When former Atlantic City police Chief John Mooney testifies Monday against the city, it's likely to dredge up not just allegations against his old employers, but past City Hall controversies.
Opening statements began Friday morning in a case Mooney brought against the city, alleging he was targeted for demotion in 2010 because of his disagreements with Mayor Lorenzo Langford.
A separate court ruling in June on the eve of Langford's primary election determined Mooney's contract was violated. An eight-member jury is charged with deciding what compensation, if any, Mooney is entitled to, state Superior Court Judge Nelson Johnson told the group.
Mooney will take the stand Monday morning in Superior Court in Atlantic City.
He resigned in 2010 after learning that Langford planned to demote him, along with more than 30 other police officers. He is seeking financial damages and reinstatement as police chief.
In an opening statement that lasted more than an hour, Mooney's attorney, John Donnelly, said his client's contract with the city entitled him to $435,000 in the case of termination. But Donnelly said Mooney is entitled to more than that amount because of other damages suffered.
Attorney William Lundsten, who is representing the city and former Public Safety Director Christine Petersen, argued Mooney's demotion was purely a cost-saving measure. Layoffs extended across City Hall, and Mooney was not targeted in a conspiracy, Lundsten told the jury of seven women and one man.
Lundsten depicted Mooney as a man with a temper who was uncomfortable with the idea of reporting to a public safety director as he described the former chief asking for the spelling of Petersen's name because he planned to sue her. Peterson, who was in court Friday, was hired in March 2010 and became Mooney's superior.
"This case is about Mr. Mooney's desire to maintain his authority and power. That's what this is about," Lundsten said.
Yet Mooney's contract is not expected to be the central issue of the case. Instead, Friday's opening statements focused on several disagreements between the mayor and the former police chief. Mooney believes Langford's decision to demote him was retaliatory and showed reverse discrimination.
The two fought in 2009 over the Langford administration's decision to remove K-9s from the streets in response to complaints that the dogs constituted excessive force. That issue will be examined at length, attorneys said, as will several issues involving requests from the mayor's office to see or transfer files housed within the Police Department.
One case involves files from a 2009 sex scandal investigation involving the Atlantic City Fire Department and four teenage girls, Donnelly said.
Langford, who is named as a separate defendant, is being represented by attorney Robert Tarver, a former Atlantic City solicitor.
Donnelly said the jury selection, which began Monday, was the most arduous he has ever encountered. He attributed some of the slow pace to the fact that he wanted to pick a "smart" jury.
"This is not the typical case that comes into this courthouse," Donnelly said. "This is a very serious case, which has a lot of consequences.
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