Superior Court Judge Mark Ciarocca ended a high profile political lawsuit today when he ruled that the Berkeley Heights Police Chief, Mike Mathis would not get reinstated. The lawsuit had claimed that Mathis was forced out of office by Mayor Joe Bruno earlier this month, after he emailed the mayor announcing his intention to retire and then days later changing his mind. According to court documents, Mathis filed paperwork with the state Division of Pension and Benefits but later withdrew it and told Bruno he planned to stay.
Mathis’ attorney argued in court Wednesday that Mathis never submitted a formal letter of resignation. He said that Bruno was making “an unlawful assault” on the chief’s authority due to a personal vendetta and long-standing disputes over compensation issues and some town ordinances.
However, Mayor Bruno maintained that after Mathis’ first email saying he intended to retire in July, he started taking actions to replace him. He offered Bruno a 24-hour window to reconsider, but the chief recanted days after that. Mayor Bruno commented on the case that “I had to draw a line in the sand, I gave him three or four chances to change his mind, but I had to get things in motion…It was never about any personal grudge match.”
In regards to the court’s ruling today, Mathis said he would “absolutely” continue seeking reinstatement, but deferred further comment to his attorney.
Lt. John DiPasquale is currently serving as officer-in-charge of the 25-member Berkeley Heights Police Department, in addition to his regular role as first-shift commander. In the meantime, Mayor Bruno said he will appoint an acting chief sometime in the next week and will name a replacement for Mathis once he knows Ciarrocca’s decision is a “permanent done deal.”
To learn more about this story, you can read the NJ.com article.