A complaint for a domestic violence protective order against a Graham fireman who had been accused of stalking a Burlington woman was dismissed Monday afternoon – at the request of the attorney for the accuser, who called just one witness to testify, and was unsuccessful in his attempts to introduce as evidence any of the text messages at the center of the case.
Much of the case, filed by Courtney Wrenn of Burlington against Robert Patterson, II, of Burlington, hinged on what she had described as repeated harassment online and via text messages she claimed that Patterson had sent her between October 2022 and March 2023.
Wrenn’s attorney, Robert Jennings of Mebane, had called Wrenn’s husband, Jacob Wrenn, to testify briefly before announcing that he would request dismissal of the case. Jennings said in court Monday afternoon that he intends to re-file the case.
Jacob Wrenn testified that he and Courtney Wrenn have been married a little over two years, and that he “never personally met [Patterson] until all this stuff started.”
Jacob Wrenn testified under direct examination by Jennings that his wife and Patterson were in a “previous dating relationship,” which he said his wife had decided to end on October 12, 2022.
Jacob Wrenn confirmed that he and his wife have never separated; nor have they lived apart at anytime during their marriage.
Asked by Jennings to describe the nature of the relationship between Patterson and Courtney Wrenn, Jacob Wrenn testified, “to my knowledge, it was a relationship with occasional communication, probably some physical things, as well.”
Jacob Wrenn also testified in response to a question by Jennings that he, his wife, and his father “all started getting text messages from different numbers” shortly after she ended the relationship with Patterson.
Jacob Wrenn’s description of the timeline of events – that the text messages from “random” phone numbers started soon after his wife ended her relationship with Patterson, drew vigorous objections from Fairman.
The defense attorney successfully argued that Jennings had failed to lay a proper foundation in order to have print-outs of the text messages – which Jennings started to present but did not – admitted into evidence.
Fairman contended that there was no evidence presented to indicate that any of the messages – which Courtney Wrenn claimed that Patterson had sent after the relationship ended – had actually come from her client.
Alamance County district court judge Larry Brown, Jr., who presided over the hearing, sustained Fairman’s objection to the admission of text messages that hadn’t been authenticated.
Brown permitted the plaintiff’s husband to testify only about one message, which Jacob Wrenn purported to have been sent to him via a direct message from Patterson via Facebook.
Fairman also objected to Wrenn’s testimony about that message, arguing “it shows it’s from [my client] Rob, but it doesn’t show who it’s to…It’s irrelevant what messages got sent to [this witness] – he’s not the plaintiff.”
Fairman repeatedly insisted the text messages that Courtney Wrenn claimed she had received from Patterson had no indentifying information. “We don’t have dates and we don’t have people [identifying the source of the messages],” she argued.
Jennings told the judge that he felt the allegations outlined in the complaint met the evidentiary requirements under the state’s Rules of Civil Procedure, as well as a Court of Appeals precedent. He nonetheless conceded Fairman’s point, telling the judge, “Authentication is a different story; we may need to lay a better foundation.”
Fairman pointed out for Brown that the case had already been continued, in part to ensure that her client received the discovery materials – specific evidence – in order to prepare a defense. She continued to insist that the plaintiff had not established that her client had done the acts of which he was accused.
“Due process requires that my client be allowed to prepare his defense based on [specific evidence],” Fairman argued, telling the judge that she had only been provided with the plaintiff’s discovery materials the morning of the hearing.
Jennings ultimately told Brown, “I’m dismissing without prejudice. We’ll re-file it, and we’ll re-plead it with everything they’re asking for. This [dissolves the emergency no-contact order].”
Fairman shot back, telling Brown, “I don’t believe it’s appropriate to get into trial, decide the case isn’t going your way, and then dismiss it – that’s not what Rule 41 [which governs dismissal] is for.” She also said that under this type of action, a complaint for a domestic violence protective order, there’s no avenue of redress for the defendant once a case is dismissed, unlike in a civil suit, where the defendant has an opportunity to file a response to the allegations against him.
“It’s prejudiced against the defendant, as well,” Fairman contended. “This complaint appears to have been filed in bad faith. The plaintiff had all day to settle this…[then] to come in and rewrite it just because it didn’t go your way [seems to be improper].”
Brown announced that he was dismissing the complaint without prejudice, meaning that the case could be re-filed later.
Patterson confirmed for The Alamance News after the hearing that he remains employed with the Graham fire department.