Morristown Chief Housing Inspector Tommy Alexander does not have to forfeit his $90,000 job over an animal cruelty conviction, a judge ruled on Thursday, reversing his own decision.
“Whether or not this touches upon his job is questionable and somewhat doubtful…I will not forfeit his position,” said Rockaway Township Municipal Judge Gerard Smith. The case was heard in Rockaway to avoid potential conflicts in Morristown.
“We’re at the bottom of the hill, and starting to march back up,” Tommy’s lawyer, Gary Moylen, said after successfully arguing that his client’s conviction on charges of neglecting and starving his dog did not involve dishonesty or his official duties, and therefore did not warrant loss of his job under state law.
The attorney said he plans to appeal the disorderly persons convictions in state Superior Court, and he also will attempt to overturn Tommy’s suspension without pay by the town of Morristown.
“I’m happy for him. I’m glad it worked out,” said Morristown Mayor Tim Dougherty, referring to Tommy, when told of the judge’s reversal. “I’m sure the business administrator will talk to him” on Friday about his job status.
Tommy, 61, was convicted last month of cruelty to his unlicensed mixed-breed dog, Satin. He was fined several thousand dollars and sentenced to community service with the Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.
During the trial, a veterinarian described Satin’s condition as a 2 on a 10-point scale, with 1 being near death. The dog was barely half of what would be considered a healthy weight, with protruding bones, and claws so long from inactivity that it could barely walk, let alone run, according to the veterinarian.
Initially, Judge Smith ruled that the state’s public forfeiture law mandated that Tommy, a Morristown employee for 35 years, lose his public job. At the time of the incidents last year, Tommy was Morristown’s director of human services and oversaw the town’s animal control operations.
Rockaway Township Municipal Prosecutor Peter King contended that Tommy tried to cover up the animal abuse by calling in his subordinate, the town’s animal control officer, who wound up testifying against her former boss. Tommy also attempted to mislead the court about his failure to license the dog, the prosecutor said.
“He thought he was above the law. Part of his job was to be sure that every other resident of Morristown” had to license his or her dog, Peter King said. The judge said he, too, was bothered by the licensing issue.
But Gary Moylen argued that Tommy was not charged with dishonesty or official misconduct. Among precedents that he cited was the case of former Jersey City Mayor Gerald McCann, whose conviction of mail fraud, income tax fraud and wire fraud did not warrant forfeiture of his public employment under state law.
The lawyer also noted that Tommy no longer heads the town’s human services department, following an administrative reshuffling in town hall.
Tommy, who is undergoing radiation treatments in New York for liver cancer, according to his lawyer, did not appear in court on Thursday. On the witness stand he professed love for Satin, but said that because he was moving to a Morristown apartment that did not accept pets he gave his dog to a Newark acquaintance named Frankie.
When the severely emaciated dog re-appeared in its old Morristown neighborhood shortly before Christmas last year, Tommy said, he called the town’s animal control officer for help.
The prosecutor asserted during the trial that Frankie was a fictitious character and that Tommy simply confined the dog in his old apartment without food, water or exercise. The judge agreed and found Tommy guilty; he was especially dismayed by Tommy’s admission that he spent two days hunting for Frankie instead of taking the sickly dog for veterinary care.
Satin has a new name, new owners, and new health.