Friday, March 6, 2015

Mother of school principal's alleged victim supports my OPRA lawsuit. Ocean Prosecutor resorts to ad hominem attack.

On February 2, 2015, I blogged about my lawsuit against the Ocean County Prosecutor's Office seeking information on what caused Galloway Township (Atlantic County) elementary school principal John Gibson to abruptly take an unpaid leave of absence (and eventually resign) a few days after being interviewed at the Little Egg Harbor Township (Ocean County) police station.  On February 11, 2015, I blogged that Gibson, since his resignation, was receiving a $7,834.50 a month pension check.

Four things have happened since those blogs were written:

First, my lawyer, Walter M. Luers of Clinton, filed an amended complaint asserting my right not only to the incident and investigation reports but also to a redacted video recording of Gibson's interview at the Little Egg Harbor police station..

Second, the Prosecutor's Office moved to dismiss my complaint and in so doing decided to direct an ad hominem attack toward me.

Third, Luers replied to the Prosecutor's motion and, importantly, submitted a certification from the minor student's mother (known only as Jane Doe) supporting my effort to dislodge records from the prosecutor.

Fourth, Judge Vincent J. Grasso held a hearing on March 3, 2015 at which he directed that the student's mother and the Atlantic County Prosecutor's Office be formally brought into the case so that they can argue why the requested records should or should not be publicly disclosed.  Once Luers advises these other parties of Grasso's decision, Grasso will schedule another hearing.

All of the subsequently filed documents are on-line here.

The filed papers start to paint a picture of what occurred.  In his brief, Prosecutor Joseph D. Coronato confirmed that the Little Egg Harbor Police Department contacted the Special Victims' Unit of his office in January 2014 regarding "an allegation made by a parent of [an elementary school student] concerning possible inappropriate conduct with the school principal, John Gibson."  Coronato also stated that after an investigation, which included Gibson being interviewed on video at the Little Egg Harbor police station by one of his detectives, his office decided to not file any criminal complaints against Gibson.  Yet, Coronato referred the matter to the Atlantic County Prosecutor's Office in March 2014.  Coronato's brief, unfortunately, also directs the following ad hominem attack toward me:
There is no question that [Paff] has engaged in some fishing expedition under the guise of promoting his somewhat celebrity status as New Jersey's self-proclaimed open public records advocate, all at the expense of the privacy interests of other individuals who certainly prefer that their identities remain anonymous. 
Yet, the mother of the elementary school pupil with whom Gibson allegedly conducted himself inappropriately filed a certification stating that the Coronato's office had called her after I had filed my lawsuit to "urge Mr. Paff to drop his lawsuit and not seek these records."  Rather than abiding by Coronato's request, she actually supported my lawsuit.  In her words:
However, I am very unhappy with how this matter has been treated by the Prosecutor's Office and am upset with the lack of progress of the case, including the absence of charges . . . I agree with Mr. Paff's goal of shedding more light on this matter [and it] is my understanding that Mr. Paff's lawsuit does not seek the identify of the victim.
Jane Doe, thank you for supporting my efforts and please know that I would never reveal,or thry to reveal, your identity or that of your child.  All I've ever wanted to know is the nature of Gibson's conduct and whether or not Coronato's office treated him appropriately.

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