Restraining Order Bans Seemingly Disturbed Man from Going to the Town in Which His Sister Lives

That was the order in today’s N.G. v. J.P. (N.J. Super. Ct. App. Div. June 18, 2012); the appellate court upheld it, though it sent the case back down to trial court to carve out exceptions for “church attendance and doctor’s visits.” The defendant seemed to be rather disturbed, and to have done disturbing things; and he has shown an unwillingness to comply with earlier, narrower orders. Still, it seems to me that this sort of injunction is going rather further than restraining orders ought to go.

If a man commits crimes, he can be criminally prosecuted and jailed, or put on probation for whatever time the legislature has allowed in crafting its criminal law, and one condition of probation might be that the person not go to a particular town. (A wide range of rights can be constrained when one is on probation for a criminal offense, for rehabilitative or incapacitative purposes.) But that would require proof beyond a reasonable doubt, a jury trial if the offense provides for more than six months in jail, and so on. Likewise, if someone is indeed mentally ill to the point of being a danger to himself or others, he could be locked up, but that too would require a heightened showing and other protections. It seems to me that an injunction, which is issued by a judge in a proceeding that generally has many fewer protections than a criminal trial provides, is not an acceptable alternative, when the restriction isn’t just “stop talking to the complainant” but “don’t enter this town” (a town of 20,000 people).

In any case, here’s a brief excerpt of the facts, which certainly does not cast a defendant in a good light (notwithstanding my concern about the breadth of the order):

Defendant J.P. and plaintiff N.G. are siblings. Defendant, who is currently sixty-six years old, has suffered from severe obsessive compulsive disorder since childhood and felt abandoned by his family at a young age. His animosity toward his family intensified when, during his teenage years, his parents secured his involuntary commitment to a psychiatric hospital. Defendant harbored a deep resentment of plaintiff and the parties’ mother, B.P., as evidenced by his references to his family as a “cesspool” of human beings and “scum.” He acknowledged that he curses the day he was born into his family.

Plaintiff and defendant last lived together in 1960 when she was ten years old and he was fifteen years old. The record contains testimony describing confrontations between plaintiff and defendant in the 1960s as well as in the late 1980s. According to plaintiff, in the 1960s, defendant hit her over the head with a baseball bat. In 1989, defendant and another individual confronted plaintiff in a school parking lot after she dropped off a group of kindergarten children, including her daughter, at school. On that occasion, defendant yelled at plaintiff and acted in an aggressive manner, leaving plaintiff shaken. On another occasion in 1989, defendant encountered plaintiff while she was at a local pizzeria, picking up pizza for her child’s birthday party. In a “singing” manner, defendant said to her, “I hate your guts, I’m going to get you.”

As a result of those incidents, plaintiff sought, and obtained, an order for preliminary restraints against defendant. The May 23, 1989 preliminary restraints barred defendant from contacting plaintiff, disparaging her, trespassing on her property, intruding into her personal life or business affairs, and “conducting any sort of picketing, public protest, sit-in, [or] demonstration” adjacent to plaintiff’s residence.

On February 27, 1991, less than two years later, a judge entered an FRO prohibiting defendant from coming within four blocks of the residences of both plaintiff and B.P. The FRO was vacated in 1993 as to B.P. as part of a confidential settlement agreement, which was predicated on the condition that defendant cease his behavior toward B.P., and that he undergo psychiatric treatment. Because the 1993 settlement agreement involved only defendant and B.P., it had no effect on the 1991 restraints issued in favor of plaintiff and against defendant.

The record contains no evidence of any conflict between the parties between 1993 and 2010. However, in February 2010, defendant began picketing in front of plaintiff’s Millburn residence, and did so on twenty-nine separate occasions from February to July 2010. Nearly every time defendant appeared in front of plaintiff’s property, he traveled from one end of her front yard to the other, turning around and going back, repeating the same pattern for as long as three to four hours, even in the rain.

On the twenty-nine occasions that defendant marched back and forth in front of plaintiff’s home, he repeatedly stated, “[Fuck] you [plaintiff's last name],” “Burn in hell,” and “I hope you rot in hell.” He often accompanied these remarks by an obscene gesture in which he raised each of his middle fingers.

On one occasion in May 2010, as plaintiff began driving out of her driveway, she found defendant standing at the end of the driveway, obstructing her vehicle and giving her a “frightening hateful look.” On another occasion, as plaintiff’s husband A.G. drove toward their home, defendant “charged” at his car.

On July 23, 2010, as a result of the incidents in 2010, plaintiff filed a domestic violence complaint against defendant, which resulted in a nine-day trial that began on September 1, and concluded on November 17, 2010.

On September 1, before the trial began, defendant moved for recusal of the judge, alleging that the judge may have been prejudiced by a letter brief submitted by B.P. in a separate action. Plaintiff opposed defendant’s recusal motion. Attached to B.P.’s letter brief was a transcript of a July 7, 2010 confrontation between defendant and Millburn Township Police Officer Azzopardi,FN5 which included defendant’s comments about the municipal court judge who had issued a TRO against defendant at B.P.’s request. The transcript reflected that as Azzopardi approached defendant to serve him with the TRO, defendant began screaming, stating that he would not accept the document and would refuse to obey it. Defendant told Officer Azzopardi that he would “rip up” the TRO and “spit on it.”

Defendant then shouted, “Judge [name], drop dead in your [fucking] black robe,” “Judge H., go [fuck] yourself,” “Go [fuck] mother, Judge H.,” and “Where is your mother buried, Judge H.? I want to spit on her grave.” The Law Division judge denied defendant’s recusal motion.

Plaintiff and her husband testified that they were frightened of defendant and alarmed by his bizarre conduct. Plaintiff described defendant’s picketing in front of her house on the twenty-nine occasions between February and July 2010. She explained that defendant’s behavior caused her to suffer emotional distress and difficulty sleeping. Plaintiff also testified that while she and A.G. were waiting in the courtroom on the return date of B.P.’s TRO, defendant lunged at plaintiff in a threatening manner, forcing a sheriff’s officer to physically escort defendant from the courtroom.

Plaintiff was so afraid of what defendant might do that she had even contemplated leaving New Jersey, which would require her to live apart from A.G., who is a licensed professional in New Jersey. A.G. testified that after his mother-in-law died [in October 2010], he feared defendant would focus his behavior solely on plaintiff.

A.G. also testified that on July 7, 2010, after defendant marched in front of plaintiff’s residence for an hour shouting “[Fuck] you G, I hope you rot in hell,” A.G. and plaintiff received a telephone call from B.P. B.P. asked A.G. to immediately come to her home, which was a few minutes away. Upon arrival at his mother-in-law’s home, A.G. observed defendant wandering back and forth in B.P.’s front yard. When A.G. entered B.P.’s home to talk to her, defendant threatened him.

In the middle of the trial, defendant moved to dismiss plaintiff’s domestic violence complaint for lack of jurisdiction. The judge denied the motion, reasoning that the parties “have a family[-]like relationship and for purposes of the statute are former members of the same household.” In the course of his ruling, the judge noted that a different judge had previously exercised jurisdiction over the parties in prior domestic violence proceedings in 1989 and again in 1991. During the trial, defendant exhibited hostility toward plaintiff, calling her a “despicable human being,” a “despicable liar,” “despicable scum,” and a “miscreant.” He also stated, “I will not dignify her. I hate her guts.” He yelled at a sheriff’s officer and berated the judge, calling him “a dictator.” Defendant claimed “there [wa]s a malodorous scent,” and an “odor of prejudice,” which he claimed could be detected “as soon as you walk into this [c]ourt.”

Defendant’s testimony partially contradicted the accounts plaintiff and her husband provided. Defendant testified that he had appeared at plaintiff’s residence “probably 8, 9 times.” He acknowledged appearing at plaintiff’s property two to three days per week, for between two and four hours at a time, from approximately April or May 2010 until the filing of plaintiff’s complaint. Defendant admitted that he raised both middle fingers in the air while walking back and forth in front of plaintiff’s residence at least “a couple of times,” although he claimed he was making a “victory” sign. Defendant stated that he behaved in this way because he “was trying to make a point in a peaceful and non-violent, and least obtrusive and non-threatening fashion.” He asserted that he marched in front of plaintiff’s home only to let her know that “she cannot tarnish [him] and assassinate [his] character with the Millburn Police. And … cannot be allowed to do everything possible … to keep [him] from having phone calls and meetings with [his] maternal parent[.]”