A controversial trial involving two members of Hoboken’s contentious political arena was finally heard in Union City Municipal Court on Thursday.
The trial took place after Board of Education member and Mayor Dawn Zimmer ally Theresa Minutillo filed harassment charges in October against Matt Calicchio, a political operative who has worked for Zimmer’s opposition.
Union City Judge Sixto Macias found on Thursday that Calicchio was “not guilty” of the harassment charge, but Marcias also said he did not believe the testimony of both Calicchio and his witness.
The trial date had been rescheduled from last month.
Macias did not shy away from acknowledging the political undertones of the matter. Indeed, Calicchio testified that he is an employee of Hoboken Councilwoman Beth Mason’s “civic league.” Mason is a vocal opponent of Mayor Zimmer.
“Even though politics is a very difficult assignment in Hudson County, not everything is acceptable conduct.” – Prosecutor James Coviello
Minutillo said that Calicchio harassed her while she was picking up her daughter from kindergarten at Wallace Elementary School Oct. 18. According to Minutillo, Calicchio allegedly yelled, “I’m coming after you; April is around the corner,” referring to the school board election. (That election was eventually changed to this coming November.) Calicchio was allegedly on school grounds at the time.
Tanya Garcia – a witness for the defense – testified that Calicchio would often accompany her as she picked up her son from the school, and her son shares a class with Minutillo’s daughter.
Garcia also testified that both she and Calicchio worked for the Mason Family Civic League, including the affiliated Gallery 1200, an art gallery owned by Mason on Washington Street.
Macias said he believed Minutillo’s testimony that Calicchio did allegedly shout the alleged remarks, despite Calicchio’s testimony that he did not speak to Minutillo. However, Macias ruled that the remarks did not constitute a criminal charge of harassment because Minutillo is a public figure.
‘Somebody here is lying’
After contradictory testimony from Minutillo, Garcia, and Calicchio, Union City Prosecutor James Coviello said, “Somebody here is lying. There are people that took the stand today and lied.”
Coviello took exception to the testimony of Garcia, who testified that she did not see Minutillo on Oct. 18, even though she said she was with Calicchio, who said he did see Minutillo. Garcia said she wasn’t familiar with Minutillo.
She also said that she began employment with the Mason Civic League in January 2012. She later said that she had been volunteering for the civic league and gallery since last fall.
“Where does the truth begin and where does it end?” asked Coviello. “[Garcia] is clearly a political player in this as well. The court recognizes it; we all recognize it: this is dirty Hudson County politics.”
Macias soon echoed Coviello’s sentiments.
“I am really taken aback by the testimony of Mrs. Garcia,” said Macias. “It’s completely incorrect. I do not believe one word of what she told us. I think if you [Calicchio] are going to bring somebody to court to testify on your behalf, you should at least get your stories together.”
Macias specifically said he had problems with Garcia testifying that she did not see Minutillo.
“[It’s] not credible,” said Macias, adding that he believed Minutillo’s testimony to be true.
“I don’t believe the defendant [Calicchio] or Mrs. Garcia,” said Macias, adding that he believed Calicchio was being, in general, “used” for political purposes in exchange for a job.
“People openly lied [here],” Macias said later during the hearing, “which is worse than a harassment charge.” He later added, “I find you not guilty but I think you lied.”
But in explaining the verdict, Macias said, “Mrs. Minutillo should have known what she was getting into when she ran for the board of education in Hoboken.” He later added, “You’re a public figure and we live in a democracy where we can voice our disgust or other way of thinking to another person [involved in politics].”
After the trial, Coviello said that the judge had to make a tough decision due to the contradicting testimonies.
“I think the judge made a very, very difficult decision and I think it was a fair decision,” said Coviello. “Hopefully the parties learn that even though politics is a very difficult assignment in Hudson County, not everything is acceptable conduct.”
Coviello also said that the “case is done,” and there will be no followup to investigate possible perjury, despite the judge’s charges that two parties were lying.
Minutillo released a statement to The Reporter describing her opinion of the ruling as “unfortunate” due to the judge’s belief that Calicchio’s alleged behavior did not meet the standard for criminal behavior.
“It is my hope that my daughter and I can now continue to walk to school and [throughout] Hoboken without being accosted by this or any other individual,” said Minutillo. “I wish the same for everyone else.”
Calicchio declined a request for a comment. DiNardo and Mason did not return phone calls for comment.
Several members of the school board were subpoenaed for the trial but were not called to testify, including Irene Sobolov, and Vice President Ruth McAllister. School board member Leon Gold and Zoning Board member Nancy Pincus were also sent subpoenas, according to the defense, but both said they never actually received them.
Stephen LaMarca may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.