Former councilman Julio Tavarez’s defamation lawsuit against his ex-colleagues has been scheduled for trial in the Passaic County Superior Court. He filed the lawsuit claiming a no confidence measure passed against him damaged his reputation in the Paterson community.
Tavarez’s case is scheduled for trial on January 8th, 2018 at the Passaic County Courthouse. Council members, who are expected to discuss the case in a closed-door meeting next week, have received notices to appear before judge Thomas Brogan for a hearing.
Some expected the lawsuit to be dismissed long ago without a trial.
“I don’t think this case has any merit. I’m surprised it has gone this far,” said councilman William McKoy late last month. He was the council president when the no confidence measure was passed.
“We’re all surprised it got this far,” said council president Ruby Cotton on Thursday afternoon. She declined to further comment on the case.
Tavarez names council members McKoy, Cotton, Kenneth Morris, and ex-councilman James Staton in the lawsuit. He also names the city, city council, and the former mayor. The city’s chief attorney Domenick Stampone said the city and current and former municipal officials mentioned in the case will be represented by North Haledon-based DeMarco and DeMarco law firm.
“The defense is a common one,” said Stampone. “Our argument is the council is permitted to express an opinion.”
McKoy said the council has the right to censure its members. Council members passed a no confidence measure against ex-mayor Jeffery Jones in 2012. Tavarez’s no confidence measure stemmed from allegedly divisive remarks made in a Spanish language radio program.
Tavarez’s lawsuit states the basis for the no confidence vote cited in the resolution are “false.” He campaigned for diversity in the city clerk’s office, he has said in the past. When former city clerk Jane Williams-Warren (who returned in October as mayor) retired, the council had to appoint a new person to serve as clerk.
Tavarez (pictured with microphone) wanted a Latino city clerk. Others argued the appointment should be made based on seniority. The council opted for the latter appointing Sonia Gordon as clerk and Joan Douglas as deputy clerk.
The former councilman’s lawsuit will cost taxpayers. The council approved $15,000 to hire the North Haledon law firm to defend the city in 2016. This amount is likely to look paltry if there’s a full-blown trial.
“I don’t think it has merit,” said Stampone. He said regardless of the content of the resolution, the council, in this case, acted within its constitutional rights.
Brogan, who is the presiding judge, will assign the case to a judge on the morning of the trial, said his chambers on Thursday morning.
Tavarez could not be reached for comment on Thursday.