Former Cape May County Prosecutor Robert Taylor has filed a whistleblower suit claiming he was shortchanged of retirement benefits because he had disagreements with the county’s Board of Freeholders.
Taylor, who retired as prosecutor in September after 13 years, claims the freeholders—the county’s elected legislators—denied his request for lifelong medical insurance, a benefit granted to other long-serving county employees at retirement.
Taylor’s suit says the county singled him out for adverse treatment because he complained when county representatives made statements in the media that underreported the extent of heroin, Fentanyl and opioid abuse in Cape May County. Taylor also claims in the suit that the county penalized him for refusing to fire or take other action against an employee who led contract negotiations on behalf of assistant prosecutors.
Taylor filed the suit in Superior Court in Cape May County on Monday. It names as defendants the county, the freeholder board, the five individual freeholders and human resources director Jeffrey Lindsay. He seeks compensatory and punitive damages under the Conscientious Employee Protection Act and the state Civil Rights Act.
During rancorous contract negotiations with the assistant prosecutors in 2016 and early 2017, Taylor’s suit claims, freeholder Gerald Thornton and Lindsay repeatedly disparaged the union negotiator, said negotiations would go more smoothly if she were not involved, and “implicitly and expressly suggested that plaintiff Robert L .Taylor and the Cape May County Prosecutor’s Office would be better served if he cut ties with the union leader and terminated her employment,” according to the complaint.
In a meeting, Lindsay referred to the union leader as a “troublemaker” and by “disparaging, gender-specific terms,” Taylor said.
The complaint did not state the name of the union leader but described that individual as a well-respected and long-serving female assistant Cape May County prosecutor who was then under consideration for a Superior Court judgeship. The suit said the county made an internal affairs complaint against the union leader which it directed to the Attorney General’s Office. The attorney general remanded the complaint to Taylor, who assigned it to an investigator. The charges were deemed unfounded and the assistant prosecutor was soon cleared to take a seat on Superior Court.
The complaint apparently refers to Christine Smith, who was confirmed to a Superior Court judgeship earlier this year and is sitting in the Civil Part in Cape May County after spending a decade as an assistant Cape May County prosecutor.
Smith is the only recently confirmed Cape May judge who was a longtime assistant prosecutor in the county.
Taylor’s lawyer, Arthur Murray of Alterman Associates in Marlton, would not confirm or deny whether Smith is the person mentioned in the complaint.
Smith was not available for immediate comment Tuesday. Personnel answering the phone at her chambers said she was at a statewide judicial training seminar.
Taylor was also threatened with cuts to his agency budget when he complained to the freeholders that they were understating the extent of drug problems in Cape May County to the media, the suit claimed. Up-to-date and accurate data about drug incidents was available from the prosecutor’s office but he heard the threats of budget cuts when he “voiced an intention to release the actual data to the media,” according to the complaint.
Taylor said that although he was required to sign off on any labor agreement involving assistant prosecutors, he says he “always encouraged the women and men working for him to secure the best deal they could for themselves and would always give his approval to the collective bargaining agreement presented to him.”
Taylor said the union leader was “viewed by some as a possible successor to Robert L. Taylor upon his retirement.”
Taylor has launched a private practice in Stone Harbor. First Assistant Prosecutor Robert Johnson was appointed acting prosecutor for Cape May County by Gov. Chris Christie on Oct. 29.
Cape May County Counsel James Arsenault Jr. said he believes the allegations in the suit are “baseless” and “frivolous” and said the county would vigorously defend itself. He said the decision not to extend health benefits to Taylor in retirement was based on interpretation of a state statute which said his length of service is not long enough to receive such a benefit. Arsenault otherwise declined to discuss the specific allegations in the suit.