Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Woman who claims to have stood up to Long Branch "bully" will get her day in court.

August 28, 2015 Update:
I have placed on-line both the "official memo" and Acerra's reply memo, both of which are referenced in her lawsuit.  I also have uploaded CFO Ronald J. Mehlhorn's most recent contract with the City

Monmouth County Superior Court Judge Thomas F. Scully has scheduled a "Peremptory Trial" in the Conscientious Employee Protection Act (CEPA) or "whistleblower" case of Acerra v. City of Long Branch for September 14, 2015, 9 a.m. in Courtroom 218W in the Monmouth County Courthouse in Freehold. ("Peremptory" means that the trial will proceed on that date without any further opportunity for postponement.  The lawsuit, filed on April 11, 2011, has been pending for a long time and has been listed for trial three times in 2015--on January 26th, March 2nd and May 11th--and each trial was adjourned for various reasons.)

Plaintiff Julie Juliano Acerra's lawsuit has its roots in a November 23, 2003 New York Times article entitled "ON THE JOB; Foiling the Office Bully (With Sand in Your Face)." In that article, Acerra, the former Principal Personnel Clerk for the City of Long Branch (Monmouth County), said that after having "enduring threats, foul language, ridicule and unfounded criticism" for five years from Chief Financial Officer Ron Mehlhorn, Sr. and others, "the bullies backed off" after she and her union documented the bullying and caused an internal investigation.

Unfortunately for Acerra, the respite was short-lived.  According to her lawsuit, the New York Times piece, along with Acerra's cooperation with law enforcement regarding an "Operation Bid Rig" investigation, sparked further hostility and retaliation against her.  Her lawsuit made various claims ranging from being followed while driving her car to having files taken from her office.

In 2007, Acerra said that she questioned Melhorn's receipt of what she approximated to be over $200,000 for cashing out over 400 accrued sick days and subsequently learned that Melhorn's office never deducted the 400 sick days from his account despite the pay out.  This caused Acerra, who "felt a serious crime had taken place" to contact law enforcement officials.  She claimed that she was later advised by the Monmouth County Prosecutor's Office that the matter was under investigation.

Acerra claimed she was fired on February 4, 2011 and that the firing was mischaracterized as a lay-off for "reasons of economy and efficiency.  She said she was replaced by a younger person.

Acerra is being represented in her lawsuit by Richard J. Shaklee of McLaughlin Stauffer & Shaklee, PC in Wall and the City's lawyer is Mitchell B. Jacobs of Cleary Giacobbe Alfieri & Jacobs,LLC in Matawan.

In November 2013, Long Branch offered Acerra $75,001 "exclusive of fees and costs" to settle her lawsuit. That offer was not accepted.