West Orange restaurant owner Jarrett Seltzer was in municipal court today to fight a steep fine for using window shades in his storefront. But one person will be noticeably absent from the courtroom — the mayor.
Seltzer, whose Bagels by Jarrett eatery has drawn a cult of diehards since opening amid the pandemic, was hoping to subpoena Mayor Susan McCartney to testify about an email she had sent him. The email, according to Seltzer’s attorney, was an attempt to broker a compromise, giving him permission to use sun shades at “certain times of the day,” a violation he is now fighting. But the presiding judge ruled against calling her to the stand.
“Subpoenaing a public official to come in and testify — I don’t take lightly,” Chief Judge Dennis Dowd said.
Nevertheless, McCartney’s emails can be used as evidence during the hearing. “The emails say what the emails say,” Judge Dowd said. “Are we going to bring her in here to testify that, yes, it’s my email? Why would you need the testimony on that?”
“I think it is pertinent and relevant that she come in and discuss why she would give Mr. Seltzer permission to keep his shades down at certain times of the day,” said Seltzer’s attorney Christopher Benevento.
It is difficult to say how the emails will affect the ruling, as the judge indicated that the mayor doesn’t have the authority to change how a local law is enforced. Instead, the case will be decided solely on the language of the ordinance and whether Seltzer was indeed in violation on the two days the township’s Zoning Officer and Director of Planning Geniece Gary-Adams issued the citations, costing more than $1,000 per day.
“You kind of indicated that you’ll ask her to interpret the ordinance — and that’s my job,” Judge Dowd said.
The ordinance that Seltzer is accused of violating is one that regulates the signage and window treatments on nonresidential buildings.
“He has riled up an entire community in really an outstanding way, basically blaming the town, and our position is he didn’t comply with the town ordinance,” McCartney told News12.
The law states that commercial buildings can’t cover more than a third of a window with attached signs. But those rules may not be set in stone. It also includes a line stating that the Director of Planning can relax the rule “with advanced written permission.”
Seltzer claims to have a cellphone recording of Gary-Adams effectively granting leniency toward the ordinance. But the township’s head zoning official said the quality of the recording made the recorded conversation unintelligible.
“Did you listen to it?” Benevento asked about the recording.
“I reviewed it,” Gary-Adams said.
“At the time, did you hear yourself state that Mr. Jarrett could have every other window shade up?” Benevento asked.
“It was very grainy,” Gary-Adams said. “I couldn’t even hear what I said.”
The cross-examination resumed at the Municipal Courthouse today. The Four Oranges will continue in-depth coverage of the court hearing tomorrow.