On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, Essex County, FV-07-2860-07.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted: February 4, 2008
Before Judges Stern and C.L. Miniman.
Defendant Maria Polo-Karl appeals from the entry of a final restraining order (FRO) in favor of defendant Ronald Karl entered on May 17, 2007, which was amended on June 18, 2007, and from an order of June 18, 2007, denying Maria's application for an FRO against Ronald. We affirm.
Ronald testified at the May 17, 2007, hearing and offered pertinent evidence respecting Maria's conduct. The parties had been divorced on June 15, 2004, at which point Ronald received primary custody of their son Dane, who was eighteen at the time of the FRO hearing. On Monday, May 8, 2007, Ronald received six voice messages on his voicemail that were threatening and harassing and twelve unanswered telephone calls where no message was left. Ronald made a tape recording of these six messages as well as a number of similar messages left on his voicemail the previous week. Ronald secured a TRO on May 9 and brought the audiotape to court on May 17, 2007.
Ronald testified that in the messages Maria, who walks with a cane, threatened to enter Ronald's property, fall and injure herself so she could sue him. She also threatened Ronald's parents, who were seventy-three and seventy-five years old, by saying that she was going to charge them with embezzlement of funds so that she could enjoy seeing them die in jail. Maria also threatened to follow Ronald's wife to the home of his wife's son in Pennsylvania and that Ronald's wife should worry about her children. In other voicemail messages Maria mentioned numerous parties at Ronald's home and described vehicles parked in front of his house, which led Ronald to believe that Maria was stalking him. Maria talked about a pick-up truck with Pennsylvania license plates that Maria believed belonged to Ronald's wife's son.
Ronald also testified that this was not the first time that Maria left messages on his voicemail. Over the past three years Ronald received messages from Maria which, over time, would become increasingly intense and then subside, despite Ronald telling her numerous times not to call him. Just in the month before May 8, 2007, Maria telephoned Ronald on forty to fifty separate occasions even though Dane by then was an adult and there was no reason to contact Ronald.
As further evidence of the recent voicemails, Ronald played most of the tape recording of twelve messages, including the ones left on May 8, 2007, and others left the week before.*fn1
After hearing eleven messages, the judge determined that he had heard enough and did not need to hear the balance of the tape recording. Maria was given opportunities to cross-examine Ronald before he left the stand.
Maria then testified in defense of Ronald's claims and in support of her own application for an FRO. Maria testified that the voicemail messages she left on Ronald's telephone were all "in response to what [Ronald's] been doing to me for the past three years. And that's all I have to say Your Honor." She did not assert any proper purpose for making the calls nor did she claim that she was trying to resolve some dispute. Then Maria testified to the basis for the May 14, 2007, TRO issued in her favor in Morris County, which had been transferred to Essex.
Maria testified in a very disjointed and sometimes incomprehensible fashion to an alleged lengthy history of domestic violence by Ronald, although she admitted that, having secured multiple TROs, she had never obtained an FRO. As to recent acts of domestic violence, she claimed that Ronald had repeatedly vandalized her car by driving screws into the left rear tire on multiple occasions and putting water in her gas tank. She admitted that she never observed Ronald do any of these acts of vandalism nor did she call any witnesses to connect Ronald to the damage to her car.
At the conclusion of the hearing the judge placed his fact findings on the record. He found that Maria did not dispute making the telephone calls to which Ronald testified. He stated that he had listened to eleven of the voicemail messages and to the testimony of Ronald, none of which was denied by Maria. From listening to the voicemail messages, the judge found that the overall purpose of the "calls was to annoy or alarm [Ronald] and not for any other purpose." He found that the calls were not made to resolve disputes but to make threats that Maria "was going to go to court. She was going to report him. She was going to have him go to jail. That his relative[s] were going to be convicted of fraud or embezzlement or whatever." The judge concluded that Maria engaged in harassing conduct that was ...