A Superior Court judge will hear arguments on June 22 from three Wildwood police officers who are suing the city and Mayor Gary DeMarzo claiming they were improperly disciplined and/or terminated from the city’s employment.
The officers, Christopher Chobert, Matthew Trotter and Spencer Smith, are alleging that DeMarzo interfered in the Police Department’s operations by disciplining them against Police Chief Steven Long’s wishes after Long had already imposed departmental discipline.
DeMarzo, who lost his bid for re-election Tuesday night, said that “The merits (of the lawsuit) will be reviewed by the courts.”
Long had already disciplined Chobert for an incident in which Deputy Chief William Cooper said Chobert was allegedly sleeping in his police car while on duty, a charge Chobert denied.
Cooper admitted he never saw him sleeping, but instead that he was reclining in his seat, so then-Lt. Terry Oslar recommended the sleeping on duty charge be dismissed, and instead that an allegation of conduct unbecoming an officer be sustained.
Chobert received an employee performance notice to that effect from Long and that concluded the departmental disciplinary process until DeMarzo decided to pursue the matter, drafting preliminary notices of disciplinary action against Chobert and another officer who is not party to the lawsuit.
Meanwhile, Trotter and Smith each received letters from DeMarzo terminating their employment on Jan. 27, 2011, after they had each completed their one-year probationary terms with the department.
Trotter and Smith argue that they were terminated over the objections of Long — and after Superior Court Judge Valerie Armstrong had already ruled that DeMarzo should not interfere with the department’s operations.
The two men are seeking to return to work for the Police Department.
Attorney Thomas Cushane, representing Chobert, Trotter and Smith, said that following a telephone conference with Armstong any existing disciplinary proceeding against Chobert would be stayed, pending a hearing before her on June 22 in Atlantic City.
DeMarzo said the city had been very accommodating to the officers involved — and it was the city that suggested the case be heard in Superior Court.
Cushane, however, said he had raised taking the case to court even before the matter was heard by a local hearing officer, and it was not the city’s suggestion that prompted the lawsuit.
Cushane added, “ I do not expect the mayor to follow his conscience, but I do expect him to follow a judge’s restraining order.”
By the time a judge hears arguments on the merits of the case, DeMarzo will no longer be an elected official. On Tuesday, the city will swear in the newly-elected commissioners of Ernie Troiano Jr, Peter Byron and Anthony Leonetti.
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