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J.J v. B.A.

April 18, 2013

J.J., APPELLANT,
v.
B.A.,*FN1 APPELLEE.



Appeal from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia (CPO-3007-11) (Hon. Linda D. Turner, Trial Judge)

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Schwelb, Senior Judge

Argued January 17, 2013

Before BLACKBURNE-RIGSBY and MCLEESE, Associate Judges, and SCHWELB, Senior Judge.

J.J. appeals from a civil protection order (CPO) entered against her by the trial court on September 15, 2011, at the request of B.A., who at that time was her estranged husband. Because, in our view, the CPO was entered in contravention of the Full Faith and Credit Clause of Article IV, Section 1 of the United States Constitution and was also contrary to familiar notions of comity, we reverse.

I.

The parties are the parents of a child, Z.A., who was born on January 4, 1995. It appears to be undisputed that the parties separated in November 2010, and that in May 2011, Ms. J. instituted divorce proceedings in the Circuit Court for Montgomery County, Maryland. On September 13, 2011, that court, per Judge Steven G. Salant, entered a "Consent Custody Order" which provided, inter alia, that: (1) the parties shall have joint legal custody of Z.A., who was then sixteen and one-half years of age; (2) that Mr. A. shall have sole physical custody of Z.A.; (3) that "[Mr. A.] shall endeavor to dismiss any restraining order case pending in the District of Columbia"; and (4) that Ms. J.'s claims for child support and alimony were waived. The order was entered by Judge Salant after the parties had agreed on the record, in a proceeding before Family Division Master Charles M. Cockerill on September 9, 2011, that "the father will . . . do everything he can to dismiss . . . [t]he D.C. restraining order."

On September 15, 2011, two days after the issuance of Judge Salant's order, a hearing was held in the Superior Court of the District of Columbia on Mr. A.'s petition for a CPO, which had been filed on September 1, 2011. Mr. A. testified that Ms. J. had threatened, stalked, and harassed him; that she had accessed his e-mail account without his consent; and that she had attacked and mistreated Z.A. Ms. J. contested most of Mr. A.'s allegations and made several counter-accusations. She also testified that Z.A. had punched her, leaving her with two black eyes and in fear for her safety from her own child. She did not deny the claim relating to her having obtained access to Mr. A.'s e-mail account, but she noted that she was married to Mr. A. at the time she did so.*fn2

At the conclusion of the hearing, the trial judge granted Mr. A.'s request for a CPO. She explained that Ms. J. "admits she accessed [Mr. A.'s] e-mail account without his permission," and that doing so constituted an intrafamily offense, namely, taking property without right.*fn3 The trial judge issued a CPO for a period of twelve months. Ms. J. filed a timely appeal, and she contends primarily that in light of the Maryland order, it was error for the trial judge to permit Mr. A. to proceed with, and for the court to grant, his application for a CPO.

II.

At the beginning of the Superior Court hearing, shortly after both parties were sworn, Ms. J. brought up the Montgomery County order, noting that it provided for dismissal of her claims for child support and other benefits and that, in exchange, "[her] husband would dismiss this [petition]." She explained that "we are in court today because he has not done so."

The trial judge then questioned Mr. A. about the Maryland order, and she elicited the following:

THE COURT: Now, this says that you shall endeavor to dismiss any restraining order pending in the District of Columbia.

MR. A.: Yes, I did endeavor, ma'am.

THE COURT: What does that mean? Tell me what you mean by, you did endeavor.

MR. A.: I thought about the idea of taking away the restraining order . . . or trying to dismiss this process. When I mentioned it to my son that it would be taken away, he was very very distressed by it. He fears his mother and he fears the idea that his mother would do ...


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