TOMS RIVER – Michael Schwartz, the campaign manager that ran Manchester Township Mayor Ken Palmer’s 2014 campaign is suing Toms River officials in a federal civil rights lawsuit filed earlier in 2016. In court documents, his attorney alleges that Toms River Mayor Tom Kelaher along with Councilwoman Maria Maruca, Public Works Director / Assistant Business Administrator Louis Amoruso, Police Chief Mitch Little, and other officials retaliated against him for voicing concerns at a town council meeting regarding downtown parking issues.
In court filings, Schwartz’s attorney, Joseph DiRienzo, alleges that the Toms River township officials “conspired to deprive [Schwartz] of his civil rights in violation of 42 U.S.C. §1983 by punishing [him] for exercising his rights under the First Amendment to the United States Constitution” after he spoke out at a 2014 council meeting regarding parking concerns in Downtown Toms River.
It started in March of 2014 when Mr. Schwartz, who runs the “Hometown Heroes” nonprofit, along with two of the group’s employees contacted the Toms River mayor’s office to discuss parking issues which resulted in the issuance of tickets to employees of the tax-exempt organization. Unable to reach Mayor Kelaher due to him reportedly being in a meeting at the time, Schwartz later organized a group of business owners to attend a public township council meeting the next month to voice their concerns.
The Toms River resident’s quest to resolve concerns related to parking would lead to allegations of retaliation and the filing of the federal civil rights lawsuit against the township and its officials.
Maruca: “Don’t Beat Me Up” Over Downtown TR Parking Problems
In April of 2014, Schwartz’s attorney alleged that Councilwoman Maria Maruca told Schwartz he should not “beat her up” over the parking issue by speaking during the public comment section of council meetings, because she “did not need this” while she was serving as council president.
Alleges Police Report Prepared But Never Filed To “Chill” His 1st Amendment Right To Freedom Of Speech
After that meeting, he alleges that Toms River Police Chief Mitch Little then told Schwartz that the police department generated a report that stated Schwartz was “causing problems” as a result of his visit to the Toms River mayor’s office to share his concerns related to parking, but Little told Schwartz, who is also an auxiliary police officer, that the report was never filed, a statement that Schwartz interpreted as a retaliatory threat.
Schwartz’s attorney contends “This ‘report’ was an attempt on behalf of the Township of Toms River, the Toms River Mayor’s Office, the Toms River Town Counsel, and/or the Toms River Police Department to chill Plaintiff’s right to freedom of speech under the First Amendment to the United States Constitution.”
The Toms River man’s attorney alleged that he faced additional threats and retaliation, including the loss of his position as an auxiliary police officer after he claimed a police investigation was opened into his March, 2014 visit to the mayor’s office regarding downtown parking concerns.
Attorney: Amoruso Offered Deal In Exchange For “Silence”
Schwartz further alleges that after his interactions with Chief Little, he was later approached by the township’s assistant business administrator / public works director, Lou Amoruso. According to court documents filed by Schwartz’s attorney, Mr. Amoruso questioned Schwartz on why he did not instead bring his concerns to the office of the business administrator, Paul Shives, instead of going to the mayor’s office as he did. Schwartz’s attorney alleged that this showed that Amoruso directly offered a resolution to his concerns about parking, “in exchange for his silence.”
The lawsuit claimed that shortly after he filed a tort claim notice with the township in July of 2014, the retaliation turned to his charity, Hometown Heroes. A tort claim notice is a legal notice that is required to be filed as a precursor to lawsuits against a public entity. It was at that point that the Toms River officials began telling donors to Hometown Heroes to “steer clear” of Schwartz and the charity due to the then-impending lawsuit against the town.
TR Mayor Kelaher Accused Of Derailing Manchester Patronage Job
According to the lawsuit, shortly after the election of Ken Palmer as mayor of Manchester Township in 2014, Palmer offered Mr. Schwartz, who managed his 2014 campaign, the position of being the township’s business administrator. but Toms River Mayor Tom Kelaher started calling up Palmer to complain about the hiring of Schwartz.
In February of 2015, when he was set to take the job, Manchester Mayor Ken Palmer told Schwartz that he was “…receiving phone calls from employees of the Township of Toms River and that they were attempting to interfere with Plaintiff’s higher [sic] as the Manchester Township Business Administrator by complaining about his potential lawsuit against Toms River, and falsely accusing plaintiff of criminal misconduct.”
At least one of the people alleged to have been attempting to put the brakes on Schwartz’s hiring was Toms River Mayor Tom Kelaher, according to court documents filed on behalf of Schwartz.
“Defendant Kelaher has been identified as one of the individuals who made the phone calls objecting to Plaintiff’s appointment as Manchester Township Business Administrator,” according to attorney DiRienzo.
In March of 2015, Manchester instead hired Donna Markulic as the township’s new business administrator, not Schwartz. Mr. Schwartz’s attorney attributes the hiring of Markulic over Schwartz to political pressure from Kelaher, “…based on complaints received from Defendant Kelaher and other complainants who are as of yet unidentified.”
After stopping him from being hired in Manchester, Schwartz’s attorney alleges in a defamation claim that Mayor Kelaher made “false and disparaging” remarks about his client to a member of his charity’s board of directors. He claims in court documents that Kelaher accused Schwartz of embezzling money from Hometown Heroes, along with claiming that the Ocean County Prosecutor’s Office was “building a case” against him.
Next Court Appearance In November
At this time, the lawsuit remains in the pretrial phase. Toms River is being represented by Jared J. Monaco of Gilmore & Monahan, and a scheduling conference has been set by Judge Lois H, Goodman on November 16th, 2016 at the United States Courthouse in Trenton. Mr. Monaco has filed an answer with the court in which he denies the allegations and included a counterclaim against Schwartz for the township’s legal fees.