A Princeton Municipal Court judge denied a request Monday afternoon to hold a probable cause hearing in the case of professor John Mulvey, who was arrested this summer for allegedly stealing several lawn signs promoting a local computer repair company.
A probable cause hearing is convened to determine whether prosecution has enough evidence to bring the defendant to trial. If the prosecution does not have enough evidence to suggest the possibility of guilt, then the case is dismissed.
Mulvey, a professor in the operations research and financial engineering department, was not present at the hearing.
Kim Otis, a lawyer for Mulvey, said that he had not in fact committed any theft, arguing that the signs were placed in the public right-of-way. He said that a municipal code ordinance allows “any interested party” to remove signs placed in the public right-of-way without the approval of the local zoning officer.
Otis said that he had spoken to Princeton Zoning Officer Derek Bridger, who was willing to testify that he had not given approval for the signs to be in the right-of-way. Otis presented a memorandum of law containing an affidavit from Bridger and requested a probable cause hearing once the judge had reviewed the documents.
“I don’t believe an individual is guilty of theft for removing unlawful signs when the ordinance gives any interested party permission to do that,” Otis said. “It was not a theft here to remove these signs.”
The signs in question were owned by Ted Horodynsky and advertised his company, Princeton Computer Repairs, Tutoring and Digital Services. Horodynsky told The Daily Princetonian about two months ago that the signs were on private property belonging to Joyce Johnson, who had authorized the sign placement. Johnson said that only Horodynsky’s signs were taken from her property, even though she has several others, including some political ones.
The ordinance cited by Otis, 10b-116 of the town code, says that if a person is in violation of the sign right-of-way rules, “any complaint to impose such penalty may be filed in municipal court on behalf of the state by the development enforcement officer, any municipal police officer, or any interested party.” He then cited ordinance 10b-299, which says that, “any violation of any provision of this article or of any rule, regulation or order made under the authority of this article may result in the removal of the offending sign and shall be punishable under section 10B-116 of the township code.” Otis said that these two ordinances together allowed Mulvey, acting as an interested party, to remove lawn signs in the right-of-way.
The judge, John F. McCarthy, denied Otis’ motion, saying that there is no rule that requires a probable cause hearing request to be fulfilled.
Otis responded that there was “nothing that precludes the court from ruling that there is no criminal offense here,” that it was a question of the law and that the facts were not in dispute. In response, McCarthy said the facts were in dispute, and that because the prosecutor alleged that the signs were on private property and not in the public right-of-way, the differing testimonies would have to be weighed against each other.
Otis requested further pretrial conferencing to review further the discovery of the zoning ordinance. No date has been set yet.
Horodynsky alleges that Mulvey took the signs as a result of a traffic incident the two had over a year ago, following which Horodynsky received a call from a man threatening to remove all advertisements for his company because Horodynsky had cut him off on Route 206.
Mulvey told officers that the signs “were distracting to look at, and he didn’t feel that Horodynsky had permission” to place his signs on that property,a police report reads.