FLEMINGTON, NJ - It became a legal hot potato.
In January, police here charged local residents George Eckelman, Richard Giffen, Steve Romanowski and Gary Schotland with criminal trespass charges and disorderly persons offenses after the group entered the landmark Union Hotel and posted video of its interior to Facebook.
Romanowski now owns the hotel, which was in foreclosure at the time of the incident. He entered the building with a key, according to those involved.
Police said they were alerted to the video by borough construction official Jeff Klein. The video’s purpose was to inspect the hotel’s interior and while inside, discussions were made to post the video “to inform the public on the condition of the building,” police said.
But police said no one was properly hired to complete the task.
In addition to the criminal charge, the four were also charged by Klein with “entering an unsafe structure.” That case was heard in April before the county’s Construction Board of Appeals. The Board cleared the four of the charges, concluding that the unsafe structure notice hadn’t been properly posted on the building, that their purpose was “performing qualified professional evaluation and assessment” and noting in its decision that the four “should not have been cited.”
The criminal matter was first heard in February by Judge Eric Perkins in Flemington Municipal Court, who transferred the case out of his courtroom.
After that, the county Prosecutor’s Office got involved. It was asked “to review and to prosecute these matters in municipal court because of perceived conflicts,” according to a letter sent to the defendants’ attorneys last week by First Assistant Prosecutor Michael J. Williams.
“We will dismiss these charges,” the letter states. The decision follows what it called a “comprehensive review ... and after consultation with Flemington Borough.”
Williams wrote that “the municipality does not wish to pursue these charges” and that a process is now in place “for accessing the Union Hotel when necessary.”
It isn’t clear who in the borough sought the dismissal of the charges.
When resident Robert Shore asked at last week’s Borough Council meeting about their status, Mayor Phil Greiner said the matter “doesn’t flow through the Borough Council or mayor at all ... that’s strictly a law enforcement matter, a court matter at this point.” Greiner said he read about the Construction Board of Appeals decision on TAPinto.
Prosecutor's Office spokesperson Paull Approvato said in a statement this morning that, "In consultation with borough officials, the Prosecutor made the decision to dismiss the charges. The Prosecutor also provided information to the defendants about the permit process required to access the property."
Williams’ letter does not please Eckelman. In an interview, Eckelman said Prosecutor Anthony P. Kearns, III told him the charges would be dismissed “because he can’t prove the case.”