On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, Somerset County, Docket No. FO-18-156-08.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted: September 10, 2008
Before Judges Parrillo and Lihotz.
Defendant Waqar H. Zaidi appeals from his conviction, following a trial in the Family Part, for the disorderly persons offense of contempt, N.J.S.A. 2C:29-9(b). The charge emanated from an alleged violation of the provisions of a temporary restraining order (TRO) entered pursuant to the Prevention of Domestic Violence Act (PDVA), N.J.S.A. 2C:25-17 to-35. Defendant argues the trial court abused its discretion in limiting cross-examination of the State's sole witness. We agree. Accordingly, we reverse the conviction, vacate the sentence, and remand for a new trial before a different Family Part judge.
Defendant and Farah Chughtai engaged in a dating relationship. Following the termination of their affair, Chughtai requested and received a TRO, prohibiting defendant from all communication and contact. Defendant was served with the TRO on September 25, 2007.
Chughtai reported defendant violated the TRO. She described defendant made multiple telephone calls on September 27, 2007, and emailed her on September 29, 2007. The Franklin Township Municipal Court issued two warrants, each charging defendant with contempt.
The hearing to review Chughtai's initial domestic violence complaint was held on October 25, 2007. The Family Part judge concluded defendant was not present at Chughtai's home on the date and time she alleged, thus, defendant could not have committed the claimed acts of domestic violence. The court dismissed the complaint and vacated the TRO.
The same Family Part judge conducted the trial on the contempt charges. Chughtai testified defendant called her at 4:12 p.m., 4:14 p.m. and 4:15 p.m. on September 27, 2007. She introduced a photograph of her telephone taken on September 19, 2007, apparently to demonstrate she knew defendant's cellular telephone phone number, identified as "732-921-3293."
Chughtai testified that during the repeated September 27, 2007 calls, defendant stated he did not "like... the restraining order" and "wanted to kill [her] son and... put a bullet on [sic] [her] head." Later that day, Chughtai received two threatening telephone messages from an unidentified man, not defendant, whose voice she did not recognize. Further, Chughtai testified defendant emailed her on September 29, 2007. However, the only email document introduced was dated September 22, 2007, which was prior to defendant's receipt of the TRO.
During Chughtai's cross-examination the following exchange took place:
[DEFENSE COUNSEL]: Now, the basis of the restraining order from September 11th was that you had stated [defendant] drove around your house in Franklin Township?
[Assistant Prosecutor]: Judge, I'm going to object as to the relevance of the underlying--
[DEFENSE COUNSEL]: My response, your Honor,... this goes to her credibility. In the other case with he restraining order we caught Ms. Chughtai in a lie, if your Honor remembers, where she claimed my client did something when it was physically impossible because he was in another location, he had a log-in sheet, he had a business deal with another woman, and there was a log-in sheet showing that he could not possibly ...