TOMS RIVER – Lawyers representing both embattled Stafford Township mayor John Spodofora and anti “stolen valor” activist US Navy Veteran Earl Galloway appeared before Ocean County Superior Court Judge Arnold B. Goldman Friday morning.
The lawsuit, Galloway v. Township of Stafford et al, Docket No. OCN-L-001146-15 alleges violations of the New Jersey Civil Rights Act, among other counts, and is currently working its way through the legal system.
According to a tort claim notice filed with Stafford Township Clerk Bernadette Park, which claims damages of $1.5 million, Galloway’s attorney asserts:
“The Mayor of Stafford Township, John Spodofora, filed a false police report against Earl Galloway for the sole purpose of taking revenge on a critic and subjecting Mr. Galloway to public ridicule in an attempt to restrict Mr. Galloway’s right to free speech and to interfere with his employment and enjoyment of life. Further, the Stafford Police gained subpoenas for Mr. Galloway’s private information and informed his employer of the investigation despite having no probable cause that a crime was committed.”
Once he was able to confirm that Spodofora lied about or exaggerated his military service record, specifically by falsely claiming to be a “navy seal” and a “spy” during the Vietnam war and listing a bogus military service medal on a campaign website, Mr. Galloway created a Facebook page (which has since been deleted) entitled “Spodophony” – a portmanteau of Mayor Spodofora’s name and “phony.” The page published graphics and statements related to the mayor’s exaggerations. Mayor Spodofora then had Police Chief Joseph Giberson commence a police investigation into Galloway for the Facebook page, claiming “identity theft.”
At issue during Friday’s hearing was a motion to compel discovery filed by Galloway’s attorney, Michael Ansell. Mr. Ansell alleged that Stafford Township is not providing documents requested during the discovery phase of the civil suit.
Earl Galloway’s lawyers wanted a copy of any “written communications” between Mayor Spodofora and Stafford Township Police Chief Joseph Giberson before the commencement of the police investigation, in addition to certain military records that Galloway was not able to obtain under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).
“We’ve reached an impasse,” said Mr. Ansell. “We believe that the defendant’s responses are insufficient,” he said in court.
But Jerry Dasti, who represents Stafford Township, Spodofora and Chief Giberson in their official capacity contends that the township gave them everything they have on file. Dasti was joined by Peter Van Dyke, of Toms River mayor Tom Kelaher’s law firm, who is representing Spodofora in his personal capacity.
“He may not like it, but that’s what we have,” Dasti told the judge. To support that claim, the Forked River municipal attorney is relying on multiple certifications submitted to the Court by township employees declaring that records provided in response to Ansell’s discovery request were all that they have.
“We don’t have anything else to produce to you,” he told Ansell. Mr. Ansell also requested military records from Mr. Van Dyke.
In response to the motion filed by Mr. Galloway’s attorney, Mr. Dasti filed a cross motion, which challenged the plaintiff’s refusal to answer an interrogatory question related to the potential use of Galloway’s Navy-issued computer to create the satirical page criticizing Mayor Spododofora. The subpoena issued on his account with Facebook revealed that Galloway maintained the “Spodophony” page from a US Navy IP address, which prompted the NCIS investigation into him.
Dasti wants to know the name of the NCIS “assigned command investigator” referenced in the complaint, but Galloway’s lawyer argues that whether or not Mr. Mr. Galloway violated a workplace policy on using his US Navy computer for personal use has nothing to do with the allegations presented in the suit against Spodofora and Stafford Township.
Dasti argues it’s a credibility issue, and “something the jury would want to know,” should the case go to trial.
Mr. Dasti continued to press the issue of Galloway’s alleged usage of a Navy computer to administer the page, speculating that he was likely disciplined at work for doing so. He referenced paragraph 36 of Galloway’s complaint, which referenced that his government security clearance was jeopardized as a result of the NCIS investigation into the “Spodophony” page.
Dasti: “He was fooling around on taxpayer time doing this nonsense.”
Judge: “You don’t think this is a collateral issue?”
“He [Van Dyke] asked for the documents he [Galloway] created in terms of his Facebook,” Dasti told the court. “I’d be shocked if Mr. Galloway doesn’t have this stuff pinned up on his bedroom wall,” Dasti said.
“He’s got it at home, we want it.”
Sharing in Dasti’s sentiment, Mr. Van Dyke also surmised that Galloway may have violated the Hatch Act, a 1939 federal law also known as “An Act to Prevent Pernicious Political Activities,” which makes it illegal for federal employees to engage in certain types of political activity. To that, Ansell said that Mr. Galloway has never been formally charged or convicted of any crime, including a violation of the Hatch Act.
Judge Goldman appeared to be leaning toward the opinion that whether or not Galloway used the Navy computer or violated the policy was a separate issue, but will be reviewing the documents nonetheless ( if there are any). The judge was skeptical that such a detail would be admissible at trial (provided the township doesn’t settle the suit before going to trial).
“Everything pertaining to that question – that interrogatory question – goes to me, as a preliminary matter,” Judge Goldman said. The judge will conduct an in camera review of Galloway’s response to the interrogatory pertaining to the “assigned command investigator” and his potential use of the Navy computer and make a determination at a future date. The public is going to be shut out, however, as the documents are going to be filed under seal with a protective order. Judge Goldman also said he is “not certain” whether or not the records related to the Navy computer will be admissible at trial.
Listen to the hearing:
We have an audio recording of the full proceedings you can listen to below.
In this video, Earl Galloway addresses Spodofora and the Stafford Council on “stolen valor” and some of the events leading up to the filing of his lawsuit.