Saturday, February 6, 2016

Frenchtown confidentially pays $92,500 to resolve former police officer's wrongful termination and racial discrimination suit.

On March 26, 2015, the Borough of Frenchtown (Hunterdon County) agreed to pay $92,500 to an African-American police officer who claimed that his 2012 firing was motivated by racial discrimination.

In his amended complaint, Harold Johnson said that Police Chief Allan Kurylka called him "N****r and Motherf***er" and allegedly made a reference to Johnson getting him "some black pu**y" in front of ten other officers.  Johnson also accused Kurylka of saying that he needed a ebonics book to keep "up to date on Officer Johnson's slang."  He also claimed that Kurylka and Lieutenant Robert Winfield searched his personal property illegally and disciplined him for pretextual reasons.  According to Johnson, Kurylka's the Borough's racial animus resulted in a wrongful extension of his probationary period and his ultimate discharge.

The case is captioned Johnson v. Borough of Frenchtown, et al, Hunterdon County Superior Court Docket No. HNT-L-519-12 and Johnson's attorney was Kurt David Raatzs of Marlton.  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 Johnson's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The fact that an offer of judgment, rather than a settlement agreement,resolved this case suggests an admission by Frenchtown Borough that the lawsuit's allegations were meritorious. All that is known for sure is that Frenchtown or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Johnson $92,500 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.


Monday, February 1, 2016

Waterford confidentially pays $300,000 to former police sergeant and allows him to resign "due to medical reasons."

On November 9, 2015, the Township of Waterford (Camden County) agreed to pay $300,000 to resolve a lawsuit filed by a former police sergeant who claimed that the former mayor and other township officials retaliated against him because he had ticketed the mayor's son and complained about "illegal actions at the police department."  In addition to the $300,000, the Township agreed to cooperate in the former sergeant's pursuit of an accident disability pension and "secure correspondence from the Office of the Camden County Prosecutor stating that the Camden County Prosecutor is not taking any action on a complaint" against him.

In his 227-page, sixty-seven count amended complaint, Joseph McNally said that former Mayor Maryann Merlino was angry because on June 10, 2010 McNally issued a traffic summons to her son and refused her request--which he felt was illegal--to drop the charge.  McNally also said that he spoke out about "other acts that he believed were illegal as well."  As an example, McNally said that present police chief (then lieutenant) Dan Cormaney leaked a plan to conduct an improper motor vehicle stop on a resident named Ron Passarella several days before the stop actually occurred.

McNally claimed that Cormaney and former police chief Jack Knoll conspired to suspend him without pay on March 29, 2012, based on his "alleged March 16, 2012 encounter with a person named Tracy Miller (also known as Tracey Miller) at a bar called Sharkey's "even though they knew that McNally did not do anything wrong."  (On July 21, 2014, Waterford agreed to pay $260,000 to settle Miller's and his family's suit which claimed that McNally harassed them and that other officers unlawfully arrested and used excessive force against them.)

Among the litany of charges McNally leveled was a claim that Merlino, Knoll and Cormaney sought to require him to get a psychological test before being allowed to return to active duty.  He claimed that he was being singled out for special treatment because "Lieutenant Dan Chiumento was suspended for over two (2) years due to allegations that he was having sex in his squad car while on duty" but was not required to get a psychological test before being allowed to return.

He also claimed that charges were brought against him on August 5, 2014 for being the creator of the "T-Party Waterford," Facebook page which exposed alleged wrongdoing in Waterford, even though the Defendants knew in or around June 2012 that McNally was not the creator of that page.

The case is captioned McNally v. Township of Waterford, et al, Camden County Superior Court Docket No. CAM-L-1400-13 and McNally'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 McNally's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The fact that an offer of judgment, rather than a settlement agreement,resolved this case suggests an admission by Waterford Township that the lawsuit's allegations were meritorious. All that is known for sure is that Waterford or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay McNally $300,000 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, January 28, 2016

Ocean pays $51,000 plus lawyer fees to resolve pregnant policewoman's discrimination suit.

On October 30, 2015, the Township of Ocean (Monmouth County) agreed to have a $51,000 judgment entered against it in order to resolve a female police officer's discrimination lawsuit.  In addition to the $51,000, the Township also agreed to pay the officer's lawyer's fees in an amount to be determined by the court.

In her suit, Kathleen J. Delanoy, who has been in the Ocean Township Police Department's employ since 2003, claimed that the department and former Chief Antonio V. Amodio discriminated against her after learning of her pregnancy in July 2011.

According to the complaint, until Delanoy's pregnancy, an "unwritten policy" allowed officers "who were unable to perform their full-time assignments due to illness or non-work related injury were allowed to work light/modified duty" without having to use their accumulated sick, vacation and personal days.  Delanoy, after advising the department of her pregnancy, claimed that she was informed "that there is no light/modified duty available for pregnant officers."

She further claimed that immediately after she reported her pregnancy, the department adopted written policies that discriminated against pregnant officers.  Specifically, the lawsuit states that the policies give the police chief discretion to relieve officers who are unable to perform their full-time duties for reasons other than pregnancy from having to use their accumulated days before being put on light duty. Delanoy claimed that no such discretion is contained in the department's maternity policy.  She also claimed that she had been "ostracized by co-workers and supervisors."

This case was resolved by an "offer of judgment" being made by the Township and accepted by Delanoy.  The amount of attorney fees that Delanoy will receive is currently pending before the court.

The case is captioned Delanoy v. Township of Ocean, et al, Federal Case No. 3:13-cv-01555 and Delanoy's attorney was Donald F. Burke of Brick.  Case documents are on-line here.

None of Delanoy's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The fact that an offer of judgment, rather than a settlement agreement,resolved this case suggests an admission by Ocean Township that the lawsuit's allegations were meritorious. All that is known for sure is that Ocean or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Delanoy $51,000 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, January 26, 2016

Haddon confidentially pays $48,000 to settle policewoman's "whistleblower" suit.

On July 17, 2015, the Township of Haddon (Camden County) agreed to pay $48,000 to a female Township police officer who claimed retaliation after having questioned why a fellow officer had been paid in cash for a working a special detail.

In her suit, Denise Brodo claimed that in early 2013, while doing police payroll, she billed the Haddon Township Board of Education for a special detail that Officer Robert Preziosi had covered at Haddon Township High School.  In response, the school board wrote that Preziosi was paid in cash causing her to cease issuing a check in the same amount so Preziosi wouldn't be paid twice.

Finding a cash payment under these circumstances to be odd, she reported the matter to both Sergeant Sean Gooley and Personnel Director Betty Band.  When she asked Gooley "Why wouldn't you tell me, so that I wouldn't end up paying him twice?" Gooley allegedly falsely told her that Preziosi had worked a double detail.  After confronting Gooley with the an activity log showing that Preziosi had worked only one event, Gooley allegedly became enraged and starting shouting expletives. Brodo alleged that Band told her to not pay Preziosi while Supervisor Sergeant Scott Bishop told her that "[t]he money is getting paid back. Officer Preziosi is bringing a check to the school today. He is entitled to be paid."

According to Brodo, this payment dispute involving Preziosi caused favorable work assignments to be withheld from her.  She said that retaliation also motivated a May 1, 2013 five day unpaid suspension.

The case is captioned Brodo v. Township of Haddon, et al, Camden County Superior Court Docket No. CAM-L-3310-13 and Brodo'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 Brodo' allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $48,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Haddon or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Haddon or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Brodo $48,000 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, January 25, 2016

Haddon pays $240,000 to settle suit of teen who said cop car hit her in crosswalk.

On December 9, 2014, the Township of Haddon (Camden County) agreed to pay $240,000 to a Gloucester Township teenager who said that a Haddon police car struck her when she "was a pedestrian who was lawfully walking in the crosswalk."

In her suit, Kimberly Huckel claimed that on February 11, 2012, Officer Gary L. D'Alessio, Jr., while driving a Haddon patrol car, struck her while she was lawfully in a crosswalk at the intersection of Haddon Avenue and Stratford Avenue in Haddon Township.

The case is captioned Huckel v. D'Alessio, et al, Camden County Superior Court Docket No. CAM-L-185-14 and Huckel's attorney was Richard M. Josselson of Haddonfield.  Case documents are on-line here.

None of Huckel's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $240,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Haddon or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Haddon or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Huckel $240,000 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.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Rockaway Fire Department confidentially pays $100,000 to settle female lieutenant's gender harassment lawsuit.

On July 22, 2015, the Township of Rockaway (Morris County), along with Hibernia Fire Company 1 and its fire chief and deputy chief agreed to pay $100,000 to a female fire lieutenant who claimed that the fire department's upper management created a hostile work environment and harassed her because of her gender.

In her suit, Sara Matthews claimed that the fire company did not promptly address her complaint that Thomas Farrell was elected to Rescue Captain in July 2011 despite having not met minimum attendance requirements.  She claimed that in response to her complaint, Fire Chief Ryan Edwish "conducted a discriminatory and bad faith investigation, which intentionally delayed" the matter in order to give Farrell enough time to meet the requirements.  She also claimed that Deputy Chief Adam Power referred to somebody as a "c**t."  (The sentence in the complaint states: "[Matthews] learned that Defendant {Adam] Power left Ellen Black, an assistant chief of Company No. 3, a voicemail wherein he referred to her as a "c**t'."  It is difficult to determine whether Power's alleged use of the the derogatory term was directed toward Matthews or Black.)  Matthews also claimed she was wrongly removed from her position as Lieutenant after suffering an on duty accident.

Of the $100,000, $50,000 went to Matthews and $50,000 went to her lawyer. The fact that Rockaway Township was involved in the settlement is evidenced by its resolution that authorized the settlement agreement.

The case is captioned Matthews v. Township of Rockaway et al, Morris County Superior Court Docket No. MRS-L-91-13 and Matthews's attorney was Kevin Barber of Morristown.  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 Matthews' allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $100,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Rockaway or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Rockaway or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Matthews $100,000 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, December 29, 2015

State, Camden County Prosecutor poised to pay $180,000 to settle police wrongful death claim.

A November 18, 2015 "friendly hearing" before United State District Court Judge Jerome B. Simandle determined that a lawsuit filed by the estate of a Camden man who died in 2009 while suffocating on a plastic bag will settle for $180,000.  The only issue left to be decided is whether the settlement funds should be given to the deceased's wife or deposited with the Burlington County Surrogate's Office.

According a lawsuit filed by Maria Ortiz, wife of Jorge E. Rivera and the couple's now 12 year old son, Rivera was sitting outside with friends on April 22, 2009 when he was approached by State Trooper Dennis Quinn and Camden County Prosecutor's Office Investigators Peter Longo and Thomas DiNunzio.  Rivera, upon seeing the officers approach, reportedly "attempted to swallow a small plastic bag that was in his possession" when he was attacked by the officers.  Because he was handcuffed, Rivera reportedly could not remove the plastic bag that had become lodged in his throat.

According to the lawsuit, Rivera became unconscious due to the officers' continued beating even while the bag was stuck in his throat.  He was later pronounced dead at Cooper University Hospital and the official cause of death was determined to be asphyxiation.  According to Ortiz's attorney, Mark Frost of Philadelphia, who was quoted in the Courier Post's June 10, 2015 article, the officers "stood idly" by while Rivera was choking and did nothing to help him.  The Courier Post article also reported that the bag that suffocated Rivera contained heroin.

A December 23, 2015 letter, written by John C. Connell, attorney for Longo and DiNunzio, contains several attachments.  Among them are a proposed order and the transcript of the November 18, 2015 hearing before Judge Simandle.  According to the filing, the settlement totals $180,000.  Deducted from that will be $12,901.14 representing Frost's expenses with the balance of $167,098.86 being split in equal shares of $83,549.43 each between Rivera's estate and Frost.  Mr. Frost is quoted in the transcript as saying that had he filed a petition setting forth the true amount of his attorney fees, "it would have been approximately $250,000."  As to the fairness of the settlement, Frost told Judge Simandle that there were "difficulties with the case" because Rivera "was involved in a drug altercation -- a drug transaction during this incident."

It is unknown how settlement will be split between the County Prosecutor and the State.  According to a November 24, 2015 e-mail from Assistant Camden City Attorney Jason J. Asuncion, the City of Camden, while named as a defendant in Ortiz's lawsuit, was dismissed from the suit on June 30, 2014 without having to pay a settlement amount.