A state Superior Court judge has overturned the harassment conviction of one of three Sea Bright firefighters involved in a firehouse scuffle 18 months ago, redbankgreen has learned.
In an unwritten opinion, Judge Anthony Mellaci ruled from the bench in Freehold Friday that a municipal court judge had given “misplaced” credibility to the accusers of firefighter Justin Hughes, said Hughes’s attorney, Scott Servilla.
Hughes, 29, was found guilty of harassment for provocative statements, which he denied making, that 25-year-old Steven Lang, a former Marine, “should have died in Iraq.”
The alleged insults, in the Sea Bright firehouse bar during a wetdown ceremony for a new truck, were said to have incited attacks on Hughes by Lang and his brother, Peter Lang, 33. The scuffles, in which Hughes claimed he was injured, were captured on closed-circuit security video.
Lang and his brother were both convicted by Little Silver municipal court judge James Berube of assaulting Hughes.
All three came away with the same sentence: $500 in penalties, as well as a requirement to perform 100 hours of community service.
But Servilla, himself a Sea Bright fireman for 28 years, said Mellaci found that “there was insufficient proof to find that Justin had even made those statements.”
Asked to comment, Servilla said the ruling “speaks for itself. It was always clear to several people that Justin didn’t make any such statements.”
He declined to comment further, except to say that the events of October 9, 2010, were not representative of the character of the volunteer fire squad, which “has moved on in a positive direction” under the leadership of Chief Chad Murphy.
Hughes told redbankgreen that Mellaci’s ruling left him with “a smile on my face that couldn’t be any wider.”
It was unclear late Friday if the Langs had also appealed their convictions. William Wilson, the lawyer who represented the Langs, could not be reached for comment.
All three firefighters were expected to face disciplinary action by the borough council for violating employee policy. Hughes said he will now seek to have that action against him terminated based on Mellaci’s ruling.