SPARTA, NJ – The Sparta Township Council meeting last Tuesday began and ended with public discussion of Mayor Jerry Murphy’s drunk driving charge and continuing litigation against the Sparta Police Department.
At the end of the meeting Murphy said he had not told the other council members he was still suing the town prior to them selecting him to be mayor. He said he did not know the Motion to Reconsider the summary judgment against him, had been filed with Judge Weaver the day before he became mayor.
In the first public comment session, Glenn Duphiney read the letter to the editor he submitted to TAPinto Sparta. The letter included link to his change.org petition asking for Murphy to resign as mayor or drop his lawsuit.
“As mayor of our town, isn’t it your duty to represent our town,” Duphiney said. “Shouldn’t you be thanking the police for stopping you, before you hurt someone or yourself.”
Township Attorney Tom Ryan said, “It is the policy and practice if there is ongoing litigation,” not to comment.
Duphiney asked if Murphy could answer if he had resigned or if he had dropped the lawsuit.
“I would hope you would listen to the people who will be paying your lawsuit,” Duphiney said.
Thor Wespestad, spoke next, said through an OPRA request he found out that the Joint Insurance Fund has made $78,756 in legal payments made on Murphy v Sparta. There were no additional details provided through this request.
Ryan said, “I have not investigated that,” in response to questions about the impact to the insurance premiums for the township.
Duphiney said he was concerned Murphy’s litigation against the Sparta Police Department would lead others to do the same. Murphy was arrested for drunk driving
Ryan said to this point the township has successfully fought off Murphy’s litigation. The township won a summary judgment in the initial suit and the Motion to Reconsider was denied. Murphy’s appeal is pending.
Sparta resident Howard Horowitz asked the council members if they felt Murphy was conflicted because of his litigation. Ryan repeated there would be no statement about ongoing litigation. Pressing, Horowitz said he was not asking about the litigation, merely asking the council members’ opinions.
Ryan said he would advise council members not to answer.
Councilman Dan Chiariello said, “I respect your question, but I will follow the advice of counsel.”
Councilwoman Molly Whilesmith made the same statement.
Resident Vivian Perlmutter said she was “concerned about driving drunk. The mayor was elected by the council [members]. This puts a terrible look on the town. I am very upset about this.”
Duphiney returned to the microphone at the end of the meeting with a final question. “Did you inform council [members] you had filed suit the day before you were elected mayor.”
Deputy Mayor Christine Quinn, looking at Murphy, said “No, you didn’t, Jerry.”
Murphy said, “I didn’t know.”
“Are you claiming it’s not your lawsuit. Are you claiming someone sued on your behalf,” Duphiny said.
“I found out about it later,” Murphy said.
Later in the meeting Tina Rowan went to the microphone. “There are about 19,000 people in Sparta and this is what we have of people showing outrage,” she said gesturing to the approximate eight people in the audience.
“It’s his legal issues, not ours,” Rowan said several times. She said there appears to be evidence that he may have been driving drunk but turned her ire to the people who had spoken against Murphy.
Rowan said, “I’m not happy with people’s behavior.” She told them “Just stop,” and “take a step back,” repeating “it’s his legal issue not ours,” and “he’s in a volunteer position who gives a ton of time.”
Sparta Township Council members are compensated and the mayor receives a bit more. The specific amount was not available at the time of publication.
Murphy was arrested for driving drunk in February 2016. The case took two years and venue changes before it was finally heard in Hopatcong. The charges were dismissed. It is still not known why, according to township officials.
Murphy then sued the Sparta Police Department. Judge Weaver issued a summary judgment, against Murphy, dismissing the case against the township. He filed a Motion to Reconsider with Weaver.
The next Sparta Township Council meeting is scheduled for March 24.