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Cop secretary fired in Edison sues to keep job

EDISON --- Alexandra Vignola, a fired police chief secretary and a former Mayor George Spadoro loyalist, filed a legal suit yesterday to get her job back

"You just can't --- for political purposes --- fire a secretary," said Vignola's attorney Steve Cahn. "It's not a political issue. It's a matter of what's right and what's wrong."

"This is a baseless lawsuit by a disgruntled former employee," said Mayor Jun Choi, who took office last month.

On Tuesday, Choi fired Vignola and four other township employees connected to the Spadoro administration. In giving reasons for the firings, Choi cited budgetary issues and said the employees were in patronage positions, serving at the pleasure of the mayor.

"He fired her for her political allegiance to the (former) mayor," Cahn said.

That is absolutely not true. We are in the process of downsizing and making this government more efficient," Choi said. "Ms. Vignola has every right to file a lawsuit. The township has the right to defend our actions, which we believe to be fair and appropriate."

Before filing the suit, Cahn said, he had a scheduled meeting with Choi to discuss Vignola's firing. But Choi canceled the session.

Choi said Township Attorney Louis Rainone asked for the meeting, but the mayor canceled it after consulting a "confidential pro bono" lawyer.

Choi would not say which attorney would defend the township, but the mayor said Rainone would not handle the case.

"Lou Rainone will not be the township or labor attorney for this administration," said Choi, who is waiting for the Township Council to vote on Ed Schnierer --- Choi's choice to become legal director.

When reached by phone, Rainone said he has been given a directive to not speak to the media unless he clears it with members of Choi's administration.

Rainone's last comments as township attorney appeared in Wednesday's Home News Tribune. In the article, Rainone said he had not been consulted by Choi regarding the firings; he questioned the mayor's reasons for the firings and Rainone said the township employee handbook may protect the fired individuals.

Vignola, who earned $42,935 per year, had been a secretary in Spadoro's office from Jan. 1999 until days before Spadoro left office when she became the secretary for newly appointed Police Chief George Mieczkowski.

She also assisted Spadoro's Democratic primary campaign, which Spadoro lost to Choi.

Vignola has said, in a conversation with Choi after he won the election, the new mayor suggested she sent out her resume.

"I offered Ms. Vignola friendly advice I would have offered to anybody," Choi said.

She has said the firing is "retribution" because of her "political affiliation."

The suit, filed in Superior Court, New Brunswick, claims the firing:

    1.) Violates Vignola's First Amendment rights of free speech, association and political activity;

    2.) Was meant to intentionally harm Vignola;

    3.) The employee handbook protects Vignola, and;

    4.) Violates Vignola's 14th Amendment rights to due process.

Cahn said next week he plans to ask for a court order to put Vignola back in her job while legal wranglings proceed.

Home News Tribune
by Jerry Barca - February 4, 2006

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