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.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Paulsboro pays $60,000 to secretly settle police excessive force suit

On August 19, 2014, the Borough of Paulsboro (Gloucester County) agreed to pay $60,000 to three brothers who sued members of the Paulsboro Police Department for allegedly beating and applying excessive force against them. Under the agreement, each brother is to receive $10,000 and their lawyer is to receive $10,000.

In their suit, Artavius, Eltereake and Shavon Mears said that on May 5, 2011, Eltereake was walking his baby in a stroller when Paulsboro Police Officers Vernon Marino and Gary Kille "jumped out of a police car in pursuit of another person."  While doing so, the officers allegedly falsely accused Eltereake of blocking their path.  They allegedly took him to the police station, beat him and refused to provide him with medical treatment.

After hearing that their brother was being held by police, Artavius and Shavon went to the station where they were confronted by Kille, Marino and Chief Francis Grogan who allegedly refused to give them any information concerning Eltereake and directed "denigrating racial remarks" toward them. After Artavius and Shavon left the station, Grogan allegedly instructed Kille and Marino "to arrest or in some fashion detain and assault" them.  This reportedly caused Artavius and Shavon to be "beaten" by Kille and Marino.  The brothers also accuse police of tampering with a video that captured the alleged beating of Artavius and Shavon.

The case is captioned the Mears v. Paulsboro, Federal Case No. 1:13-cv-02894 and the Mears brothers' attorney was William H. Buckman of Moorestown.  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 the Mears brothers'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 Paulsboro or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Paulsboro or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay the Mears brothers $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.

Monday, September 15, 2014

New Jersey Transit pays $3,500 to settle passenger's case against allegedly abusive and anti-Semitic bus driver.

On October 15, 2013, the New Jersey Transit Corporation agreed to pay $3,500 to an Atlantic City woman who said that a bus driver screamed and directed obscenities and anti-Semitic slurs at her.

In her suit, Bunny Shore said that on December 14, 2009, she boarded an Atlantic City bound bus in Philadelphia when an unidentified bus driver yelled at her to to get off bus and buy a ticket from the machine."  The driver allegedly yelled that "degenerate gamblers are all the same" and "those Jews are all alike, liar, thief, degenerate."  She said that the incident caused her to suffer severe emotional distress, post traumatic stress disorder and depressive disorder.

The case is captioned Shore v. New Jersey Transit, Atlantic County Superior Court Docket No. ATL-L-10325-11 and Shore's attorney was Thomas F. Reynolds of Northfield.  Case documents are on-line here.

None of Shore's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $3,500  payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by New Jersey Transit or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that New Jersey Transit or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Shore $3,500  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.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Buena pays $75,000 to settle Clerk's whistleblower lawsuit.

On May 7, 2014, the Borough of Buena (Atlantic County) agreed to pay $75,000 to its Borough Clerk who sued the Borough for retaliating against her when she complained about "unlawful activities" by the Borough's Chief Financial Officer.

In her suit, Maryann Coraluzzo said that Buena Borough subjected her to "variety of adverse and retaliatory employment actions" after she had complained about the Chief Financial Officer's alleged "unlawful falsification of public documents" and violations of public bidding regulations.  She said that she was suspended without notice or cause, forced to undergo a fitness for duty examination, ostracized and was made the subject of non-meritorious complaints to the Department of Community Affairs (DCA).

In addition to the $75,000, the Borough also agreed to "remove an disciplinary documentation from her personnel file, including any correspondence to the
DCA."

The case is captioned Coraluzzo v. Buena, Atlantic County Superior Court Docket No. ATL-L-407-13 and Coraluzzo's attorney was Richard M. Pescatore of Vineland.  Case documents are on-line here.

None of Coraluzzo's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $75,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Buena or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Buena or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Coraluzzo $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.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Bergen Community College pays $5,500 to secretly settle employee's defamation suit

On January 24, 2014, the Bergen Community College agreed to pay $5,500 to its former Public Safety Officer who sued college officials for allegedly defaming her in communications with a future employer.

In her suit, Laura Hofsommer said that a medical condition caused her to fall asleep during work hours while working as the Bergen Community College's Public Safety Officer.  She claimed that despite her attempts to explain her medical condition to College officials Marie Jardine and William Corcoran, she was terminated from her position in 2009.

Hofsommer further claimed that she received a job offer in 2012 to work as a dispatcher for the Ridgefield Park Police Department.  She claimed that Corcoran and Jardine "made comments and representations to" the Ridgefield Police regarding her employment at the college "that were untrue and/or, if said representations were truthful in nature, intentionally omitted and/or failed to provide all circumstances surrounding Plaintiff's termination of employment."

It is unclear from Hofsommer's complaint whether or not the comments Corcoran and Jardine allegedly made caused the Ridgefield Park Police to not hire her.

The case is captioned Hofsommer v. Bergen Community College, Bergen County Superior Court Docket No. BER-L-5390-12 and Hofsommer's attorney was Robert A. Tandy of Montvale.  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 Hofsommer's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $5,500 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Bergen or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Bergen or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Hofsommer $5,500 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.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Perth Amboy school board secretly settles with former superintendent for $184,000.

On August 29, 2014, I blogged an entry entitled "Thirteen recent ethics cases against Perth Amboy school board members" concerning several school ethics matters filed by former Perth Amboy school superintendent Janine Walker Caffrey and former elementary school principal Alvaro J. Cores against members of the Board of Education.

In my blog, I noted that there were two other ethics matters, bearing Case Nos. ECC-11709-13 and ECC-00806-14 that had been " withdrawn by agreement of all parties in anticipation of settlement or mediation."  I promised to submit an additional OPRA request for records pertaining to those two cases.

Today, September 5, 2014, I was informed by business administrator Derek Jess that no records were found for Case No. ECC-00806-14 but that Case No. ECC-11709-13 had "settled."  Mr. Jess provided me with the complaint and settlement agreement, which I have placed on-line here.

According to its terms, the Board agreed to have its insurer pay $184,000 to settle claim Caffrey "may have against . . . any and all past or present board members of the Perth Amboy Board of Education from the beginning of time to a time to the date of this Agreement."  Of that amount, $121,033.33 went to Caffrey and the other $62,966 went to her lawyer, Alan Schorr, Esq.

In exchange, Caffrey agreed "not to voluntarily testify" in any of the ethics matters noted in my previous blog entry and to "advise the School Ethics Commission in writing that she believes that this Agreement is sufficient to resolve all the ethics claims she had originally instituted including those now prosecuted by the School Ethics Commission."

Caffrey further agreed to withdraw her ethics complaints, move out of Perth Amboy and not make any statements regarding her employment with the school district.  For each violation of this non-disclosure agreement, Caffrey agreed to pay the school district $10,000.