Police Director Joseph Santiago has until the end of the business day on April 24 to pack his bags and leave the office of Police Director forever, according to a court ruling handed down today by Mercer County Superior Court Judge Linda Feinberg.
The new ruling represents an amendment to last week’s decision that Mr. Santiago had to vacate the office immediately, but still signifies a defeat for Trenton’s mayor, Douglas H. Palmer, and his lawyers, who had pushed for a stay on the original ruling while they pursue an appeal.
Judge Feinberg rejected all of Mayor Palmer’s arguments for granting the stay, which generally rested on the notion that the Police Department could not function properly with Mr. Santiago’s absence, and that residents of the city would be in danger without Mr. Santiago at the helm.
“There is no reason to believe that the removal would make the Police Department ‘rudderless’,” said Judge Feinberg. “No law enforcement agency depends on the presence of one man.”
The court proceedings saw lawyers for Mayor Palmer and Mr. Santiago appeal to all sorts of arguments in an effort to get a stay. They attacked the police unions, calling the lawsuit a tool to get rid of Mr. Santiago, rather than a citizen-initiated action.
They attacked three affidavits made by current and former police officials as biased, while purporting defense affidavits made by Business Administrator Jane Feigenbaum and Special Counsel Stephen Trimboli to be unbiased.
Defense attorneys said City Council members had not made their official sentiments on the issue known and stated that Mayor Palmer was the ultimate representative of the people of the city, making his take on the issue of the highest importance to the case.
Mayor Palmer’s attorney Angelo Genova questioned whether City Council’s attorney David Corrigan even really represented the views of council members, because the council members hadn’t actually filed official certifications or affidavits in any of the case’s briefs.
Plaintiffs’ lawyer George Dougherty said all of the arguments made by the defense ignored the rules of Trenton’s residency ordinance, and instead appealed to extraneous issues like Mr. Santiago importance and performance in the job.
Mr. Dougherty equated the 30-day period to granting someone a month to get his or her affairs in order after being charged with driving without a driver’s license.
“You would never do that,” Mr. Dougherty said.
Mr. Santiago’s lawyers made the peculiar argument that the director represented Trenton’s only civilian authority in the department and his removal would mean that the old police leadership would take over, even though Mr. Santiago isn’t even a civilian from Trenton.
In the end, Judge Feinberg rejected the stay requests for the defense outright, ordering the position vacated on April 24.
But the judge stated there was a bizarre possibility that City Council members could move to adopt a legal waiver provision ordinance, which would allow the process to be set in motion to grant Mr. Santiago an official waiver and reoccupy his directorship.
It does not seem like that is likely, based on the public statements of a majority of City Council members.