David Liebler, a longtime Hoboken political operative, has filed a federal lawsuit alleging that his freedom of speech was violated when he was ejected from the October 21 City Council meeting.
Video courtesy of Hobokenhorse.com.
In a 14-page complaint electronically filed in the state’s U.S. District Court on an unspecified date in November against the City of Hoboken, Mayor Dawn Zimmer and the entire city council, Liebler says his civil rights were violated when he was tossed from the meeting.
“Plaintiff brings this action pursuant to the Civil Rights Ace, 28 U.S.C. 1983 and 1985, seeking to restrain and enjoin defendants from engaging in this outrageous behavior, as well as an award of compensatory and punitive damages, counsel fees and costs of suit,” Charles Gormally, Liebler’s attorney in the matter, writes in the suit.
Gormally is a lawyer for Brach Eichler LLC, of Roseland.
Liebler, who has previously helped the political campaigns of Ruben Ramos, Frank Raia and Beth Mason, began his October 21 public comments by speaking about relatively uncontroversial issues such as bike safety, real estate projects and budgetary issues.
However, the atmosphere began to get tense when Liebler began talking about a story Politicker NJ broke earlier in the day, citing emails between Stan Grossbard, Zimmer’s husband, and members of the Hoboken Housing Authority – alleging that Grossbard played a role in the autonomous agency’s day-to-day decisions.
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.
“For a lot of you that haven’t heard, seen already, on I don’t know, PoliticalNewJersey.com [sic] already, because you’re sitting here – and we’re all grateful that you are – Holy Cow! Holy Cow!,” he said, beginning at the 4:19 point of the embedded video, which was edited by Hobokenhorse.com.
“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.”
While Bhalla 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]?”
Bhalla then requested for police to escort Liebler out of the room as he attempted to explain why remarks about Grossbard were off limits.
“You’re not allowed to speak about private citizens at this dais. Please leave, please leave the chambers,” Bhalla said.
“I will not be excused from this council meeting without knowing why!,” Liebler exclaimed. “Sir, it’s not your meeting, it’s not your meeting. It’s ours. Have him ejected sir,” Bhalla stated.
Bhalla called Liebler “a disgrace” as police walked him out of the room, before he then got into a brief spat with 3rd Ward Councilman Michael Russo.
Liebler’s lawsuit 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.”
Furthermore, “upon information and belief Mayor Zimmer conspired with Hoboken, the council and each of the individual council members to prevent any open discussion, at council meetings, regarding her husband’s political activities and involvement in Hoboken’s governmental affairs, in violation of the First Amendment and Section 1985.”
While Liebler did not return multiple inquiries seeking comment from Hudson County View, Gormally elaborated on the litigation in an email.
“Mr. Grossbard’s wielding authority and influence over Hoboken’s governmental affairs has been a component to other issues and refusal by the Council President, Ravinder Bhalla, to permit comment on the matter is a gross manipulation of the Public Comment forum and the First Amendment Right to freedom of speech,” he wrote.”
“Councilman Bhalla immediately and repeatedly interrupted and shouted at Plaintiff to prevent him from speaking and even calling him a ‘disgrace.'”
“This behavior, particularly from an elected official flies in the face of democracy itself. Individual council members cannot be allowed to suppress political speech because they disagree with the speakers’ viewpoint…even in the Republic of Hoboken.”
Calls and emails to employees of Zimmer’s office were not immediately returned on Wednesday.