Wednesday, October 7, 2009
C.A. Upholds Protective Order Against Brother Over Fake Obituary
By STEVEN M. ELLIS, Staff Writer
The Fourth District Court of Appeal yesterday upheld a protective order against a man who sent his estranged sister a fake obituary listing her death after she failed to attend their brother’s funeral.
Div. One in an unpublished opinion held that a San Diego trial court’s ruling that a reasonable person would experience reasonable apprehension given the contentious nature of the parties’ relationship was not an abuse of discretion.
Greta Aronow sought the protective order under the Domestic Violence Prevention Act after her brother, Sam Aronow, mailed her the fake obituary stating that she died a “sudden death” from the “incurable disease of hate” on his birthday.
The pair admitted having been estranged for at least 15 years and having a contentious history, which Greta Aronow claimed was due to threats and acts of violence by her brother.
Sam Aronow sent the obituary after a friend who worked at his sister’s bank was fired for looking up Greta Aronow’s contact information in order to relay news of the funeral of another brother, Abe Aronow.
Elizabeth Aronow, Sam Aronow’s wife, found her sister-in-law’s email address through a trade association and sent a message about the death. She said her sister-in-law called back the next day to ask what happened and to request notification of funeral arrangements, but Greta Aronow denied that claim.
Elizabeth Aronow tried calling her sister-in-law at work once funeral arrangements were made, but received a voice mail message indicating that Greta Aronow would be out of the office until the following Monday.
The wife then contacted a friend at the bank, who obtained Greta Aronow’s home contact information from banking records and relayed the information to her. Greta Aronow did not attend the funeral and reported the friend to the bank because the friend did not have permission to go through her banking records.
Sam Aronow denied having anything to do with the friend’s actions, but shortly thereafter sent the obituary by certified mail to his sister at her workplace. In addition to the statements about Greta Aronow’s death, the obituary made reference to the friend’s firing, characterizing Aronow’s actions as “the most incomprehensible act of hate and spite one can commit” and lamenting that “[a] single mother of 3 is now unemployed for doing a kind humane act.”
Greta Aronow considered the fake obituary threatening, and her employer hired increased security at all of its facilities where she worked. Each of her coworkers met with the employer’s human resources department to determine whether they required counseling and whether they felt Aronow’s presence compromised their personal safety.
Aronow herself had a home security system installed the day after receiving the fake obituary and purchased pepper spray. She also filed a request for a protective order under the DVPA and the trial court issued a temporary restraining order.
At a hearing, Sam Aronow admitted writing the fake obituary, but he denied that it was intended to be threatening. He explained that it “was my way of dealing with my sister’s estrangement from our family.”
San Diego Superior Court Judge Joel R. Wohlfeil found that sending a fake obituary was highly unusual. Finding also that Greta Aronow reasonably perceived it to be threatening given the parties’ history, he granted the protective order.
Sam Aronow contended on appeal that there was insufficient evidence to support the issuance of the order, and the parties focused on what caused the long-standing rift and whether Greta Aronow’s claims regarding her brother’s conduct many years ago were true.
But Presiding Justice Judith McConnell wrote:
“[T]he trial court repeatedly framed the critical inquiry as whether a reasonable person would experience reasonable apprehension after receiving a fake obituary from someone from whom the person is estranged and with whom the person has a contentious relationship.
“The trial court ultimately determined a reasonable person would experience reasonable apprehension under those circumstances. As the trial court’s determination does not exceed the bounds of reason, the determination is not an abuse of discretion.”
Justices Richard D. Huffman and Cynthia Aaron joined McConnell in her opinion.
The case is Aronow v. Aronow, D053929.
Copyright 2009, Metropolitan News Company