David Azotea Successfully Defends Wrongful Termination Lawsuit


Judge says Levy’s firing of 3 Atlantic City workers in 2006 was not political retribution

ATLANTIC CITY –  The Levy administration’s firing of three workers was not political retribution, a Superior Court judge has ruled in a 4-year-old case involving a man whose current city employment is under investigation.

Mark Hamilton, Cheri Spragan and Lisa Hood all worked for Lorenzo Langford during his first term in office. But when Bob Levy took over in January 2006, the three were fired.

They sued Levy, then-Business Administrator Domenic Cappella and the city, claiming Langford had given each permanent status in late 2005, just before leaving office.

But letters from the state Department of Personnel in the case say that none of the three had legitimate placement under civil service guidelines, Judge Nelson Johnson said in his ruling.

“I’m very happy,” said David Azotea, who represented Levy and Cappella. “We had always maintained there was no political retaliation in this case. We completely agree with the judge’s decision.”

In the written ruling, Johnson bemoans the frequency of emplo   yment lawsuits in the city, saying they are “a plague on the body politic and undermine any hope of stability in City Hall.”

Borrowing from political theorist and Prussian Gen. Carl von Clausewitz’s comment on war, Johnson called employment lawsuits in Atlantic City “the continuation of politics by another means.”

“While such claims are not unique to Atlantic City,” he wrote, “the degree to which they have become commonplace is disconcerting.”

Since Langford’s return to office, Hamilton (a longtime friend and former business partner) has been appointed superintendent of Weights and Measures. The state Attorney General’s Office is now investigating that hiring.

In the 2006 matter, letters from DOP manager Leslie Summiel state that there are no records showing any of the three were granted permanent status.

Although Langford signed certifications for both Hood and Hamilton, they were missing the necessary signatures, Summiel wrote. In Spragan’s case, her certification as senior cashier was never sent to the DOP. None was properly appointed from an active list, but instead were appointed to the positions provisionally.

Those appointments are allowed under civil service, but permanent placement must be made from a certified and active DOP list. In the cases of Hood and Spragan, the lists they were on had expired when Langford attempted to make the positions permanent, Summiel wrote.

The suits “would have the court ignore the DOP’s findings,” Nelson wrote. “That would be improper.”

He said, in these cases, the department “possesses primary jurisdiction.”

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