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Leak Case Against Teaneck Deputy Mayor Can Proceed

Judge rules complaint against Teaneck Deputy Mayor Adam Gussen, a Democratic candidate for Congress, can move forward.

A judge has found probable cause to move ahead with a complaint by a longtime political foe of Teaneck’s deputy mayor, in which she accuses the now-Congressional candidate of leaking confidential information about her to the media.

Former Councilwoman Barbara Toffler alleges that Adam Gussen, , leaked a personnel complaint filed against her by Township Manager William Broughton, and that he shared with a newspaper reporter information about a closed session council meeting in Jan. 2011.

"I have evidence which provides probable cause to believe that this confidential information, and in all likelihood the letter itself, was provided ... by Deputy Mayor and Councilman Adam Gussen," Toffler said in a statement to police. "I believe that the release of the information was for the purpose of harming my professional and political reputation."

Gussen has not been charged with a crime. Bergen County Municipal Court Judge Roy McGeady found probable cause for the complaint, which was filed with Teaneck Police in June, to proceed, but prosecutors must now decide if they will pursue a criminal case.

"Once a judge finds probable cause, the matter goes into screening, during which we'll decide whether to retain it … or dispose of it in some other manner such as remanding to municipal court," Bergen County Prosecutor John Molinelli said Friday, without speaking specifically about Toffler's complaint.

Toffler said she was pleased with the judge's ruling.

"I feel like it’s the first little bit of justice I’ve gotten," she said Friday.

In a statement Friday, Gussen denied Toffler's allegations, calling them "groundless and unsubstantiated."

"I have not been notified by the court about the results of this hearing and  therefore cannot speak to them," Gussen said. "That being said, Toffler has a history of making baseless accusations to further personal attacks."

In the sworn statement, Toffler wrote that Teaneck Suburbanite reporter Howard Prosnitz left her a voice message on Jan. 31, 2011 to ask about a closed session council meeting set for the next day. The subject of the meeting was reportedly about the against Toffler.

"I am calling because it was overheard at the Cresskill office, The Record reporter apparently speaking to Councilman Gussen on the telephone about ... I presume the subject of the [closed] session,” the Suburbanite reporter said in a voicemail to Toffler, according to a transcript she provided.

The next day, an article was published in the Record under the byline of reporter Joseph Ax containing the confidential information, the statement said.

Toffler’s statement said the Suburbanite reporter told her he was informed of Gussen’s conversation with Ax by Christopher Lang, the editor of the Northern Valley Suburbanite, who allegedly overheard the call.

Jennifer Borg, vice president and general counsel for North Jersey Media Group, declined to comment.

In a May interview with Teaneck Patch, and vowed to pursue criminal charges. Her complaint was filed with Teaneck Police on June 6, records show.

Gussen and Toffler repeatedly battled during their public careers and the leaked letter came after Toffler she was in as retaliation for her opposition to . The for the "erroneous and unsupported" public accusations and she later lost overturned.

Gussen pointed to Toffler's censure in rebuffing her claims Friday.

"Her censure by a supermajority of council and the subsequent dismissal with prejudice of her suit against the governing body makes it clear that her brand of destructive character assault deserves no merit or attention," his statement said.

Township officials have denied a public records request to release Broughton’s  compliant, citing confidential personnel matters.

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Tee Smyth July 31, 2012 at 01:57 PM
Why would I waste my time reading a diatribe about whether this woman is/is not a victim when a judge has decided that there is probable cause to move forward? So...who's being illogical? Yes, lawsuits cost a lot of money and members of the Council should know that better than anyone living in Teaneck. Perhaps he/she should have considered that prior to the breach. Good day, sir.
Keith Kaplan July 31, 2012 at 01:58 PM
Art, she wasn't merely "in the minority" when it came to the censure. NOT ONE SINGLE councilmember voted against the censure. One of them abstained because she thought it was unnecessary (which I agree with), but wouldn't vote against it. I stand by my previous comment. She's no victim.
Tee Smyth July 31, 2012 at 02:04 PM
Also, your comment reaks of condescension with a little sexism and chauvenism sprinkled in for good measure. Ciao for now!
Keith Kaplan July 31, 2012 at 02:08 PM
Sorry Teesmyth, but part of being an elected representative is collaboration and "getting along with others". Sniping and seething comments have no place and making every single action about yourself being victimized doesn't move the needle anywhere positive either.
Tee Smyth July 31, 2012 at 04:20 PM
You've said that. A judge disagrees. Next.
Art Vatsky July 31, 2012 at 04:38 PM
Keith: I was there when they voted. It was Liz Parker who abstained. You know, she was the one who had been Deputy Mayor and was the highest vote getter in the prior election but wasn't chosen to be Mayor. The Council - and I know the Council members will probably read this - were in "feeding frenzy" mode. (I feared they might tar and feather Barbara.) I think Liz abstained due to politics.
Keith Kaplan July 31, 2012 at 06:04 PM
I saw it on TV live if it matters. Art, look - she's a politician (and so is Toffler and all the others), so of course there COULD be some spin to every decision -- but even IF you want to say that she abstained due to politics -- that just means that being against Toffler is where the electorate was. I'm not sure how that helps show she was working on behalf of the town and "playing nice" as is were in order to cooperate for the betterment of all.
Stevie August 01, 2012 at 09:59 AM
Teesmyth:"You've said that. A judge disagrees. Next." You obviously have only a superficial knowledge of law. All the judge agreed to was not to throw the case out on summary judgement. Had the judge agreed to this, it would have been tantamount to Toffler losing without the other side even presenting a case; meaning, that she couldn't even provide a modicum of proof of anything. The judge hasn't even heard from the other side yet! Had this case been thriwn out in summary judgement, it would have proven beyond a shadow of doubt that Toffler has once again made up selfish claims that continue to bankrupt our town. All this means now is that she can have her little tiff in court, while I and the other tax paying citizens of Teaneck must pay for it. I stand by my comments. She can't seem to get alnog with anyone, and that's her problem. However, her dumbass lawsuits have now become OUR problem. Are our property taxes going to go up again because of this?
Art Vatsky August 01, 2012 at 11:47 AM
I checked the Patch stories in 2011. The letter that was leaked was CONFIDENTIAL just as any correspondance on personnel issues is in Teaneck. If the letter were about any Teaneck municipal worker, the case would not be any different. Imagine, "Teaneck municipal employee X involved in personnel dispute with Town Manager" as a Record headline. Who would do such a thing to an employee of the Town? Wouldn't that hurt that employee's stature and career? Township employee personnel issues are discussed by the Council only in closed session. The information was released prematurely, not by accident but by intent. The subject of the letter is immaterial. The fact that it was released implies there was a breach of trust, of decorum, of due process.
Tee Smyth August 01, 2012 at 02:23 PM
LOL. LOL. LOL. LOL. I'm honestly in my office laughing at YOU. In fact, I'm going to print your comment and show it to my colleagues so that they can get a chuckle too. The reality is that you know nothing about me. You have no idea what I've studied, or what I do. Thanks for the hearty laugh, though. I needed it this morning. Good day, sir. Thanking you in advance from my colleagues as well.
shimon baum August 01, 2012 at 02:42 PM
Barbara if it makes you feel better I haven't bothered voting for anyone since I've lived in Teaneck. Also Gussen is only running for congress and all ready he is embroiled in a scandal. I see a bright future in politics for him.
Smile August 01, 2012 at 06:18 PM
@Teesmyth - "Probably Cause" and "guilt" are not nearly the same thing.
Smile August 01, 2012 at 06:27 PM
Shimon - Gussen isn't "embroiled in a scandal" (sic) his name is being dragged through the mud by someone who is bitter and has her own interests in mind above the good of the town. Although you meant it sarcastically, Mr. Gussen does have a bright future in politics. Or at least I hope he does. He's done alot of good work for Teaneck, and he'll make a great congressman.
Tee Smyth August 01, 2012 at 07:04 PM
Umm. Yeah. LOL. LOL. I can't take anymore chuckles for the day. I'm going to let the legal eagles have at it for the rest of the thread. Ciao for now.
Tom Abbott August 02, 2012 at 02:30 AM
One would have to be delusional to interpret the statement Lizette Parker made when she abstained as "she thought it was unnecessary,"
Tom Abbott August 02, 2012 at 03:02 AM
Ms. Parker read a statement as to why she chose not to participate in the vote. It read, "I will not be supporting resolution J as it is an unprecedented act for an emotional statement that was made and later acknowledged as inappropriate and erroneous. A statement was made by an individual council member which was not an official act or statement by the council. Former council members have made erroneous statements in the past which were damaging to the town after a very tragic incident. The then response of that council was for individual council members make statements and no formal action was taken by this body." "I will not use my position on Council as a tool to publicly humiliate any of my colleagues," For those who did not attend or see it on TV, the video is available at: http://www.teanecknj.gov/index.cfm?fuseaction=content.pageDetails&id=4447&typeID=279 The statement starts roughly 117 minutes into the video.
Tom Abbott August 02, 2012 at 03:18 AM
I can't imagine why Mr. Vatsky concludes that the abstention was due to politics, but his thought process often eludes me. Having previously made up a reason Ms. Parker abstained, Mr. Kaplan's conclusion that somehow this reflects "where the electorate was" is just more of his typical distortions.
Tom Abbott August 02, 2012 at 04:03 AM
It's nice that you believe Mr. Gussen has "a bright future in politics", However, the result of the primary may suggest otherwise. A successful candidate usually has a base of popularity in his home town and Mr. Gussen should have won easily in Teaneck. It was not the case. Despite having the Bergen County Democratic line, Teaneck was one of only two towns in Bergen he lost. Jason Castle a political new comer, garnered 1581 votes to Gussen's 1481. Incidentally, the other town was Rockleigh where only 3 votes were cast.
Art Vatsky August 02, 2012 at 08:24 AM
Tom: Nice of you to include Liz Parker's statement. I don't know the inner workings of the Council but I still conclude that she did not want to oppose the motion to censure so as to not challenge the other Council members. That could come back to haunt her when she has a motion that needs their support. In a word: politics.
Keith Kaplan August 02, 2012 at 01:06 PM
Tom, it's always so pleasant when you join in on the conversation. I said "One of them abstained because she thought it was unnecessary (which I agree with), but wouldn't vote against it." I'm not sure where that is contradicted by Council-woman Parker's words. If Ms. Parker disagreed with the censure resolution, she could have and SHOULD HAVE voted against it. She did not do so. Why do you supposed that was? Her statement that she wouldn't use her position to humiliate a colleague may shed light on to the reason she didn't vote FOR the resolution, but it leaves a large question mark as to why she didn't vote AGAINST it.
JeffO August 02, 2012 at 03:04 PM
I think it was a mistake for Councilwoman Parker to abstain on the resolution rather than vote against it, and I would hope she might even agree at this point. I see it merely as an attempt to stay above the political fray. Of course, those intent on demonizing Toffler (obviously not you, Art) are eager to read more into it.
Tom Abbott August 03, 2012 at 01:11 AM
Confirming my diagnosis.
shimon baum August 03, 2012 at 02:26 PM
Of course I meant it sarcastically, he has no future in politics. I'm sure his playing high school football was a big part of the good work he did for Teaneck. Every politican puts their own interests ahead of anything else.
JeffO August 08, 2012 at 08:17 PM
Keith, I was on vacation last week and didn't want to spend more time on this than I did. But let's examine your advocacy on behalf of Gussen one more time. You state: "Toffler gets a call about a 'closed session topic' and she claims that there was nothing wrong with it, because someone ELSE told the reporter about it." She doesn't have to "claim" these facts -- she can PROVE that she RECEIVED a call -- and did not make it -- with the recording Howard Prosnitz left on her voicemail. Of course, it wasn't Prosnitz but Joe Ax who authored the Record article that appeared BEFORE the supposedly confidential closed council meeting and shortly after the overheard conversation between Ax and Gussen took place. You further ask rhetorically: "Toffler then says that another Council-member got a call about a "closed session topic" and the only possible explanation is because he was the leak?" I'm not sure she’d say the ONLY possible explanation is that Gussen was the leak, but it's certainly suspicious and needs to be looked into. In that regard she does NOT say that Gussen got a call from Joe Ax. Who initiated this phone call is a very important question that needs to be answered. (continued)
JeffO August 08, 2012 at 08:18 PM
As you know, Gussen privately acknowledges that he spoke to Ax prior to the Record article. When I spoke to him, he didn't say who called whom, but he did insist that Ax asked him questions about these confidential matters and that he refused to answer. Fine. But there's no recording to prove his story and for some reason, he has never told it publicly, even when it made sense for him to do so. Now granted, unless Ax or Northern Valley Suburbanite editor Christopher Lang is willing to testify as to what was said or overheard during Gussen's and Ax’s conversation -- which may well have been on speakerphone so that Ax could type -- it'll be hard to establish a "smoking gun" in this matter. On the other hand, since 1.) no other council members have, to my knowledge, said they spoke to Ax about these matters and 2.) Gussen has admitted that he did call Ax after the "license plate incident" and that 3.) he would often call Ax with news tips; I think it would be a worthwhile exercise for the Bergen County Prosecutor to have a chat with Gussen. Let the self-implicated character assassin give a deposition under oath, and swear to the Prosecutor -- and to G-d -- that what he so far only says privately is actually the truth.
Art Vatsky August 08, 2012 at 09:11 PM
Noah: The comments seem to be out of chronological order. In response to Jeff O's most recent comments: With regards to the leak, the WHOLE COUNCIL is suspect. So is the manager. It depends on who had the motive and the opportunity. Adam may look like the most obvious but the actual leaker could be someone else, hiding. Let's face it, Barbara Toffler was not very popular with the councilmembers or the manager. Others may have had the motive and opportunity. They should be investigated. Joe Ax may have taken others calls unknown to Howard Prosnitz. The fact remains that our Council has some pretty poor decisions on its record. Despite our general respect for it as a body, we have had a giant overrun on the Police station (the township refuses to state how much the police station cost), major lawsuits against the township (about $10 million we pay out to 2020), a $4 million Cedar Lane Streetscape that is falling apart, a reduction in town hall hours of service, yet we reelect the same councilmembers time after time. I fear Teaneck is not the Teaneck it could be: progressive; efficient; inclusive; citizen friendly; business friendly, with development suitable for the older, inner suburb we are. Instead we are divided, stressed, disappointed and some of us feel we are being squeezed out.
Tom Abbott August 08, 2012 at 09:43 PM
There is only one council member against whom, "A judge has found probable cause to move ahead with a complaint ..." The notion that it could be any member of the council is just a "red herring"
Art Vatsky August 08, 2012 at 10:11 PM
Tom: Actually, I like herring in cream sauce. Yumm. Haven't had it in years. The charge was only against Adam Gussen, not against the Council as a whole. I want the snitch. If it is Adam, so be it. But if it is not Adam, let's get the real leaker. Frankly, the person who leaked was not very bright. A small political gain for a big political risk. Someone was counting on the Teaneck public to be indifferent. I am sure you want the real snitch to be identified and removed from the Council. Councilmembers are not above the law. They break confidentiality, they fail due process. Our Council has a tendency to neglect due process (minutes, annual reports, attorney sign-off on contracts, meeting cancellations). That is a slippery slope. Enough is enough.
JeffO August 09, 2012 at 04:13 AM
Art, things may seem out of chronological order because some of us try to put our comments in contextual order -- i.e., under the comment we're replying to. Unfortunately, you can only "reply" to a "new comment" on the article, so to keep your comment in contextual order you have to go up to the "new comment" under which the comment you wish to reply to appears -- indented -- and click on the specific reply button provided. Describing it sounds more complicated that it actually is. I encourage you to do this so that a particular thread of the discussion doesn't get dispersed all over the page.
JeffO August 09, 2012 at 04:33 AM
Art: The charge was against Adam Gussen because there is evidence that Gussen spoke to Joe Ax just prior to Ax's article being printed in the Record -- which appeared prior to the "confidential" "closed meeting" the article reported on. I really wish you would drop the term "snitch" in this matter. The word is either akin to "tattler" or worse, an informer who puts his life on the line in certain lawless environments. What we're talking about here is a violation of someone's rights for political purposes. Your terminology doesn't do justice to that.

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