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.