Petersen lawsuit

Atlantic City Public Safety Director Christine Petersen.

 

ATLANTIC CITY - A Superior Court judge will not limit Public Safety Director Christine Petersen's duties, for now.

The city's police union asked Judge Valerie Armstrong on Monday to temporarily stop Petersen from interfering with the day-to-day operations of the department, claiming she is causing the officers "irreparable harm."

Armstrong denied that request Wednesday, saying there is too much disagreement between both sides on whether Petersen is doing anything wrong. But she said the PBA can continue its lawsuit after the city questioned its standing.

"We wanted a hearing, which is what we got," PBA President Dave Davidson Jr. said. "We want the judge to see everything we're talking about, we want the documents put out, we want people on the stand and testifying under oath."

After everything is heard, Davidson said he believes Petersen will be sanctioned.

Armstrong noted in her decision - and during Monday's hearing - that cases like this are usually brought by the chief of police, whose duties the union claims are being infringed upon. But Deputy Chief Ernest Jubilee - who oversees day-to-day operations - has not complained.

"In fact, based on the documentary evidence provided by the parties thus far, it appears that Jubilee has maintained an adequate working relationship with Petersen," Armstrong wrote.

At Monday's hearing, PBA attorney Donna Lee Vitale said that is because Jubilee is in a temporary position serving as "acting police chief," and could jeopardize his chance at a full promotion if he comes out against the city and its director.

"This is a sweeping assertion with nothing in the record to support it and does not constitute a basis to find irreparable harm," Armstrong wrote.

But she said that just because the chief normally would be the plaintiff in the case, doesn't preclude the PBA from suing. All that's required is "sufficient stake in the matter ... with a substantial potential for real harm flowing from the outcome of the case."

While the city doesn't agree that the PBA has standing, city labor attorney Steven Glickman said he is glad the matter will likely be resolved with a full hearing.

"I think her decision was a correct one," he said. "I did not think that an injunction was warranted and the city is certainly pleased with her decision (on that)."

A conference call between both sides and the judge is set for July 11. At that time, a decision will be made on how litigation will proceed, including the scheduling of a possible plenary hearing, during which evidence would be presented, and witnesses would testify.

Robert O'Brien, who represents the PBA with Vitale, said calling Jubilee as a witness is a possibility.

"He's the one who's being undercut," O'Brien said. "But there are a number of people who are being hurt by what she's doing."

Glickman said the city hasn't discussed whether it would call Jubilee.

"Certainly the burden is not on the city to prove there isn't a violation," Glickman said. "The burden is on the PBA to prove that there is."

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