The legal battle between Phil Rizzo and the Morris County Republican Committee really isn’t the “trial of the century.” It only seems that way.
Both sides gathered Monday morning over zoom in small claims court in what was at least the fourth attempt to resolve the matter.
But before that happened, Rizzo’s lawyer, Ronald Berutti, asked for a change of venue, suggesting that Morris Republicans “hold sway” over what happens in the county courthouse.
The notion of politics influencing the administration of justice didn’t go over all that well.
Joseph Bell IV, the lawyer for the Morris GOP, called the accusation “offensive” and “wildly speculative.”
And guess what?
Judge David J. Weaver agreed; the hearing stayed put.
But there was more.
“I am a Sussex County judge,” Weaver said. In the organization of New Jersey courts, Morris and Sussex counties are in the same “vicinage.”
Nonetheless. Weaver clearly wanted to make the point that as a judge from Sussex County, he would not be swayed by any alleged influence of Morris Republicans.
All this is over $1,500 Morris Republicans claim Rizzo failed to pay for a table at last March’s nominating convention.
Rizzo was seeking the party’s nod for the CD-7 congressional seat. Tom Kean Jr. won both the convention and ultimately, a seat in Congress last month.
A reasonable person may wonder why all this fussing over 1,500 bucks – among Republicans no less. Isn’t everyone on the same team?
But if you watched Rizzo’s campaigns for governor in 2021 and for Congress last spring, you get it.
He portrays himself as a man fighting the corrupt establishment. That includes, of course, Democrats, but also the state’s Republican leaders, many of whom Rizzo lambastes on Twitter.
For example, as the trial ensued, his lawyer alleged that separate from the battle over $1,500, the Rizzo campaign paid $600 for advertising, but that the committee never provided any. He has filed a counterclaim,
Berutti also complained about the convention itself, saying at one point that ballot counting took place in the “dark of night.” Given the fact the convention was held at night, that would have been hard to avoid.
At any rate, the convention results do not seem to be a part of the case.
The only witness today was Anthony DeSpirito, the executive director of the Morris County Republican Committee.
Bolstered by the display of emails, DeSpirito said he contacted the Rizzo campaign and Rizzo himself “multiple times” about the outstanding $1,500 bill to no avail.
Berutti, Rizzo’s lawyer, objected numerous times, claiming some of the testimony was hearsay. The judge overruled most of his objections and Bell, at times, seemed perplexed by them.
So much so that Berutti was prompted to say:
“Mr. Bell’s poking at me for objecting is inappropriate.”
Weaver stopped the trial – and the chippiness – around 3:30 p.m.
It is scheduled to resume Jan.23.