Stafford Leader

Stafford Settles Campaign Sign Lawsuit for $15,000

Mar 08, 2019
File Photo by: Ryan Morrill

Stafford Township has settled a lawsuit over a controversial 2018 election campaign sign. The settlement amount was $15,000 to cover legal fees, according to Township Attorney Jean Cipriani. The settlement agreement was announced as a resolution that was passed after a 20-minute executive session at the start of the March 5 municipal meeting.

The lawsuit concerned a 9-foot-by-5-foot sign, in support of Greg Myhre and his Republican team a few weeks before the 2018 election, that was displayed on the side of a trailer parked on private property along Route 72, a state highway that runs through Stafford Township.

The property in question is owned by the Hodgson family of Surf City, specifically Ursula Yahn (wife of William Hodgson) and Carol Johnson (wife of Surf City Mayor Francis Hodgson Sr., William Hodgson’s father).

The property owners were issued two summonses for ordinance violations. One was for “posting a political/ personal opinion sign over 16 square feet on property,” and the other was for an illegal trailer, according to Monmouth County Superior Court Judge Katie Gummer’s decision on order to show cause, dated Jan. 23. The Hodgsons fought the summonses by saying the ordinances were unconstitutional. Francis Hodgson III was the attorney for the plaintiff. The matter went to Monmouth County due to a conflict of interest where the property owners are related to an Ocean County judge, Francis Hodgson Jr.

Yahn said she had suffered financial damages and “irreparable injury” in being “deprived of her rights of free expression,” according to the court document.

Rather than go to trial, the parties settled out of court for $15,000.

Before the council voted on the resolution, Cipriani explained the Doctrine of Necessity would allow for the sitting council, the very people the sign supported, to vote on it – given they are now in office, so no other governing body can vote on it – even though it would be considered a conflict of interest otherwise.  —V.F.

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