On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, Morris County, Docket No. FV-14-1178-06.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Argued September 25, 2007
Before Judges Fuentes and Grall.
Defendant Richard Ruglio appeals from a final restraining order entered by the Family Part pursuant to the Prevention of Domestic Violence Act. The trial court found that defendant committed the predicate offense of harassment based on defendant's use of the phrase "you'll be sorry," combined with the parties' history of domestic violence.
Defendant raises three points on appeal. He argues that the trial court committed reversible error because: (1) the evidence presented at trial does not support the finding that he intended to harass, threaten, or scare plaintiff when he said "you'll be sorry;" (2) the court erred when it relied on the parties' history of domestic violence to determine whether the incident at issue constituted harassment; and (3) the court abused its discretion in interrupting counsels' presentation of their cases and in allowing plaintiff's counsel to use leading questions on direct.
After reviewing the record before us, and in light of prevailing legal standards, we reject these arguments and affirm.
We gather the following facts from the evidence presented to the court over three non-sequential trial days. The parties had been married for five years as of the time the domestic violence complaint was filed. They have a four-year-old son,*fn1 and have resided in defendant's home for the past six years.
On Memorial Day weekend of 2006, defendant was working on the landscaping of the parties' backyard, including placing bricks around large rocks already present in the yard, when, according to plaintiff, she expressed concern to defendant about the safety of the newly laid bricks because their son liked to play on the large rocks. She requested that defendant move the bricks. In response, plaintiff testified that defendant said "shut up, bitch," "leave me alone," "I can do what I want, it's my backyard," "get lost," and "if you don't like it, leave." Wanting to avoid a confrontation, plaintiff went back into the house.
The next day, while defendant was at work, plaintiff removed the new bricks. When defendant returned home that evening, plaintiff could tell that he was angry about the moved bricks. After doing other things upstairs, defendant went into the backyard. Once in the yard, he started replacing the bricks around the large rocks. A short while later, while inside the house, plaintiff heard her four-year-old son's "blood curdling" scream from the backyard. When she ran into the backyard to investigate, the boy said "my daddy hit me;" when she asked the child what he meant by this, he stated: "he punched me in the arms and hit me on my hand."
When plaintiff then asked the defendant what was going on, he replied: "mind your own business," "get out of here," and "you'll be sorry." Plaintiff testified that defendant was "very angry," "beat red," and "veins were coming out [of his neck]" when he made the statement "you'll be sorry." She interpreted the statement "you'll be sorry" to mean that she was going to get hit next.
Immediately after this exchange, plaintiff removed the boy from the backyard; drove to the police station with him to report the incident and obtain a temporary restraining order (TRO) based on harassment. She did not tell defendant where she was going or what her intentions were.*fn2
At trial, plaintiff testified to four other instances of domestic violence during her marriage. In the context of this history, she believed that defendant was going to hit her when he made the statement "you'll be ...