On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, Atlantic County, Docket Nos. FO-01-65-11B and FO-01-138-11C.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted (A-1656-10) and Argued (A-1989-10) September 26, 2011 -
Before Judges A. A. Rodriguez and Ashrafi.
In these two appeals, which we address in one opinion, the issue presented is whether procedural deficiencies in a domestic violence temporary restraining order (TRO) require the dismissal of contempt charges for violating the TROs. The two appeals are from decisions of the same Family Part judge dismissing contempt charges in different cases. Both TROs were issued by the same municipal court judge.
We hold that because such deficiencies may render a TRO voidable rather than void, dismissal of the contempt charges is inappropriate. In short, until a TRO is voided it is a valid order that a party subject to its restraints must obey. The orders dismissing the contempt charges are reversed and the matters remanded to the Family Part for appropriate disposition.
A.E.C. was the subject of a TRO issued on July 19, 2010, by the Northfield municipal court judge. A.E.C.'s wife, T.C., alleged that a verbal dispute with him escalated into a physical assault, during which he grabbed her right arm.
The TRO was served on A.E.C. He acknowledged service thereof and went to the marital home to remove personal belongings. While at the home, he allegedly wrote the following note and left it at the house:
I pray you tell the kids that you lyed [sic] about all of this and the police! You have no idea how big a mistake you made! 10 years and this is how I'm treated? Really.
The next day, T.C. found the note. She reported the incident and the police filed a criminal complaint against A.E.C. for harassment and for violating the TRO.
At the hearing in the Family Part on the harassment and contempt charges, T.C. testified about what occurred when she applied for the TRO. At around 7:30 p.m., on July 19, 2010, she spoke with a Northfield police officer. She then filled out a sworn statement. After the order was granted, she went to her mother's house until the Northfield Police Department notified her that A.E.C. had removed his personal items from the house. She returned to the house the next day and saw a note. According to T.C., she felt threatened by the note.
The Family Part judge inquired as to whether T.C.'s statement was made before or after she had spoken with the municipal court judge. T.C. replied that she did not recall ever speaking to a judge. The Family Part judge asked the assistant prosecutor whether, if T.C. had never spoken with the judge, there were any ...