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T.H. v. Pattison

April 9, 2009


On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, Mercer County, FV-11-1409-08.

Per curiam.



Argued March 23, 2009

Before Judges Lisa and Reisner.

Defendant Todd Pattison appeals from a final restraining order (FRO) entered on August 28, 2008 pursuant to a complaint filed by plaintiff T.H. under the Prevention of Domestic Violence Act (Act), N.J.S.A. 2C:25-17 to -35.*fn1 We affirm.


Both parties were represented by counsel at the FRO hearing. Plaintiff, a high school teacher, testified that she and defendant had a dating relationship, which she eventually broke off. She testified that on January 14, 2008, she "sent him an E-mail saying that I no longer wanted to hear from him, period; no text, no cell, no phone and that I didn't want to see him any longer." The e-mail, which was introduced in evidence, specifically advised defendant that he was not welcome at plaintiff's home or at her school.

Defendant's e-mailed response was that he would stop e-mailing plaintiff; but in the same communication, he accused her of being undesirable and having no friends, and warned her that "Karma is a powerful thing!!!" However, despite his promise to leave plaintiff alone, defendant persisted in sending her text messages and "phone calls at all hours of the night and morning." Finally, on March 28, 2008, plaintiff "changed [her] phone numbers and blocked [her] E-mail address." She was, however, unable to block her work e-mail address at school.

According to plaintiff, she did not hear from defendant again until June 11 and 12, 2008, when he sent two e-mails to her at work. Because the communications were sent to her school e-mail address, they were on the "school server" and therefore accessible to others. Plaintiff testified that in these e-mails, defendant told her that someone had come to his house investigating me, saying that they had been told that I was a prostitute in high school, that there were issues with my father, and that I had been inappropriate with my kids when I taught in Maryland and that that's why I had left the Maryland teaching position. They also went on to say that I was being inappropriate with my students here in [New Jersey] as well.

The e-mails, which were introduced in evidence and which we have reviewed, corroborated plaintiff's testimony. They consist of a series of bizarre accusations of sexual misconduct, interspersed with protestations of defendant's love for plaintiff. The first one ended as follows:

If you are sexually active with students and/or being paid for sex still please, stop it, it is wrong!!!! So the real question is how much of this is true??? I know that karma is very powerful and in the end the truth always comes out!!! I would encourage you to be honest and for once stop running and face the truth and all that it holds!

In his second e-mail, defendant accused plaintiff of infidelity during their dating relationship, implied that she was having a lesbian relationship as well as an affair with a married man, and accused her of sexual contact with her students. This missive closed with the following:

[T.H.] I can honestly say I never lied to you and gave you my heart on a sliver [sic] platter. It is sure looking like you never told me the truth about anything . . . .

Plaintiff testified that she was confused and frightened by the e-mails. Because they were sent to the school's e-mail system they were potentially accessible to other employees. She was also concerned that defendant would "go to the Board of Ed with this and cause problems for me." Plaintiff testified that she had a spotless employment record, and that the allegations in the e-mails were entirely false. She believed defendant knew they were false and sent the e-mails to harass her:

All the annoying phone calls; now harassing letters. I was so distraught that day, . . . I left that day. I didn't even finish the school day.

Before she left for the day, however, plaintiff went to the assistant principal of her school to report receiving the e-mails. She was concerned that if she did not bring them to his attention, someone else might. School officials called the police to report defendant's conduct.

According to plaintiff, the school board was entirely supportive of her throughout the investigation. However, she filed a domestic violence complaint because she was concerned that defendant would continue harassing her. In that connection, she further described in detail the prior history of her efforts to cut ...

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