Atlantic City taxpayers could be responsible for another $890,000 resulting from the trial of former police Chief John Mooney.
Following a month-long trial last year, a jury determined that Mooney was the target of retaliation by former Mayor Lorenzo Langford’s administration in a 2010 round of police demotions. That jury verdict resulted in a nearly $3 million award determination against the city.
Now, Superior Court Judge Nelson Johnson says the city also is obligated to pay Mooney’s legal fees, totaling another $889,365.30, according to the final judgment in the case entered Jan. 31. Those fees will go to Mooney’s longtime attorney, John Donnelly, who represented him in this case and in a minimum of 15 other litigation matters, according to court documents.
The fact that city taxpayers are ultimately responsible for the payment was not lost on Johnson, who denied Mooney’s request for an “enhancement” that would have increased the legal fees. The judge, also a historian and author of “Boardwalk Empire,” described the case that drudged up several past city controversies as part of Atlantic City’s culture of political rivalry.
“While considerable time and labor was devoted to this case, there is nothing ‘novel’ about this type of litigation,” Johnson wrote. “From this court’s perspective, it is part of the ongoing internecine political wars which have been waged in Atlantic City for the past two generations. It is the taxpayers who suffer the carnage of these political battles.”
Mooney, however, maintains that his battle with the city, which he now describes as a “four-year odyssey,” was never intended to be about money, as he would have ultimately preferred to be reinstated as chief. His initial lawsuit also sought reinstatement, but the court determined early on that it could not grant that relief.
“The money has never been an issue here,” Mooney said. “No amount of money can compensate me for what Lorenzo Langford and the city of Atlantic City did to me.”
In addition to the city, Mooney also sued Langford and former Public Safety Director Christine Petersen, but the court ruled neither was personally liable.
The sometimes-contentious trial that concluded Oct. 16 included testimony from former PBA President Dave Davidson Jr., who said Langford had asked him how to get rid of Mooney in the layoff plan. Mooney argued that he had been a thorn in the side of the Langford administration, acting a whistle-blower when he believed the city was wrongly removing police dogs from the streets, among other circumstances.
The trial also included other unexpected accusations, including an instance in which former Prosecutor Ted Housel told the court he had Langford photographed at a crime scene after he became concerned because he saw the former mayor talking with known drug dealers. Langford has denied any ties to drug dealers and has called Housel’s comments reckless.
Newly elected Mayor Don Guardian said he planned to meet with City Solicitor Jason Holt today to discuss the judgment. Until then, he said, he could not comment on whether the city would appeal. Langford’s personal attorney, Robert Tarver, who represented him in the case, has said he expects an appeal.
“It’s always easy to play quarterback after the game is over,” Guardian said when asked about the city’s decision to go to court. “I wasn’t there at the start to find out why we went to court in the first place.”
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