Orange Council approves rehiring former assistant city attorney

ORANGE, NJ — According to Orange West Ward Councilman Harold Johnson, the council has voted to approve Resolution No. 297-2017 to facilitate the court-ordered rehiring of former assistant city attorney John P. McGovern at its regular meeting Tuesday, Sept. 5. Mayor Dwayne Warren fired Johnson in 2013 for refusing to carry out an order from Willis Edwards, the city’s former deputy business administrator.

“We took care of that weeks ago,” said Johnson on Thursday, Oct. 5. “The resolution for McGovern was 297-2017. $410,000 on the agenda.”

On Friday, July 21, the New Jersey Superior Court Appellate Division ruled in John P. McGovern v. City of Orange Township and Mayor Dwayne Warren, that the mayor and the city must rehire McGovern, who was fired in 2013 because he acted as a whistleblower against Edwards in a matter related to former city clerk Dwight Mitchell. Judges Joseph L. Yannotti and Michael J. Haas reaffirmed an earlier court’s judgment against Warren and the city, and ordered them to rehire McGovern and pay him all of the money he lost when he was fired.

In their July 21 decision the judges noted: “In March 2014, plaintiff, a former attorney in the city’s Law Department, filed a complaint in the trial court against defendants and Willis Edwards III. Plaintiff alleged that the city’s clerk had been on medical leave, following an automobile accident, and the city paid all of the clerk’s medical bills and temporary disability benefits because it was ‘a workers’ compensation matter.’ Plaintiff claimed Warren and Edwards wanted to ‘transition’ the clerk back to work on a full-time basis. The clerk allegedly had obtained a settlement of his lawsuit against a third-party and owed the city about $100,000, which was secured by a workers’ compensation lien.”

According to court documents, McGovern said he’d been fired because Edwards ordered him to release the $100,000 lien on Mitchell’s money, even though it was against the law to do so and, when he didn’t do so, Edwards ordered him to do it again. McGovern did, but made an official note that he only did it because Edwards had ordered him to do so. That notation was important, because it provided CEPA whistleblower legal protection for McGovern.

According to court papers, Edwards was “infuriated” by McGovern’s actions and got Warren to fire the attorney.

“Warren allegedly told him he was being ‘let go’ because the city was making ‘budget cuts.’ On Feb. 5, 2013, plaintiff received a letter stating he was terminated, effective Feb. 1, 2013,” according to court documents.

McGovern sued the city and Warren for wrongful discharge, violation of CEPA and breach of contract and he wanted reinstatement to his former position, compensatory and punitive damages, attorney’s fees and costs, and other relief.

The courts agreed with McGovern and ordered Warren and Orange to rehire him, recoup his salary and benefits, and pay his legal fees for a total of almost $300,000. But the Warren administration appealed the first judgment against them and, on July 21, the NJSC Appellate Division upheld that initial judgment against Warren and the city.