Monday, September 29, 2014

State Police pay $25,000 to settle excessive force suit.

On September 10, 2014, the New Jersey State Police agreed to pay $25,000 to a Jersey City man who claimed that a State Trooper choked him without justification.

In his suit, Joshua Agosto said that on June 29, 2012 he was arrested and charged with drunk driving and several traffic violations.  He said that while at the police station Trooper Damien Joseph choked him without justification.

The case is captioned Agosto v. Joseph, Federal Case No. 2:13-cv-00667 and Agosto's attorney was Thomas J. Mallon of Freehold.  Case documents are on-line

None of Agosto's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $25,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by State Police or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that State Police or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Agosto $25,000 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.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Police sergeant retires as part of a secret settlement with the City of Bridgeton

On April 30, 2014, the City of Bridgeton (Cumberland County) and Bridgeton Police Sergeant Steven Corey settled Corey's November 14, 2013 appeal of a disciplinary action taken against him.  The reasons underlying the disciplinary action were not disclosed.  The settlement document is on-line here.

According to the handwritten "terms and conditions" attached to the settlement agreement, the City agreed to rescind Corey's October 29, 2013 termination and place him on administrative leave until he retired on July 1, 2014.  The City also agreed to reinstate his health benefits, provide him with back pay from his date of termination through to the date of the agreement and reduce a 30-day suspension to an administrative rule regulation.  The agreement provides that Corey may retire sooner than July 1, 2014 if such was approved by the pension board.

As his part of the agreement, Corey promised to never again work in law enforcement in Bridgeton, except for as a school board security monitor, not to apply to Bridgeton for a firearms identification card and to waive any accumulated personal and vacation time.

Apparently concerned about adverse publicity, thee agreement also states that "neither party shall release information to the media."  The settlement is contingent upon approval by the New Jersey Civil Service Commission.  As of this writing, I have not obtained information from the Commission as to whether approval was granted.

This appeal is not Corey's first litigation with the City.  According to a December 2, 2010 article in the South Jersey Times, Corey received a $75,000 settlement for his claim that "he was kidnapped from a local pub by former by former chief Jeff Wentz and a former police lieutenant and involuntarily confined to a psychiatric ward in 2006."

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Updated: Perth Amboy school board secretly pays $45,000 to settle secretary's suit over illegal booze business in school.

Correction: I have discovered the that $45,000 settlement did not go to Susan Nieves.  A closer reading showed that it went to Linda Nagy, who was apparently named as a third-party in the lawsuit by Principal Alvaro Cores.  It was Nagy, not Nieves, who received the $45,000 and had disciplinary letters removed from her files under the settlement agreement.
 I am currently attempting to track down other court filings in order to determine the outcome of this lawsuit. 
I regret this error.
On July 21, 2014, the Board of Education of Perth Amboy (Middlesex County) agreed to pay $45,000 to a school secretary who claimed she was retaliated against after reporting that a secretary in the Dr. Herbert Richardson School was running an illegal alcohol sales and distribution business in the main office of a public elementary school."

In her suit, Susan Nieves said in mid-November 2011 elementary school secretary Hector Muniz advertised "that he was a 'mixologist' that was selling mixed drinks for the Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Years holidays."  According to the lawsuit, Nieves witnessed "parents and staff purchasing bottles of coquito and other mixed drinks were offered at Muniz's desk."  (Coquito is an alcoholic beverage usually made with rum and coconut milk.)  She claimed that Principal Alvaro Cores and Vice-Principal Karen Moffatt both publicly purchased bottle of coquito during the school day.

When she reported the alleged alcohol sales, Nieves claimed that Cores and Moffatt retaliated against her by issuing her bogus reprimands.  Her suit claims that Superintendent Janine Cafferty was an "aider and abetter" of the retaliation.  As part of the settlement, certain disciplinary letters from her personnel file.

The case is captioned Nieves v. Perth Amboy Board of Education, Superior Court Docket No. SOM-L-925-12 and Nieves's attorney was Stephen E. Klausner of Manville.  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 Nieves's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $45,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Perth Amboy or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Perth Amboy or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Nieves $45,000 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, September 24, 2014

State pays $5,000 to settle State Trooper excessive force suit.

On April 28, 2014, the New Jersey State Police agreed to pay $5,000 to an African-American man who claimed that State Troopers maced, beat and directed racial slurs at him.

In his suit, Twann Hamilton said that on June 23, 2009, he was stopped by State Troopers Craig Kempinski and Robert Sickles in Bedminster Township, Somerset County. When Hamilton asked the Troopers "If I am not under arrest, why should I get out of my car?" he alleged that he was maced, pulled out of the car and had his head slammed into the pavement.  While this was happening, he claimed that one of the Troopers said "stupid n-----, see what you get."  Also named in the suit were Troopers Kesene (Mowatt) Grier and Gary Monterosso who Hamilton claimed also participated in the event.

The case is captioned Hamilton v. State, Docket No. SOM-L-974-11 and Hamilton's attorney was Jamison M. Mark of Basking Ridge.  Case documents are on-line here.

None of Hamilton's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $5,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by State or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that State or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Hamilton $5,000 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.

Bridgeton school board secretly pays $40,000 to settle paraplegic's discrimination suit.

On January 29, 2014, the Bridgeton Board of Education (Cumberland County) agreed to pay $40,000 to a "paraplegic who is absent both legs" who sued the Bridgeton school board for discriminating against him by refusing to hire him for a full time position.

In his suit, Adrian Garrett, who served as a substitute teacher since 2009, said that he had applied for multiple full-time positions with the Bridgeton school district but was not offered any position or even an interview.  He claimed that the district's Affirmative Action Officer, Tyrone Williams, said that Garrett "would probably not get the position because [the district] needed someone who could 'get around.'"  He claimed to have also been denied positions as truancy officer and teachers aide.  He claimed that the teachers aide position that he applied for was filled by Elizabeth Cartagena, who Garrett claimed was less qualified than he.

The case is captioned Garrett v. Bridgeton Board of Education, Docket No. CUM-L-329-13 and Garrett'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 Garrett'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 Bridgeton or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Bridgeton or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Garrett $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.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

State pays $60,000 to settle investigator's whistleblower lawsuit.

On April 27, 2014, the State of New Jersey agreed to pay $60,000 to a former investigator for the State's Legalized Games of Chance Control Commission (LGCCC) who claimed that state officials retaliated against him because he stood in the way of an application made by a private company that had "contributed using various means and methods to the campaigns or political war chest of Governor Christie."  As part of the settlement, the former investigator agreed to tender his "irrevocable resignation" from his position.

In his suit, Scott Jenkins, who worked for the LGCCC since 2005, said that Dave & Busters, a private company that provides food, drink and arcade games to the public, petitioned the LGCCC for a waiver from the State's rule of not allowing alcoholic beverages to be served to customers in close proximity where arcade games of chance are being played.  Jenkins said that he reported to the LGCCC members both verbally and in writing that such a waiver would violate state law.  But, according to the suit, Dave & Busters is a contributor to Governor Christie's campaign.  Because of this, Jenkins argued, "Governor Christie has made it clear . . . that he supports the D&B proposal, and that it must be passed whether it is lawful or not lawful to do so."

More generally, Jenkins claimed that officials at the LGCCC "are motivated by a desire to aid businesses make a bigger profit in the legalized games industry, to aid Governor Christie gain political allies and political contributions in order to support his gubernatorial campaign and his national campaign to be become President of the United States in 2016."

He claimed that the Governor's staff directed Eric Kanefsky, the Director of the Division of Consumer Affairs, to bar Jenkins from speaking to Commission members "in order to effectuate a successful result in the D&B licensing application."

Jenkins also argued that on December 15, 2011, Governor Christie, "in a cloak and dagger act," appointed Steven P. Layman to the Commission so that Layman could "use the power of his Commission seat to further his efforts to engage in political warfare with persons in Margate's Town government."  According to a January 22, 2014 article in the Press of Atlantic City, Layman formerly served as Mayor of Hainesport Township in Burlington County.  Part of Layman's goal, the lawsuit alleged, was to "punish his political adversaries," which included Margate City Clerk Thomas Hiltner.  Hiltner has his own whistleblower suit against Margate.

Jenkins claimed that he has been denigrated and mocked by his superiors, "walled off" from the LGCCC and that his "future with the LGCCC is finished."

The case is captioned Jenkins v. New Jersey, Essex County Superior Court Docket No. ESX-L-7544-13 and Jenkins' attorney was Eric V. Kleiner of Englewood Cliffs.  Case documents are on-line here.

None of Jenkins's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $60,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by New Jersey or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that New Jersey or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Jenkins $60,000 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.

Pleasantville school board secretly pays $30,000 to former teacher who claimed retaliation.

On April 8, 2014, the Pleasantville Board of Education (Atlantic County) agreed to pay $30,000 to a former special education teacher who sued the Board for refusing to renew her contract in retaliation against her for reporting that the Board was not making required pension contributions.

In her suit, Sandra Smith said that in 2010 she told school business administrator Dennis Mulvihill, union president Mark Delcher and comptroller Elijah Tompkins about the board's alleged failure to make the required pension contributions.  She also claimed to have filed a complaint with the Office of Administrative Law on September 20, 2010.  She said that she then received a non-renewal notice effective June 30, 2011.

The case is captioned Smith v. Pleasantville Board of Education, Atlantic County Superior Court Docket No. ATL-L-9823-11 and Smith's attorney was Louis M. Barbone of Atlantic City.  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 Smith's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $30,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Pleasantville or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Pleasantville or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Smith $30,000 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.