On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, Bergen County, Docket No. FV-02-2119-08.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Before Judges Carchman and Simonelli.
In this appeal from the issuance of a final restraining order (FRO), defendant Leonard Colon asserts that the family part judge's conduct of the trial violated his right to a fair trial. We agree and reverse and remand for a new trial.
These are the relevant facts. Plaintiff Melissa Rivas filed a complaint pursuant to the Prevention of Domestic Violence Act (DVA), N.J.S.A. 2C:25-17 to -35. In her complaint, plaintiff alleges that defendant did endanger plaintiff's life, health or well being . . . by, on 05/05/2008 at 08:00 PM defendant was on the phone w/ 7yr old daughter. He had the child relaying messages to [plaintiff] and [plaintiff's] boyfriend which made the child uncomfortable. After believing [defendant] had hung up, [plaintiff] told the child that what [defendant] was doing was wrong and disrespectful. The [defendant] heard this and became enraged. [Defendant] showed up at [plaintiff's] home 10 mins. later. He was banging on the door and screaming for [plaintiff's] boyfriend to come outside and be a man. He screamed that [plaintiff] was a fucking bitch and other degrading things. [Plaintiff] was afraid so she called the police. He got in his car, backed up and idled in his car for a few minutes then zoomed back into her driveway as if he was going to do something else. He ended up leaving. The 7yr old was crying and upset. After the police came [defendant] called [plaintiff] back raging and cursing about her and her boyfriend. The call lasted about 8 mins. . . .
5/5/08-When [defendant] showed up at [plaintiff's] home it was with the intention to physically confront [plaintiff's] boyfriend.
Included in the complaint was a brief history of past allegations of domestic violence.
Based on these allegations, another family part judge issued a temporary restraining order (TRO), among other things, restraining defendant from returning to the scene of the domestic violence, barring defendant from plaintiff's residence and place of business and confirming custody of the parties' three children. Additionally, the order confirmed the support and parenting time for defendant, consistent with a judgment of divorce previously entered in a dissolution action in the family part. The TRO was entered on May 6, 2008, and the final hearing scheduled for May 14, 2008.
The final hearing was abbreviated. Following the parties being sworn, the judge read the allegations from the complaint and then asked plaintiff if there had been prior restraining orders. Plaintiff confirmed that there had been three prior TROs that had been dismissed. After hearing an explanation from plaintiff as to the reason for the dismissal, the judge commented: "[t]he fact that you keep dismissing and he goes and he does it again, and each time it gets worse and worse. Sir, what do you have to say about this?"
Defendant proceeded to state that the allegations were false and to discuss past allegations. After hearing some colloquy regarding events that had allegedly taken place in November 2007, the following dialogue ensued:
THE COURT: What day are you ...