WEST ORANGE, NJ — A New Jersey Superior Court justice denied a West Orange gubernatorial candidate’s request for a temporary restraining order against the results of the Bergen County Democratic Committee’s Jan. 26 convention during a Feb. 15 hearing.
Judge Menelaos Toskos ruled that Robert Hoatson would not be immediately harmed by not restraining the results, which saw Democratic front-runner Phil Murphy overwhelmingly win the right to have his name appear at the top of the ticket in the county’s June primary election. Hoatson is still a candidate regardless of that outcome, Toskos said, adding that a temporary restraining order is unnecessary because he would render a decision as to whether the results should be nullified before the primary. Hearings in that matter begin March 15.
As previously reported in the Chronicle, Hoatson has filed suit against the BCDC, claiming that he was unfairly excluded from the committee’s convention — because he was not invited to it — and that the committee had given preference to Murphy due to his political and monetary connections.
Nevertheless, Carmine Alampi, the attorney representing the BCDC, told the West Orange Chronicle he is confident his client’s convention results will not be thrown out. In fact, Alampi is planning to file a motion to dismiss Hoatson’s case, and believes that motion will be granted.
“His arguments are without any factual basis,” Alampi said in a Feb. 17 phone interview, referring to Hoatson’s complaint that he was deliberately not invited to the convention. “They’re without any evidence. His arguments are just allegations with absolutely no support.”
Alampi was similarly unsurprised that Hoatson’s request for a temporary restraining order was denied, pointing out that his civil motion did not satisfy the four-pronged test laid out in Crowe v. DeGioia, the 1982 New Jersey Supreme Court case. The test calls for movants to show that: a preliminary injunction is necessary to prevent irreparable harm; their claims possess a well-settled legal right; they have a reasonable probability of success, and that a temporary relief would maintain the status quo.
In his letter brief to the judge submitted before the Feb. 15 hearing, Alampi argued that Hoatson was not at risk for suffering irreparable harm because he has many ways of getting onto the gubernatorial general election ballot. He also stressed that Hoatson could not demonstrate a well-settled legal right or probability of success, citing several legal cases in which courts have avoided interfering in the affairs of private political organizations. Additionally, the attorney wrote that granting the temporary order would upset the status quo because the reputations of the BCDC and Murphy would be severely damaged, the election process would be undermined and a precedent for courts getting involved with intra-party matters would be set.
Looking ahead to the March 15 hearing, Alampi told the Chronicle that Hoatson does not have much of a case, saying the candidate’s civil motion did not feature a recognized claim or a cause of action, and the exhibits he submitted — including two Chronicle articles about himself and excerpts from the New Jersey Democratic Party’s constitution — are “really not compelling evidence of anything.” In addition, the attorney said the entire situation could have been avoided if Hoatson had only done his due diligence to make sure he knew when the convention was held.
“You would think that if you’re going to run for public office, especially the highest office in the state, you would familiarize yourself with the process and the procedure and you would contact people directly,” Alampi said, adding that sending two letters to the committee in 2015, asking to discuss his candidacy was not enough.
“You don’t just drop off a letter and walk away. You have to have some effort on your part if you’re running for public office. I think picking up the telephone and making a call to introduce yourself, or whatever, would be the minimum.”
Yet Hoatson maintains he was not at fault, telling the Chronicle that he would have been familiar with the convention process if the BCDC had actually responded to his letters. Though Alampi said no committee member recalls ever seeing such letters, Hoatson said the committee should know who is running since everyone has been written about in state publications. And the BCDC should have invited him to the convention, he said, because not doing so violated multiple provisions of the New Jersey Democrats’ constitution.
In his civil motion, Hoatson argued that the committee did not “assure the fair selection of candidates for public offices throughout the state” since it “ignored” him even though he sent his letters. He also wrote that he is being denied an “equal opportunity” to participate in the Democratic Party because he does not have the same “economic status” as Murphy, who is shown by the New Jersey Election Law Enforcement Commission’s contributor database to have donated thousands of dollars to New Jersey Democratic campaigns in the past. According to Hoatson, that all adds up to the Bergen County Democrats “deliberately and with malice” excluding him from the convention en route to “fraudulently, prejudicially and unfairly” selecting Murphy as their “predetermined” candidate.
While Alampi thinks Hoatson doesn’t have a strong case, the candidate, who does not have legal representation, is much more optimistic about his chances.
“I’m quite positive,” Hoatson said in a Feb. 16 phone interview. “I think we have people thinking about the process, and hopefully we’re going to get to the bottom of things.”
The Murphy campaign did not respond to requests for comment before press time Feb. 21.
Right now, Hoatson said he is looking into what evidence he can present in court to back up his case, assuming it will not be dismissed. He plans to consult with attorneys regarding exactly what he can bring, but said he does not know if he will have an attorney represent him at the March 15 hearing. So far, Hoatson has represented himself in the matter.
Hoatson hopes to eventually have the BCDC’s convention results disqualified so that it can vote again after all candidates are given the chance to speak. Above all, he said he wants his case to make a difference in the way state elections are run.
“The thing about our democracy is, everyone is supposed to have free and open access to the democratic process, and that is not what has happened here,” Hoatson said. “I’m hoping that we might be able to have an effect on the way candidates are chosen for the Democratic Party in the state of New Jersey, and people will be more open and conscientious about the fact that we’re not going to let someone’s wealth to essentially buy the nomination.”
According to Alampi though, Murphy’s wealth did not factor into his victory at the BCDC’s convention. He said it is true that the former Goldman Sachs executive has a lot of money at his disposal, but it is also a fact that Murphy has been vigorously campaigning for more than a year, which has mattered as much as his resources, the attorney said.
“If you spend a lot of time and money cultivating support, that does pay off dividends,” Alampi said.
Meanwhile, Hoatson said he was unable to ask the judge to address the results of the Monmouth County Democratic Committee convention — which he also was not invited to — because Toskos was only considering a temporary restraining order for the BCDC results. The candidate said he will consider filing a civil motion against the MCDC depending on the outcome of his case against the BCDC, but he hopes a verdict against the BCDC would force the MCDC to nullify its own results as well.