Nothing illegal about Muck Monster protest Illegal assembly charges dropped against Richard Jones and Tom Mahedy

Staff Writer

By John burton

Nothing illegal about Muck Monster protest
Illegal assembly charges dropped against Richard Jones and Tom Mahedy

It didn’t take long for the Muck Monster to prevail in Red Bank Municipal Court. In a matter of a few minutes on Nov. 30, all charges were dismissed against Muck and his co-defendant.

Two earlier court dates were postponed by the borough, according to Richard Jones, who is the Muck Monster.

Jones, of Neptune, is an environmental activist given to wearing a costume resembling a cross between the Creature of the Black Lagoon and the Toxic Avenger, with a toilet seat draped around his neck.

He is frequently accompanied by Tom Mahedy, of Wall, who wears a costume consisting of a Vice President Al Gore mask and a mannequin’s head on his shoulder intended to represent Gov. Christine Whitman.

Jones and Mahedy have turned up at many area events — particularly political events — to protest and criticize Whitman and Gore for their lack of resolve in addressing the dumping of contaminated sludge at the Mud Dump off the coast of Sandy Hook.

On July 14 Jones and Mahedy were arrested in Marine Park while demonstrating during Whitman’s appearance at the Monmouth Boat Club, located directly next to the park.

Jones and Mahedy were in their Muck and Gore/Whitman costumes and brandishing a banner stating "Whitman and Gore Dump in Sea," when borough police arrived and cited them for "assembly to protest without a permit."

The borough has on its books an ordinance that requires a permit be issued for a public assembly, parade or demonstration.

Jones and Mahedy have maintained that the ordinance places an undo restriction on First Amendment rights protecting freedom of speech.

The ordinance defines a public assembly as "any public assembly, parade, march, block party, walk-a-thon, bike-a-thon, jogging group, ceremony, show, exhibition, pageant, procession of any kind or any similar display in or upon any street, sidewalk, park or other public place in the borough."

Anthony M. Sellitto Jr., the attorney representing Jones and Mahedy pro bono, said, the ordinance is badly drafted and too vague and broad sweeping.

"A town has a right to reasonably restrict people who are interfering with the flow of traffic," Sellitto acknowledged. "But this ordinance leaves a lot to be desired."

Sellitto said, as the ordinance is worded, he and his clients were technically violating it while standing in the Municipal Complex hallway outside of the courtroom.

"We’re violating the ordinance right here," he said. "Technically, Red Bank High School would have to get a permit to have a football game."

Sellitto submitted to the court a motion to dismiss, and the court agreed, noting the vagueness of the ordinance, he said.

"Without admitting there are problems," Sellitto said the borough’s attorney, Richard T. O’Connor, said he would be re-evaluating the ordinance and would be submitting a revised one for the mayor and council to consider.

"We’re going to look at the ordinance," O’Connor said when contacted later. "I am reviewing the ordinance and preparing something for review by the mayor and council."

O’Connor said he hoped to have the revised ordinance ready for the governing body within the month.

Borough Council President Pasquale Menna said he believed a reconsideration of the existing ordinance is in order.

"I think the way the ordinance has been drafted and applied raises serious First Amendment considerations," he said.

The purpose of the ordinance, according to Menna, is to strike a balance between individual constitutional rights and the public’s welfare.

"It’s about balancing First Amendment and freedom of speech issues and issues of public safety. And I believe both can be accomplished," Menna said. "As soon as you realize there’s a problem balancing First Amendment and public safety issues, you have to take the appropriate action.

"It would have been foolhardy to prosecute this ordinance," Menna said.

Mayor Edward J. McKenna Jr. agreed it is appropriate to take another look at the ordinance and see if it required "fine-tuning," he said.

"It has worked well since its passage, which doesn’t mean it’s perfect," McKenna said. "This is a good case to give it another look."

Jones said he plans to continue his protests on behalf of environmental issues.

"I’m happy that Red Bank recognized our constitutional rights," Jones said. "This is an ongoing thing. We still have a right to protest."

"There seems to be an ongoing movement to criminalize those who are working for positive social change," Mahedy said. "There’s also a growing movement of people who are determined to work toward these issues. And if the people continue to organize, they will overcome these obstacles."

Mahedy said the purpose of these types of ordinances, and the arbitrary enforcement of them, is not for public safety, but to curtail free speech and to prevent the public embarrassment of elected officials.

"I hope they [Borough Council] realize the effects of their actions," Mahedy said. "The selective enforcement has a chilling effect."