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Newton’s mayor, ex-chief battle over role in lawsuit

Matthew Cummings, seen at the time of his promotion to chief of Newton’s Police Department in January 2009.

Matthew Cummings, seen at the time of his promotion to chief of Newton’s Police Department in January 2009.

Newton Mayor Setti Warren has been fighting an effort by the city’s former police chief to have him give a deposition in a federal civil-rights lawsuit filed by a Police Department secretary who says she was wrongly fired.

The mayor said in court documents that he has no knowledge of the case, and called the attempt to depose him “frivolous retaliation” for his decision to fire Matthew Cummings as police chief last fall.

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“We’ll be happy to have the facts come out,” Cummings’ lawyer, Timothy Burke, said last week. “If he has nothing to hide, he shouldn’t have any problem going to the deposition and answering questions under oath.”

On Friday, an electronic order was entered in the online federal court filings granting Warren’s motion to quash the deposition. By press time, neither Burke nor Newton city solicitor Donnalyn Kahn could be reached.

In a series of documents filed this month in US District Court, lawyers for Warren and Cummings each denied that their client was responsible for making the decision to pursue criminal charges against Jeanne Sweeney Mooney.

A longtime executive administrator in the Police Department, she sued the city after being accused of stealing office funds and placed on paid administrative leave in September 2011.

Mooney, who was acquitted last month on a charge of larceny over $250, contends she was set up after she began complaining about Cummings in 2010. Her lawsuit alleges that the mayor, Cummings, and several Police Department employees violated her civil rights and illegally retaliated against her by filing “false criminal charges” against her for speaking out.

Mooney remained on paid leave until a few weeks ago, according to Kahn. The city invited Mooney back to work, Kahn said, but she has not returned, and is instead receiving sick pay. Mooney’s lawyer said several matters need to be worked out before his client can return to work.

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The suit names as defendants the city, Warren in his capacity as mayor, Cummings, and two police employees. Mooney’s lawyer, John Tocci, said his client is seeking damages of more than $1.1 million.

Burke said the city was attempting to quash Warren’s deposition only so that the mayor would not have to answer questions under oath.

“We’re a codefendent and we have the right to do discovery that’s going to benefit my client’s defense,” he said last week.

Kahn, who filed the motions on Warren’s behalf to quash the deposition notice, declined to discuss the issue.

“I think we stated in our motion that it was intended to harass and retaliate against the mayor for firing Chief Cummings,” she said. “I’m not going to comment on pending motions in a live litigation matter. That’s just not how we practice.”

Cummings did not respond to a request to comment, and Warren declined to comment.

The filings are the latest development in a dispute that has roiled the Police Department for nearly two years, leading to the chief’s dismissal in October.

In September 2011, Mooney was accused of stealing an envelope containing $660 in cash that the department collected through various permit fees, and of destroying nearly $1,500 in checks and a schedule of payments. She was placed on administrative leave.

Mooney alleges she was set up by Cummings, Lieutenant Edward Aucoin, and Vincent Nguyen, a former co-worker in the chief’s office.

Aucoin and Nguyen are the other department employees named as defendants in her lawsuit.

According to Mooney’s court filings, the theft allegations were in retaliation for her having complained that the chief had asked her to take on additional duties without negotiating with the union, and questioned a raise he had received. The lawsuit also cites incidents in which Cummings allegedly called Mooney a “bitch” and told her that she looked like a “whore,” and kicked her foot, breaking her shoe and causing a gash.

An investigation commissioned by the city corroborated some of Mooney’s complaints against Cummings — such as the kicking incident and the chief’s inappropriate comments – but dismissed other allegations. Cummings was removed from his post following the report’s release last August.

Mooney’s lawsuit says the city pursued the criminal charges against her after she filed a demand for $600,000 in damages in May 2012.

“On information and belief, Mayor Warren played a significant role in the initiation and maintenance of false criminal charges against Ms. Mooney,” the lawsuit states.

The city’s motion to quash the deposition requirement for Warren, filed by Kahn on June 6, stated that “Mayor Warren has no personal knowledge of the allegations set forth in this case,” and said the true reason for the deposition notice was “to harass Mayor Warren and retaliate against’’ his decision to fire Cummings.

Submitting to a deposition, Kahn’s motion stated, would interfere with Warren’s responsibilities running the city.

Cummings’ lawyer countered in another court filing that Warren had been involved in discussions about whether to pursue criminal charges against Mooney, and that at a June 1, 2012, meeting the mayor “specifically stated that criminal charges would be pursued against the Plaintiff.”

Cummings, Burke’s motion stated, “did not act independently, and the final decision regarding the filing of the criminal complaint against the Plaintiff rested solely with Mayor Warren.”

In a court filing this month, Kahn repeated her objections to the deposition saying that Warren should be allowed to “attend to the needs of the City and not engage in frivolous retaliation over Mayor Warren’s decision to fire Cummings as Police Chief.

Burke said he and the city have completed an arbitration hearing over whether there was a legitimate basis to fire Cummings, but no decision had been made.

Evan Allen can be reached at evan.allen@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @evanmallen.

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