Slain Cumberland County Wife Had a Restraining Order — Could Law Christie Vetoed Have Protected Her?
Friends of Tara O’Shea-Sullivan are expressing relief after her husband Jeremiah Monell was captured by State Police in South Jersey and charged with killing her two weeks ago in her Commercial Township home.
In a Facebook post, one friend of the victim said “we want to see the laws fixed so this does not happen again.”
O’Shea-Sullivan had tried to get permission from a judge to leave New Jersey with the couple’s two children and return to her native Tennessee, but that permission was denied, apparently because of a parental visitation rights issue, close friend Jen Messeck told Townsquare Media.
Messeck also said she and others will push to have electronic monitoring legislation passed and signed into law. The measure would require those convicted of domestic violence to wear electronic GPS monitoring devices, so the victim and police could be notified if the offender violated their restraining order.
A bill to establish a pilot program in Ocean County, under the name "Lisa's Law," passed an Assembly committee in October, but hasn't come up for a vote before the full Assembly. It was inspired by Letizia “Lisa” Zindell of Toms River, a social worker for the New Jersey Divison of Youth and Family Services, who in 2009 was strangled to death by her ex-fiancee, a day after his release from confinement for the last of several restraining-order violations.
Gov. Chris Christie vetoed an earlier version of the legislation in January of last year after it received unanimous Senate and Assembly approval. A report by the state attorney general’s office raised concerns about the cost and reliability of such a pilot program in 2014, after Christie conditionally vetoed a similar proposal earlier that year so that the AG could review it first.
In a statement Christie issued when he vetoed the version of the bill last January, Christie said the program "could give victims a false sense of security."
"I continue to applaud the sponsors’ attention to both the need to protect victims of domestic violence and the possibilities for using new technologies to create safer communities; however this avenue is not yet reliable enough to journey down," Christie wrote at the time.
Robert Bianchi, a defense attorney and former Morris County prosecutor, said if there’s a finding by a court that an offender poses a significant risk and electronic monitoring could be used for a period of time, “I think that would be a reasonable middle-line approach. I think that should be something we should look at.”
However, Bianchi said, passing new legislation or tweaking existing law that aims to protect domestic violence victims can have unintended consequences.
“It can be used in a collateral way in order to gain an advantage either in a matrimonial action or in a custody case. for example, with the filing of bogus complaints, so caution is needed,” he said.
Bianchi stressed to make electronic monitoring a requirement for everyone issued a restraining order, even if they did not have a history of violent behavior, would not be appropriate.
“What that would do would wash out the importance of that particular process,” he said.
“We always used to say in the prosecutor’s world, today’s domestic violence is tomorrow’s homicide case — so we always want to protect people who could be victims of domestic violence, but a lot of those cases however are not really at play," he said.
He added: “I’ve had a whole career as a prosecutor and defense attorney, and know many cases are serious and people need the utmost in protection, but there are those who unfortunately take advantage of the system to get those collateral advantages.”
Bari Zell Weinberger, a divorce attorney and managing partner of Weinberger Law Group based in Parsippany, said the electronic monitoring bill “has the potential to make New Jersey actually a leader in using technology to protect people from being re-victimized. We’re in a technically advanced phase of our day in age. Why aren’t we putting these parameters in place?”
She added, “if we have that ability and we have that advancement, test it, see if it works, if there’s an opportunity for further protection, use it.”
On allowing judges to let parents leave the state with their children if they ‘re concerned about their safety, Bianchi said there are several potential problems to consider.
“I think you’ve got to be really, really careful with that because I think it will open the flood gates where there will be multiple filings of restraining orders for very minor conduct, maybe true, maybe not true,” he said.
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