Sexual harassment, assault suit against mayor begins

IRVINGTON, NJ — The case of Tamara Smith v. the township of Irvington and Anthony Vauss officially began in Superior Court Judge Robert Gardner’s courtroom at the Old Courthouse in downtown Newark on Monday, July 24.

The civil trial started with opening statements from the attorneys representing Vauss, Smith and the township at 9:30 a.m. and it ended shortly before 4 p.m. with Smith’s tearful testimony on the stand. The trial, expected to last at least two weeks, is scheduled to resume Tuesday, July 25.

Smith has filed a civil lawsuit against Vauss and the township of Irvington alleging sexual harassment by him that she says culminated with a sexual assault on her in her office, shortly after he won the 2014 mayoral election, before he was sworn into office. She is suing the township of Irvington for not doing anything about the alleged harassment and alleged assault, after she reported it to then-business administrator Wayne Bradley, who also served as the town’s de facto director of personnel.

Smith is seeking unspecified financial damages from the town and, according to the opening remarks of her attorneys, Paul Castronovo and Thomas McKinney of Castronovo & McKinney in Morristown, she’s also seeking justice for herself and other victims of sexual violence and abuse of power in a workplace. Smith asserts the assault she allegedly suffered at Vauss’ hands on June 9, 2014, was not the first time he had raped her while she was on the job.

Smith currently works as a housing inspector in the Irvington Building Department, but alleges that Vauss originally raped her while they were involved in a relationship and she was working for the town at the now-demolished Servicemen’s Clubhouse on Springfield Avenue in 2004-05. Smith testified Monday, July 24, that she had never reported that alleged incident, but said that was the reason why she stopped dating him, although she continued working alongside him in the Housing Inspection Department for years, even after it became the Building Department and he was promoted to a supervisory position.

“Vauss and Smith knew each other for 10 years,” Castronovo said in his opening remarks Monday, July 24. “They had a brief sexual relationship in 2005. He wanted Tamara to be his girl on the side. He got married in 2012. The mayor can’t admit that he had a sexual relationship with Tamara because he’s married and a politician.”

Castronovo told the seven jurors involved in the trial that “the defense is going to attack Tamara’s credibility” and “They’re going to bring up things from the past” in the upcoming two-week trial.

“In May 2013, they said it was retaliation,” Castronovo said during his opening remarks. “They also say it’s because the mayor sued her husband, Carl Brown, in 2013. He also sued the township and a lot of other people. They also say she made up this entire story to blackmail the outgoing mayor, Wayne Smith, and the incoming mayor, Tony Vauss, into changing her job title and giving her a promotion with a higher salary. They also say it’s about money and losing overtime. They say she wanted a promotion. She’s some kind of evil genius that had it all set up. But they say something the complete opposite; that she’s delusional and out of touch with reality, who may believe this actually happened to her, even though the defense is claiming that it did not happen at all.”

Vauss contends that he never sexually assaulted Smith. He is being represented by attorney Christopher Kinum of Critchley, Kinum & Denoia in Roseland, and he’s countersuing Smith for slander and defamation of character and for filing a false, frivolous lawsuit for a crime that never actually occurred.

“When you’re hurt, you go to the doctor. When you’re being threatened, you go to the police. When you’re looking to find the truth, you come to this courthouse,” Kinum said in his opening remarks Monday, July 24. “The truth is the handmaid of justice. Handmaid simply means service. The truth is, Tamara Smith’s story about being sexually assaulted is false. There was no sexual harassment.”

Kinum went on to say that coming to court in order to find truth and justice is what upstanding, law-abiding citizens such as Vauss are supposed to do when they are falsely accused of crimes by co-workers, former girlfriends and lovers or anyone else. He said that’s how the American criminal justice system is supposed to operate, even though it seems that’s not what happens with black men, such as his client.

“What do you do when you’re falsely accused of committing a horrible crime?” Kinum asked. “What you do is what’s been going on for over 100 years in this building. You find seven people, you state the facts and make your case, and you clear your name.”

Kinum urged the jury of four women to “Focus on Tamara Smith’s story” rather than getting confused or swept up by the idea of a black woman claiming she was the victim of a man who had all the power while she had none at all. The attorney stated that Smith secretly recorded conversations she had with Vauss, Bradley, the now deceased Rev. Ron Christian, East Ward Councilman Paul Inman and others that she intended to use to her further her blackmail scheme.

“Once you focus on Tamara Smith’s story, it’s going to collapse,” Kinum said. “The allegations are incredible and don’t make any sense, because there was no sexual harassment. There was no sexual assault. Most people run from sexual assault allegations. We’re running to it. There’s 184 tapes. Ladies and gentlemen, you’re not going to hear Tony Vauss harass Tamara Smith. She said she did make tapes of Tony Vauss on her iPhone, but her iPhone fell in the toilet; 184 tapes, but the ones with Tony Vauss harassing her falls in the toilet. Watch her closely while she testifies. Where’s the tape?”

Angelo Genova, the attorney representing the township of Irvington, said he was there in the courtroom to represent the interests of 60,000 residents, not Vauss. He also said he was there to prove the township and, by extension its business administrators and others did what was legally required when it learned about Smith’s allegations against Vauss.

“I’m not just representing the township, I’m representing a community,” said Genova on Monday, July 24. “The township should not be held liable for alleged conduct by Tony Vauss that did not occur. Our defense is that the township did what it was supposed to do. We adopted and publicized an anti-sexual harassment policy and procedure.”

Genova said the township’s defense against Smith’s allegations all boil down to a basic question the seven jurors are going to have to answer: “She claims that she was sexually harassed and sexually assaulted. Tony Vauss vehemently denies it all. What’s an employer to do when one employee asserts that she was sexually harassed in the workplace but the other party involved vehemently denies it? The township’s own investigation concluded that Tamara Smith was not credible. We believe the same evidence supports the same conclusion in this trial.”

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