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Toffler Loses Lawsuit Against Council, Censure Remains

Councilwoman to appeal decision

A Superior Court judge has denied Teaneck Councilwoman Barbara Toffler’s bid to have the town council’s February censure of her overturned, according to court papers.

Toffler filed suit against the council in June alleging her rights to free speech and due process were violated when the governing body censured her for accusing Police Chief Robert Wilson and Township Manager William Broughton of retaliation. Toffler had claimed the two officials spread news of a fender-bender she was involved in because of her opposition to hiring Wilson as public safety director. The council cleared Wilson and Broughton of any wrongdoing, according to a resolution.

Mayor Mohammed Hameeduddin, who voted to censure Toffler, said the council was “vindicated” by the judge’s decision.

“From the beginning, I said Councilwoman Toffler’s lawsuit was frivolous,” Hameeduddin said. "We only reacted to what Councilwoman Toffler did. We didn't go after her."

Erik A. Hassing, Toffler’s attorney, in the case. The motion sought to have a judge overturn the censure and have Toffler reimbursed for legal fees. Toffler’s lawsuit argued she was given no notice of the allegations against her and claimed she was censured for speaking to the media.

“Councilwoman Toffler, an elected official, was censured without any ability to defend herself in an official government act by patently biased political rivals on the Township Council,” Hassing wrote in court papers.

Reached for comment Friday afternoon, Toffler said she would appeal the decision. 

"I feel what was done was terrible," she said. "I feel that a terrible, terrible precedent was set by the censure." 

Toffler said she didn’t want a council censure to become a tool used by a political majority to silence dissenting views. 

"As people in Teaneck know, I am committed to free speech, truth and justice, which are denied by this judgment," Toffler said in an email. 

Hassing said the appeal would focus on the lawsuit's free speech and due process claims. 

"Both my client and I think that it's extremely important that there be an open political process," Hassing said.  

Councilman Elie Y. Katz, who voted for the censure, has criticized Toffler over the cost of the lawsuit.  

"Councilwoman Toffler is a divisive obstructionist that took a small personal motor vehicle accident and exacerbated it into a major event. I hope that she would spend her energy and time on helping the Teaneck residents with their problems and not creating new ones. Teaneck Taxpayers lost a lot of money defending her lawsuit against the Council," Katz said in an email. 

In court papers, the township council had argued the censure was necessary for Toffler’s “unsupported, inappropriate and erroneous" claims made to a reporter about Wilson and Broughton. The censure also said seeking information about her.

Judge Charles E. Powers Jr. denied Hassing’s motion for summary judgment, with prejudice, and found in favor of the town council, according to the decision released Friday.

The judge’s decision said Toffler’s free speech could be limited because her comments were made in her role as a public official. Toffler was given “adequate notice” of the allegations against her, could have appealed the censure within 45 days, and had a chance to defend herself when the council announced the censure, the decision said. The notice did not specifically mention a censure, but noted a personnel-related discussion. Toffler said she didn’t file an appeal within 45 days because she thought she could convince the council to rescind the censure. 

The decision released Friday is attached to this article. 

Barbara Ley Toffler December 30, 2011 at 11:19 PM
FYI, I did not file an administrative writ within 45 days because i had no intention of suing anybody. Since Mr. Broughton's accusatory letter (which he will not allow to be released although I would like it to be released) was so outside reality, I thought I could persuade the Council to rescind the censure. They refused (although they agreed that one of his two charges was fully a misapplication of the law, said they would remove that from the censure but would not rescind the censure). On August 15th, after we all had gone back and found emails that proved that I did not tell Joe Ax, Record reporter, that Broughton "retaliated" against me (someone else told that to Joe -- though that was the basis for Broughton's letter), I again asked the council to rescind the censure since there was NO basis for it, AND IF THEY DID, I WOULD PAY MY OWN LEGAL FEES AND ANY COSTS THE TOWNSHIP MIGHT HAVE ACCRUED TO THAT POINT. Council again refused, On August 22nd I withdrew the offer and reluctantly filed a lawsuit. In regard to fees and expenses: my suit will cost the township between $11,000 and $15,000. I have publicly stated that I will pay that to the town if Mr. Broughton who brought what Mr. Turitz called a frivolous lawsuit against the then manager and the township for discrimination, will pay back the $50,000+ his suit cost the town.( I do wonder why the Council did not instruct their lawyer to ask for legal fees when he filed his countersuit.)
JAD December 30, 2011 at 11:47 PM
Whether or not I agree with the merits of the suit, Toffler has the exact same rights afforded to her as any other working person to challenge up to and including suing their employer. As Ms. Toffler stated, the township council could and should have counter sued for legal fees if they felt it was just. I question if not doing so was a way to continue the mutually antagonistic behavior seen throughout this whole mess. As far as the original incident or more correctly incidents leading up to the suit. Neither Toffler nor the rest of the council, manager, mayor etc. are without fault for allowing the embarrassing antics seen time and time again in the council chambers to escalate to this point. Perhaps this can be a lesson learned by ALL, I doubt it will be but I dare to dream.
Karin Kiesow-Irvine December 30, 2011 at 11:59 PM
And we wonder why our taxes are so high in this town...watching the Council makes me ponder if some are back in school again with the she said he said mentality and constant bickering,back stabbing.
Barbara Ley Toffler December 31, 2011 at 01:33 AM
This Council and it's behavior is an embarrassment to Teaneck. Unfortunately, this is what the people chose -- either their votes, or more powerfully, by decisions that it was too much trouble to vote. Adam gussen sits as your Deputy Mayor by beating out a contender by 90 votes. Hwas the lowest vote-getter in his two elections, yet he is a power controlling the lives of Teaneck residents. Very frightening. More frightening is the Mayor's statement that the Council majority was vindicated. Does that mean the Mayor, DM and others are allowed to continue to bar free speech, to what words and phrases may or may not be used in Teaneck, to harass and belittle other Council members and residents who speak at Council meetings? I remember when Council members disagreed, but they were educated, caring, knowledgeable people who had Teaneck's best interests at heart.
Karin Kiesow-Irvine December 31, 2011 at 02:02 AM
Aren't the Mayor and DM chosen by the council?
JAD December 31, 2011 at 02:35 AM
Please don't take my comments in any way shape or form to be in support of Gussen or the like. I have never nor will ever support that type of backroom politics with my vote. He has little to no regard for the vast majority of people he 'represents'. I also wish there was a larger voter turnout and for those who do vote to take the time to research the candidates views and not just vote along party or social lines.
Jay December 31, 2011 at 02:46 PM
Barbara Toffler, what have you done for Teaneck residents? What do you plan to do for Teaneck residents? Can you name one or two things you have achieved in your time on Teaneck council that have made life better for residents? I'm really tired of hearing about what you're doing for yourself. FYI -- the last time I scratched someone's car, I got out and apologized. He kindly decided to live with the scratch and made no claim against me. Why is it, oh why is it that things don't go that way for you? That's a rhetorical question by the way --- can you answer my first question?
Barbara Ley Toffler December 31, 2011 at 06:24 PM
Karin, Mayor and DM chosen by majority of Council. Vote was not unanimous. Many residents are considering looking into changing our form of government to allow the direct election of a mayor. Right now our mayor is "one among equals." The mayor has no greater power than any single councilmember. Although Mayor Hameeduddin uses the word "I" a lot, he can make no decision for the township. All decision must be made by four votes (a majority of the Council). For bonding issues a super-majority is required, that is, 5 votes. Re Jay's votes -- as everyone should know by now, all i did was knock a loosely attached license plate off the front of a car in a snowy parking lot, and didn't see that that had happened. By 10am the next morning I had spoken with the car owner, we had arrnaged for me to pay for the plate to be reattached, he wanted no charges. should have been the end. The press has enjoyed using the "hit-and-run" term, which this was not!! It was failure to report an accident, $100 fine, $33 court costs. Re what i've done as a Councilwoman -- if you've been following council meetings you should be well aware of how much I've done. (If I hadn't, why would my colleagues me so mad at me?) Happy New Year All
Karin Kiesow-Irvine December 31, 2011 at 06:54 PM
Barbara if the Council members select the Mayor and DM what was your earlier rant about DM Gussen all about? The voters at large did not select him to be DM YOU and your fellow council members did!
Barbara Ley Toffler December 31, 2011 at 09:28 PM
Oy,oy,oy Karin!! No rant on my part. The majority of the Council elected Gussen DM. I was not (and rarely am if watch council activities) part of the majority. He was elected by councilmembers Hameeduddin, Stern, Katz, Honis and himself. When he ran for election as councilmember in 2006 and 2010 he received the lowest number of votes of the 4 people elected. In 2006 Councilmember Katz received the highest number of votes. In 2010 then Deputy Mayor Parker received the highest number of votes. In 2008 (when C. Honis, now-mayor Hameeduddin and I were elected), I received the highest number of votes.
Karin Kiesow-Irvine December 31, 2011 at 09:39 PM
Oy, oy, oy (with some added arm waving)...your comment "Adam gussen sits as your Deputy Mayor by beating out a contender by 90 votes. Hwas the lowest vote-getter in his two elections, yet he is a power controlling the lives of Teaneck residents. Very frightening." I took as a rant, sorry for my mistake. What is it exactly that you find "very frightening"? Now can you explain if the Council picks the Mayor and DM why does it matter who got more votes or not in an election. I am at a total lose as to what that has to do with anything!
Barbara Ley Toffler December 31, 2011 at 09:53 PM
Karin not ranring, energy!! Hang around and you'll learn Teaneck government and politics. Maybe take the next Leadership Teaneck program and learn how our gov. works. Adam is a bully -- I'm told so, even by his mother at his son's bris!! And sadly, Adam engineered this whole censure event. Among other things, Atold reporter Joe Ax that I "said" who was retaliating against me, when I have the email telling Joe i didn't know who was retaliating against me. True. as i've said before, Before he left, joe Ax said that he was "had" by Adam. That's just my personal experience. But he and the majority have tried to push through actions harmful and costly to the town, as well as engaged (with others) in some dirty political tricks. I've been pretty successful at stopping many of those actions, hence the majority's anger at me. Let's not communicate any more this way. you need to spend time learning about the council-Manager form of government, municipal budgeting,etc. and attend council meetings before commenting more. One thing can be said -- Teaneck councilmembers work hard to learn what they need to know, and give an enormous amount of time to the community. we'd all love the same from our constituents.
Karin Kiesow-Irvine December 31, 2011 at 10:22 PM
(chuckle) Barbara I am very well aware of how our local gov. works, but thank you for the suggestion of attending the Leadership Teaneck Program. You know we, as in the state, have some of the toughest bullying laws on the books.. if he is as you and his mother say a BULLY that issue should be addressed! Thank you for your 2 cents that I need to learn how our government/ council /budget work and yes I have attended council meetings and even BOE meetings. You then basically go on to insult me telling me that I am not as learned as our Council members are. Woah there missy I am pretty knowledgeable on how government works ... as are the rest of the voting members of my family! The questions I asked, where rhetorical in nature as I already knew the answers to them, I just was trying to figure out what YOUR rants about who got more votes and such had to do with you loosing this court case. I am so pleased to see that insulting your constituents is not limited to Council meetings! Ms. Toffler you can be guaranteed that insulting voters is not the way to have them vote for you in the next upcoming election!
Keith Kaplan December 31, 2011 at 11:00 PM
A judge of a Court chosen by (the censured) Barbara Toffler has decided that no violation of her free speech was committed (page 15 of the decision), that no due process violations were committed (page 23) and he specifically says that the censure resolution does NOT constitute retaliation (page 21). It's time to admit this was a frivolous suit, reimburse the taxpayers for their considerable expense and end this madness. But, if she does appeal - she should agree at the very least, to reimburse the town when she loses that as well.
Barbara Ley Toffler December 31, 2011 at 11:49 PM
Were the suit "frivolous" (not a legal term!) Mr. Hanrahan would have asked for dismissal and not taken the township's money to fight the case. If Council wanted reimbursement, they should have instructed their attorney to request it when he counter-sued. Enough with all this already. i have no idea why you and your crowd who, through David Lerer" vowed to "hound and haunt me till I resigned or didn't run again.," hate me so much. Re the suit -- fatal flaw was my not filing a prerogative writ in 45 days and as i have said a hundred times I didn't do that because i had no intention of suing. since this whole thing was a setup, I thought the council would come to their senses and rescind the censure when I said I would pay all expenses of both sides (and that includes Council having 3 lawyers present at between $150 and $200/hour on February 1 for a procedural discussion) Unfortunately, Council decided that they wouldn't rescind (apparently somebody else was threatening to sue them if they rescinded the censure). All that everything else in the judgment says is that my suit didn't rise to a policy level to outweigh the technicality of 45 days. And as of now this decision opens the door to a majority on any elected body censuring a minority member in an attempt to harm him or her politically. As they say, "see you at the ballot box!"
Keith Kaplan January 01, 2012 at 01:58 AM
"Re the suit -- fatal flaw was my not filing a prerogative writ in 45 days" "All that everything else in the judgment says is that my suit didn't rise to a policy level to outweigh the technicality of 45 days." Are you saying that the result would have been different had you filed within the 45 days? I ask because at the end of page 15 it says: "Even if the Court permitted Plaintiff the enlargement of the fourty-five day rule under R 4:69-6(b)-(c), the Court finds that Plaintiffs allegation that the Council violated her First Amendment right to free speech and procedural due process rights under the United States and New Jersey State Constitution fail as a matter of law."
Jason Flynn January 01, 2012 at 03:10 AM
As a resident of Teaneck, I am embarrassed to read some of the things written in the comment section of this article. When people disagree, mature, stable human beings must still respect the other as a person, act with civility and focus on the issues, not the personal attacks on individuals. This is not isolated to this incident. Teaneck has a recent history of litigious people within its ranks. It is sad that people choose to litigate so frequently. What many are learning, based on conversations I have had with many, is that we need FRESH leaders on our town’s council. Regardless of what your political views are, we deserve better leadership in our town. Finally, for the future leaders of Teaneck, when disagreements and differing views develop, please try to put taxpayers and constituents first and think about compromise, speaking with experts and reasonable resolutions prior to running to a courthouse.
Jay January 01, 2012 at 01:09 PM
Thank you Yitz. Barbara, it's a new year. Let's not trash other council members or one another. Here's an opportunity to start a better dialog. What accomplishment for Teaneck residents are you most proud of during 2011? What do YOU hope to accomplish for Teaneck residents during 2012? How will your work on any ongoing matters make life better for Teaneck residents during 2012?
Jacob January 01, 2012 at 04:19 PM
"Regardless of what your political views are, we deserve better leadership in our town." Sort of like the leadership you showed when you applied for the Virtual Charter School?
Jason Flynn January 01, 2012 at 05:33 PM
Part 1 of 2 Jack, I would be happy to discuss with you the reasoning for the Virtual Charter School, something I strongly believe in and continue to work towards. I am a huge fan of the TPS and believe it is a much better product than most make it out to be, unfortunately. We should all be proud of the school system in our town, especially the quality and dedication of the teachers. However, there are some children, statewide, that, for a variety of reasons, are not best accommodated in a brick and mortar fulltime setting and need a different program to progress with their academics. Perhaps no kids from Teaneck fit that bill. While such program is available in most states, it is not in NJ. My application followed by public communications to the TBOE and Ms. Pinsak have stated that we would not proceed if our program would cost Teaneck one cent for a non-Teaneck resident. That is our position and we will continue to work with those in Trenton, Teaneck and elsewhere to achieve that goal. Thank g-d your children don't appear to have some of these unique situations that may require a VCS education [my do not either, but I look out for my own best interest, and those of society and the community at large as well].
Jason Flynn January 01, 2012 at 05:33 PM
part 2 of 2 But Jack, I think you missed my main point. My point is, rather than the silliness we see and read about from town council meetings and other leaders in our town, even if we disagree, we should have quality, issue related dialouge – not personal attacks and hate. You may be interested to know I sought a sit down with Ms. Pinsak and the TBOE to address our program and positions, and leaders in our town will not meet with us – this includes certain local politicians. This is how Teaneck operates. I hope we have a change of direction in our current leaders, or the masses go out and vote in leaders that operate differently. I think a quality of Teaneck is that there is a rich diversity that exists in cultures, religion, race and political views. Some seem to have no tolerance and rather make disagreements personal. That is where I think some of our leaders have served us poorly and hope they make some changes in their approach in 2012.
delgado January 02, 2012 at 12:30 AM
We all have to agree that there really isn't a dictatorship going on in Teaneck - as Councilmember Toeffler has stated. Comments like that are really crossing the line. North Korea can be considered a dictatorship (although the residents do actually vote)
Art Vatsky January 02, 2012 at 09:20 AM
I was at the Council Chamber meeting where Ms. Toffler was censured. As the Chamber became a courtroom, the censure motion was presented. I don't recall Ms. Toffler being recognized to speak in her defense. When she didn't speak, no one said, "Council Member Toffler, do you realize you are waiving your right to speak on your own behalf as provided by the Constitution?" The Council had at least one lawyer guiding them. Ms. Toffler had none. Before I knew it, the question was called and Ms. Toffler was censured. This is why I had hoped the judge would rule differently then he did - an apparent lack of due process.
Keith Kaplan January 02, 2012 at 02:01 PM
Art, you say that Ms Toffler had no lawyer there, yet the Judge says that she did. His "Due Prrocess" analysis starts on page 26 of the opinion and specifically on page 27, it says "Plaintiff had an opportunity to defend herself". And at the end of the opinion the Judge said that it was Barbara Toffler's attorney (on page 28) that declined to have the meeting open and both the plaintiff AND her attorney declined to avail themselves of the opportunity to speak in reaction to the censure resolution. So I'm curious as to why you feel that she had no opportunity to speak? Certainly, at the very least she could have said something at good and welfare. You can say many things (for and against) about council-woman Toffler. But her being silent about and issue isn't something I've ever heard her be accused of.
Art Vatsky January 02, 2012 at 03:56 PM
Keith, we may be talking about two different meetings. I am talking about the open portion of the Council meeting and wrote my recollection of it. I am curious how the judge's opinion is already available. Tell us how you obtained it, please. Thanks.
Karin Kiesow-Irvine January 02, 2012 at 04:00 PM
Art, see the picture of Ms Toffler at the top of this article? Well there is also a PDF up there. Click on the PDF and you too can read what the Judge had to say :) It has been available since this article was posted by the way.
Keith Kaplan January 02, 2012 at 04:00 PM
Art, it was filed publicly, if you email me offline, I'll gladly send you a copy.
Karin Kiesow-Irvine January 02, 2012 at 04:01 PM
Keith and Art there is a copy of the judgement at the top of this article :)
Keith Kaplan January 02, 2012 at 04:06 PM
Karin - yes I know, I assumed Art was on a phone or some device that couldn't read it. I was going to offer to email him a copy
Art Vatsky January 02, 2012 at 04:39 PM
Keith, Karin: Thank you both. I saw the postage-stamp icon and opened that. I read about 7 pages and that was about all I could take at one sitting.

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