On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division-Family Part, Bergen County, Docket No. FV-02-1061-08.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Before Judges Cuff and Baxter.
Following trial, Judge Mizdol found that defendant committed an act of domestic violence and entered a final restraining order pursuant to the Prevention of Domestic Violence Act of 1991 (the Act), N.J.S.A. 2C:25-17 to -35.
Defendant argues that his conduct cannot be considered harassment and an award of attorneys' fees is improper because plaintiff's attorney appeared pro bono. We affirm.
The facts regarding issuance of the restraining order are hotly contested by plaintiff and defendant. The only undisputed fact was the rocky state of the couple's marriage.
Plaintiff Josephine Abbate and defendant Luan Ahmetaj married in 2004 and have a daughter, who was four years old at the time of the incident that precipitated plaintiff's application for a temporary restraining order. The parties had separated on several occasions. They separated in September 2007 and an agreement for parenting time for defendant was in place. The parties picked up and dropped off their daughter either at the Garden State Mall or at the Hackensack Police Department headquarters. Plaintiff was always accompanied by a friend because she did not drive and because she did not want to be alone with defendant.
On November 14, 2007, plaintiff picked up her daughter at the police department. According to plaintiff, her daughter "walked in with the biggest smile on her face, and [said] that 'I did it, Mommy. Daddy wanted me to show him where we live and I did it. I did it.'" Plaintiff described her daughter as very happy and very excited about her ability to guide defendant to the shelter. By contrast, plaintiff stated that she "felt scared. I thought I was safe at the shelter. Now, I knew he knew where I was." To verify that the child accurately guided defendant to the shelter, plaintiff asked her daughter to give the woman who drove them home the same directions she had given to her father. The child led them directly to the shelter.
At trial, plaintiff testified that defendant had been trying to find out where she lived. She stated that "he has promised me, in the past, to look for me and cut me up in pieces and kill me." Plaintiff testified that after their daughter told her father where they lived and where plaintiff worked, telephone calls had been placed to her at work, but the caller would hang up when she answered the phone. There were also telephone calls to the shelter from someone asking if she lived there.
Plaintiff also described a host of prior incidents of physical and verbal abuse by defendant. Plaintiff reported that in 2003 defendant pushed her into a wall during an argument as he was leaving their apartment. She obtained a temporary restraining order, defendant was arrested for assault, but she eventually dismissed the order. Soon thereafter, the criminal charges were also dismissed.
Plaintiff further testified that verbal abuse commenced while she was pregnant. Defendant called her a loser and a whore and he became very demanding and controlling. He threatened to kill her and cut her into pieces. He listened in on phone calls, checked phone records, and took her cell phone from her. He attempted to isolate her from friends and threatened to take their daughter from her. Plaintiff also testified that defendant would call her at work every half hour. If she was not at her desk when he called, she had to explain to him why she was not at her desk.
Plaintiff reported that she tried to leave defendant many times. Once, when defendant arrived at their apartment while she was speaking to someone on a domestic violence hotline, a struggle ensued for the phone because she tried to hide the identity of the other party to the call. After this incident, she obtained another temporary restraining ...