On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, Hudson County, Docket No. FV-09-2199-10.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted April 6, 2011 -
Before Judges Axelrad and J. N. Harris.
Defendant A.P. -- claiming that she was deprived of due process of law at trial -- appeals from the March 26, 2010 final restraining order (FRO) entered against her pursuant to the Prevention of Domestic Violence Act (PDVA), N.J.S.A. 2C:25-17 to -35.*fn1 Because we believe that A.P. and her husband plaintiff A.V. were afforded all of the process to which they were due under the PDVA by Judge Joseph Charles, Jr., we affirm.
The parties were married on March 5, 2009. Until March 18, 2010, they sporadically resided together in a two-family dwelling in Secaucus with their infant child. According to A.V., when returning home from a bar on March 18, 2010, the couple argued about A.V.'s supposed flirtatious conduct during the evening. The level of emotion and animosity quickly grew. A.V., in an effort to defuse the volatile atmosphere, offered to leave the dwelling. As he attempted to gather his keys and a cellular telephone, A.P. "grabbed a [steak] knife and stuck it in [his] side." A.V., with "blood . . . pouring out . . . jumped in [his] car and went to the police station." After being evaluated by EMTs at police headquarters, A.V. was transported to the Jersey City Medical Center where, after a CT scan revealed that no internal organs were pierced, he received ten stitches to close the wound.
The next day, A.V. filed a complaint against A.P. in the Family Part pursuant to the PDVA, alleging that her conduct constituted assault, criminal mischief, and harassment. A temporary restraining order (TRO) was entered by Judge Charles in favor of A.V. on March 19, 2010, which scheduled the final hearing for one week hence, March 26, 2010.
A.P. did not file a cross-complaint seeking domestic violence restraints against A.V. until March 22, 2010. In it, she alleged acts of assault, criminal mischief, and harassment by A.V.. She also presented a dramatically different set of circumstances from those asserted in A.V.'s complaint, including claims of forced entry into the couple's dwelling, a demand for money to buy illicit drugs, and a physical assault. Judge Charles entered a TRO in favor of A.P. on March 22, 2010, and scheduled the final hearing for the same time as the earlier proceeding.
The parties and their witnesses (who ultimately did not testify) appeared for the final hearing as scheduled. Neither was represented by counsel. After being sworn in by Judge Charles, A.V. and A.P. gave unfettered accounts of what happened. Judge Charles asked appropriate questions to clarify facts and sort out discrepancies. He explained to A.P. that she could cross-examine A.V., that is, "ask questions about what he has testified to," but she declined in favor of responding to A.V.'s allegations by fully "testifying with respect to [her] view of the events of March the 18th."
After a courteous and respectful exchange with both of the witnesses, Judge Charles rendered an oral decision from the bench. As for A.V.'s credibility, the judge concluded:
The Court finds that the versions of events given by [A.V.] ring more true, more likely, more probable than the version of events that were given by [A.P.] . Just makes more sense in terms of human experiences. Also the Court finds, the Court watched both witnesses as they testified, listened to both witnesses as they testified, and this Court finds that [A.V.] was testifying as a credible witness, comparatively speaking. This Court finds that [A.V.'s] testimony and his manner of testifying, I observed him as he was testifying, I listened to him as he testified, his demeanor, this Court finds that [A.V.] was testifying as a witness attempting to be level and forthcoming and direct with the Court, who was attempting to recount the events of March the ...