Saturday, June 25, 2016

Dumont Borough pays $275,000 to resolve police sergeant's civil rights complaint.

On May 17, 2016, the Borough of Dumont (Bergen County) entered into a Repayment Agreement under which it agreed to pay $65,580.57 of a $275,000 settlement to a police sergeant who sued the Borough for allegedly refusing to promote him because he was "antagonistic" toward Police Chief Joseph L. Faulborn while acting in his role as a police union official.

The lawsuit, which was provided by Borough Clerk Susan Connelly in response to an Open Public Records Act (OPRA) request, is missing several pages and attempts are being made to obtain those pages.  Once obtained, this article will be updated.  The available pages, however, show that Dumont Police Sergeant Joseph Rizza claimed to have at least once been unfairly passed over for promotion.  Rizza alleged that Faulborn refused to recommend him for promotion because Rizza was an active participant in the Policeman's Benevolent Association Local 377 who was "'antagonistic' over the past ten years."

According to the Repayment Agreement, the Municipal Excess Liability Fund paid Rizza the $275,000 settlement and the Borough will repay the Fund its $65,580.57 share in three annual installments of $21,860.19 each, plus interest.

The case is captioned Rizza v. Borough of Dumont, et al, Bergen County Superior Court Docket No. BER-L-8825-13 and Rizza' attorney was Christopher A. Gray of Clifton.  Case documents are on-line here.

None of lawsuit'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 Dumont or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Rizza $275,000 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.

Toms River Township confidentially pays $25,000 to resolve police excessive force lawsuit.

On May 14, 2016, the Township of Toms River (Ocean County) agreed to pay $25,000 to an African-American man who claimed that police unjustifiably roughed him up during a January 14, 2011 traffic stop that occurred while police were looking for the killer of Lakewood Police Officer Christopher Matlosz.

In his lawsuit, Delovi Canales said that on the night of of Matlosz's death, he and a friend were at Christopher's Pub which is adjacent to a Howard Johnson's where police believed Matlosz's killer was located.  While driving home from the pub, Canales' car was stopped by several police officers.  At least two of the Toms River officers on the scene, Sgt. Scott Kenny and Officer Pat Jacques, had their guns drawn and were present when Canales was allegedly pulled out of his car and "slammed" to the ground by an unidentified plain-clothes officer and was told by that officer "Don't [f***ing] move or I'll blow your head off."  After remaining handcuffed on the ground for eleven minutes, Canales claimed that the officer lifted him off the ground by his handcuffs and slammed him onto the hood of the police car.  He claimed that being lifted by the handcuffs while his hands were behind him injured his shoulder.

Both Kenny and Jacques argued that Canales' claims against them should be dismissed because he could not prove that either of them was the plain-clothes officer who allegedly assaulted him.  But Judge Mary L. Cooper rejected that argument in a February 20, 2014 ruling because Canales' friend identified Kenny as the plain-clothes officer and because even if Kenny wasn't the unknown plain-clothes officer, "he may be directly liable . . . where he fails to intervene when a constitutional violation by another officer takes place in his presence."

Also named in the suit were Toms River Officers Ed Mooney, Jim Carey, Chris McDowell, P.J. Gambardella, Kevin Scully and unnamed State Troopers.  All of these officers were dismissed from the suit and the claims by Canales' co-plaintiffs, Alex Valcourt and Terrance Williams, were also dismissed.

The case is captioned Canales v. Township of Toms River, et al, Federal Case No. 3:11-cv-03159 and Canales' attorney was Donald M. Stanzione of Edison.  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 lawsuit'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 Toms River or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Canales $25,000 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, June 23, 2016

Freehold Township confidentially pays $80,000 to resolve racial profiling, false arrest lawsuit.

On June 2, 2016, the Township of Freehold (Monmouth County) agreed to pay $80,000 to an African-American man from Neptune who said that he was profiled, forcibly handcuffed and falsely arrested and imprisoned.

In his lawsuit, Mateek U. Pugh said that police were called when his arm was struck by a pickup truck's side-view mirror while he was crossing the street.  When Officer Jack Mandala arrived at the scene with Officer William Gallo, Mandala allegedly "transform[ed Pugh] from a pedestrian struck by a motor vehicle into a stereotypical angry, intoxicated, black male suspect."  According to the complaint, Mandala asked Pugh "do you understand who I am?" and told him "I have been looking for you." Thereafter, Mandala allegedly grabbed Pugh's injured right arm, placed him in a compliance bold and forced him onto the hood of the patrol vehicle and handcuffed his arms behind his back. 

After finding a television remote control in Pugh's pocket, Mandala allegedly accused him of committing burglaries in the area.  Mandala also allegedly approached Brian R, Graga, the driver of the pickup, and told him that "he did not drive into Mr. Pugh and strike him with his driver side mirror [but] that Mr. Pugh had run over to his truck and intentionally struck the driver side mirror with his hand/arm or with the remote control he had in his possession."  Graga was was allegedly "in a dating relationship with Sergeant [Raymond] Piccolini's daughter." 

Pugh was charged with criminal mischief, resisting attest, 4th aggravated assault on a police officer.  He was held at the Monmouth County Jail until he could post $3,500 bail.  Pugh said that after his release from jail, "he went to Jersey Shore Medical Center where he was diagnosed with and treated for an injury to his right arm that was untied by the motor vehicle accident."

The case is captioned Pugh v. Township of Freehold, et al, Federal Case No. 3:14-cv-03778 and Pugh's attorney was Kevin E. Daniels of Asbury Park.  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 lawsuit'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 Freehold or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Pugh $80,000 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.

Hudson County to confidentially pay $50,000 to settle sheriff detective's lawsuit alleging retaliation for supporting current Sheriff's election opponent.

On June 23, 2016, the County of Hudson produced a draft agreement that calls for a $50,000 settlement of a retaliation lawsuit filed by a detective who supported present Sheriff Frank X. Schillari's opponent, former Sheriff Juan M. Perez, in the 2011 election. In addition to the $50,000, the plaintiff, who said that he was demoted in 2012, will be reinstated to his previously held position of Detective II and receive a $2,000 stipend retroactively to January 1, 2016 and "with appropriate allocation and contributions to the PFRS pension."

In his suit, Mark Borchert, who started his employment with the Sheriff's office in 1991 and who achieved the rank of Detective II in 2008, claimed that he was retaliated against for supporting Perez in his failed election bid.   Borchert said that after hurting his back in at work, his "light duty" assignment was to the Court Bureau where he "had to wear a heavy gun belt and was placed on the front door security detail causing him to be on his feet for a long period of time causing him pain."  He said his assignment was against the normal practice of assigning light duty to the Detective Bureau.  After returning to full duty, Borchert claimed that he was assigned tasks that were well below his level of training and competence. 

On February 24, 2012, the complaint alleges, Borchert was demoted to Sheriff's Officer and moved back to the Court Bureau after a meeting with Captain William Joy, Chief Warrant Officer Oliver King and Sergeant John Karras.  He said that he was demoted because of Sheriff Schillari's desire to retaliate against him for having supported Perez.  He said that Schillari replaced him "with individuals who are younger and less experienced" and that Schillari was "promoting and favoring those "who continue to support and buy fundraising tickets for his campaign."

The case is captioned Borchert v. County of Hudson, et al, Federal Case No. 2:13-cv-06531 and Borchert's attorney was Robert M. Anderson of Allenhurst.  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 Borchert'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 Hudson or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Borchert $50,000 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.

Note: The court marked the case as having settled.  While it is possible that a dispute will arise prior to the settlement agreement being signed by the County, this rarely happens because the settlement has been negotiated and agreed to by all the parties.  Readers who wish to be absolutely sure that this case settled according to the terms stated above should submit an Open Public Records Act (OPRA) request for the final, signed settlement agreement.

Fairfield pays $75,000 to settle former mayor's discrimination and malicious prosecution lawsuit.

On March 17, 2016, Fairfield Township (Cumberland County) paid a former mayor $75,000 to settle his lawsuit that accused another former mayor and others of calling him "boy" and referring to other members of the Township Committee as "monkeys."

In his lawsuit,former Mayor Michael Sharp accused Joanne Servais's late husband Richard and her son Joseph, along with local resident and frequent meeting attendee Russell Pierce, of violating the Township's civil rights policy by referring to Sharp as "boy" in mid-2013.  Sharp also alleges that Pierce referred to current Mayor Benjamin Byrd and his running mate, Deputy Mayor Troy L. Pitts, Sr., as "monkeys."  Sharp, Byrd, Pitts and Defendant Michael Morton are African-American while the rest of the defendants are Caucasian. He alleged that the comments "served to humiliate and degrade" him, Byrd and Pitts.

Separately, Sharp alleged that Joanne Servais maliciously prosecuted him by filing a harassment complaint against him that lacked probable cause.  He claimed that the complaint was dismissed on June 2, 2014 by the Millville Municipal Court.  Sharp alleged that Joann Servais, after the court dismissed her complaint, "began to make threats against witnesses who were present to testify" on Sharp's behalf and accused the judge of being "related in some fashion to Ms. Servais' political enemies thereby indicating that the Court was biased against her."

Sharp's lawsuit also took issue with a November 20, 2013 report by Moorestown attorney Kathleen McGill Gaskill that determined that the "boy" and "monkey" comments were insufficient to support a claim of racial harassment under the Township's civil rights policy. In his suit, Sharp calls Gaskill's report "wholly contrived," "founded upon specious analysis" and intended to exculpate Defendants.

Also named in the suit were Don Taylor and Viola Thomas-Hughes.

The case is captioned Sharp v. Township of Fairfield, et al, Cumberland County Docket No. CUM-L-162-15 and Sharp's attorney was John C. Eastlack of Cherry Hill. Case documents are on-line here.

None of Sharp'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 Fairfield or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Sharp $75,000 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.

Salem County pays $49,500 to settle inmate's jail assault lawsuit.

On March 4, 2016, Salem County paid a Minotola man $49,500 to settle his lawsuit claiming that county jail officers allegedly beat him after they "misinterpreted his disability as resistance and contempt."

In his suit, Harold Jones, a diabetic and schizophrenic, claimed that on June 27, 2013, he suffered a "medical episode" that caused him to drive his vehicle until it ran out of gas.  While sitting in his car on Route 40 in Woodstown, Jones was arrested by New Jersey State Trooper J.J. Smith who found an outstanding traffic warrant against him.  After telephoning Jones' sister and learning of his condition, Smith took Jones to the Salem County Correctional Facility where he remained until he was admitted to Salem Hospital on June 29, 2013.  He said that hospital staff "observed [him] to have an altered mental status in association with elevated blood sugars up to 1000, fractured ribs, and injured toes."

Also named in the suit were Sheriff Charles M. Miller and Warden Raymond C. Skradzinski.  Trooper Smith and the State Police were dismissed from the suit by Judge Noel L. Hillman on March 15, 2016.

The case is captioned Jones v. County of Salem, et al, Federal Case No. 1:15-cv-03093 and Jones's attorney was Joseph C. Grassi of Wildwood. Case documents are on-line here.

None of Jones'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 Salem or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Jones $49,500 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.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Lakewood school board confidentially pays $174,000 to settle former employees' "whistleblower" and wrongful termination lawsuit.

On April 13, 2016, the Lakewood Board of Education (Ocean County) quietly paid $174,000 to settle a lawsuit jointly filed by its former Business Administrator and Assistant Board Secretary who claimed that they were fired for objecting to discriminatory practices against the school district's African-American and Hispanic families and for objecting to paying improperly documented vendors.  They also claimed that the school board's lawyer advised them to ignore legitimate Open Public Records Act (OPRA) requests.

In their suit, former Business Administrator Arlene Biesiada and Assistant Board Secretary Lisa Miller said that school officials "inexplicably" told parents of students who attended the After-School Tutoring Program that they needed to make weekly payments for the program even though federal Title I funds covered the program's costs.  Miller said that she complained to school officials that the program's clients "were near or at poverty level and/or primarily working poor, with the overwhelming majority of them being Hispanic and/or African American."  Miller claimed that Board members had "an obvious bias and discriminatory view toward the African American and Latino population in the District," and claimed that one unnamed Board Member stated that "it did not matter how much money was 'pumped' into the public schools since it was all Latino and African American students anyhow and they would never amount to anything anyway."

The pair also alleged that Board members and other officials chastised them for insisting that certain vendors have their documentation in order before being paid.  They allege that Board of Education President Carl Fink and Board members Yechezkel "Chesky" Seitler and Jonathan Silver approached Biesiada in November 2012 and told her to give a vendor called Tree of Knowledge "an advance of $200,000 so that [the vendor] could make their payroll."  Biesiada said that after reviewing Tree of Knowledge's September and October 2012 bills, she found that the "bills were incorrect and improper" and that Tree of Knowledge was "billing the District in excess of $10,000.00 over and above what should have been billed."

Another vendor that the pair claimed received special attention from Board members was Catapult Learning Center. According to the lawsuit, Seitler "was actively and directly negotiating a contract with Catapult" and that Fink and Seitler held "many meetings [with] Catapult representatives" from which Biesiada and Miller were excluded.  When they raised concerns, Biesiada and Miller claimed that they were told by Neva Musella, the school district's grant secretary, "to 'fix' the bills on behalf of [Catapult and Tree of Knowledge]." 

The pair also claimed that Supervisor of Purchase Helen Tobia requested them to "put through Purchase Orders for individual ink jet printers for certain non-public schools connected to the District."  Such a purchase, the lawsuit claimed, would have violated the terms of New Jersey's Non-Public Technology Grant unless it was approved by the New Jersey Department of Education.

Also named in the lawsuit were Superintendent Laura A. Winters and Board member Joel Schwartz.  According to the school district's website, Fink, Seitler, Silver and Schwartz no longer serve on the Board of Education. 

The case is captioned Biesiada and Miller v. Lakewood Board of Education, et al, New Jersey Superior Court Docket No. OCN-L-1041-14 and Biesiada and Miller's attorney was Patrick J. Whalen of Trenton.  Case documents are on-line here.  Of the $174,000, Miller received $57,857.21, Biesiada received $43,457.21 and the remaining $72,685.58 went to Whalen. 

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.

The settlement agreement states that it has no effect on another lawsuit, bearing Docket No. MON-L-4025-14, that Biesiada and Miller filed against attorney Michael I. Inzelbuch.  The pair refers to this lawsuit as a "Legal Malpractice action against their former attorney, Michael Inzelbuch, Esquire (who also happened to be the former Lakewood Board attorney), in relation to this action."  According to court records, the malpractice action was settled on April 15, 2016 and Whalen was Biesiada's and Miller's attorney.

None of Biesiada's and Miller'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 the Lakewood school district or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Biesiada and Miller $174,000 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.