NEWTON, NJ – The latest step in Sparta Mayor Jerry Murphy’s litigation against Sparta Police Department when forward on Wednesday. Hon. David Weaver heard oral arguments in Murphy’s Motion for Reconsideration in the old courthouse building from Murphy’s attorney George Daggett and Ashley Malandre representing Sparta.
Daggett said this case has “national implications,” that "a conspiracy came into bloom" and Murphy’s arrest was “an attack on government."
The litigation stems from Murphy’s drunk driving arrest in February 2016. Despite a judge ruling Sparta Police Officer Elig had probable cause and Murphy’s breath test registering blood alcohol content of .13% over the .08% limit, Murphy’s charges were dropped in Hopatcong in January 2018.
On Feburary 2, 2018 Murphy then sued Sparta Police Department for civil rights violations, violation of the New Jersey Constitution, attack on government process and wrongful prosecution. Weaver dismissed those charges in a summary judgment on December 9, 2019. Daggett filed a Motion for Reconsideration on December 26, 2019.
Daggett went first, trying to convince Weaver that he had erred in his summary judgment against Murphy.
Daggett likened Murphy to a protected class, arguing “if he had been an African American that stop would have been seen in a different light.”
Daggett argued the court wrongly disallowed Murphy's arrest to be considered under the standards of court cases Burzzese and Kennedy where a “police agency embarked on an officially sanctioned… policy targeting minorities for investigation or arrest.”
Daggett said, “We’re not dealing with minorities,” but claimed Murphy's arrest was “political harassment,” essentially the same as racism according to standards applied by the supreme court.
“The case becomes a conspiracy to stop an elected official,” Daggett said, accusing Elig of submitting a false report. The conspiracy, according to Daggett begins with a text message from retired Sparta Police Officer Jeff Mase to Officer Smith and ends with Elig following Murphy to the Ogdensburg town line where he was arrested.
“Proof of the conspiracy is in the fact they never revealed they heard from Mase,” Daggett said.
“He was asked questions and he answered,” Joint Insurance Fund attorney Malandre of Methfessel and Werbel said. “He didn’t get asked other questions, so he didn’t volunteer it. There has to be evidence to support his allegations.”
Daggett said Elig’s report was false, relying on data from the Motor Vehicle Recorder or MVR and Computer Aided Dispatch or CAD to say that Elig could not have been sitting on Mohawk Avenue monitoring traffic and then following Murphy in the time frame reported.
There are certain undisputed facts, Malandre said. “There is no evidence that Officer Elig filed a false report.”
Malandre said the data not matching exactly and even the text messages are “irrelevant” because “it still doesn’t change the fact that Mr. Murphy was driving in a manner that was unsafe. He was speeding, he traveled over the [white] line. No one told him to drive that way, no one forced him to drive that way… It doesn’t matter because Officer Elig had no choice but to pull over an unsafe driver.”
Daggett said, "His driving was perfect."
“This was a set up for a political figure,” Daggett said. He said what was in Elig’s mind had to be considered, referring to State v Bruzzese. “Ladies and gentlemen, this was a conspiracy to stop a councilman,” Daggett said gesturing to the empty jury box.
“Jerry Murphy became the object of a conspiracy,” because Elig was thinking of Murphy not as just anybody but as a councilman and the reason the officer was furloughed in 2011.
In 2011, due to budget cuts, five police officers were laid off. The township’s Faulkner form of government was discussed, highlighting the council members’ role to direct the manager to make the cuts and the manager deciding who specifically would be cut.
Daggett said the reason why the prosecutor dismissed the charges against Murphy was because the arrest was “the result of a conspiracy,” and the judge had to take that into account when deciding on his motion to reconsider.
“The court can’t just take any allegation or any inference, there has to be evidentiary support for the allegation. We cannot speculate on the state’s motives,” Malandre said “Inference that the case was dismissed because of a grand conspiracy is speculation. We don’t know [why it was dismissed]. The conspiracy is not supported by the record.”
At that time Chief Neil Spidaletto said, “The Sparta Police Department was not in agreement with the plea disposition of these charges.”
Malendre said, we know Murphy “had three beers, he was speeding, he failed to maintain the lane, he was pulled over he was subsequently arrested, blew a .13, the court ruled [Elig] had probable cause” despite the differences between the report filed and the data from the MVR “there was no doubt he traveled in an unsafe manner.”
In closing Malandre said Weaver’s summary judgment was “thorough, well-reasoned and absolutely correct.”
Daggett closed, “This is a serious case. This is an attack on the government. This is little Sussex County, little Sparta Township. This case has implications for the country. This man was singled out for no reason other than he was an elected official.”
Weaver said he would release his decision in writing, though, due to scheduling it would not be this week or even next week. “I don’t know that it's of national importance,” Weaver said.
Daggett said he should take his time because it gives him “something to live for.”
In a previous interview Daggett said he would “absolutely” appeal if the motion to reconsider does not go their way. He also said they are “looking for damages.” He said the “counsel fees are $40,000,” for Murphy’s DWI case that dragged on for two years.