Monday, May 2, 2016

Lower agrees to reinstate police officer's leave time and pay $15,000 to settle lawsuit.

On February 23, 2016, the Township of Lower (Cape May County) agreed to return 340 hours of accumulated leave time to a Township police officer and also to reimburse the officer $15,000 in attorneys fees.

In his suit, Officer Robert Hartman claimed that despite a departmental policy that allowed ill and injured offices to be placed on "light duty," he was denied the light duty designation and required to use his accumulated leave time from April 17, 2013 to June 17, 2013.  Hartman also vaguely claimed that Chief Brian Marker sent him a communication that "set forth threats and intimidation" and was intended to "extract a monetary penalty from him without legal basis."

As part of the settlement, the Township agreed "to remove the report of Dr. Matthew
Guller from the plaintiff's personnel/disciplinary file in connection with this matter"

The case is captioned Hartman v. Township of Lower, et al, Docket No. CPM-L-326-14 and Hartman's attorney was John C. Eastlack, Jr. of Cherry Hill.  Case documents are on-line here.

None of Hartman's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. Settlement agreements typically state that payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by any of the defendants.  All that is known for sure is that Lower or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather settle with Hartman than take the matter to trial. Perhaps the defendants' decision 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 resolve before trial--it is impossible to know the truth of what really happened.

Perth Amboy confidentially pays $850,000 to settle excessive force and malicious prosecution lawsuit.

On April 29, 2016, the City of Perth Amboy (Middlesex County) agreed to pay $850,000 to settle a local man's lawsuit that claimed that city police used excessive force against him and that a city police officer repeatedly lied on the stand to falsely convict him.

In his suit, Edwin Rodriguez claimed that Officer Davis Salazar entered into his residence on September 5, 2013 and assaulted him and arrested him for unlawful possession of a weapon, disorderly conduct, obstruction and resisting arrest.  He claimed that Salazar wrote up an untrue police report regarding his encounter with Rodriguez and that Officers Marino Diaz and Luis Perez, although aware that the report was untrue, did nothing to intervene.

Rodriguez claimed that Salazar's "knowingly false" testimony caused him to be convicted  of disorderly conduct offenses after a May 29, 2014 municipal court trial.  These convictions, he claimed, violated the conditions of his parole in a different matter causing him to be "remanded to the New Jersey Department of Corrections" where he remained in custody until August 25, 2014.  According to the complaint, Rodriguez's May 29, 2014 municipal court conviction was reversed on appeal.

The case is captioned Rodriguez v. City of Perth Amboy, et al, Docket No. MID-L-6473-13 and Rodriguez's attorney was Brian S. Schiller of Scotch Plains.  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 Rodriguez's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. Settlement agreements typically state that payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by any of the defendants.  All that is known for sure is that Perth Amboy or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Rodriguez $850,000 than take the matter to trial. Perhaps the defendants' decision 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 resolve before trial--it is impossible to know the truth of what really happened.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Longport Borough pays $70,000 to settle police lieutenant's whistleblower claim.

On December 23, 2014, the Borough of Longport (Atlantic County) agreed to pay $70,000 to settle a Borough police lieutant's lawsuit claiming that he was retaliated against for raising questions about the department's sale of a machine gun magazine.

In his complaint, William Hewitt, who started with the Borough police department in 1989 and ultimately became a lieutenant, alleged that he was retaliated against after complaining that a rare, Thompson Sub-Machine Gun drum magazine that was held in the department's arsenal inventory, was sold for less than market value and without notice to the Longport Borough Council.  He claimed that he also was retaliated after he put in for 18 hours of overtime for being "on call" when he was acting as a temporary replacement in 2011 for the police chief during the chief's absence.

He claimed that the retaliation took several forms, including being denied access to the departmental computers, being forced out his positions of Range Master and Firearms instructor and being assigned to the oldest vehicle in the department's fleet.

According to DataUniverse, Hewitt retired in 2015 at a final salary of $113,800 and is collecting an annual pension of $75,392.

The case is captioned Hewitt v. Longport,Borough, et al, Atlantic County Superior Court Docket No. ATL-L-2087-14 and Hewitt's attorney was Todd J. Gelfand of Voorhees.  Case documents are on-line here.

None of Hewitt's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. Settlement agreements typically state that payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by any of the defendants.  All that is known for sure is that Longport or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Hewitt $70,000 than take the matter to trial. Perhaps the defendants' decision 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 resolve before trial--it is impossible to know the truth of what really happened.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Little Egg Harbor MUA confidentially pays $140,000 to settle employee's sex harassment lawsuit.

On January 7, 2016, the Little Egg Harbor (Ocean County) Municipal Utilities Authority (MUA) agreed to pay $140,000 to settle a female employee's lawsuit claiming that the Authority's executive director sexually harassed her.  $15,000 of the amount will come from the MUA while $125,000 will be paid by the MUA's insurer.

In her complaint, Nicole Kelley, who worked for the MUA as a senior clerk, claimed that MUA Executive Director David Johnson subjected her to repeated instances of sexual harassment including stopping by her house after work hours and a separate incident where he allegedly approached her and her friends while he was "visibly intoxicated" in a local club.  In the latter event, Johnson reportedly confessed to Kelley "how he was unhappy with his marriage" and asked to be her"sugar daddy."  After Kelley said that she rebuffed his advances, Johnson allegedly walked her out to the parking lot, "grabbed her and forcibly kissed her, sticking his tongue in her mouth."

According to the MUA's website, Johnson is not presently its executive director.  The meeting that was Johnson's last was held on September 9, 2014, roughly four months before Kelley's lawsuit was filed.  According to the minutes of that meeting, MUA Chairman Joseph Koptic presented Johnson with a plaque "in grateful appreciation for over 27 years of outstanding service, caring, and dedication" and told Johnson that he had "done a fine job and was the main thrust of the Authority" who brought it "to its great heights."

According to DataUniverse, Johnson is drawing a $103,051 annual pension and had a final annual salary of $205,526.

The case is captioned Kelley v. Little Egg Harbor,MUA, et al, Ocean County Superior Court Docket No. OCN-L-3787-14 and Kelley's attorney was Leo B. Dubler III 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 Kelley's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. Settlement agreements typically state that payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by any of the defendants.  All that is known for sure is that Little Egg Harbor or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Kelley $140,000 than take the matter to trial. Perhaps the defendants' decision 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 resolve before trial--it is impossible to know the truth of what really happened.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Tuckerton pays $15,000 to settle man's police excessive force lawsuit.

On March 17, 2016, the Borough of Tuckerton (Ocean County) agreed to pay $15,000 to settle a local man's lawsuit that Borough police assaulted him.

In his complaint, Robert Thomas Pankiewitz said that on October 6, 2012 Officer Joseph Luna "assaulted [him] without justification and with excessive force during the course of a motor vehicle stop." No further details are provided in the complaint.

The case is captioned Pankiewitz v. Borough of Tuckerton, et al, Federal Case No. 3:14-cv-05583 and Pankiewitz's attorney was Thomas J. Mallon of Freehold.  Case documents are on-line here.

None of Pankiewitz's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. Settlement agreements typically state that payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by any of the defendants.  All that is known for sure is that Tuckerton or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Pankiewitz $15,000 than take the matter to trial. Perhaps the defendants' decision 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 resolve before trial--it is impossible to know the truth of what really happened.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Hackensack pays $7,500 to settle inmate's handwritten civil rights complaint.

According to an undated, draft agreement that was prepared sometime in 2016, the City of Hackensack (Bergen County) agreed to pay $7,500 to a man who filed his handwritten civil rights complaint on March 25, 2009 while an inmate at the Bergen County Jail.

In his lawsuit, Carlos Sebastian Woodley alleged that he was assaulted by Hackensack Officers Joseph Al-Ayoubi and John Hermann on or about May 1, 2008.  Woodley said that he was assaulted in the police station and received stitches in his mouth to stop the bleeding.

The case is captioned Woodley v. Al-Ayoubi, et al, Federal Court Case No. 09-cv-01403 and Woodley represented himself in this case. Case documents are on-line here.

None of Woodley's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. Settlement agreements typically state that payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by any of the defendants.  All that is known for sure is that Hackensack or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Woodley $7,500 than take the matter to trial. Perhaps the defendants' decision 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 resolve before trial--it is impossible to know the truth of what really happened.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Northfield pays $200,000 and grants captain promotion to settle cop's lawsuit.

On or about March 18, 2016, the City of Northfield (Atlantic County) agreed to pay $200,000 to settle an acting police captain's lawsuit brought under the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act of 1994 (USERRA).

In his lawsuit, Daniel T. Mitchell, described as a highly decorated combat veteran, claimed that he was passed over for captain and chief promotions because then Mayor (now State Assemblyman) Vincent Mazzeo had "concerns with the amount of military time" Mitchell used.  According to the complaint, "Mazzeo felt [Mitchell's] service in the military interfered with [his] position with the Northfield police."  The lawsuit alleged that Northfield's action conflicted with the USERRA which is intended to ensure that persons who serve or have served in the Armed Forces, Reserves, National Guard or other uniformed services are not disadvantaged in their civilian careers because of their service.

Also named in the suit were Mayor Jerry McGee and Police Chief Robert James.  As part of the settlement, the City agreed to promote Mitchell to the permanent rank of Captain retroactive to April 1, 2013 and Mitchell agreed to retire effective June 1, 2016.

The case is captioned Mitchell v. City of Northfield, et al, Federal Court Case No. 15-cv-01499 and Mitchell's attorney was Michelle J. Douglass of Somers Point.  Case documents are on-line here.

None of Mitchell's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. Settlement agreements typically state that payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by any of the defendants.  All that is known for sure is that Northfield or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Mitchell $200,000 than take the matter to trial. Perhaps the defendants' decision 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 resolve before trial--it is impossible to know the truth of what really happened.