April 27, 2011
On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, Burlington County, Docket No. FV-03-0955-10.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted March 16, 2011
Before Judges Ashrafi, Nugent and Newman.
Defendant A.T. appeals from a final restraining order (FRO) of December 23, 2009 in a domestic violence action involving his then wife, plaintiff, J.T. We now affirm.
Judge Michael Haas conducted a hearing before entering the FRO and found plaintiff to be a credible witness. He amplified his oral decision of December 23, 2009 with a written decision of February 17, 2010. In his written decision, he described the incident that had taken place between plaintiff and defendant in April 2009 when defendant prevented plaintiff from leaving the family home.
He pushed her into a kitchen cabinet. He grabbed her cell phone away from her, threw it, and broke it. Plaintiff attempted to get into a car to leave. He then blocked her in the driveway with another vehicle. Defendant then pulled plaintiff from the car and threw her to the ground. Later that evening, defendant attempted to force plaintiff to go into the bedroom to talk about the incident with him. At that point, plaintiff decided that she had had enough and she began making plans to leave the relationship.
The parties separated on July 1, 2009. Following that, defendant continued telephoning plaintiff to inquire as to what she was doing and whether she was seeing someone else. He also repeatedly sent text messages and left voicemails on her cell phone.
Judge Haas then went on to describe the continuing conduct of defendant with the following findings.
Sometimes, there was conversation about the children. However, defendant would then ask that the parties discuss "why we can't get back together." He would also talk to plaintiff's co-workers and attempt to involve them in the parties' personal matters. He showed up at plaintiff's job, even though she had asked him not to. Plaintiff advised defendant that he was not to call her at work, but he continued to do so.
After having these calls being made to her at work since September 2009, plaintiff was called in by the "administration" at her job. As a result of that, she filed her request for a[n] FRO.
The court then found that "these repeated calls to plaintiff at her place of employment constituted harassment under N.J.S.A. 2C:33-4c."
The court was satisfied that plaintiff had established the elements to issue an FRO. She proved by a preponderance of the evidence that: she qualified as a victim under N.J.S.A. 2C:25-19d; defendant committed one of the enumerated acts of domestic violence in N.J.S.A. 2C:25-19a, specifically, harassment, N.J.S.A. 2C:33-4(c); and there was a need to protect plaintiff from future acts of domestic violence in light of their past history of physical violence in April 2009, Silver v. Silver, 387 N.J. Super. 112, 126-27 (App. Div. 2006).
On appeal, defendant raises the following issue for our consideration:
DUE TO APPELLANT'S IGNORANCE OF THE NEW JERSEY PREVENTION OF DOMESTIC VIOLENCE ACT, LACK OF TIME, ECONOMIC RESOUR[C]ES, LEGAL REPRESENTATION, AND APPELLANT'S POOR FOCUS IN COURT DUE TO PAINFUL INTESTINAL ULCERS, POST[-]TRAUMATIC STRESS CAUSED BY PLAINTIFF'S ABUSIVE BEHAVIOR, APPELLANT WAS UNABLE TO PROVIDE AN AMPLE DEFENSE AGAINST PLAINTIFF'S ALLEGATIONS. APPELLANT PLEADS FOR THE COURT[']S MERCY TO REVERSE (FRO).
In reviewing the findings and conclusions of a trial judge, "deference is . . . appropriate 'when the evidence is largely testimonial and involves questions of credibility.'" Cesare v. Cesare, 154 N.J. 394, 412 (1998) (quoting In re Return of Weapons to J.W.D., 149 N.J. 108, 117 (1997)). "[A]n appellate court should not disturb the 'factual findings and legal conclusions of the trial judge unless [it is] convinced that they are so manifestly unsupported by or inconsistent with the competent, relevant and reasonably credible evidence as to offend the interests of justice.'" Ibid. (quoting Rova Farms Resort, Inc. v. Investors Ins. Co. of Am., 65 N.J. 474, 484 (1974)). We also "accord deference to family court factfinding" because those courts "possess special expertise" in their subject matters areas. Id. at 412-13. It is of no small moment that Cesare, in which these basic principles of appellate review were applied, arose in the context of a domestic violence proceeding.
After consideration of the briefs submitted in light of the record before the trial court, we are satisfied that the trial court's findings of fact are adequately supported by the reasonably credible evidence contained in the record. R. 2:11-3(e)(1)(A). Mindful of these standards, we affirm substantially for the reasons set forth in Judge Haas's oral decision of December 23, 2009, and as amplified in his written decision of February 17, 2010. We simply add that defendant's argument is a diatribe against plaintiff rather than a challenge to the decision rendered by the trial judge.
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