M. She agreed to cooperate with recommended services by the Division and give custody of J.R. to C.M. and L.M. while she entered substance abuse counseling.

After introducing the documents provided by Hawaii DHS, the Division requested that the hearing judge take judicial notice of J.T.'s judgment of conviction on September 28, 2001, which related that he was sentenced following a plea of guilty to possession of a controlled dangerous substance within 1,000 feet of a school, contrary to N.J.S.A. 2C:35-7, and received a custodial term of four years with an eighteen month period of parole ineligibility. The judgment contained the following comments by the sentencing judge:

The court finds aggravating factors 3*, 6* and 9 and no mitigating factors apply to this sentence.

* Due to defendant's admitted history of cocaine and heroin addiction, alcoholism and previous "daily" use of marijuana for fifteen years; open bench warrants to New Jersey municipalities; one bench warrant from Florida; and twenty-one arrests with nineteen convictions... Defendant is an ...

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