Roselle Mayor Donald Shaw has made news by evicting a disabled senior citizen from his home of 24 years, failing to disclose his criminal conviction for selling heroin when he was hired as recreation director, and running up nearly $5000 in EZ Pass violations but instead of responding to requests for interviews, he is taking a page from the playbook of former Republican President Donald Trump and attacking the messenger.
Shaw, an Elizabeth homeowner who is seeking re-election as Mayor of Roselle while the borough government is in pandemonium, suffering an exodus of top-level employees that left major gaps in municipal services, is now lashing out in desperation by importing campaign workers from Hudson County who were paid $500 each to pass out leaflets and filing an unprecedented lawsuit aimed at silencing critics in the media.
In a lawsuit filed Friday, Shaw wants to silence journalists who have exposed his misconduct in the waning days of his primary election campaign, in an act of desperation as former Assemblyman Jamel Holley appears likely to win the Democratic nomination.
“Roselle Mayor Donald Shaw is a convicted drug dealer who spent time behind bars at New York’s notorious Riker’s Island after he admitted to selling heroin,” said James J. Devine, a former Elizabeth Daily Journal reporter who became publisher of New Jersey’s oldest weekly newspaper in 1997.
Devine, a progressive campaign strategist, was credited with helping Bill Clinton become the first Democrat to earn New Jersey’s electoral votes since 1964, when he served as political director at the Democratic State Committee.
He also managed Wilda Diaz’s 2008 upset landslide victory for mayor of Perth Amboy and guided Lisa McCormick’s stunning performance in the 2018 US Senate primary, in which the challenger earned nearly four out of ten ballots cast on a budget of less than $5000.
Shaw falsely alleged that the publisher of New Jersey’s oldest weekly newspaper is ‘a political committee’ but his hopes to freeze the assets of Devine and others associated with the newspaper are expected to result in a strong rebuke.
Devine said he is considering a federal action against Shaw using the Ku Klux Klan Act, a law enacted to enforce the Provisions of the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States.
The journalist and Democratic consultant said he is looking for a lawyer to draft a complaint alleging conspiracy to intimidate and retaliate against him by anti-abortion state Senator Joseph Cryan, who has orchestrated an off-the-books smear campaign against Holley in Roselle that illegally coordinated with Shaw and others.
“Any bona fide newspaper is exempt from political campaign financial disclosure laws so the publication that was mailed to residents of Elizabeth, Union, and Roselle — as well as its digital online embodiment, NJTODAY.NET—is not required to make any reports to the Election Law Enforcement Commission,” said Devine. “In fact, New Jersey law has a strong newspaper shield law that protects journalists from having to answer any questions concerning the gathering of information and publication of stories. I hope to have the lawyers who filed this complaint disbarred or otherwise sanctioned for this blatant abuse of process.”
The New Jersey Shield Law, N.J.S.A. 2A:84A-21 et seq. and N.J.R.E. 508 “provides the news media far-reaching protections that are equaled by few states in the nation.” It affords journalists a broad privilege against compulsory disclosure of the information they gather and the identities of the sources of that information.
Among the stories that accurately describe Shaw’s misconduct are:
Shaw’s use of a municipal car for out-of-state driving stuck taxpayers with almost $5,000 worth of E-ZPass violations
Shaw evicted a disabled tenant who had occupied his apartment for 24 years before the Roselle mayor became an Elizabeth homeowner and doubled the rent.
A report that proved Shaw somehow evaded a process for criminal background checks prior to being hired as recreation department director after spending nine months behind bars at New York’s notorious Rikers Island prison facility.
Devine said he expects Shaw’s case to be laughed out of court but he added that if the proposed Order to Show Cause is signed, then a judge is going to be looking at charges under 42 U.S.C. § 1986, which imposes civil liability upon persons who know of a planned civil rights violation but fail to prevent it.
First Amendment experts say attacks on free speech rights are escalating across the United States, and Shaw’s desperate lawsuit is symptomatic of that trend.
Devine said that the law firm representing Shaw—Antonelli Kantor Rivera—makes most of its money by soaking taxpayers.
Antonelli Kantor Rivera and its attorneys have government contracts with the Borough of Roselle Park; City of Linden; Town of Dover; Township Attorney for the Township of Union; County of Middlesex; Dover Water Commission; Borough of Caldwell; Borough of Fanwood; Borough of Sayreville; County of Middlesex; County of Union; City of East Orange; City of Elizabeth; City of Englewood; City of Hoboken; City of Jersey City; City of Newark; City of Perth Amboy; City of Plainfield; City of Trenton; City of Trenton Water Works; Hudson County School of Technology; Joint Meeting of Essex and Union Counties; Middlesex County Improvement Authority; Town of Dover; Town of Rahway; Township of Bloomfield; Township of East Hanover; Township of Edison; Township of Hillside; Township of Livingston; Township of North Bergen; Township of Parsippany; Township of Union; Township of West Caldwell; Town of West New York; Township of West Orange; Union County Improvement Authority; Union County Utilities Authority; City of Hoboken; City of Plainfield; City of Trenton; Township of Irvington; City of Hackensack; Township of West Caldwell; City of Trenton; Township of Hillside; Town of Dover; Borough of Fanwood; Borough of South River; and Township of West Caldwell.
“We are seeing tremendous attacks on First Amendment freedoms across the country right now, at all levels of government. Censorship is proliferating, and it’s deeply troubling,” said Joe Cohn, legislative and policy director with the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression.
“This year, we’re seeing a wave of bills targeting drag performances, where simply being gender nonconforming is enough to trigger the penalty. We’re also seeing a wave of bills regulating what can be in public or K-12 school libraries,” Cohn said. “On college campuses, we have been tracking data about attempts to get faculty members punished or even fired for speech or expression and the numbers are startling — it’s the highest rate that we’ve seen in our 20 years of existence.”
First Amendment rights had been stable in America for decades, said Ken Paulson, director of the Free Speech Center at Middle Tennessee State University, but in recent years many states have reverted to the anti-speech tactics employed by people like Sen. Joe McCarthy during the “Red Scare” of the early 1950s.
McCarthy and others tried to silence political opponents by accusing them of being communists or socialists, using fear and public accusations to suppress basic free speech rights. The term “McCarthyism” became synonymous with baseless attacks on free expression, and the U.S. Supreme Court has referred to the phenomena in several First Amendment-related rulings.
“We are seeing a concerted wave that we have not seen in decades,” said Paulson, highlighting states like Florida where Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis has pushed for legislation that would criminalize drag shows, limit what pronouns teachers can use for students, allow parents to determine what books can be in libraries and block some history classes entirely.
“It’s pretty mind-boggling that so many politicians are waving the flag of freedom while doing anything they possibly can to infringe on the free speech rights of Americans,” Paulson said.