SPARTA, NJ – More than a year after being charged with driving while intoxicated, Sparta Councilman Jerry Murphy has still not had his day in court, but that could soon change.
Murphy’s case, being heard in Hopatcong Municipal Court, is scheduled to be heard Feb. 22. A representative from the court said they did not have any information about why it is taking so long to settle the matter, although a court administrator said there were “a number of issues” at play and suggested Sparta Municipal Court might provide more details.
An Open Public Meetings Act request to the Sparta Municipal Court revealed only one order related Murphy’s case. Dated Nov. 12, 2016, it granted the state’s motion to quash or stop Murphy’s attorney, George Daggett, from obtaining documentation through a subpoena. However, the order allowed Daggett to subpoena a police dispatcher to provide testimony.
When asked why the matter has not yet been settled, Daggett - through a representative from his office - said he would not comment on an active case.
Part of the delay has been related to finding a court to hear the case. The court date and venue have changed several times. The case was moved at least twice from Sparta; was briefly assigned to Wantage and finally landed in Hopatcong. The Hopatcong court reported several hearing dates including June 20, 2016 and Nov. 21, 2016.
Sparta Police Public Information Officer Detective Dennis Proctor's only comment was that the Sparta Police had completed their required paperwork "within days of the arrest." Proctor said that was the extent of their involvement in the matter.
Murphy was arrested Feb. 13, 2016 after being pulled over by Sparta Police Officer Dan Elig. Elig was conducting “speed enforcement,” on Mohawk Avenue when he observed Murphy speeding and driving erratically as he followed him down the road and onto Route 517, police said.
Elig’s report says Murphy’s 2007 Toyota was clocked at 34 mph in a 25 mph zone. The report further says Murphy’s car “continuously drifted right straddling at times the white fog line.”
Murphy was stopped at the Ogdensburg border, police said. According to the arrest report, Murphy showed Elig an “open bi-fold wallet” that “was displaying a gold badge that read ‘Mayor Sparta Township’”
In addition to Elig, Sparta Police Sgt. Joseph Pensado and Ogdensburg Police Officer David Cowdrick were on the scene when Murphy, suspected of being intoxicated, was asked to perform field sobriety tests.
Several Sparta Township Council members said they have no knowledge of the court proceedings or issues with Murphy’s DWI charges. Initially they released a statement through the Sparta Police Department that read, in part, “The Mayor and Council are troubled and extremely concerned by this event and view it as a very serious matter.”
Murphy was reelected to the council in November 2016, having run unopposed. He continues to sit on the Sparta Planning Board as well.
According to state law, a person convicted of DWI with a blood alcohol concentration above the legal limit of 0.08 percent will be fined between $250 and $400, require 12 to 48 hours in an Intoxicated Driver Resource Center, spend up to 30 days in jail and be forced to turn in their driver’s license for three months.
Penalties are tougher on motorists found with higher blood alcohol concentrations, previous DWI convictions and having been convicted of DWI in a school zone.