Vernon judge has 9/11 memorial removed from courtroom

By Rob Jennings New Jersey Herald

VERNON– A memorial to the New Jersey victims of the 9/11 terrorist attacks was removed from the municipal courtroom after the judge warned it could be used as a weapon. Everett Paladini, of Vernon, said he spent around $3,000 building his sculpture, which is about 7 feet tall and weighs 275 pounds.A 6-inch marble base attaches to a 3-foot-high plexiglass in the shape of hexagon, which is topped by a plexiglass tower consisting of hundreds of acrylic pieces coming together in a spiral.

Each piece represents one of the 746 New Jersey residents killed in the attacks.

“I want it to be like a thorn in your side. I want it to be a reminder,” said Paladini, 66, who spent several years working on his sculpture.

After two Township Council members saw his sculpture at a 9/11 church ceremony last September, plans were made to install it in the council’s meeting room, which also serves as the courtroom.

In February, Paladini’s sculpture was installed near the front of the courtroom, near where the court officer stands.

Municipal Judge James Devine, though, eventually took exception to the display and ordered its removal.

“I do not believe that the courtroom is an appropriate location for the memorial,” Devine wrote in a three-paragraph memo to Mayor Victor Marotta on June 26.

Devine noted that “the Administrative Office of the Courts has consistently requested that we remove any non-essential items from the courtroom as these could be used as weapons.”

“As the court must maintain a secure environment, I believe that it would be in everyone’s best interest to remove the memorial to a secure place,” Devine wrote.

The judge, who also expressed a concern about the sculpture getting damaged inside the crowded room, wrote that he had “temporarily authorized the memorial to be placed in the other corner of the courtroom until it can be moved to a more secure location.”

Paladini said he was dismayed upon seeing his sculpture “put into the corner with some furniture.”

On July 2, he and his son moved it to the Vernon Township Historical Society building on Route 94, located a half-mile from the municipal building.

“If they don’t want the piece, I don’t want to put it there. It’s as simple as that,” Paladini said.

Paladini said moving the sculpture was not difficult.

“It’s in two pieces. It can be taken apart and moved quite easily,” he said.

Devine did not return a phone call.

Installing the sculpture in the courthouse was not Paladini’s doing. He took it to St. Francis deSales Church last September for a 9/11 ceremony attended by council members Brian Lynch and Patrick Rizzuto.

Rizzuto, according to the minutes of the September 12, 2011, council meeting, characterized it as a “beautiful piece of sculpture” and endorsed having it displayed.

Rizzuto could not be reached Wednesday.

Lynch, the council president, said he was disappointed by the sculpture’s removal but accepted the judge’s reasoning.

“His courtroom is a lot more contentious than our council meetings. If tempers were to flare, you never know what might happen,” Lynch said.

Devine, in his memo to Marotta, also expressed concern about the sculpture possibly getting damaged if left inside the courtroom.

“The room is overflowing with defendants, witnesses, police officers, attorneys and onlookers,” Devine wrote.

“The spot where the memorial is placed is where the court officer needs to stand during court. They are armed and if they turn around quickly the butt of their weapons could damage the memorial,” Devine wrote, adding that the sculpture “seems to be fragile.”

Paladini — who said he has built other sculptures, including two displayed at William Paterson University– said he was determined from the day of the terrorist attacks to design an appropriate tribute.

“This was something that struck at my heart,” he said of 9/11.

“I had to put this together,” he said of his sculpture.

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