Judge denies Hoboken’s motion to dismiss freedom of speech violation suit

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A federal court judge in Newark denied the dismissal of a freedom of speech violation lawsuit filed by a political operative against the City of Hoboken after he was ejected from the October 21 city council meeting.

On July 21, Judge Kevin McNulty denied two motions filed by the city to dismiss the complaint, writing that “the same issues of factual interpretation bar dismissal on grounds of qualified immunity.”

In the 11-page ruling, McNulty earlier noted that “qualified immunity issues (such as whether a violation was ‘objectively apparent’ under the circumstances at the time) may often require the kind of factual context that is only available on summary judgement or a trial.”

McNulty also states that although it is not proven that Liebler’s First Amendment rights were violated, “if it happened as plaintiff claims, then a First Amendment violation would have been apparent to a reasonable official in these Council members’ positions.”

David Liebler, who has previously helped the political campaigns of Ruben Ramos, Frank Raia and Beth Mason, began speaking during the public portion of the October 21 meeting about relatively mundane topics such as bike lanes, real estate projects and budgetary issues.

However, things immediately heated up when he referenced an article published hours earlier by PolitickerNJ that claimed that based on hundreds of emails, Stan Grossbard, Mayor Dawn Zimmer’s husband, had played a major role in making decision for the Hoboken Housing Authority.

Hudson County View followed up on the story and revealed three email exchanges, in their entirety, between Grossbard and HHA board members.

Grossbard did make suggestions to the board, but they were not always heeded, evidenced by a March 11, 2013 rough draft resolution that would terminate then-HHA Executive Director Carmelo Garcia.

Garcia wasn’t terminated until August 4, 2014, where two of the three HHA commissioners Grossbard was communicating with had left the board, and is currently involved in litigation over the situation.

Then-Council President Ravi Bhalla began arguing with Liebler over his remarks, with the latter shouting things like “Stan Grossbard is the unofficial mayor of Hoboken,” before police eventually escorted him out of the chambers.

Charles Gormally,  an attorney for Brach Eichler LLC, of Roseland, is representing Liebler in the matter – which was filed in November.

He slammed the city for trying to have the complaint dismissed, taking another shot at Grossbard in the process.

“After forcibly removing our client from the public portion of a City Council meeting, the City now is using taxpayer resources to try to convince the court to dismiss a lawsuit challenging this violation of his First Amendment rights,” he said in a prepared statement.

“By throwing every conceivable legal argument at the wall, the only thing sticking is the tape of the meeting that reveals how this government will even ignore citizens’ constitutional rights in a desperate attempt to hide Grossbard’s involvement in Hoboken Government.”

Gormally previously opposed a group that wanted to introduce a rent control referendum in Hoboken back in 2013 (h/t The Jersey Journal).

A Hoboken spokesman did not return an email seeking comment on Monday, but a pro-Zimmer source with knowledge of the situation, who asked not to be identified, called the judge’s decision “standard” and had little to say about the actual merits of the case.

8 COMMENTS

  1. Scum. I can’t tell you how bad Council members behavior is in emails and after the cameras are off in the chambers at Council meetings.

    • Why can’t you tell us? My guess is because you are just making things up as usual. You have quite the track record in that regard. You keep being crazy you though.

      As for the plaintiff in my opinion based on his theatrics,he went to that meeting looking to cause trouble. He accomplished his mission in that regard. But as a recent litigious Hoboken couple found out, lawsuits can have a funny way of backfiring on people. May not work out for him in the end

    • I have to agree that after the cameras were installed Council members Castellano, Mason, Russo and Occhipinti bad behavior could be characterized as scummy. Thankfully of those members only Michael Russo is still on the City Council and he has drastically toned down his previously loud, bullying rhetoric in what I think is a tactic to reform (pun intended) his sketchy past with a changing Hoboken voting demographic.

      Those who have followed the City Council meeting have noticed the marked increase it the civility of the proceeding since January compared to the past.

  2. Looks like payday for the plaintiff.

    “You’re not allowed to talk about private citizens in this dais, please leave the chambers…have him ejected…youre a disgrace”

    - Constitutional Law Scholar Ravi Bhalla

    • IMO, this is just another attempt at publicity by a very needy political gadfly and It is highly doubtful he will see any money from this and more likely it will cost whoever is paying for his lawyer some money.

      • If the denial of a multitude of City motions and a record of prior losses at trial are any indication, then this case will go similarly.

  3. At least our taxes that pay for the Judge are well spent! Qualified immunity applies to personal liability rather than official liability of which this claim is asserted.

  4. No it is time to get the mayor and all of the city council out always said she the face and he the unmayor oh one the there should have been never been the mayor when the lawyer was set up in the Malibu restaurant there was no special election and she the mayor not right time to get the FBI in hoboken

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