After hearings on Thursday and Friday, Monmouth County Superior Court Judge Katie A. Gummer Ordered that a referendum on Matt’s Law, the Pay to Play ordinance that Doherty and the Belmar Council passed earlier this year that would allow the mayor to hide the identity of donors to his campaign for Monmouth County Freeholder, be held in the Borough on September 27, 2016.
Judge Gummer reiterated her earlier ruling that Belmar’s current Pay to Play ordinance which requires the disclosure of all donations and requires Belmar officials who accept donations from borough venders, developers and liquor licensees to recuse themselves from decisions involving those donors’ applications and business with the town is “the law of the land.”
Matt’s Law “is suspended and has never been in effect,” Judge Gummer said from the bench on Thursday.
When he introduced the ordinance in February, Dirty Doherty said that it had nothing to do with his campaign for Monmouth County Freeholder. Rather, he said, it was designed to make it easier for Belmar Republicans to raise money for their campaigns against his Democrat campaigns. Since then, he reluctantly recused himself from voting on the ordinance; the Borough rejected a citizens’ petition challenging the ordinance and has spent tens of thousands of dollars in Court, including the citizens’ legal fees, to defend the ordinance and attempt to use legal maneuvers to delay the issue until after the November election.
By rejecting the citizens’ petition challenging the Ordinance, which was filed in compliance with the Faulkner Act, the state law that determines Belmar’s form of government, the Borough disenfranchised Belmar citizens and violated their civil rights, Gummer said.
Judge Gummer’s Order scheduling the referendum and the hearing on Friday in which it was issued came as a surprise to the litigants on both sides of the issue. During her Thursday hearing on Belmar’s motion to stay her July 1 Order that Belmar immediately file the existing Pay to Play ordinance with the NJ Secretary of State and schedule a referendum, Judge Gummer sternly rebuked Belmar’s attorneys for their delaying tactics.
“You were here” and “my order is very clear,” Judge Gummer told Ramon Rivera, Esq, Belmar’s attorney, during the Thursday hearing regarding her July 1 Order when he lamely argued for a stay preceding a motion for reconsideration and/or appeal on the grounds that he had not received a transcript of the July 1 Order until July 5. Rivera had not presented any legal arguments, case law or arguments that his motion for consideration would likely succeed in his motions. Judge Gummer cited a NJ Supreme Court decision regarding the standards for stays and motions for reconsideration and rejected Rivera’s motion for a stay.
Ken Pringle, Esq, the former Belmar mayor representing the citizens challenging Matt’s Law, had filed a motion to appoint a third party to file the existing Pay to Play ordinance with the NJ Secretary of State and for the Court to Order Monmouth County election officials to schedule a referendum. Judge Gummer gave Rivera overnight…until 7 a.m. on Friday morning to file a response to Pringle’s motion…and scheduled a hearing at 8:30 a.m., on Friday.
By the end of the day on Thursday, Rivera had filed a Certification by Belmar Borough Clerk April Claudio swearing that she had filed the necessary paperwork with the Secretary of State and that she had drafted a resolution for the Council to schedule a referendum. Both sides agreed to adjourn the Friday morning hearing.
But Judge Gummer smelled a Dirty Doherty tactic and called the litigants and Monmouth County election officials to Court on Friday. The resolution was not attached to Claudio’s certification and there was no assurance that the Council would pass it. Judge Gummer Order the referendum be held on September 27, the day that election officials recommended.
All of Dirty Doherty’s expensive shenanigans regarding this ordinance have backfired. Had he simply complied with the law, the issue could have been resolved by now. Instead, he will now be engaged in a campaign for the referendum in September while simultaneously waging a county wide campaign for Monmouth County Freeholder. Belmar property taxpayers are footing the bill for the ridiculous litigation and for the referendum.
Despite his loses in Court, Doherty maintains the litigation against the ordinance is political. He told The Coast Star, “My only comment really would be that it’s important to keep in mind the folks who are suing over there. People in Belmar know that this is completely political and any time you see Ken Pringle’s name attached to a lawsuit in Belmar you know its political garbage.”
Pringle, also a Democrat, was mayor for two decades prior to Doherty taking office. He is the primary attorney representing the citizens who successfully challenged Matt’s Law, all of whom are either Democratic or unaffiliated voters. Pringle has filed several suits against Doherty and the Borough since leaving office and won them all, so far. A decision by Judge Gummer regarding Doherty raiding the Beach and Parking utility funds to temporarily keep Belmar property taxes lower is expected very soon.