On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, Atlantic County, Docket No. FV-01-638-11.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Before Judges Ashrafi and Fasciale.
In this unopposed appeal, defendant seeks review of a final restraining order (FRO) entered against him pursuant to the Prevention of Domestic Violence Act (the Act), N.J.S.A. 2C:25-17 to -35. We affirm.
The parties engaged in a dating relationship when plaintiff was nineteen years old and defendant was sixty years old.
Defendant, who was married at the time, had been plaintiff's tae kwon do instructor. The relationship ended in 2009 after defendant's wife and plaintiff's parents learned that the parties dated each other. Thereafter, defendant called and left vulgar and harassing messages for plaintiff and her mother. Plaintiff eventually obtained an FRO against defendant, but it was reversed in 2010 because evidence did not support a finding that defendant's purpose at that time in communicating with plaintiff was to harass her.*fn1
On August 10, 2010, one day after we filed our first opinion, defendant began a new series of communications with plaintiff, sending her a message stating, "I'm sure that you heard you l[o]st in court. There is no restraining [order] anymore." Plaintiff informed defendant that she wanted no contact with him and blocked his calls. Nonetheless, the next day, defendant sent plaintiff a Facebook request. A few days after that, defendant located plaintiff on an internet gaming website and sent her messages stating that he wanted to meet privately with plaintiff and her parents.
In October 2010, defendant began programming his phone calls to appear as if plaintiff were receiving a call from one of her parents. Plaintiff answered a call displaying her father's number, and defendant said, "We need to talk." On another occasion, a call appeared to be from plaintiff's mother, but when plaintiff answered, defendant asked, "[W]hat ever happened to I'll love you forever?" Another time, he said, "I still love you[,] baby. Are you going to talk to me?" At trial, defendant testified that he was contacting plaintiff to "clear the air" and "leave on a little better terms."
In October 2010, plaintiff obtained a second restraining order. She contended that defendant's communications constituted a predicate act of harassment, N.J.S.A. 2C:33-4a, and that an FRO was necessary because she feared him.
On December 23, 2010, an FRO hearing was conducted by the same judge who had handled the first FRO. The judge listened to testimony from the parties, determined that defendant harassed plaintiff, and issued the FRO to prevent future abuse. Defendant now appeals.
On appeal, defendant argues that the judge erred by denying his motion for recusal. Defendant contends that a reasonable person could have concluded that the judge was biased against defendant based on remarks that the judge made at the first FRO hearing. Defendant also argues that the judge erred by finding that defendant had committed the predicate act of harassment.
We begin by addressing defendant's contention that the judge was biased. At the first FRO hearing, the judge expressed strong feelings, based on his assessment of the evidence, that defendant's actions were "morally reprehensible" and "absolutely outrageous." The judge expressed his initial concern whether his "outrage" would influence his ...