Cape May County Prosecutor Rob Johnson

Acting Cape May County Prosecutor Rob Johnson shakes hands with his old boss, former Cape May County Prosecutor Robert L. Taylor.

CAPE MAY COURT HOUSE — Retired Cape May County Prosecutor Robert Taylor says county officials are withholding his health benefits in retaliation for disagreements he had with members of the county freeholder board, according to a whistleblower lawsuit filed last week.

Legal representatives from the county, however, said Taylor’s lawsuit is a “baseless and frivolous” attempt to get lifetime benefits to which he is not entitled.

The allegations came to light after Taylor, who stepped down in September, filed a complaint Nov. 20 in Superior Court.

In the document, he claims the freeholders, and specifically Freeholder Director Gerald Thornton, told him to use outdated drug statistics to downplay the extent of opioid addiction in the county.

Taylor also said officials pressured him to fire a longtime assistant prosecutor who was leading contentious contract negotiations with the county.

The County Counsel’s Office denied the allegations and vowed to fight Taylor’s lawsuit.

“It is disappointing but predictable that Mr. Taylor has chosen to attempt to try to bully his way, with frivolous and untruthful personal and political accusations, to a benefit he is statutorily ineligible to receive,” the office said in a statement.

Taylor said in the complaint the freeholders told him not to use accurate and updated data about the drug problem “so as to directly portray to the media and indirectly portray to the citizens of Cape May County a false sense of control over said epidemic.”

Taylor said he told officials he did not want to use the stale numbers, but the freeholders threatened to stop additional funding for opioid-related initiatives within the Prosecutor’s Office.

“They’re not seriously doing anything effectively to fight this problem,” Taylor said in an interview.

Attorneys for the county said Taylor’s lawsuit misrepresents the relationship the freeholders have with the Prosecutor’s Office.

“In a feeble attempt to support his baseless accusations and secure lifetime, taxpayer-funded health benefits, Mr. Taylor has even gone so far as to take advantage of the opioid epidemic to mask his selfish attempt to claim taxpayer-funded retirement benefits,” the statement from the county reads.

Taylor said he had to fight tooth and nail with the freeholders to get funding for increased staffing and resources.

“It’s been a battle with the freeholders the whole 13 years I was there,” he said.

Representatives from the County Counsel’s Office said the county increased funding for the Prosecutor’s Office from about $2.7 million to $7.1 million during Taylor’s 13-year tenure. The county also added 32 positions, according to the statement.

Taylor said those increases were mandated by a judge following contentious negotiations between the county and the Prosecutor’s Office in 2008.

In another section of the complaint, Taylor states negotiations between the assistant prosecutors union and the county became so heated in 2016 and early 2017 that Thornton and county Human Resources Director Jeffrey Lindsay suggested he fire the union’s lead negotiator.

The negotiator is not named in the complaint, but Taylor confirmed in an interview she was former Assistant Prosecutor Christine Smith. Gov. Chris Christie nominated Smith in June to become a Superior Court judge.

Taylor said county officials tried to prevent Smith’s nomination after the contract talks concluded.

He said those issues — the alleged use of outdated opioid use data and the attempt to get rid of Smith — were not factors in his decision to retire. Taylor, 70, reached the maximum age for the position and decided to retire instead of applying for a temporary extension.

The complaint said Taylor is seeking to have his retirement benefits restored and receive punitive and compensatory damages.

Taylor said he is eligible to receive lifetime health benefits because he worked in the Prosecutor’s Office for more than 34 years, 13 of them as prosecutor.

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