May 28, 2008
PATRICIA ANN GREENBERG, F/K/A PATRICIA ANN CATHRALL PLAINTIFF-RESPONDENT,
EUGENE H. CATHRALL, IV, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT.
On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, Cape May County, FV-05-0150-08.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted May 12, 2008
Before Judges Parrillo and S.L. Reisner.
Defendant Eugene Cathrall, IV appeals from a September 19, 2007 Final Restraining Order entered pursuant to a domestic violence complaint filed by plaintiff Patricia Ann Greenberg.*fn1
The August 28, 2007 incident which gave rise to the complaint occurred during a pending custody dispute between the parties. On August 16, 2007, a Family Part judge had entered an order providing that defendant was permitted to have "contact/visitation" with the couple's children "only if initiated by the children or in an appropriate therapeutic setting."
At a subsequent domestic violence hearing, which gave rise to this appeal, plaintiff presented the following evidence. On August 28, defendant appeared at plaintiff's house with the expressed intention of taking the couple's seventeen-year-old son to a counseling session. The son was unwilling to go with his father. Plaintiff testified that when she confirmed to defendant that their son did not want to go with him, defendant responded in a low voice, "I'll get you." Rather than accepting his son's choice, defendant proceeded to loudly yell his son's name multiple times, and then sat in his truck parked outside the house, sounding the horn for three to five minutes.
Plaintiff's bookkeeper, who was at plaintiff's house and witnessed this incident, testified to defendant's refusal to leave despite plaintiff's requests, his yelling the son's name repeatedly, and his sounding the horn over a period of three to five minutes. She testified that the incident was upsetting and frightening; according to this witness, "[t]he situation seemed to be escalating and I was actually afraid to leave until he left." She also confirmed hearing the son tell plaintiff that he did not want to go with his father.
The bookkeeper further testified that shortly after defendant finally departed, she also left the house. However, the witness saw defendant's truck parked around the corner from plaintiff's house, and she called to warn plaintiff, who had to pick up another child, that she should leave the neighborhood by another route.
Plaintiff and her current husband testified that plaintiff was quite upset by the incident. In fact, the husband testified that when he came home, plaintiff was "hysterical." Plaintiff also testified that she was frightened and thought defendant might "do something to [her] physically." Additionally, plaintiff testified that the incident was upsetting to their son.
Defendant's version of events was that he arrived at the house to take his son to a pre-arranged counseling session. However, plaintiff would not let the son go with him. Defendant testified that he called the son's name a couple of times, beeped the horn twice as a way of saying "see you later," and then left peaceably.
The trial judge found the bookkeeper to be a credible witness and concluded that defendant's conduct, as she described it, constituted harassment.
I do find that [defendant] went back out, that he yelled the child's name over and over, and that he laid on the horn for quite a period of time. . . . That that was a deliberate attempt to annoy or alarm and it constitutes . . . an act of harassment. Plaintiff is entitled . . . to be left alone.
On this appeal, defendant urges that "[t]he trial court erred in finding the defendant/appellant guilty and ordering a final restraining order." We conclude that defendant's appellate contentions are without merit and, except as addressed herein, they do not warrant discussion in a written opinion. R. 2:11-3(e)(1)(E).
Our review of the trial court's decision is limited. We will not disturb the judge's factual and legal findings unless they are "so manifestly unsupported by or inconsistent with the competent, relevant and reasonably credible evidence as to offend the interest of justice." Cesare v. Cesare, 154 N.J. 394, 412 (1998). We give particular deference to findings of the Family Part based on its expertise in domestic relations issues. Ibid. Having reviewed the entire record, we conclude that the judge's decision is supported by the evidence and is legally correct.
The Prevention of Domestic Violence Act, N.J.S.A. 2C:25-17 to -35, includes harassment as one of the offenses on which a finding of domestic violence may be based. N.J.S.A. 2C:25-19a(13). Harassment is defined as follows:
[A] person commits a petty disorderly persons offense if, with purpose to harass another, he:
a. Makes, or causes to be made, a communication or communications anonymously or at extremely inconvenient hours, or in offensively coarse language, or any other manner likely to cause annoyance or alarm;
c. Engages in any other course of alarming conduct . . . with purpose to alarm or seriously annoy such other person. [N.J.S.A. 2C:33-4.]
The evidence readily supports a conclusion that defendant committed harassment within the meaning of N.J.S.A. 2C:33-4a and c. Defendant was already under a court order to respect his children's wishes with respect to visitation. However, when his son refused to go with him, defendant made an extended, noisy, and frightening scene calculated to upset and intimidate both plaintiff and the couple's son. Under the circumstances, this meets the definition of harassment and justified entry of the final restraining order to prevent further abusive conduct. See Silver v. Silver, 387 N.J. Super. 112, 127 (App. Div. 2006).