HCPO Asst. Prosecutor fired after being cleared by external investigation

Despite being cleared of “harassment and discrimination” by an external investigation, Asst. Prosecutor William Specht was fired from the HCPO and he’s blaming “cancel culture.”

William Specht - Esther Suarez - Hudson County Prosecutor's Office

William Specht and Hudson County Prosecutor Esther Suarez

Hudson County Prosecutor Esther Suarez has fired a high-level assistant prosecutor embroiled in controversy stemming from inflammatory comments.

On March 21, 2021, Real Garden State exclusively reported that outside counsel had been investigating a racist and hostile work environment at the Hudson County Prosecutor’s Office (HCPO) under Suarez’s leadership.

In that story, William Specht, an assistant chief in the HCPO’s pretrial division, was highlighted for making a disparaging comment about Mexicans in a private Slack channel. More importantly, the comment exposed that Specht and other assistant prosecutors were using a third-party communications service to conduct HCPO operations – which is strictly prohibited.

Nearly two weeks ago, on September 15, 2021, The Jersey Journal reported that the investigation, conducted by the law firm Cleary Giacobbe Alfieri Jacobs, LLC, had been completed. HCPO spokesperson Jennifer Morrill said the firm’s probe found no “harassment or discrimination,” but that “appropriate disciplinary action is pending” for an unspecified number of employees.

According to multiple sources, Specht’s title was restored shortly after the Journal article; however, on September 24, 2021, his employment with the HCPO was terminated. In a private Facebook post, Specht wrote:

For the past several months I’ve been used as a pawn in other people’s games. I’ve been vilified in the papers occasionally and I hear that may continue this week, so you are hearing this here first. On Friday afternoon, I was suddenly and unexpectedly fired by my employer of fourteen years. No reason was given. On the advice of my attorney, that’s all I have to say about that.

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.

Given the results of the external investigation, it’s unclear whether Specht was fired over his previously reported comments or something more recent was the final straw. If the final provocation was something new, it may have been an email to Suarez which included a disparaging comment about the pretrial division’s performance during his absence, sources say.

As for Specht, he asked his friends “please don’t believe everything you read in the press. Please do believe that “cancel culture” is real.”

UPDATE 9/29/21: Specht has filed a lawsuit against the HCPO claiming Wrongful Discharge. 

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