NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Argued September 17, 2013
On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, Passaic County, Docket No. FV-16-412-13.
Alison C. Leslie argued the cause for appellant (Leslie Law Firm, LLC, attorneys; Ms. Leslie, of counsel and on the briefs).
A.S., respondent, argued the cause pro se.
Before Judges Reisner and Ostrer.
Defendant appeals from an August 28, 2012 final restraining order (FRO) under the Protection Against Domestic Violence Act, N.J.S.A. 2C:25-17 to -34. Defendant's former boyfriend obtained the order after the court found defendant committed an act of harassment against him. See N.J.S.A. 2C:33-4 (defining harassment); N.J.S.A. 2C:25-19 (defining harassment as an act of domestic violence). We reverse.
The trial was conducted informally. The court questioned plaintiff generally, and then asked defendant to respond. The court invited plaintiff to question defendant, but did not ask defendant if she wished to cross-examine plaintiff. The parties were not invited to make opening or closing statements.
Plaintiff briefly testified that a week before the hearing, he received two text messages from defendant, including one that was "troubling" to him. So, he went to the police. Plaintiff did not testify about the substance of the messages. He testified that he had a dating relationship with defendant that ended about a year earlier. He also alleged his email account was hacked, and someone knew his password, but did not assert defendant was responsible.
Defendant provided a more detailed picture of the parties' relationship. She testified they engaged in a dating relationship for a year-and-a-half. For defendant, the dating relationship was extra-marital. As a result of the affair, defendant's husband of twenty-two years separated from her in July 2011. Defendant planned to build a life with plaintiff.
However, in September 2011, plaintiff suddenly ceased all contact with defendant shortly before a planned vacation to Florida. Defendant admitted sending 200 to 400 text messages. She said they inquired, "[W]hat's happening? Where are you? Why aren't you calling me? I went to your house? Are you okay?" Plaintiff's sister eventually informed defendant that he had gone to Florida with another woman, and she should not look for defendant. Defendant sent additional messages to plaintiff, seeking an opportunity to talk to him. He did not respond. After November 6, 2011, defendant ceased further efforts to contact plaintiff until the two texts plaintiff mentioned. In the meantime, defendant learned plaintiff married another woman in June 2012.
Defendant explained she was a professional recording artist. She alleged that in July 2012, she received reports that plaintiff was trying to interfere in her career.
I was told that there was a nasty message posted on Facebook about me on a friend's band page. By the time I got to the page, the post is gone; however, I printed the page, because you can see clearly that the page responded to . . . [A.S.'s] new wife. Now, I don't know what her post was, because it's deleted. I just know I got a call that said she's now bad-mouthing me, okay?
She also alleged she received a report that plaintiff had called a radio station to complain that it would not play defendant's music. She implied the call was intended to portray her in a negative light with the radio station, because such calls are unwelcome. She also ...