Sabatino v. Goldstein, 01-21-00028-CV

CourtCourt of Appeals of Texas
Writing for the CourtGordon Goodman, Justice
Citation649 S.W.3d 841
Parties James SABATINO, Appellant v. Rachel Lauren GOLDSTEIN, Appellee
Docket Number01-21-00028-CV
Decision Date30 June 2022

649 S.W.3d 841

James SABATINO, Appellant
Rachel Lauren GOLDSTEIN, Appellee

NO. 01-21-00028-CV

Court of Appeals of Texas, Houston (1st Dist.).

Opinion issued June 30, 2022

William Tyler Moore, Bryan, for Appellant.

Bridget Woody Holloway, for Appellee.

Panel consists of Justices Kelly, Goodman, and Guerra.

Gordon Goodman, Justice

James Sabatino appeals from the trial court's entry of a protective order against him. We vacate the order and dismiss this suit for lack of jurisdiction.


The Harris County District Attorney applied for a protective order against James Sabatino, a Massachusetts resident, on behalf of Rachel Lauren Goldstein, a Harris County resident who had once dated Sabatino. As grounds for the order, the District Attorney alleged a clear and present danger of stalking.

As part of the application for the protective order, Goldstein submitted a declaration in which she detailed some of her past dealings with Sabatino. She and Sabatino stopped dating around August 2017, and they did not speak to each other for about three years afterward. Then, around March 2020, Sabatino contacted Goldstein. For the next month or so, he sent her text messages. Sabatino told Goldstein he had found explicit photos of her on a phone she had once loaned to him. In May 2020, Goldstein retained a lawyer, who sent a letter to Sabatino demanding he cease contacting Goldstein and return her phone. But Sabatino continued to send Goldstein text messages. So, Goldstein contacted the police in Massachusetts and obtained an emergency protective order. Sabatino violated the terms of that order by showing up at Goldstein's home, which resulted in his arrest. In June 2020, a Massachusetts court granted Goldstein a six-month protective order against Sabatino. Though her declaration is less than clear on the point, it seems all the preceding events occurred in Massachusetts. At any rate, Goldstein's declaration does not represent that any of these events happened in Texas.

Finally, Goldstein declared that in July 2020, she received a series of small-claims court notices. These notices were related to several small-claims court suits Sabatino had filed against Goldstein. Sabatino's small-claims court claims included:

• a claim relating to the phone that he had refused to return to her;

• a claim for $7,000 in lost wages resulting from his inability to work due to the Massachusetts protective order showing up in background checks;

• a claim for $1,500 he paid a private investigator to find Goldstein; and

• a claim for $1,000 for caring for Goldstein's pet in 2017.

The trial court held a virtual hearing on the application. Sabatino appeared at the hearing via ZOOM from Massachusetts and represented himself. A lawyer licensed to practice law in Massachusetts had tried to appear on Sabatino's behalf during the hearing, but the trial court disallowed the lawyer from doing so because he was not licensed to practice law in Texas and had not been admitted pro hac vice . See TEX. GOV'T CODE § 82.0361(b) (requiring nonresident attorneys to pay fee to Texas Board of Law Examiners and then file motion asking for permission to participate in

649 S.W.3d 844

suit); TEX. RULES GOVERN. BAR ADM'N R. 19(a) (requiring nonresident attorney to file written, sworn motion with court asking for permission to participate in suit).

At the hearing, Goldstein testified she currently resides in Harris County. She had relocated from Massachusetts to Texas in June 2020.

Before moving to Texas, Goldstein dated Sabatino for about two years. The two stopped seeing one another in 2017. Their last contact before the events that led her to seek a protective order was in August 2017.

Goldstein stated that if she was asked about her declaration, her testimony would be substantially the same as the contents of the declaration. She testified that she was seeking a protective order because Sabatino was stalking her. In particular, Goldstein said Sabatino continued to contact her, despite the previous Massachusetts protective order, via small-claims court notices.

During Goldstein's testimony, several exhibits were admitted into evidence: her declaration, a multitude of hostile text messages sent to her by Sabatino from March 2020 through May 2020, the May 2020 letter her lawyer sent to Sabatino, the June 2020 Massachusetts protective order, and several notices of small-claims court actions filed against her by Sabatino. A Massachusetts court issued these small-claims notices in July 2020. Each of these small-claims notices was mailed to Goldstein's former address in Massachusetts and then forwarded to her new address in Texas by the U.S. Postal Service.

Goldstein testified that in Sabatino's text messages, he began talking about "sexually explicit photographs and conversations" saved on the disputed phone. He also sent these photos to her during these text-message conversations. These photos were of Goldstein and a prior boyfriend. Goldstein stated that she perceived Sabatino's behavior as a threat. Sabatino eventually returned the phone, but Goldstein remains concerned that other copies of the explicit photographs and conversations may exist elsewhere.

Goldstein further testified she has received two more small-claims court notices in addition to the ones that were admitted into evidence. Goldstein testified that she regarded the multitude of suits as harassment.

Sabatino testified that he neither physically harmed Goldstein nor threatened to physically harm her. Sabatino also testified that all the conduct Goldstein complained about on his part occurred in Massachusetts.

As to the small-claims suits, Sabatino argued that he had the right to petition a court for relief, even if Goldstein thought the suits were meritless. The trial court interjected, "She's not disputing that, sir. She's not disputing that." When Sabatino replied that Goldstein had testified his suits were harassment and he disagreed, the trial court stated, "Well sir, that's not for you to decide whether or not they constitute harassment. That's for the court to decide."

Sabatino also testified that he filed all the small-claims suits in Massachusetts and that the associated notices were directed to Goldstein's address in Massachusetts. In response to Sabatino's testimony that none of the events about which Goldstein complained had taken place in Texas, the trial court stated: "I don't care, sir. Move on. I do not care. That is not relevant to this proceeding. I need to know why I should not grant this protective order based on stalking and harassment under the Texas Penal Code and Chapter 7A of the Code of Criminal Procedure." Sabatino replied, "I believe I made my argument. I have nothing further." No additional evidence was admitted at the hearing.

649 S.W.3d 845

After hearing the evidence, the trial court entered a protective order on the basis that there were reasonable grounds to believe Sabatino had stalked Goldstein. The trial court also found that entry of a protective order was in Goldstein's best interest and necessary to prevent family violence and stalking. Finally, the trial court found that good cause existed to order Sabatino to have no contact with Goldstein. The trial court therefore prohibited Sabatino from:

• committing dating violence against Goldstein;

• communicating with Goldstein except through an attorney;

• communicating a threat to Goldstein through any person;

• going to or being within 200 feet of Goldstein's residence or place of employment;

• possessing a firearm;

• engaging in conduct directed specifically toward Goldstein, including following her, that is likely to harass, annoy, alarm, abuse, torment, or embarrass her; and

• harming, threatening, or interfering with the care, custody, or control of a pet owned by Goldstein or a member of her family or household.

The trial court ordered that these prohibitions remain in effect for the duration of Sabatino's life. Finally, the trial court ordered Sabatino to pay $900 in attorney's fees and reimburse the county $21 for the filing fee.

Although the trial court's protective order did not refer to the small-claims suits, the trial court admonished Sabatino about them from the bench, stating:

You are not allowed to harass her. What does that mean? She has testified that you are filing these civil suits to harass her. Let me suggest to you that you think twice before doing that again. Because if you violate the terms of this protective order, I can guarantee you that I will contact law enforcement up where you live and you could go to jail for violating the protective order.

Sabatino requested that the trial court make findings of fact and conclusions of law, which the trial court did. Among other things, the trial court found and concluded that there were reasonable grounds to believe Sabatino had engaged in conduct towards Goldstein that constituted stalking and harassment, as those criminal offenses are defined in Sections 42.07 and 42.072 of the Texas Penal Code and Chapter 7A of the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure.

Sabatino moved for a new trial, which was denied by operation of law.


On appeal, Sabatino...

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1 practice notes
  • Allen v. Tex. Children's Health Plan, 01-21-00016-CV
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Texas
    • 30 Junio 2022—the plaintiffs sought to recover in their lawsuit. Id. at 146, 148–49. In contrast, the STAR Kids Contract does not 649 S.W.3d 841 guarantee the appellants the right to select which healthcare providers are in Texas Children's Health Plan's network in general or the right to insist Appl......
1 cases
  • Allen v. Tex. Children's Health Plan, 01-21-00016-CV
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Texas
    • 30 Junio 2022—the plaintiffs sought to recover in their lawsuit. Id. at 146, 148–49. In contrast, the STAR Kids Contract does not 649 S.W.3d 841 guarantee the appellants the right to select which healthcare providers are in Texas Children's Health Plan's network in general or the right to insist Appl......

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