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Best v. Best

September 21, 2006

ANGELA K. FARLOW BEST, APPELLEE,
v.
STEVEN R. DEVORE BEST, APPELLANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Chief Justice Thomas

Justices Freeman, Fitzgerald, Kilbride, Garman, and Karmeier concurred in the judgment and opinion.

Justice Burke took no part in the decision.

OPINION

In this case, we are asked to determine the proper standard of review for findings of abuse made under the Illinois Domestic Violence Act of 1986 (750 ILCS 60/101 et seq. (West 2004)). Respondent, Steven R. Devore Best, requests an abuse of discretion standard. Petitioner, Angela K. Farlow Best, argues that a manifest weight standard is warranted. We agree with petitioner.

BACKGROUND

On February 4, 2004, petitioner filed a verified petition for an emergency order of protection against respondent. In it, petitioner alleged that, on February 3, 2004, she and respondent had argued about the terms of their divorce. During the argument, respondent grabbed petitioner by the neck and slammed her into a door. Petitioner dialed 911, and a police search of the house revealed several guns. The police also found, under respondent's side of the bed, a loaded gun that had not been present a few days earlier and "a large number of prescription pills, including [O]xycontin and [V]alium, in bottles without labels." The trial court granted the petition and issued an emergency order, which was later extended by agreement of the parties.

At the plenary order hearing, petitioner testified that, after arriving home on the evening of February 3, 2004, respondent came into the master bedroom where petitioner was watching television. After asking petitioner some questions concerning the couple's pending divorce, respondent ordered petitioner to leave the house. The two of them then left the master bedroom and entered the hallway, where respondent grabbed petitioner by the throat and squeezed. Petitioner felt unable to breathe and tried to scream. Respondent then forced petitioner backwards against a door. Petitioner's head hit first and bounced several times, cracking the door. Petitioner then dialed 911. Petitioner recalled feeling as though her trachea "had a dent in it" and as though she could not swallow. Petitioner looked at herself in the mirror and noticed that her throat appeared red and that her head "had a huge lump on it." Petitioner explained that respondent is strong and athletic, despite an above-the-knee amputation of his left leg. Petitioner then described several guns that respondent owns and stores in various places throughout the house.

On cross-examination, respondent's counsel asked petitioner about a 1995 shoplifting conviction that she had disclosed in written discovery. Petitioner responded by denying that the prosecution resulted in an actual conviction. Petitioner then admitted that, on at least one occasion, she had taken drugs from respondent's office without respondent's permission or knowledge. Petitioner also admitted that she had given a false address on her driver's license application, though she insisted that it was respondent's idea and solely so that their daughter could attend a particular school. Finally, petitioner confirmed that, at the time of the February 3, 2004, altercation, she was under the care of both a psychotherapist and a psychiatrist and was taking medication in accordance with that care.

Rheanna Hall, a Deerfield police officer, testified next. Hall explained that she responded to petitioner's 911 call. At the scene, Hall interviewed petitioner and respondent. Respondent told Hall that he and petitioner had argued over their divorce, that petitioner was mentally unstable and needed psychiatric help, and that petitioner had attacked him with knitting needles. Hall recalled seeing a small red mark on petitioner's neck, though she could not describe the mark in detail or explain its origin. She could not recall whether petitioner had a bump on the back of her head. Hall took photographs of petitioner at the scene, but conceded that the red mark on petitioner's neck was not visible in those photographs. Hall confirmed that she and her colleagues discovered many firearms in the house, including a loaded handgun stored with the safety off under the bed in the master bedroom.

Following closing arguments, the trial court agreed to enter the plenary order of protection. Before doing so, however, the trial court expressed some skepticism concerning petitioner's credibility:

"I do have some question as to the credibility of the Petitioner. She's been adequately impeached-though not, I don't want to say substantially-by some prior indiscretions on her part.

I think she was a well coached witness. I noticed that before she answered any question, she thought long and hard about the answer. Rather than really telling me what the truth was, I think that she was searching for the right answer.

That's telling from a witness. It just doesn't speak of things that are truthful that are coming out of the mouth of a witness at any time, and it just doesn't bode well."

Ultimately, though, the trial court concluded that petitioner's allegation of abuse was proven true by a ...


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