By KATHY CHANG
EDISON — Despite two orders by a Superior Court Judge to reinstate a fired patrolman, township officials are continuing to pursue all legal options to fire the patrolman, according to township counsel.
Edison Township Attorney Allan C. Roth said the police department is seeking a further stay of Judge Douglas K. Wolfson’s latest order on Jan. 19 in the Appellate Division for the township to give Anthony Sarni, a 10-year veteran of the force, his gun and badge back and put into motion plans to reinstate him immediately.
“To say that Judge Wolfson’s ruling has outraged the township’s administration and the police command staff, who have made it crystal clear they will not tolerate ‘reprehensible and deplorable’ conduct from municipal employees, would be an understatement,” he said.
Sarni was dismissed in October after an incident at the Extended Stay Hotel in the township in 2012.
“Edison argued in court that temporarily barring Mr. Sarni from duty would be appropriate in light of the facts and applicable law while the matter is pending an Appellate Division review to overturn Judge Wolfson’s Jan. 6 decision reinstating him to duty,” Roth said.
In compliance with Judge Wolfson’s most recent order, Roth said Sarni will submit to a fitness-for-duty exam and, if he is found fit, he will be retrained in the police department’s policies and procedures before returning to work.
On Jan. 6, Judge Wolfson, in his opinion on the matter, said the termination of Sarni was not appropriate since the charges regarding the incident at the hotel were not filed on time. He called the Internal Affairs (IA) interview with Sarni “fundamentally flawed.”
On Sept. 12, 2012, according to court records, Sarni and fellow Patrolman Mark Ianni responded to a call of a discharged fire extinguisher at the hotel. However, Sarni returned on his own to the hotel later that night, still in uniform, and met with a female guest. Sarni has said that he asked the woman to model lingerie while he was there, but whether it was a consensual encounter and whether Sarni found marijuana in the room and used it as leverage to have the woman model for him have been in dispute.
The Middlesex County Prosecutor’s Office investigated the matter but declined to file charges against Sarni. The office did recommend that Edison do its own IA investigation. Sarni was questioned about a month later, and the department found that Sarni’s actions were inappropriate and that he had not been truthful during the IA interview.
Administrative charges were filed against him, but after the 45-day requirement — a decision that had repercussions.
A hearing officer dismissed all of the administrative charges against Sarni and found problems with the IA investigation, including that the department broke the 45-day rule to file charges. However, Mayor Thomas Lankey opted to terminate Sarni’s employment, in opposition to the findings by the hearing officer.
Subsequently, Sarni sued the township and the department, seeking reinstatement. He claimed the township did not file administrative charges within the 45-day requirement and that Lankey did not have the authority to defy the hearing officer’s recommendation not to terminate Sarni.
Sarni’s attorney Steve Cahn, of Cahn & Parra, Edison, said his client is pleased to be going back to work.
“He has been a police officer for 10 years,” Cahn said adding that Sarni is a Marine Corps veteran. “He has several letters of commendation in his file and has been for a long time a good police officer.”
Cahn said as far as the town’s position, he said, “It is hard to understand beyond it appears to be more about taking a political stand than based on the facts or the laws.”
“The case has been fully and fairly heard twice,” he said. “There have been two determinations, one by a hearing officer they chose and one by a very experienced Superior Court judge, that Sarni is not guilty of any misconduct. Time for this case to come to an end.”