The Hoboken City Council will vote on whether or not to approve a $135,000 settlement to a longtime political operative who filed a lawsuit alleging his freedom of speech was violated in October 2015.
By John Heinis/Hudson County View
In the federal lawsuit, David Liebler alleges that his civil rights were violated when he was ejected from the Hoboken City Council meeting on October 21st, 2015.
Liebler was escorted out of the meeting for discussing a news story about on then-Politicker NJ (now Observer NJ) that revealed emails between Stan Grossbard, former Mayor Dawn Zimmer’s husband, and members of the local housing authority.
“Just like I expected, just like we all knew, Stan Grossbard (says “stop it” as Council President Ravi Bhalla tries to cut him off) Stan Grossbard is the unofficial mayor of Hoboken,” Liebler said a the meeting in question.
While Bhalla, then the council president, now the mayor, continued to try and halt Liebler’s remarks, he had no interest in giving any ground.
“He has never been elected, and you know what, all of the emails are … stop, stop, stop, why are you interrupting me? I want the record to show I have at least 45 seconds left … under the First Amendment, I can’t speak about a blog article on PoliticalNewJersey.com [sic]?”
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 the former Assemblyman scored a $700,000 settlement in that case.
Bhalla said that Liebler had no right to talk about private citizens at the dais, calling him a “disgrace” as police escorted him out.
His lawsuit also contends that “each of the individual council members have interfered and restrained Plaintiff’s right to free speech, which is guaranteed by the First Amendment and Section 1983.”
According to court documents, the case had wrapped up legal proceedings on February 14th and was to be voted on yesterday, however, that meeting was postponed until March 15th due to the nor’easter.
The city tried to have the case dismissed in July 2016 to no avail.
Three sources, who spoke under the condition of anonymity since they were not authorized to speak on the matter, said the resolution is expected to pass without a hitch.
A copy of the full resolution, listed on the city’s website, $40,000 will be paid to Liebler and Brach Eichler LLC – Gormally’s firm – while $95,000 will be made payable to Brach Eichler LLC, meaning the vast majority of the settlement is going towards legal fees.
As is almost always the case with settling litigation, the city admits to no wrongdoing alleged in the lawsuit.
Another politically active Hoboken resident, Perry Belfiore, who used to sit on the HHA and has unsuccessfully run for council, was ejected from the same 2015 meeting and received a $51,000 settlement last year.
Belfiore, another frequent political opponent of Zimmer and Bhalla, also has a longstanding ethics complaint, which has been thrown out of court and revived several times, against the new mayor.