Sunday, October 1, 2023

Family Court:Seeking Protecton Orders from Those Once Loved

By Christine Cote

“You’ve got better things to do four days before Christmas than sitting in front of me,” he told one young couple before him Dec. 21. By the time they finished their sides of the story and the judge heard from one of the young women’s friends, he told them, while it’s “clear you’ve been arguing about parenting time,” neither had shown evidence of harassment or terroristic threats required to obtain a final restraining order.
Judge Rauh, assigned to Family Court, advised the two, who live apart but are the parents of a young daughter, to try to work with the current visitation order. He warned the young man, “If she’s got to come back, the result might not be the same.”
There were almost 20 people in court that morning, men and women, a variety of ages. They were there to ask the judge to either dismiss a temporary restraining order (TRO) that had been put in place, in most cases, not more than 10 days prior, or, to get a permanent final order to keep someone away.
They were just a handful of the 571 TROs issued between Jan. 1and the end of last year, according to Mary Beth Hornig, the domestic violence team leader that works with Judge Rauh’s court.
On average, 52 TROs are sought each month, with August ranking the highest at 67 and March the lowest at 38 for last year.
Hornig and her staff take information from those seeking protection orders during court business hours. The complaint is then faxed to the police department where the defendant resides and officers serve the complaint.
During evenings, nights and weekends, local police departments should be contacted for help in obtaining a TRO, said Hornig.
They are difficult cases because, Hornig said, she knows as least some of those seeking help are thinking, “If I do ask for help, am I going to be in more danger?”
She said she tries to be candid and tells them “you know the person.”
Although the reality is “if someone is going to hurt you, they will,” Horning said she also tries to counsel, “you need to do something. How are you going to take care of your children, if you don’t take care of yourself.” 
These are civil orders; they do not include criminal court proceedings arising from domestic disputes that may involve charges of assault and criminal harassment and terroristic threats. See related story on front page.
Those who wish to dismiss a restraining order are directed to talk to someone with the Coalition Against Rape and Abuse (CARA), which had a number of representatives available in court.
Before dismissing one case, the judge asked if the young woman’s request was “free and voluntary,” and made sure “no threats” had made her seek the dismissal. He also asked if she had “an opportunity to speak to CARA.”
After she had answered these questions, the judge cautioned that protection was available but with a dismissal that “will take away the protection the order gave you. Do you believe you will be safe? Understand that if things don’t go as planned, you can get another order.”
In order to seek a final order restraining someone else, “a qualifying relationship” must be shown. For most of the cases that day, it was the typical relationship of a former couple, where the women now sought court assistance to convince the man she no longer wanted to be part of his life.
But it is clear that the court fields requests that cut across other family lines as well. Via telephone, Judge Rauh heard the plea of a father who wanted protection for him and his wife from one of their sons.
The judge said that the son had been notified of the proceeding but had “chosen not to appear.”
After listening to the father explain that the son had been “verbally abusive, threatened to kill them,” and had “started to strangle his mother,” the judge barred the son from any contact with his parents and brother at their home here in the county, the home where they were calling from and their places of employment.
One case that progressed no farther and took little time was also the most chilling.
 A middle-aged woman was called forward from the audience and asked by the judge “have you seen him today?” apparently in reference to the man of the same surname that did not respond to his name being called in court.
“I haven’t seen him since the last time,” she answered quietly. He contacted their son, she said, and “told him to get your mother to call me.”
The judge said he could not enter a final order because “I can’t determine if he’s been served,” with the notice to appear in court. He said he could continue the temporary order and advised the women to call the police if she needed them.
“I did call the police,” she said, “because he was in the house.” She added that he had removed a machete and other items from the home.
Another young women did receive a final order against a young man who did not show up, but had been served. She told the judge that his boss told her he was going to work and not coming to court.
The two had lived together for a year but not during the past year. The last time she spoke with him, he wouldn’t let her leave or use the phone. To get him away from her home, she agreed to go to a motel with him and told him she would stay in the relationship to calm him down.
When she was able to make a call, she telephoned her father who contacted the police.
The judge entered a final order to prohibit contact with her, visits to her home or workplace and any oral or written contact with her parents.
When a final order is imposed, the defendant is directed to report to the sheriff’s office before leaving court that day to be processed. As well as the restraints, the judge will require the payment of $50 to $100 as a civil penalty fee and direct the offending party to participate in anger management classes. He may also order drug or mental health evaluations.
If they don’t attend counseling, they are hauled back into court to answer why. Two men were called on the carpet later that morning for just that reason. It was only after the judge was convinced that they had moved from the area, one to Pennsylvania and one to an Atlantic City shelter, that he agreed they did not have to fulfill this part of the order.
The one who moved to Pennsylvania also claimed he didn’t have the $50 to pay for the program.
Perhaps the saddest case the judge considered just before the holiday season, was a long-time friendship that had turned into a romance but then deteriorated to such a degree that the woman involved hired a lawyer to write and warn off her former love.
Not only did the letter not obtain the desired effect, she received a glib letter from the defendant, which said neither she nor her attorney could tell him what to do, which the judge said he did not find funny at all.
It was his visiting her at a part-time job, stopping at the school where she taught and leaving things on her car and going into her home without permission after the letters passed, that convinced the judge a final order should be entered.
The man admitted that he told her, in response to her questions, that they would not be married or move in together. But he insisted to the judge that he understood that “she wanted to end the love relationship but keep their friendship.”
“You didn’t contact her attorney and tell him to go scratch, you contacted her,” the judge said, after hearing his explanations and apologies.
“It’s clear to me that she made it clear in October that she wanted nothing to do with you,” said the judge. “Ma’am, I’m going to give you a restraining order, so Mr. H leaves you alone.”
She was crying as she walked away from table where she had been sitting and listening.
Contact Cote at: ccote@cmcherald.com

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