On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, Middlesex County, Docket No. FV-12-150-10.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Before Judges Cuff and Fasciale.
Defendant appeals from a final restraining order (FRO) issued under the Prevention of Domestic Violence Act (Act), N.J.S.A. 2C:25-17 to -35. Defendant contends he was pressured to proceed without an attorney and that an FRO was not necessary. We affirm.
Plaintiff, D.L., and defendant, C.L., married on October 11, 2002. At the time of the FRO proceeding, they had two children, ages three and four. The events that lead to the FRO occurred from April to July 2009. During those three months, repeated incidents occurred that caused plaintiff to fear that defendant would harm her.
On April 24, 2009, defendant called plaintiff at work, accused her of cheating on him, and said he was going to her place of employment to kill her. Plaintiff believed him and feared for her life. To avoid embarrassment at work, she decided to leave the building, wait in her car, and leave when he arrived. She reasoned she could avoid a scene at work.
When defendant arrived, his truck blocked her car, so it was difficult for her to leave as planned. Defendant got out of his truck, walked to her car, opened her door, and punched plaintiff in the eye, ear, and throat. During the struggle, defendant ripped plaintiff's sweater.
Plaintiff turned off her car, grabbed her purse, and entered defendant's truck. While crying in the truck, she turned around and saw her four-year-old sitting in the back seat. In front of the child, defendant yelled obscenities at plaintiff, and "slapped [her] so hard [her] head hit the window and [her child] start[ed] crying." Plaintiff feared for her safety and for the safety of her child. She went to the hospital that day and learned that her eardrum was ruptured. She could not hear out of her left ear for three weeks.
Defendant apologized to plaintiff and said that he loved her. Instead of immediately obtaining a restraining order, plaintiff consulted a domestic violence counselor because she was confused.
One week later, defendant grabbed plaintiff by the back of her neck, forced her to sit up in bed, and called her "a whore." He "grabbed the pillow and[,] with all his force with one hand, he just hit [plaintiff] right in the same side of [her] face that [her] ear drum had busted."
Two weeks later, defendant required plaintiff to constantly send pictures of her whereabouts so he could follow her movement. She was afraid, sent a picture standing outside Chili's restaurant to him, and then sent more pictures throughout the night. When she returned home, defendant continued to accuse her of cheating. Defendant called plaintiff "a liar" as she was putting their four-year-old to bed.
That night, when plaintiff told defendant that they had to get a divorce, defendant grabbed her by her arms, she tripped, and he threw her on the bed. The next day defendant left their home. He agreed not to be in the home.
Thereafter, defendant continued to communicate with plaintiff. Although his threats did not cease, he relocated to Texas for two weeks "to give [plaintiff] some space." He told her that if she lived in Texas, he would kill her.
When he returned to New Jersey, defendant accused plaintiff of having an affair. On July 13, 2009, the parties argued at their home about their marriage. Defendant expressed his desire to stay married; plaintiff told defendant that she was afraid of him due to his past history of violence. Defendant said, "[W]hat are you going to do[? A]re you calling the police[?] I don't care[. No one] can stop me. It's my house[. Y]ou are my wife[,] and I should know where you are at all times. I am videotaping the house[.] I know all you do." Plaintiff shook with fear. After the argument, defendant said, "I'll be back." "[Defendant] mentioned how he could come back in the middle of the night . . . ."
On July 14, 2009, plaintiff obtained a temporary restraining order (TRO). In her complaint, plaintiff alleged that defendant was guilty of assault, in violation of N.J.S.A. 2C:12-1; harassment, in violation of N.J.S.A. 2C:33-4; stalking, in violation of N.J.S.A. 2C:12-10; and terroristic threats, in violation of N.J.S.A. 2C:12-3.
Judge Toto conducted a thorough FRO hearing on July 21, 2009. Plaintiff, her sister, and defendant testified. Judge Toto found that plaintiff was credible.
Further, the judge determined that defendant assaulted plaintiff on April 24, 2009, and ripped her sweater as he pulled her from her car. Indeed, at trial, defendant did not deny that he struck plaintiff while their child was in the back seat of the truck. Finding that defendant injured plaintiff on April 24, the judge accepted plaintiff's statement that she was afraid.
Judge Toto concluded that defendant assaulted plaintiff in May 2009, when he pulled her neck, grabbed her arms, and pushed her, causing her to trip. Defendant told plaintiff that if plaintiff followed him to Texas, he would kill her.
Judge Toto listened to a June 26, 2009, taped conversation between the parties. Defendant admitted telling their four-year-old that "mommy [did] something bad and she deserves to be punished." The judge remarked that defendant sounded upset in that conversation.
On July 13, 2009, defendant would not leave the house, despite his earlier agreement in mid-May or June not to be there. ...