VINELAND – Two key hearings are up this month in the lawsuit alleging that city officials violated the civil rights and defamed the reputation of former municipal Business Administrator William E. Lutz.…
The defendants on Tuesday filed with Cumberland County Superior Court a lengthy motion asking for the complete dismissal of the complaint that Lutz filed on March 28. The filing is the first detailed response to the charges from Lutz.
Lutz filed his complaint prior to his firing from his appointed position. His lawsuit targets City Solicitor Richard Tonetta, City Council President Anthony Fanucci and Councilwoman Angela Calakos. City government also is a defendant.
In addition to damages, the Lutz suit wants a judge to take actions such as firing Tonetta as solicitor and ordering an investigation into a development project undertaken and completed prior to Lutz’s hiring in late 2013.
The Teaneck law firm DeCotiis, Fitzpatrick & Cole is representing the defendants and filed a 25-page motion, plus exhibits, with Judge Ann McDonnell of Gloucester County Superior Court.
The case is assigned out of this county to avoid conflicts of interest that could occur were the case heard in Bridgeton.
McDonnell has set hearings for July 23 and July 25 to deal with a motion Lutz filed last month and this week’s motion from the defendants, respectively.
The new dismissal motion argues that Lutz cannot meet the minimal standards for court action on any of his claims.
“Plaintiff’s 163-paragraph Complaint is replete with irrelevant factual claims designed to divert the Court’s attention from the fact that Plaintiff (Lutz) does not have a legally recognizable claim,” the motion starts out. “Upon closer inspection, Plaintiff’s allegations are either easily discredited, are gross misstatements of fact, or are purely innuendo, rhetoric, and wild speculation.
“These allegations simply evidence Plaintiff’s own personal and political animosity for the City Solicitor, the City Council and the political atmosphere in which he finds himself,” the motion continues. “Allegations such as these, of course, have no place in the courtroom, because they amount to nothing more than personal and political gripes that cannot be resolved from the bench.”
Attorney Alice Bergen adds that Lutz can’t identify any retaliatory act, citing one of Lutz’s own lawsuit exhibits as proof. She refers to a part in the suit in which Lutz is claiming police harassment while having written an email praising how the same police had treated him.
Besides those alleged failings, Bergen also claims that Lutz simply lacks the “legal standing,” or right, to file a lawsuit seeking a court order to fire an employee or start an investigation. Only a city resident and taxpayer could do that under New Jersey law, she claims.
In addition, the dismissal request notes, McDonnell already has ruled that the City Council properly overruled Mayor Ruben Bermudez last year after the mayor fired Tonetta.
Bergen said she has asked Lutz’s attorney, Michelle Douglass, to voluntarily drop the matter of Tonetta’s job for that reason but has been refused. A copy of the attorney-to-attorney communications is one of the exhibits.
The City Council fired Lutz on June 12 after he ignored a subpoena from the governing body to appear at a special closed session meeting. The meeting was to question Lutz in connection with an investigation by council into his activities as administrator, including how he was hired.
The investigation first was started to investigate a charge from Calakos that Lutz falsely told her of a bribery attempt. Calakos and other defendants would have qualified for immunity against a defamation claim even if her statement turned out to be false, according to Bergen’s filing.
Lutz’ attorney said that his firing will be incorporated as a new element to his existing lawsuit, although court records indicate that such an amended complaint has not been filed as of this week.