Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Nicholas Scutari (D-Linden) filed a defamation suit against Derek Armstead today, claiming that the Linden mayor made libelous and slanderous statements and actions.
The legal action follows allegations made by Armstead about Scutari’s attendance record as Linden’s municipal prosecutor.
Armstead formed an investigative panel – Scutari said he filled it with his political cronies – and then released the results of his probe to the media.
Scutari is also suing for malicious prosecution.
“This suit is not about money,” Scutari said. “Derek’s flagrant abuse of power and his deliberate lying to the public cannot go unchecked. Public officials cannot withhold records from an investigation, nor can they weaponize government resources to slander the personal and professional reputation of a citizen for political retribution.
According to Scutari, Armstead withheld a 2005 personnel policy memorandum that allowed the municipal prosecutor to miss a certain number of court sessions without penalty – and then requires that the prosecutor pay for replacements when he was not available to be in court.
Scutari has personally paid the cost substitute – a common practice in New Jersey – when he was unavailable to be in court himself.
Armstead, who was a councilman when the 2005 policy was adopted, publicly alleged that the city was “wasting a lot of money and he’s never here.”
“I support the decision to investigate Nick Scutari for his absenteeism,” court records show Armstead as saying. “Taxpayers will no longer tolerate waste, fraud, and abuse in city government.”
Armstead accused Scutari of holding a no-show job, and announced that he sharing his allegations with prosecutors.
One of Armstead’s comments is including in the court filing.
“Scutari can file all the lawsuits he wants, it doesn’t excuse him from ripping off taxpayers to the tune of almost $150,000.00,” he told The (Bergen) Record in 2019. “In fact, we look forward to this suit placing even greater scrutiny on his illicit practices, for which I already have requested an investigation by Federal and State law enforcement entities.”
Councilmen Ralph Strano and Alfred Mohammed and former Councilman Peter Brown are also named as defendants in the lawsuit. The three served on the council investigatory committee.
Armstead is named personally and in his capacity as mayor.
In the lawsuit, Scutari’s attorneys allege that Armstead “sought criminal prosecution against plaintiff by referring their bogus and sham investigation to federal and/or state law enforcement agencies and encouraged them to investigate plaintiff. These investigations that have taken place have caused plaintiff much disruption, expense, emotional harm, and damage to reputation”
In addition to the civil lawsuit, Scutari wants law enforcement to prosecute Armstead.
“I am again calling on the Attorney General to press charges against Derek Armstead and all involved in this premeditated scheme for filing a false report and for wasting taxpayer money,” he said.
Scutari was first elected to the State Senate in 2003 and as Judiciary Committee chairman is one of New Jersey’s most powerful legislators.
Now the senator wants his reputation back.
“I look forward to my day in Court,” added Scutari. “I am eager to set the record straight regarding my time overseeing the office of the Linden City Prosecutor, and I am eager to depose Derek and his cronies under oath about their actions. The truth will come out.”
Armstead told the New Jersey Globe on Friday thought it was “disgraceful that a sitting senator attempts to due a city he represents, hoping to take residents’ hard-earned tax dollars.”
“It’s even more troubling that Senator Scutari continues to be so bothered by the credible allegations of his misconduct and respective law enforcement investigations that he is going to irrational lengths, which should spark even greater scrutiny into his misdeeds,” Armstead said. “His ludicrous lawsuit almost admits that he stole pension credits. Why was Wayne Bryant prosecuted again? I remain confident that justice will be done in this instance.”
This story was updated at 12:38 PM with comment from Armstead.