Monday, January 27, 2014

South Jersey Mayor gives statement that results in harassment charge against his uncle.

Update:  The February 11, 2014 hearing has been adjourned to February 25, 2014, 3 p.m. at the Woolwich Joint Municipal Court at 120 Village Green Dr, Woolwich, New Jersey
 On October 8, 2013, Judson Moore, Jr., who was then campaigning for a seat on the three-member Commercial Township (Cumberland County) Committee (and who presently serves as the Township's Mayor), gave a taped statement to the New Jersey State Police that led to Moore's uncle, Benjamin Moore, being charged with harassment.

Harassment, which is prohibited by N.J.S.A. 2C:33-4 (a copy of the harassment statute is on-line here), makes it a petty disorderly persons offense to, with a purpose to harass, communicate with another "anonymously or at extremely inconvenient hours, or in offensively coarse language, or any other manner likely to cause annoyance or alarm." The harassment statute also prohibits "striking, kicking, shoving, or other offensive touching" and "engag[ing] in any other course of alarming conduct or of repeatedly committed acts with purpose to alarm or seriously annoy such other person."  Conviction of a petty disorderly persons offense subjects an offender to a fine of up to $500 and/or imprisonment of up to 30 days.

According to the police report (which, along with the summons, is on-line here), Benjamin Moore, age 75, admitted to sending an envelope to Franklin Township (Gloucester County) Mayor Marge Pfrommer which contained newspaper clippings, vouchers and other records that were critical of Judson Moore, who then served as Franklin Township's Chief Financial Officer and Administrator.  The envelope was given to State Police by Franklin Police Chief Michael Rock who asked that it be investigated "as a harassment complaint."

After learning about the summons, I submitted an Open Public Record Act (OPRA) request to Franklin Township for a copy of the entire contents of the envelope. Due to the size of the resulting file, I have broken it up into two segments, and have placed them on-line here and here.

In my personal opinion, nothing contained in the envelope is especially bothersome.  According to the police report, the most document that appeared to both Judson Moore the most "was a specific photo of a bank that was closed down in Commercial Township."  The photo, which I have separately placed on-line here, shows a sign that says "Thanks Mayor and Judd More for Closing the Bank." 

While the New Jersey Supreme Court has held that single anonymous communication does not have to constitute a serious annoyance, but only a regular annoyance, to constitute an offense, the court also observed that "some people may attempt to use the process as a sword rather than as a shield."  State v. Hoffman, 149. N.J. 564, 583 (1997).  Is this a case where Mayor Judson Moore is truly a victim or one in which Benjamin Moore is being retaliated against for criticizing a political figure?  I believe that posting the entire contents of the envelope on-line will help members of the public draw their own conclusions as to the legitimacy of harassment charge against Moore.

The case, which bears Summons No. 0805-SC-009246, has been transferred out of Franklin Township to the Woolwich Joint Municipal Court at 120 Village Green Dr, Woolwich, New Jersey and will be heard on Tuesday, February 11, 2014 at 3 p.m.  Moore is being represented by Brock D. Russell of Millville.  Anyone wishing to attend should call Court Administrator Angela Kalnas at 856-467-1555 ext: 2100 the morning of the hearing to make sure that it hasn't been postponed.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Penns Grove Councilman again cited for suspended driver license

Update: 01/27/14:

Warrant issued for Councilman's arrest.

I recently sought records from the Logan Township Municipal Court that would show the disposition of the summons/complaint against Councilman Washington for driving with a revoked license. 

Today, the court informed me that Councilman Washington failed to appear at his court date and that a warrant has been issued for his arrest.  See the correspondence here:
----------------------------

On September 25, 2013, Logan Township (Gloucester County) Police wrote Penns Grove Borough (Salem County) Councilman Carl Washington, Jr. a summons for driving with a suspended license, contrary to N.J.S.A. 39:3-40.  A copy of the summons, Docket No. 0809-L-071877, is on-line here.  At the same traffic stop, Washington was also cited for improper use of a cell phone, contrary to N.J.S.A.  39:4-97.3.

This is not Councilman Washington's first driver license related offense.  Available on-line here is a set of exhibits:

Exhibit page 1 is Washington's October 20, 201l statement filed with the Election Law Enforcement Commission (ELEC). It evidences that Washington's address is 40 Madole Place, Penns Grove, New Jersey (the same address listed on the summons).

Exhibit page 2 is summons/complaint no. 1708-PG-079701 issued against Washington charging him with driving with a suspended license (N.J.S.A. 39:3-40) on May 18, 2011. According to the reverse of the summons/complaint, Washington pled "not guilty" but was found guilty at an August 9, 2011 hearing and was fined $1,006 plus $33 costs and received a 30 day additional period of driver license suspension. Importantly, the bottom of the reverse of the summons indicates "10 days" and a related text entry appears regarding "SLAP." On November 4, 2011, I telephone Penns Grove Municipal Court Administrator Sharon O. Bye and she told me that Washington was sentenced to spend ten days in jail but that the judge would allow him to serve his sentence through the Salem County Sheriff's SLAP "Sheriff's Labor Assistance Program" if he was eligible. Ms. Bye also informed me that Washington has appealed the case to Superior Court, Law Division.  On January 31, 2012, Washington lost that appeal.  Click here for the court's order.

Exhibit page 3 is a record I received in response to my OPRA request to Gloucester County seeking information on whether or not Washington was jailed. The record indicates that a Carl Washington, born on March 15, 1973 (the same date that is on Exhibit page 2), was committed several times between November 12, 1997 and April 23, 2004.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Falsification of Police Report by Wildwood Crest Police?

Count 53 of former Wildwood Crest Police Officer Thomas J. Hunt's lawsuit against the Borough, Federal Case no. 1:12-cv-06887, (on-line here) states:
"In or about May 2010, Hunt sent to the Cape May Prosecutor’s Office a complaint and materials to review in connection with the falsification of an accident report by [Sergeant Michael] Hawthorne for the son of the Borough’s Solicitor."
After reading this allegation, I submitted an Open Public Records Act request to the Wildwood Crest Borough Clerk for:
1. A copy of the motor vehicle accident report for the accident involving the Borough Solicitor's son mentioned in Count 53 of Thomas J. Hunt's suit against the Borough.

2. A copy of the "complaint and materials" that were sent to the Prosecutor's office as alleged in Count 53 of Thomas J. Hunt's suit against the Borough.
In response, I got a police report (on-line here) and was informed that I would have to contact the Cape May County Prosecutor for the "complaint and materials."

The police report is for an accident that took place on June 23, 2001--more than eleven years prior to the filing of Hunt's federal complaint.  The owner of "Vehicle 1" is Doreen C. Holton, who I have been told is the former name of Wildwood Crest Solicitor Doreen Y. Corino.  Is this true?  Doreen's car was driven by John W. Holton, presumably Doreen's son, who was 18 years old at the time of the accident.  The police report was written by Sergeant Michael Hawthorne.

Nothing in the description of the accident is remarkable.  It appears that John W. Holton struck another car in the rear while traveling at a slow speed and causing very minor damage.

Do any people in or around Wildwood Crest know of the circumstances that cause former Wildwood Crest Police Officer Thomas J. Hunt to claim that the accident report was falsified?  Or is Hunt simply full of hot air?

John Paff, Chairman
New Jersey Libertarian Party's
Open Government Advocacy Project
P.O. Box 5424
Somerset, NJ  08875
Voice: 732-873-1251
Fax: 908-325-0129
e-mail: paff@pobox.com

P.S.  Hunt's lawsuit is a procedural nightmare.  Judge Irenas' decision from December 2013 describes the procedural difficulties and is on-line here.

Wildwood Crest mayor asks prosecutor to assign monitor for police department

I have obtained, via an OPRA request, Wildwood Crest Mayor Carl Groon's December 3, 2013 letter asking the Cape May County Prosecutor's Office to appoint a monitor for the Wildwood Crest Police Department.  Groon said that due to Chief DePaul's retirement "and as a result of the ongoing internal affairs investigation, I am unable, at this time, to appoint either an acting or permanent Chief of Police.  The letter is on-line here.

According to Borough Clerk Janelle M. Holzmer, "no written response has been received from the Cape May County Prosecutor’s Office as of [January 23, 2014."

Monday, January 20, 2014

Dover mayor cleared of ethics charges

In his December 13, 2013 letter, New Jersey Local Finance Board Chairman Thomas H. Neff cleared Dover Town (Morris County) Mayor James P. Dodd of ethics charges for owning a business that repaired vehicles for the Borough of Victory Gardens despite Dodd having signed a Shared Services Agreement between Dover and Victory Gardens.
   
Neff's letter in the case, Complaint No. LFB-11-096, is on-line here.  Invoices and purchases orders evidencing that Dodd's business, J.D. Automotive & Truck, performed repair services for Victory Garden are on-line here.

Neff's letter noted that neither J.D. Automotive nor Dodd solicited the repair work from Victory Gardens and that the work "occurred randomly" and was "not significant enough to . . . impair [Dodd's] objectivity or independence of judgment."  However, Neff advised, "any future repair work by J.D. Automotive on vehicles belonging to the Borough of Victory Gardens be bid in accordance with procurement rules and regulations, regardless of bid threshold requirements."

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Local Finance Board issues Notice of Violation in four ethics cases.

The Local Finance Board, which oversees complaints against New Jersey local government officials for violating the Local Goverment Ethics Law, does not put its meeting minutes on-line.  And, when I do receive the Board's minutes through an Open Public Records Act (OPRA) request, the minutes refer to disposed cases only by case number, thus requiring an additional OPRA request in order to get any information about the substance of the case or the parties to it.  Thus there is a substantial delay, as well as a substantial matter of work, in being able to publicly report on ethics matters.

I recently OPRA'd the Notices of Violation in four ethics cases and have posted them on-line here.  I am posting these records because the identities of the public officials involved are of public interest.  I will summarize the cases below:

Case No. C12-037:

Raymond J. McCarthy, Bloomfield Township Mayor, fined $250 for using municipal resources during business hours to advance his own personal charity.

Case No. C12-099:

Robert Zimmerman, Fire Commissioner in Fire District #2 in Middle Township, for simultaneously serving as Fire Commissioner and as president of a fire department within the District.  He was forced to resign one of those positions.

Case No. C12-004:


Robert J. Vanderslice, Salem County Freeholder, fined $100 for seconding a motion and voting in favor of a resolution appointing Donald Masten as Special Counsel to the County when a professional relationship existed between Vanderslice and Masten.  (Update 04/26/16 - results of the appeal to OAL)

Case No. C10-011:


Ravinda S. Bhalla, Hoboken City Council member, fined $100 for voting in favor of a resolution providing for the continued legal services of Paul Conden, Esq., when Bhalla and Condon had a shared lease agreement.

Each of these four officials may have exercised their right to have an administrative hearing and the results of that hearing, if requested, may change the outcome.

Local Finance Board dismisses five ethics cases.

The Local Finance Board, which oversees complaints against New Jersey local government officials for violating the Local Goverment Ethics Law, does not put its meeting minutes on-line.  And, when I do receive the Board's minutes through an Open Public Records Act (OPRA) request, the minutes refer to disposed cases only by case number, thus requiring an additional OPRA request in order to get any information about the substance of the case or the parties to it.  Thus there is a substantial delay, as well as a substantial matter of work, in being able to publicly report on ethics matters.

I recently OPRA'd the dismissal letters in five ethics cases and have posted them on-line here.  Even though the matters were dismissed, the reasoning for the dismissals and the identities of the public officials involved are still of public interest.  I will summarize the cases below:

Case No. C11-083:

John Coombs, Sr., Upper Pittsgrove Township Land Use Board Chairman, cleared violating the LGEL by acting in his official capacity on matters relating to applicant Atlantic Green Power while having a private business relationship with Edward Stella, the Vice President of Project Developement for Atlantic Green Power.

Case No. C12-091:

Joy-Michele Tomczak, Keyport Borough Council member, cleared violating the LGEL by participating in matters related to the appointment of a new Chief of Police despite her brother-in-law having been arrested by one of the candidates for that position.

Case No. C08-021:


Joel N. Goldman, Longport Zoning and Planning Board member, cleared violating the LGEL by failing to list his residence, which he owned, on his financial disclosure statement.

Case No. C12-092:

Matthew Doherty, Belmar Mayor, cleared violating the LGEL for "using his official position to tarnish the reputation of a colleague and provide ammunition to potential future political opponents of that member of Council."

Case No. C12-095:


Michael DuPont, Belmar Borough Attorney, cleared violating the LGEL for "using his official position to tarnish the reputation of a colleague and provide ammunition to potential future political opponents of that member of Council."



Former Estell Manor Mayor agrees to pay $100 to resolve ethics matter.

In February 2013, former Estell Manor City (Atlantic County) Mayor Joseph M. Venezia agreed to pay $100 to the State of New Jersey to resolve a complaint that had been filed against him for violating the Local Government Ethics Law. 

While it is not entirely clear, it appears that Venezia, who possessed a logging permit from the City, voted to introduce an ordinance that would have revoked certain City-issued permits if the holder was delinquent in his or her property taxes.  According to the settlement, a copy of which is on-line here, Venezia said that he "did not realize any unreasonable benefit from his participation in the vote to introduce" the ordinance but acknowledged "that the appearance of such involvement did exist, and a perception could have been created in which his participation might be expected to impair his objectivity or indepedence of judgment because of his open property tax obligation to the City."

The Local Finance Board, which oversees ethics complaints, does not put its meeting minutes on-line.  And, when I receive the Board's minutes through an Open Public Records Act (OPRA) request, the minutes refer to disposed cases only by case number, thus requiring an additional OPRA request in order to get any information about the substance of the case or the parties to it.  Thus the delay in being able to publicly report on this matter.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Sexual harassment alleged in Neptune police lawsuit

On December 10, 2013, Elena Gonzalez and Christine Savage, both Neptune Township police officers, filed a civil lawsuit against their superior officers, Robert Adams, James Hunt and Michael Emmons.  The female officers allege that they were passed over for promotions and training opportunities because of their gender.  The lawsuit is on-line here.

They also allege being subjected to sexual harassment.  Some of the allegations are graphic, e.g. Emmons is accused of "gesturing as if he was masturbating and shooting at officers with his penis saying 'pow, pow pow."  See paragraph 24 of the suit.

None of the allegations have been proven and the burden of proof is upon the plaintiffs.