‘Hatchet Job’: Outspoken NJ Freeholder Fights Censure Vote

FREEHOLD, N.J. (CN) – A Monmouth County freeholder who made national headlines for his unfiltered rebuke of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie fought in court Monday to duck censure on a new controversy.

Freeholder Deputy Director John Curley’s court appearance stems from a federal complaint he filed on Dec. 1, accusing county officials of conducting a sexual-harassment investigation that violates his due-process rights.

As the Republican freeholder of eight years explained in his Dec. 1 federal lawsuit, the county counsel and county administrator began investigating him this past June when an anonymous woman complained about comments she said Curley made at an unspecified parade.

Curley said a fellow freeholder who he considers a political rival piled on with separate allegations, and the unsanctioned investigation resulted in a report looking back six years.

That secret report, now under court seal, led the Monmouth County Board of Chosen Freeholders to ban Curley from any contact with county employees or access to the county Hall of Records.

The board was scheduled to vote Monday on censuring Curley, but Curley’s lawsuit led to a postponement.

Curley agreed in the Monday conference before U.S. District Court Judge Brian Martinotti to withdraw the portion of the lawsuit seeking injunctive relief. He still could be censured but is allowed back in county offices and to contact county employees. 

Angelo Genova, an attorney for Curley with the Newark firm Genova Burns, called the report against his client a “hatchet job.”

Curley intends to “defend his reputation for speaking out and prosecute those who, for their own nefarious political agendas, hope to besmirch that reputation and retaliate against him,” Genova said in a statement.

The attorney declined to comment further on the case, and Curley did not return requests for comment.

Monmouth County meanwhile plans to hold an executive hearing “within a week,” attorney Jonathan Testa aid, during which officials will update the county’s sexual harassment and discrimination policy.

“We are pleased the court has affirmed the ability of the freeholders to conduct the business of the county and to address the pending time-sensitive items,” Testa said after Monday’s conference. “To not address and strengthen sexual harassment policies and expectations for all of our employees would be irresponsible, especially at this time.”

Apart from what Curley hints at in his lawsuit, the report and allegations against him remain a mystery.

He says the county hired an outside investigator to find instances of inappropriate behavior in his past following complaints from an unnamed individual and later by Freeholder Serena DiMaso. DiMaso is a defendant in the suit, alongside fellow freeholders Lillian Burry, Thomas Arnone and Gary Rich Sr.

Martinotti ordered the report sealed at Curley’s request Friday. Curley says it contains “inflammatory and defamatory conclusions,” as well as unsubstantiated statements by witnesses, that would “irreparably harm” his reputation.

A former Democrat, Curley has been both lauded and attacked for his blustery nature, as well as for sometimes taking positions that run contrary to the party’s platform, challenging fellow freeholders, and even tangling with the governor.

During the 2016 Bridgegate trial, a former Christie staffer testified that Curley had called Christie a “fat fuck” and criticized the governor for appearing at press conferences after Hurricane Sandy but doing little actual work to help the coastal areas.

The witness said Christie did not take the criticism in stride, asking Curley, “Who the fuck do you think you are? … I will fucking destroy you!”

Christie also threatened to robocall Republicans in Curley’s county to vote him out, according to the staffer’s testimony.

During an interview last year, Curley did not dispute that the Christie’s handling of the hurricane had left him heated.

“I think I called him a fat motherfucker,” Curley told Courthouse News.

“I was frustrated to see people out of their homes,” he recalled. “People were coming up to me, saying, ‘My kids are hungry. Our home has just been totally destroyed.’

“I walked to his cabinet and said, ‘Where is the fat fuck, running for president?’”

Curley is a three-term freeholder. The next election is at the end of 2018.

In his lawsuit, Curley calls the investigation he faces a politically motivated “hatchet job.”

“This case is a classic illustration of how a stand-up public official can draw the wrath and vindictive retaliation of his adversaries for his fierce independence and integrity,” the 26-page lawsuit states.

Curley alleges that only the board has investigatory functions, and that neither the administrator nor the county counsel — both of whom are listed as defendants — can initiate an investigation.

Neither the investigation of Curley or the vote to bar him from county property was authorized by the board, according to the complaint.

County Administrator Terry O’Connor and other officials “have launched this investigation process with the goal of silencing Freeholder Curley and blemishing his stellar record in the public square,” the lawsuit states.

Curley also alleges that the county’s Office of Professional Standards was improperly created without board approval and lacks the legal authority to investigate freeholders.

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