Thank heaven for small favors, even very, very small ones. In an unpublished opinion, a New Jersey Appellate Division court has ruled that a person cannot obtain a domestic violence restraining order against a mere acquaintance. That is, there must be some form of intimate relationship, even a dating one, for a court to have jurisdiction to issue a DV restraining order.
The case is instructive to say the least. A woman, G.K., and a man, A.P. lived within a couple of blocks of each other. Over a period of about six months, they talked casually with each other, emailed and texted each other. As the court described their relationship,
“They did not live together; go out to dinner; hold themselves out to the public as dating; go to the movies; meet each other’s families; attend events or holidays together; hold hands or kiss; discuss their future. They had no sexual relationship and were not intimate.”
That was in 2006. They had no interaction at all for about two years after that. But it seems that, during the short time they were seeing and speaking to each other, A.P. loaned G.K. $400 to get her car fixed. She never repaid him a penny, so, in 2009, he started requesting payment. And bingo! she requested a domestic violence restraining order against him claiming he threatened to damage her car. She apparently produced emails to back up her claim, but he said they didn’t come from him.
I don’t know what happened, but I do know that, in at least two cases I’ve reported on, women have sent threatening emails to themselves to support criminal charges against their exes. Kristin Ruggiero is currently serving 7-14 years for doing so, along with other charges.
The New Jersey court ruled that the relationship between G.K. and A.P. was never a “dating relationship” and in any event hadn’t existed at all for two years prior to the issuance of the DV restraining order against A.P. Therefore, the court that issued the order had no jurisdiction to do so.
That’s a reasonable conclusion, but the case shows at least two things. The first is that, in the trial judge’s understanding, New Jersey’s Prevention of Domestic Violence Act applies to just about anything. Never mind that, in this case there was no DV; never mind that there plainly was no relationship of any kind between the two; and never mind that there was never a dating relationship as required by the letter of the law.
Into the bargain, never mind that the circumstances of the G.K.’s request were suspect at best. The restraining order was issued anyway, and why not? The act itself states that it is to be “liberally construed,” i.e. judges are to err on the side of issuing orders.
So the first point is that, as we already know, DV restraining orders can be issued on the slimmest of pretexts and the shoddiest of evidence in cases in which there is no DV and barely any relationship between the two people in question. In short, what began years ago as a laudable effort to limit physical abuse by intimate partners has now morphed into court supervision of the smallest aspects of everyday life.
That brings me to my second point which is simply the obvious – that G.K. successfully used domestic violence law to dodge paying a legitimate debt. Face it, this only came up when A.P. started trying to get repaid. A.P. may have threatened to damage G.K.’s car or he may not have. If he did, that’s inappropriate, but whatever he did or didn’t do, she still owes him the money. But she used domestic violence law to avoid paying. That the trial judge couldn’t see that is remarkable to say the least.
Now we have an attorney calling for further expansion of New Jersey’s Prevention of Domestic law to include people who aren’t related in any way.
Woodbury solo Michael Pimpinelli, who regularly works on both sides of domestic violence matters, says that the court ruled correctly but “really doesn’t have a choice” to decide differently based on the record because of how the law is written.
For that reason, the Prevention of Domestic Violence Act itself should be amended in two ways, he says: To cover nonromantic relationships and to extend its protection to minors. Bills that would so amend the law — S-313 and A-875 –– have been introduced but have not moved forward.
I would encourage the New Jersey legislature to take a hard look at the case of G.K. and A.P. before it does any such thing. If DV restraining orders can be effectively used as a tool in debt cases, it doesn’t take much imagination to see where else they might be used.
DV restraining orders are already a blight on intimate relationships. They’re overused, issued on little or no evidence with little or no opportunity for the target to respond. In that way, they make a mockery of centuries of due process law. And of course they’re used to separate fathers from children, children from fathers and men from their homes and personal belongings.
It is far past time that domestic violence law was brought into line with all other law. The Bill of Rights has no domestic violence exception to its guarantee of due process of law.
To expand the use of DV restraining order into business and casual relationships would be to invite the same sort of abuses that occur in the intimate realm into all phases of life. That’s one of the worst ideas I can think of. Citizens of New Jersey should beware of Senate Bill 313 and Assembley Bill 875.
Thanks to Jeff for the heads-up.