Montclair, NJ – During public comment at a February 21 Montclair Township Council meeting, three residents made statements alleging that Councilor at Large Peter Yacobellis has a conflict of interest and should recuse himself from all votes, discussions and related communications connected to the Lackawanna Plaza redevelopment. On Monday, two of those residents, Martin Schwartz and David Herron, learned they were being sued by Yacobellis, who alleges the two defendants engaged in a “self-interested, defamatory smear campaign designed specifically, as threatened, to damage Yacobellis’ reputation.”

Councilor at Large Peter Yacobellis

In an 18-page complaint filed in Superior Court of New Jersey, Yacobellis alleges defendants Schwartz and Herron engaged in defamation and false statements in a concerted scheme to pressure Yacobellis into recusal on the Lackawanna Plaza redevelopment plan. As a result of “outlandish and false statements” made by defendants Schwartz and Herron, Yacobellis stated he has suffered and will continue to suffer “material and reputational damage.”

The complaint also alleges that residents Anson Pope and Cathy Renna acted as “co-conspirators,” joining defendants Schwartz and Herron in defaming Yacobellis and demanding that Yacobellis meet with them or else they would “reveal” information that would be damaging to his reputation.

On January 13, 2023, Schwartz sent Yacobellis an email, with Herron, Pope, and Renna, among others, signed and copied, stating there was a pending “information reveal and political legal demand that is about to go out to the local media concerning the Lackawanna Redevelopment” that “would be very damaging to your reputation and standing with all our various leadership positions” in the town council and Out Montclair.

In the email mentioned in the complaint, Schwartz stated his goal was to help Yacobellis “preempt this media reveal,”  if Yacobellis would meet with him. Yacobellis says in the complaint that he “did not give in to their extortion attempt.”

Schwartz and Herron are also alleged to have made defamatory and false statements to third parties concerning Yacobellis, including but not limited to corruption and bribery through Yacobellis’ candidate committee and Out Montclair; Yacobellis soliciting or receiving funds from those with a financial interest in the Lackawanna Redevelopment while being compensated by the organization; and conflicts of interest due to Yacobellis’ involvement with Out Montclair.

As a result of the false and defamatory statements by defendants in public forums, Yacobellis claims suffering of material losses including but not limited to loss of email subscribers, loss of financial support, and injury to his reputation.

In the complaint, Yacobellis states he has lost a significant amount of subscribers from his mailing list since Defendants and co-conspirators have allegedly defamed him. Yacobellis also states he has” seen a decrease in attendance at his events and contributions to his candidate committee” and has had to field a substantial number of calls or messages from constituents who are worried about what they heard.

Yacobellis cites examples on social media where one constituent accused him of being corrupt and demanded he leave Montclair (the comment was removed by a group’s administrators) and another occasion, where a homophobic slur was used against Yacobellis, and subsequently reported to Facebook as “hate speech.”

Yacobellis states that defendants’ statements placed him in a false light and imply that he engaged in “wrongful, improper, dishonest, and/or criminal conduct.”


The complaint also cites as background Schwartz’s unsuccessful attempts to remain on the Planning Board after not being re-appointed by Mayor Sean Spiller and a proposal to the council to create a consulting role where he would provide grant writing and government lobbying for a Montclair Office of Economic, Community and Arts Development (MOECAD).

The complaint states that, in his proposal, Schwartz also noted several members of the community that he would bring together for MOECAD, including Save Montclair Founder Linda Cranston, co-defendant David Herron for the Advisory Board and, “ironically, BDP Holdings principle David Placek” for a “project focused committee.” Yacobellis says the town council never seriously considered Schwartz’ proposal and Schwartz has since allegedly  “regularly attacked members of the town council privately and publicly, including through the local press and on social media.”

In an email to local press Monday, Schwartz and Herron sent the following joint statement:

“We have not read the complaint yet. However, it’s shocking that an elected official continues to try to stifle and chill, constitutionally protected free speech. Speech that exposed what we believed was a conflict of interest. Therefore, Councilor Yacobellis acting inappropriately over the Lackawanna project.”

In a statement Monday, Yacobellis said:

“It is fair game — in fact it is a requirement of members of the public to question if their representatives have any conflicts of interest in conducting official business. It’s also a requirement in a healthy democracy to debate differences of opinions on policy with one’s representatives and for representatives to debate among themselves. But being in a democracy means that sometimes we don’t get our way and that needs to be respected.  The comments identified in my complaint unfortunately crossed a serious line. In the interest of protecting myself personally, as well as the integrity of our institutions and processes, I’ve decided to pursue this civil action.

On the matter of recusal, I continue to keep my options open while I listen to attorneys who understand ethics law. I’m not inclined to unilaterally create a new standard for recusal where one doesn’t already exist. Existing case law does not suggest I have any conflict of interest. My fear is that setting a new precedent could potentially cripple our government’s ability to function when you start to apply these standards consistently. The public can be assured that I take all of these issues very seriously and will remain guided by my conscience, my counsel, and my employer’s strict conflict of interest policies, to ensure I’m always coloring within the lines. I also think it’s important that my constituents understand that I have perspective here — delivering record affordable housing and a supermarket for my neighbors in the Fourth Ward, is much more important than me.”

Schwartz also sent an individual statement:

The Councilor’s seeming claims about my Montclair community service background are sadly laughable in their distortion. Peter himself even once invited me to and introduced me to speak at one of his own fundraisers, as someone very involved here with good government. I had been a strong supporter then. And some of his other former political supporters also actually tried to help him do the right thing and recuse himself, which he now says is somehow “extortion.” Until his actions over Lackawanna became apparent, the Councilor even privately continued to tell me that he wanted me back on the Planning Board to help protect our resident’s interests. In fact, he’s the one official here who actually fully supported setting up a needed hybrid, non-profit-public grants and economic development office to generate supplemental, non-taxpayer revenues for Montclair, from the 30 page proposal I drafted. That was after I had helped the Township secure a $5 million federal transportation grant to redo Montclair’s crossings and traffic lights on Bloomfield Avenue. So it’s a topsy-turvy world according to Peter today and unfortunately, his true political persona within now appears to be coming out.





28 replies on “Montclair Councilor Files Complaint Against Schwartz, Herron For Defamation, False Statements”

  1. There it is again: In the interst of “Democracy.”

    What do Spiller and Yacobellis now have in common as well? Somehow they are saving democracy for us. Spiller’s “Protecting our Democracy” slush fund PAC was a joke from the git-go but now Yacobellis, feeling harmed and threatened joins the clown parade with a lawsuit against two antagonists and it’s all about the “integrity of our institutions and processes.” No it is not. It is a personal counter-attack dressed up as somehow a more virtuous undertaking than it is. It is not “democracy.” It is a legal tactic, so call it that.

    And that’s okay. Better that than a duel, I suppose. But a duel between Martin Schwartz and Peter Yacobellis might be something I’d pay to see. Otherwise, please stop pretending this is about “Democracy.” It cheapens the word, and it cheapens those who invoke it incessantly. But I suppose cheap goes with the territory.

  2. Democracy?? How about in the interest of our real estate values! Will Montclair fall victim to Go Woke and Go Broke? I hope not. I get that Montclair is no longer a cool but sleepy suburb and is now a booming metropolis. What scares me is that a councilman, which was once basically a volunteer job, is worried about his livelihood which seems to rely on being a councilman. Is serving in Montclair now a stepping stone to bigger and better things? That can’t be good for the town. No wonder some lifelong residents are concerned. I once thought all these shenanigans were humous but this is not funny.

  3. You are a brave soul, Councilor Yacobellis. David versus the Goliath of Town ‘has beens’ trying to hold onto their power and influence. The every day people of this town see you and we’ve got your back.


    Township of Montclair
    1868 to 2023

    After a long illness of greed and mismanagement Montclair passed away at the Township’s last planning board meeting.

    Funeral arrangements have not yet been made, however the burial will take place at the ground breaking for the new development at Lackawanna Plaza.

    Community members will grieve the loss of this historical small town for generations to come.

  5. Let’s fill a time capsule of Baristanet comments and put it under the butchered meats dept in the state-of-the-art supermarket. Let’s open it whichever happens first:
    – whenever we next undertake a New Jersey Transit subsidized rewrite of our Master Plan of whatever town we will be calling ourselves
    – or, the state-of-the-art supermarket downsizes to a corner bodega

  6. It wasn’t so long ago, that Montclair used to play out their disagreements without wasting a court’s time. Where feelings weren’t so easily bruised by people simply stating their point of view. Imagine if every politician sued for the same reasons stated in this lawsuit? The courts would have no openings for years! I guess some people have the time and money for such tactics, something I wouldn’t know too much about. I am pretty surprised a lawyer is taking on such a case. I feel that a conflict of interest is something people question politicians on all the time. And as stated by the Mr. Yacobellis himself, “It is fair game — in fact it is a requirement of members of the public to question if their representatives have any conflicts of interest”. Well if he really believes that, then what is this case really about?

  7. As someday have noticed, I get endless enjoyment poking fun at everyone’s state-of-the-art supermarket concept. But, what really floats my boat is when we preface or postscript it with climate change. Yup, take the brain trust and have them explain how having 200-300 people an hour driving to what is effectively a “food” mall is not only right for the earth, but fits like a glove into our walkable city design. Yup. The retail of today will be the retail of tomorrow. We all know today, so we all know tomorrow will be very much the same. That with all that is happening in this world we van be assured a centrally located, state-of-the-art supermarket will be our touchstone to appreciate all the other changes around us.
    I can’t imagine how our sleepy, walkable piece of heaven survived without these ever bigger supermarkets.

    This is what I like about Montclair. We just let stuff happen to us. The world dictates, we take it… and we adjust. We make do until we reimagine perfect and say this was the plan all along.

  8. pardonmyfrench,

    Mr Herron announced at his kick-off event that he had filed a formal complaint with the State Attorney General’s office.

  9. Pardonmyfrench: That’s pitch perfect! Truly, it’s about hurt feelings. Did these people never make it out of 7th grade gym class? And montclairgirl…wow, I wish I’d thought of that obituary myself! Brilliant. Thank you.

  10. Frank. Thanks for answering. So you are saying it’s a tit-for-tat?

    A couple of things that stick out like a sore thumb in this town are agendas and hypocrisy. Remember when those MTC Kids First folks pounced at the chance to call Spiller’s situation a conflict of interest? It fit their anti-union agenda. But this, nah…it’s not Spiller. All good.

  11. We honestly don’t have to dig up conspiracies about insider deals by Yacobellis. He’s basing his decisions and votes on the solid principles of wanting to displace all low and moderate income residents from Montclair , destroying some of the areas where we can afford to live and gentrifying everything. He’s was trained well by Clinton and Cuomo. Vote for a neo-liberal get a neo-liberal.

  12. pardonmyfrench,

    No. Hardly. Schwartz & Herron were just the Messrs. I think the courts will determine if there were Mses. Sorry, couldn’t resist the word play humor.

  13. First, no one is arguing Spiller conflict. Just simply pointing out the agenda and hypocrisy. it’s a Montclair thing.

    Greg, you got that right. He was trained well. Thankful for the folks that are fighting back on it. He’d like folks to believe that he is somehow a hero to rent control too…but those of us paying attention saw his first reaction which was to fight against it. He’s not fooling anyone but fools.

  14. Once again, cryptic, Frank (9:16a). What a mess!
    This MESS is an unfortunate escalation toward Montclair “imploding”, best stated by Montclairgirl in her above “obituary”! So apropos….
    All due to the current high level of corruption operating within the current town council. So they own it. And yes, hurt feelings come with the territory of being a politician in town but shouldn’t they be “mature enough” to deal with it in a way that doesn’t lead the community to an even higher level of dysfunction and polarization with lawsuits?? But true colors do shine and people need to remember these defining moments. Agendas masked by disingenuous public speak. Quite sad for a community that once seemed very desirable to be a part of. The council (with very few exceptions) need to go; for the good of the town!

  15. sickntired,
    Yes, this Council continues to build on its poor reputation with every meeting and pronouncement. As you know, I said 6 months ago, after watching them for two years in their terms, they all need to go. I would have settled for symbolic recall petition and vote. Just to confirm the registered voters of this town were awake.

    The problem is a very large amount of registered voters in this Township need to go, too. They refuse to not only take any accountability, they wantonly avoid involvement with municipal issues. Yes, there are same 300-500 regular participants we can count on to come in & out of focus on issues. And then there are people like Councilor Russo who refuses to hold his constituents accountable and instead wants to do a reset, a do-over of our government structure. But, he still wants to utilize these apathetic, check-outed constituents to make whatever new form of governance work.

    Let’s be clear. We, Montclair, have become something of a big joke. It’s red, it’s blue. We might have the largest concentration of lackluster, self-absorbed register voters of any town our size in New Jersey. We should also own that.

    When this town starts doing better, maybe their elected representatives will do better. In the meantime, relax and enjoy the show. We won’t even rate a mention 25 years from now.

  16. Frank,
    As entertaining and simultaneously sad this show is in the big picture it is just small potatoes. People that are so concerned should look at who they vote for locally, statewide, and nationally and then start pointing fingers at themselves. The amount of corruption on every level is unbelievable. Even more unbelievable is that it is accepted. Look what is playing out in the banking sector, Ukraine, and pretty much everywhere a tax dollar is spent and it is enough to make Tony Soprano cringe…or wonder how he missed out. As long as people hear what they want to hear they will vote accordingly. As the Temptations sang many years ago, “Vote for me and I will set you free.” Now it’s more vote for me and everything will be free…until it’s not.
    25 years? With the way Montclair turns over its population I give it 5 years, maybe less.

  17. flipside,

    My political derailment award this week goes to Senator Elizabeth Warren’s assignment of Congressional blame…which MSNBC dutifully parroted.

  18. Frank,
    I find it difficult to listen to anything Warren says though like a broken clock every now and then she has point. Of course nothing is her fault. Now if she said that repealing Glass-Steagall was a mistake, that Barney Frank and Christopher Dodd should be in jail, that the government has no business being in the mortgage and student loan business, and that Congress is easily bought then I will pay attention. Until then…..what tribe was she from again? The Hakawi’s?

  19. The country should do what we do in Montclair with an underperforming government: declare a political version of Chapter 11 and restructure the government.

    A most entertaining moment in public comment was a very young man came up to the lecturn to speak and warned everyone this was his first time…and…he hoped he doesn’t have to come back!

  20. Pardonmyfrench recently published the obituary of the township of Montclair, New Jersey. That alarming news sent us back to the files where we found this item on the town in its final years.


    Name: Township of Montclair (No, not the one in California)

    Where do you live?
    Trick question? Obviously Here!

    When did you move here?
    1868. I was born here actually. You can look it up.

    Where did you grow up?
    I’m one of the lucky ones who never moved. As JonBon Jovi says, I was born here, gonna live here, probably die here. Or bury me here? Something like that. Hey, are there trademark violations if I misquote an artist’s lyrics? Better check with legal. Lord knows I’ve got enough on my hands with the courts.

    How do you make a living? OR What is your everyday passion?
    Mostly taxation. I ask for the money and they fork it over. Parking enforcement is another one. Pretty good gig. In fact some of my fellow towns are really jealous what I’ve got going here. But my passion? Are you kidding me? Have you ever stood in line at city hall? Or gone to a city council meeting? I mean, it has to be the best job in the world. There’s a German word, schadenfreude. Look it up. I don’t know what I would do if I couldn’t do this. It’s a dream job.

    Coffee, tea or … ?
    Mostly tap water. When the heavy metal content is super high is the best!

    What’s your idea of a perfect weekend day?
    Easy. Standing near the broken bridge in Edgemont Park, just staring. Or there’s this big parking lot near a train station, Laquananna or something, sometimes I just go there and smoke weed and wonder why there’re no cars.

    What’s your favorite local restaurant?
    The one that not only pays its taxes on time but all the fines, too. Ha, that’s a government joke.

    What’s on your nightstand?
    Profiles in Courage. (Okay, I’m being very ironic.)
    How To Lose A Homeowner in Two Fiscal Years.
    Tying You Up in Knots: My Bureaucratic Journey.

    What are you listening to?
    These days, I’m sort of fixed on Mozart’s Requiem. Can’t quite pin down why but I can’t get it out of my head.

    What are your current indulgences?
    Lawsuits. Absolutely lawsuits. And I am on a CRAZY spending spree. Some people are into cars, some shoes. But give me a big bond sale any time of the year. Also I’m looking forward to a coming default. Those can be Very exciting for a small, rich town that’s lost its basic common sense.

    What talent you would most like to have?
    I’d love to do impressions. Jimmy Stewart in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. I love his voice. All that good government and “looking out for the little guy” blather I could do without, but that voice! Hilarious.

    What’s the worst-kept (or best-kept!) secret about Montclair?
    That I used to be a pretty good town, stable and efficient and very, very open-minded. You know, that horrible T-Word: TOLERANT. But that was a while back. We all know it’s not my fault. Trump did it. And Fox.

    What do you hope they say about you at your funeral?
    That I was a nice place to live once and…I guess that I didn’t fall for the Kailasa Hoax?

  21. Correction: Montclairgirl reported the Obituary of the Township of Montclair. Apologies to you, Montclairgirl. Also, noted in the Crime Blotter, former mayor Sean Spiller was arrested by township police after interrupting the funeral service with a Mr. Microphone and wearing a fake mustache, shouting at the crowd from across Bloomfield Avenue while the Secretary of DEI (a new Cabinet Level position in the Kamala Harris Administration) was delivering the eulogy.

  22. This was simply too good to be missed, Moose. And I went back and re-read Montclairgirl’s obituary of Montclair. Maybe the town is dead or dying, or should have a DNR tag on its toe. But some readers of Baristanet still have a pulse, and eyes to see.

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