Five days after being fired from the HCPO, William Specht filed a four-count complaint in state Superior Court alleging Wrongful Discharge.
A disgraced assistant prosecutor recently fired from the Hudson County Prosecutor’s Office (HCPO) has filed a lawsuit claiming their due process rights were violated.
William Specht, formerly an assistant chief of the HCPO’s pretrial unit, filed a four-count complaint today in state Superior Court alleging Wrongful Discharge and violations of New Jersey’s Conscientious Employee Protection Act (CEPA).
The lawsuit names Hudson County Prosecutor Esther Suarez, HCPO Director of Law and Business Operations Anna Pereira, and the County of Hudson as defendants.
Per the complaint, on March 12, 2021, Specht was called into a meeting with First Deputy Asst. Prosecutor Peter Stoma and Pereira. During that meeting, Stoma and Pereira advised him that another prosecutor had complained about a message he had posted on Slack – which was being utilized by prosecutors to communicate with each other during the COVID-19 pandemic.
On that day, Specht was advised by Stoma and Pereira he would continue to work as an assistant chief in pretrial; however, certain discretionary decisions would have to be approved by his supervisors, according to the lawsuit.
On March 21, 2021, Real Garden State exclusively reported that outside counsel had been investigating a racist and hostile work environment at the HCPO under Suarez’s leadership. That story highlighted Specht’s Slack comment and another Facebook post alluding to exonerating cops in shootings.
Two days later, on March 23, 2021, The Jersey Journal did a follow-up story that confirmed an ongoing investigation and identified Specht. Without making any specific references, HCPO spokesperson Jennifer Morrill described the publicized comments as “offensive and sickening” and stated Slack was “strictly prohibited.”
On that same day, Specht received an email from Stoma that he was being demoted from his position and transferred to the HCPO’s Appellate Division (allegedly receiving no explanation as to why). Morrill told the Journal that Specht was “stripped of any supervisory or prosecutorial” powers during the investigation.
Notably, Specht’s lawsuit refers to Real Garden State as “an internet blog site with a history of criticizing Defendant Suarez.”
The complaint states that on April 30, 2021, Specht met with attorney Gina Anton of the law firm Cleary Giacobbe Alfieri Jacobs, LLC – which Real Garden State originally identified as the attorney investigating the work environment under Suarez’s leadership.
Specht claims he answered questions from Anton about the comments publicized by Real Garden State. At the end of the interview, Specht was supposedly told he could request the report upon completion of the investigation.
The lawsuit states that Specht’s personal lawyer reached out to Anton in August and September of 2021 to determine the outcome of the investigation, but no response was given.
Although an exact date isn’t provided, Specht’s attorney received a phone call from Louis Rosen, Deputy County Counsel for Hudson County, after the September inquiry. Rosen supposedly said that he was “new to the matter” and “welcomed a letter” concerning complaints regarding Specht “possibly being penalized twice for the same thing.”
Furthermore, the lawsuit states on September 13, 2021, Suarez reinstated Specht as assistant chief of pretrial. Nevertheless, eleven days later, on September 24, 2021, Specht was fired. The alleged timeline of events from that day, as detailed in the complaint, were:
- Specht’s attorney emails a letter to Rosen at 1:08 PM. The lettered complained about Specht’s “reasonable belief” that the HCPO had “violated his due process rights.”
- At approximately 2:52 PM, Specht received a message that he should come to the HCPO’s conference room at 4:00 PM.
- During that meeting, after 14 years at the HCPO, Pereira fired Specht without any explanation.
The lawsuit states that Specht’s “termination was then leaked to the press by an unknown employee” of the HCPO and referenced Real Garden State’s report on September 26, 2021.
Of note, employment at the HCPO is at-will, which means that Suarez can terminate an employee for any reason, except an illegal one, or no reason.
Real Garden State was unable to contact the HCPO for comment on this story, but will update this report if/when comment is provided. Specht is being represented by Ronald Ricci of the law firm Ricci & Fava, LLC.