FLEMINGTON, NJ – The group that’s become known as the “Flemington Four” has filed a lawsuit against the borough, its construction official, police chief, former mayor and some former Council members.
The Flemington Four are George Eckelman, Richard Giffen, Steve Romanowski and Gary Schotland. Their claims follow their arrests on trespassing charges after a video of the inside of the Union Hotel surfaced on Facebook.
Sitting in Flemington Borough Municipal Court, Judge Eric Perkins dismissed the criminal charges in January on the recommendation of then-Hunterdon County Prosecutor Anthony P. Kearns, III.
Borough Construction Official Jeff Klein had also filed a complaint against the four alleging that they had entered a building that was an “unsafe structure.” The four were cleared of that charge by the county Construction Board of Appeals last April.
Giffen is a structural and Professional Engineer. He and Schotland have been active with Friends of Historic Flemington, a group that has argued for “adaptive re-use” of the hotel and sued the borough. Schotland is an engineer who also owns 123 Main St. and has experience with large developments. Raritan Township resident Romanowski is now the owner of the hotel, but had been the lender in foreclosure at the time the charges were filed.
Eckelman is a general contractor noted for his authentic historic renovations, including the landmark Large House on Main Street here. He is also an attorney.
The four each previously filed a notice of tort claim against the borough in August. They each claimed $1 million in damages to his reputation and $10,000 in legal fees. The 29-page, two-count suit claims violation of civil rights and malicious prosecution and seeks a jury trial.
Named in the suit – filed in Federal court – are Klein; former Mayor Phil Greiner; former Council President Brian Swingle; former Councilperson Brooke-Liebowitz-Warden; Police Chief Jerry Rotella; Patrol Officer Robert Godown; and various “John Does.”
The suit alleges false criminal charges that “were baseless and politically motivated” and that “Swingle provided the police with deliberately misleading information to persuade them to file charges.” Because police pressured the four to remove their video from Facebook, the suit claims intimidation and suppression of free speech.
The suit was filed by attorney Patrick J. Cerillo of Raritan Township.