Bickerton’s judicial career off to interesting start

LISBON — Rusty Ray Altman, 46, charged with violating a temporary protection order, took his case to trial in Common Pleas Court on Wednesday in the first jury trial before Judge Megan Bickerton.

Altman — whose address is listed on court records as the Cream Ridge Road, Lisbon, the address of the victim in the case Lisa A. Clark — is accused of being inside Clark’s home on Oct. 18.

Two deputies from the county sheriff’s office, Detective Sgt. Michael Helman and Deputy Justin Madison, took the stand to testify they went to Clark’s home that day after dispatchers received a call that Altman was inside Clark’s home.

Clark took the stand after being called by Altman’s attorney Paul Conn, but subpoenaed by Chief Assistant Prosecutor John Gamble. Conn had to locate Clark after Gamble rested his case after the two deputies testified.

While Conn asked for a short recess to locate Clark, an unhappy Altman asked if he could file for a mistrial now. At one point Altman tried to object himself and was reminded by Bickerton that he must go through his attorney to object during the court hearings.

When Clark took the stand, she explained that the day in question Altman had called her and asked to come get some of his belongings. Clark said she had planned to leave to allow Altman time to get his belongings, but her ride did not show up. So when he arrived, she let him in and took her dogs for a walk in the woods for about a half an hour. When she returned, Clark testified, the house had been torn apart and Altman looked how he usually looked when he was high on certain types of drugs.

The two had an on-again, off-again relationship for about 20 years, which had included some years of drug abuse by both of them.

“I love Rusty, but I can’t deal with him,” said Clark, who has been clean for the past four years.

Clark said she does not want Altman and the things he brings into her life. She said her probation officers suggested she stay away from Altman, and she has a protection order, which he also violated on Oct. 2, a case which ended up in county Municipal Court. In all, Gamble produced four past convictions of Altman for violating a protection order.

When taken into custody, both deputies testified Altman repeatedly wanted to know who called on him. Clark testified she did not call the sheriff’s office but called Altman’s aunt, Cindy Mellott, because Clark did not know how she was going to get Altman to leave. It was Mellott who called the deputies to get Clark help dealing with Altman.

However, Clark also said she has had contact with Altman, despite protection orders. She stated on several occasions he has came to her house, has called her and has written her letters.

During opening arguments, Gamble had explained that the protection order expressly pointed out in bold print that Altman was not to violate the protection order, even if Clark invited him.

The jury is scheduled to return this morning for closing arguments and then to be asked to make a decision in the case.