YOU READ IT HERE FIRST: A lawyer isn’t entitled to a restraining order against a female client she became romantically involved with who then stalked her after they split up through emails and Facebook messages, visits to her house and notes left on her car, a state appeals court has ruled.
The Appellate Division panel refused to “become inappropriate weapons in domestic warfare,” even though the judges admitted that the obsessed client clearly crossed the line several times.
Their problem, they said, was that the attorney failed to produce a ‘scintilla of evidence” that she was in any danger – a mandatory requirement for an order of protection under the state Prevention of Domestic Violence Act.
They agreed with a Family Court judge in Cape May County who dismissed the lawyer’s original complaint and removed a temporary restraining order last November, saying that it wasn’t “necessary to protect the victim from an immediate danger or to prevent further abuse.”
The judge said he was “finding it difficult to get past the fact that no violence of any sort, nor any threats of violence are said ever to have characterized this relationship.” The cyber messages, he said, weren’t “enough for annoying or alarming harassment” because they were “non-anonymous, non-coarse and non-intrusive.”
On top of that, the judge said, the lawyer had represented her stalker, which he called “counterintuitive to any notion that [the client] was a controller or abuser in the relationship.”
The lawyer appealed.
In their decision, the appeals panel noted that the two dated about a year. After the relationship ended in June 2009, the client showed up at the lawyer’s house “demanding the return of a credit card that she had left there,” the judges wrote. The attorney “asked [the other woman] to leave, and after an initial refusal, she eventually did so.”
After that, the lawyer testified, she got “nasty” text messages about her aging dog, who apparently was a source of conflict between the two, court papers show. But she couldn’t produce them, saying she had bought a new phone and tossed the old one.
The lawyer said this frightened her enough that she stayed with a friend for a few days and asked the client never to call her again. A short time later, she got an apologetic email, followed by more messages – including one expressing condolences on the anniversary date of her mother’s death.
The thing was: She’d never told her former lover that her mother had passed, she said.
More emails followed, some asking about her case, the judges noted in their decision.
Finally, the lawyer wrote the woman, telling her to stop “emailing, calling, coming to my home.” A couple of months later came a Facebook message in which the former client congratulated her on her engagement. The attorney blocked her, but the woman then friended her fiancée and contacted the mother of someone else the lawyer had dated, court papers show.
It didn’t end there.
Last October, a year to the day the appeals court issued its decision, the woman left a note on the lawyer’s car after knocking on the front door. She said that she had cancer, a short amount of time left to live and, in anticipation of her death, registered a luxury car in the lawyer’s name.
She said she also still had a “Borgata card” that the lawyer had given her two years before that she would mail back to her.
The lawyer called the police, then went to headquarters and signed a complaint alleging trespassing and harassment. The next day, she got a TRO.
The lawyer noted that someone else had obtained a permanent restraining order against her stalker, who violated it twice. However, the trial judge said that couldn’t be used as evidence in the lawyer’s case.
The appeals court rejected the lawyer’s argument that the judge was biased and didn’t give her a fair hearing. The judges insisted that, despite the woman’s “unwanted” behavior, nothing even suggested that the frazzled attorney was “endangered to the extent that entitles her” to an order of protection, which exist specifically to prevent further acts of domestic violence.
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