Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Nutley secretly pays $40,000 to settle police officer's suit against Township and Mayor.

Alphonse Petracco
Mayor of Nutley
On October 14, 2014, the Township of Nutley (Essex County) agreed to pay $40,000 to a retired Township police officer who said that Township officials, particularly Mayor Alphonse Petracco, harassed and retaliated against him and ultimately left him with "no reasonable choice but to retire" in February 2013.

In his suit, Michael Patrick O'Halloran claimed that Petracco lived "above the law" by, for example, a) using the Nutley Fire Department's generators "to power his personal deli business during an extended power outage, when other facilities in town went without power;" b) signing and handing out PBA cards to his cronies; c) parking on the sidewalk in front of his deli and d) using police vehicles for personal use, such as for hunting trips to Mendham and to go to out-of-town parties.  O'Halloran also claimed that Commissioner Thomas J. Evans tried to force him to amend an accident report involving Evans' son.   O'Halloran claimed that when he objected to Petracco's conduct and reported him to the Essex County Prosecutor's office, Petracco retaliated by, for instance, interfering with his overtime pay and by taking adverse action against O'Halloran's mother, who was also a Township employee.

The case is captioned O'Halloran v. Nutley, Essex County Superior Court, Docket No. ESX-L-5246-13 and O'Halloran's attorney was Patrick P. Toscano of Caldwell.  Case documents are on-line here.

The settlement agreement contains a confidentiality clause, which prevents the parties to the suit from publicly disclosing the settlement terms.  Fortunately, however, these confidentiality clauses do not trump the public's right to obtain copies of settlement agreements that arise out of lawsuits in which a government agency or official is a defendant.

None of O'Halloran's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $40,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Nutley or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Nutley or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay O'Halloran $40,000 than take the matter to trial. Perhaps the defendants' decision to settle was done to save further legal expense and the costs of trying what were in fact exaggerated or meritless claims. Or, perhaps the claims were true and the defendants wanted to avoid being embarrassed at trial. This is the problem when cases settle before trial--it is impossible to know the truth of what really happened.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Former Somerset Fire District chairman quietly settles defamation suit.

On June 26, 2014, Michael Gilliam, the former chairman of Franklin Township (Somerset County) Fire District No. 3 Board of Commissioners secretly settled his defamation lawsuit against several fire officials.

The agreement, under which Gilliam received $240,000, settled his claims against East Franklin Volunteer Fire Department Chief Daniel Krushinski and President Christopher Fischer, Community Volunteer Fire Department Chief Richard Ries and Board Chairman Herman Calvo and Fire Commissioner Douglas Krushinski.  Also named in but previously dismissed from Gilliam's lawsuit were the East Franklin and Community Departments and Fire District No. 3.

Gilliam's lawsuit, filed on March 30, 2011, claimed that fire officials made written and verbal statements that falsely portrayed him as someone who engages in unlawful sexual acts with minors.  According to Gilliam, these defamatory statements were made in retaliation for him, as a Fire Commissioner, subjecting the two fire departments to increased financial oversight.

The settlement agreement is on-line here and more information regarding Gilliam's lawsuit is on-line here.

Unfortunately, the Fire District's insurer, the American Alternative Insurance Corporation, refused to release the settlement agreement in response to my Open Public Records Act (OPRA) request made in 2014.  This refusal required me and attorney Walter M. Luers of Clinton to file a lawsuit to force disclosure of the settlement agreementhere.
.  More information on that suit is on-line

Friday, March 6, 2015

Deptford school board quietly pays $190,000 to settle gay teacher's harassment and discrimination suit.

On March 3, 2013, the Deptford Township Board of Education (Gloucester County) agreed to pay $190,000 to a homosexual male Deptford High School Spanish teacher who claimed to have been "subjected to continuous and egregious harassment based upon his sexual orientation and/or perceptions held regarding his sexual orientation by students at the high school."

In his suit, Marc A. Lopez said that students would repeatedly call him a "fag," "faggot" or "fruity." He also said that they would sing "It's raining men" to him.  Lopez claimed that school officials did not take action to abate the harassment which caused Lopez to request a transfer in January 2011.  Instead, he said he was "laid off" in April 2011. He charged that the school failed in its obligation to provide him "with a working environment free of unlawful discrimination, retaliation and harassment."

The case is captioned Lopez v. Deptford Board of Education, Docket No. GLO-L-2175-11 and Lopez's attorney was Kevin M. Costello of Mount Laurel.  Case documents are on-line here.

The settlement agreement contains a confidentiality clause, which prevents the parties to the suit from publicly disclosing the settlement terms.  Fortunately, however, these confidentiality clauses do not trump the public's right to obtain copies of settlement agreements that arise out of lawsuits in which a government agency or official is a defendant.

None of Lopez's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $190,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Deptford or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Deptford or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Lopez $190,000 than take the matter to trial. Perhaps the defendants' decision to settle was done to save further legal expense and the costs of trying what were in fact exaggerated or meritless claims. Or, perhaps the claims were true and the defendants wanted to avoid being embarrassed at trial. This is the problem when cases settle before trial--it is impossible to know the trut
h of what really happened.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

West Wildwood pays $350,000 to settle retaliation lawsuit filed by local couple.

On December 31, 2014, the Borough of West Wildwood (Cape May County) agreed to pay $350,000 to settle a lawsuit a local couple filed on July 9, 2012 against the Borough and its then Mayor Herbert Frederick and Commissioner Gerard McNamara.  The lawsuit, which spans 235 paragraphs, claims that Borough officials retaliated against the couple because they took a role in a seeking a recall election.

In their suit, James and Lori Perloff claimed that Frederick and McNamara had a sixty-six foot wall built in the public right of way adjacent to their property that prevented them "from utilizing the garages and driveway on their property."   According to the Perloffs, this was just one of many retaliatory actions Frederick and McNamara took against them for politically opposing them.

The case is captioned the James and Lori Perloff v. Borough of West Wildwood, et al, Federal Case No. 10-cv-05408 and the Perloffs's attorney was Dominic R. DePamphilis of Egg Harbor Township.  Case documents are on-line here.

None of the Perloffs' allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $350,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by West Wildwood or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that West Wildwood or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay the Perloffs $350,000 than take the matter to trial. Perhaps the defendants' decision to settle was done to save further legal expense and the costs of trying what were in fact exaggerated or meritless claims. Or, perhaps the claims were true and the defendants wanted to avoid being embarrassed at trial. This is the problem when cases settle before trial--it is impossible to know the truth of what really happened.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Ocean City pays $150,000 to settle police assault/excessive force suit

On December 31, 2014, the City of Ocean City (Cape May County) agreed to pay $150,000 to a local woman who sued the Ocean City Police Department and one of its officers for allegedly assaulting her without justification.

In her suit, Monica Raab said that on May 11, 2010, she observed Ocean City Police Officer Jessie Scott Ruch in front of her home looking at a garden trailer that was parked there.  She said that when she went outside to inquire as to what Ruch was doing, he told her that he "getting rid of the trash on the street," referring to the trailer, which had been parked there for about a month.  The trailer was owned by Raab's brother-in-law who lived about two blocks away. When Ruch said that he intended to tow the trailer, Raab, her daughter and another person offered to put it in Raab's driveway and, by pushing, got it over the curb and into her driveway.

Raab claimed that Ruch then pushed her to the ground without provocation and handcuffed her, injuring her in the process.  He allegedly also "continued to pull and twist [her] right arm over and over again causing her to repeatedly hit her head on the pavement." Ruch also allegedly pushed Raab's daughter into the bushes.

Raab's suit claimed that a second officer named Campbell then arrived and ordered Ruch to take the handcuffs off of her.  Ruch complied and Raab claims that she was not charged with any crime arising from the incident.

The case is captioned Raab v. Ocean City, Federal Case No. 1:11-cv-06818 and Raab's attorney was Paul R. Rizzo of Warren.  Case documents are on-line here.

None of Raab's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $150,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Ocean City or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Ocean City or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Raab $150,000 than take the matter to trial. Perhaps the defendants' decision to settle was done to save further legal expense and the costs of trying what were in fact exaggerated or meritless claims. Or, perhaps the claims were true and the defendants wanted to avoid being embarrassed at trial. This is the problem when cases settle before trial--it is impossible to know the truth of what really happened.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Monmouth County pays $20,000 to settle whistleblower suit, withdraws firing and allows employee to resign.

On November 29, 2014, the County of Monmouth agreed to pay $20,000 to its Transportation Division's former Operations Manager who sued the County for allegedly firing her after she complained that her supervisor was having her and another employee use County resources to campaign for a Republican Freeholder candidate.

The plaintiff, Jean A. Meroni, served the County's Transportation Division since 1997 and was the Program Coordinator for the Senior Citizen's Area Transportation [SCAT] Program.  According to her complaint, Meroni's employment with the County was smooth until her supervisor, Henry Nicholson, was replaced by new Division Director Kathleen Lodato.

In her complaint, Meroni said that Lodato was "highly politically active" within the Republican Party.  She allegedly had campaign literature in her office and "regularly dropp[ed] the names of Lieutenant Governor Kim Guadagno, 'Tommy' (Republican Freeholder Tom Arnone) and 'Curley' (Republican Freeholder John Curley.)"  Meroni alleged that Lodato "wrongfully and illegally required her assistance with political campaigning for the Republican Party during work hours."  She claimed that on May 25, 2011, Lodato had her and another worker "photocopy Republican campaign literature for Republican Freeholder candidate Gary Rich on the County copier, as well as stuff envelopes for mailing."

Meroni said that she brought her complaints about Lodato to Monmouth County Freeholder Amy Mallet, who, at the time, was the sole Democrat on the Freeholder Board.  She also discussed her complaints with Mallet's confidential aide, Keith Rella, and Human Resources Director Kevin Burke.  County officials were allegedly concerned that Meroni's allegation would start a "political maelstrom." Meroni alleged that Monmouth County Special Counsel Steven W. Kleinman recommended that she "retract her allegations against Ms. Lodato" and eventually told her "that this was her 'last chance' to withdraw her claims."  When she wouldn't retract her claim, Meroni said that County officials "joined Ms. Lodato's campaign of retaliation, seeking to conceal Ms. Lodato's wrongdoing and to focus the negative attention on [Meroni] instead."

Meroni claimed that she was thereafter was stripped of her job duties and was made the subject of "a bogus internal investigation" that clamed that she knew of and participated in a "sick-out" that occurred six months prior. She alleged that she was subjected to a hostile work environment and that Lodato even made her perform "housekeeping tasks, such as cleaning and vacuuming."  On September 15, 2011, a "farcical" disciplinary hearing was held which resulted in her being fired.  Her firing was sustained on appeal after a 15-day hearing before Administrative Law Judge John R. Futey.  Meroni's appeal of her firing to the Appellate Division of the Superior Court was dismissed as part of the settlement.

In addition to the $20,000 payment, the County also agreed to allow Meroni to resign effective August 22, 2011 provided that she never again seeks future County employment.  Any future prospective employers who inquire about Meroni's previous employment with the County will be told that she resigned.

The settlement agreement contains a confidentiality clause, which prevents the parties to the suit from publicly disclosing the settlement terms.  Fortunately, however, these confidentiality clauses do not trump the public's right to obtain copies of settlement agreements that arise out of lawsuits in which a government agency or official is a defendant.  Meroni and the County also agreed not to disparage or defame each other.

The case is captioned Meroni v. County of Monmouth, Docket No. MON-L-2193-12.  Meroni was represented by Gina Mendola Longarzo of Chatham and Steven A. Varano of Totowa.  Case documents are on-line here: (complaint part 1) (complaint part 2) (settlement agreement).

None of Meroni's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $20,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Monmouth or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Monmouth or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Meroni $20,000 than take the matter to trial. Perhaps the defendants' decision to settle was done to save further legal expense and the costs of trying what were in fact exaggerated or meritless claims. Or, perhaps the claims were true and the defendants wanted to avoid being embarrassed at trial. This is the problem when cases settle before trial--it is impossible to know the truth of what really happened.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Stafford pays $13,750 to settle police assault/excessive force suit

On January 22, 2015, the Township of Stafford (Ocean County) agreed to pay $13,750 to a Manahawkin man who sued members of the Stafford Police Department for allegedly assaulting him and applying excessive force.

In his suit, Ian Wolfer said that on October 15, 2011, he was "assaulted without justification and with excessive force by" Stafford Police Officers Christopher Smith, Albert Haldenwang and Robert Woodring.

Also named in the suit were Stafford Police Chief Joseph Giberson.

The case is captioned Wolfer v. Stafford, Federal Case No. 3:13-cv-06096 and Wolfer's attorney was Thomas J. Mallon of Freehold.  Case documents are on-line here.

None of Wolfer's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $13,750 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Stafford or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Stafford or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Wolfer $13,750 than take the matter to trial. Perhaps the defendants' decision to settle was done to save further legal expense and the costs of trying what were in fact exaggerated or meritless claims. Or, perhaps the claims were true and the defendants wanted to avoid being embarrassed at trial. This is the problem when cases settle before trial--it is impossible to know the truth of what really happened.