Domestic violence cases are sensitive to begin with, but it's important that both sides get a fair chance to tell their sides of the story. In addition, it's important for judges to follow strict protocols and court rules concerning what is allowed at each stage of a hearing. This point was brought home by the Appellate Division in the case of L.C. v. M.A.J. The case involved an incident of harassment, though the victim alleged a history of domestic abuse, including physical abuse. On the day of the incident, the defendant emailed the plaintiff to ask if their child was sick. When she didn't respond, he called the child, who confirmeded that he was sick. For some reasons, the defendant believed that the plaintiff was making the child lie, and that she had left him home alone on purpose. He called her employer 3 times to find out if she was working that day, including one attempt in which he used a fake name.
The plaintiff filed a domestic violence complaint and was granted a temporary restraining order at the initial hearing, where she alleged a significant history of abusive. On the day of the final hearing, there was a different judge, which in itself was not a problem. However, defense counsel presented a limine motion, or motion to dismiss. The motion argued that the plaintiff failed to present sufficient evidence for which relief could be granted. However, the motion itself failed to include this; it only stated that the facts alleged by the plaintiff were about his parenting issues, which did not constitute harassment. This is an important legal discrepancy on its own, but the Appellate Division was more concerned that the limine motion was allowed at all, considering that this was an final restraining order hearing.
For one thing, court rules do not allow last minute limine motions, because they can all too easily be used to dismiss a case at the last minute. Second, limine motions are never to be used at the hearing itself, but rather at pretrial hearings, such as an evidentiary hearing. These rules are even more important at domestic violence hearings, where the victim is facing potentially fatal consequences if they are denied a restraining order based on a last minute limine motion. The Appellate Division was particularly incensed that the limine motion was granted, when it shouldn't have been heard at all to begin with. They stressed that in cases like L.C.,the circumstances were especially disturbing, considering the allegations of physical abuse. In addition, the defendant's intentional acts of control and manipulation (using a fake name to spy on the plaintiff) seemed not have been taken seriously by either trial judge. This is an important ruling for victims who feel that they are at the mercy of a fickle court system, in addition to the volatile behavior of their abusers. For more information on your domestic violence rights and legal options, please speak with the attorneys of Villani & DeLuca, P.C.