SPARTA, NJ – The new mayor of Sparta is currently in litigation with the township. Jerard Murphy took his oath of office on Tuesday, January 7 one day after his attorney George Daggett made the most recent filing in the matter of Murphy v Sparta Township Police Department, et al.
The two council members who voted for Murphy to become mayor said they did not know about the ongoing litigation.
Deputy Mayor Christine Quinn said, “Judge Weaver had made his decision. I was not aware additional litigation was filed.”
“I was given the distinct impression that it was done,” Councilman Dave Smith said.
Councilman Dan Chiariello and Councilwoman Molly Whilesmith voted no for Murphy for mayor.
“I didn’t know the specifics of what he filed but, yes, I did know that he had an active case against the town,” Chiariello said. “It factored into my decision not to vote for him for mayor.”
Whilesmith said she “became aware of his attorney’s motion for reconsideration before the re-org.”
On December 9, 2019 Hon. David Weaver issued a Summary Judgment in favor of the Sparta Police Department.
On December 26, 2019 Daggett filed a Motion for Reconsideration with Hon. David Weaver in Sussex County Superior Court in Newton. This was the latest litigious move in the saga that began when Murphy was stopped on 517 on February 13, 2016 around 12:45 a.m. according to court documents.
Daggett said the motion for reconsideration “clearly lays out what we think should have been considered.”
The attorney said they are “looking for damages.” He said the “counsel fees are $40,000,” for the DWI case that dragged on for two years.
On February 13, 2016, with a light snow falling, Murphy was stopped just over the Ogdensburg border on Route 517 by Officer Daniel Elig. Murphy had been caught on dashcam video crossing the white fog line a couple of times before being stopped.
The video continues, showing Murphy going through field sobriety tests on the side of the road. Following the “balance tests” Murphy is brought to Sparta Police Department Headquarters where, after 25 minute observation period, a breath test is administered, according to police reports and court records.
Murphy’s blood alcohol content or BAC registered at .13%, over the legal limit of .08%. According to court documents, Murphy admitted to having three beers at St. Moritz earlier in the evening.
Those are about the only facts on which both sides concur.
On January 30, 2018 Murphy left the Hopatcong court with only a minor guilty plea regarding his license plate. The other charges of DWI, speeding and careless driving were dismissed in a plea agreement put together by Hopatcong Prosecutor Anthony Arbore and the Sussex County Prosecutor’s Office.
At that time Chief Neil Spidaletto said, “The Sparta Police Department was not in agreement with the plea disposition of these charges.”
Weaver’s December 9, 2019 Summary Judgment states “A probable cause hearing was conducted in the Hopatcong Municipal Court by the Hon. Gerard Smith. Judge Smith concluded ‘that there is sufficient support for the finding that Officer Elig had a reasonable and articulable suspicion that the defendant had violated a motor vehicle law.’”
On February 2, 2018 Murphy filed suit against Sparta Police Officers following the dismissal of his drunk driving charges. His suit claimed violation of his “civil rights, violation of New Jersey Constitution, attack on government process and malicious prosecution” according to court documents.
The compliant was dismissed on May 3, 2018. On May 18, 2018 an amended complaint was filed in United States District Court alleging “civil rights violation, malicious prosecution and false arrest,” according to court documents. This was “voluntarily abandoned” by Murphy and refiled in New Jersey Superior Court on November 16, 2018 according to court documents.
The false arrest charge was dismissed. After various proceedings, oral arguments were heard on November 22, 2019.
Weaver issued a Summary Judgment against Murphy on December 9, 2019, dismissing all of Murphy’s complaints. Murphy filed for Reconsideration on December 26, 2019 and that process continues.
The township, through the Joint Insurance Fund attorney Brent Pohlman of Methfessel and Werbel responded to the Motion for Reconsideration on January 2, 2020. Daggett submitted his reply to Pohlman’s response on January 6, 2020.
Court documents reflect the basis of Murphy’s action against the township is that he was “the victim of an organized conspiracy,” by Elig and others. Daggett argues the DWI was revenge for Elig and four other officers who were temporarily released on May 11, 2011 because of budget cuts. Elig was subsequently rehired on April 1, 2013.
“After all of the charges were dismissed against Murphy, we pursued the interaction between Mase and the police,” Daggett said.
Daggett’s filings allege retired Sparta Police Sgt. Jeff Mase was inside the St. Moritz when Murphy was also there. A little after 10 p.m. the documents say Mase sent a text message to Officer Smith telling him Murphy was inebriated and about to leave the restaurant.
Court documents layout the timeline leading to Murphy’s arrest. Murphy “closed out his tab at 10:13 p.m.” Smith came to White Deer Plaza and waited for a few minutes but Murphy did not leave.
Daggett said he never saw the text messages but “someone gave us a tip that he sent the message.” Daggett said he told the judge in Hopatcong about the tip. He said the judge asked Mase and Mase admitted having sent the text.
The attorney said they also looked at the records generated by the CAD or Computer Aided Dispatch and the MVR or Motor Vehicle Recorder and compared them to Elig’s testimony.
In Daggett’s filings he says Elig, who had been “monitoring traffic” on Mohawk Avenue was called to a “domestic dispute” at Panera Bread just before midnight. After that was settled Elig said he returned to monitor traffic on Mohawk Avenue when he saw Murphy drive by, though he did not know it was Murphy at first.
Daggett contends Elig was not telling the truth when he “said he was sitting shooting radar and along came Murphy,” pointing to the timeline provided by the CAD and MVR.
According to court documents, Elig reported Murphy’s speed and weaving were rationale for pulling him over. Murphy’s attorney said the weaving was because of the snow and questions why Elig waited until driving into Ogdensburg to pull him over.
Elig said he was observing Murphy’s driving and then had to wait until there was a safe place to make the stop, just beyond Sparta Middle School.
The township’s response to the Motion to Reconsider points to the favorable ruling by the Hopatcong judge finding that any jury would find Elig had probable cause to stop Murphy.
Pohlman responds to Daggett’s conspiracy theory by saying “the court determined ‘the facts indicate ‘political harassment’ was not the sole reason for the motor vehicle stop.’” And “the court determined that ‘even if Officer Elig’s subjective intentions were clouded by ill-will, there was objectively reasonable evidence to pull’” Murphy over.
The township’s attorney said it would be more appropriate to appeal than to ask for reconsideration.
“Plaintiff cannot be allowed to rely on unsupported facts and unsupported ‘new facts’ in an attempt to muddy the waters and create an issue where there is none…”
If Weaver does not rule in Murphy’s favor, “absolutely, there will be an appeal,” Daggett said.
Spidaletto did not want to comment on the matter until it is concluded.
William Close, Sparta Township’s manager said he did not want to comment because the litigation is ongoing.
The next township council meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, January 14 at 7:30 p.m.