Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Stratford Borough settles with its Clerk for $75,000

On July 29, 2009, John D. Keenan, Jr., the Borough Clerk of Stratford Borough (Camden County) accepted $75,000 as full settlement of his claim that the Borough improperly attempted to cut his pay and remove him from his position as Borough Clerk.

Keenan's civil lawsuit, filed in June 2007, alleges that Mayor Thomas D. Angelucci and the Borough Council "set on a course to retaliate against [him] based upon his political views and affiliations." Specifically, the lawsuit alleges that the Mayor and Council cut Keenan's salary by over $10,000 and brought charges against him for sending "partisan" e-mails which expressed "political views and affiliations which were at odds with the majority of the Borough governing body."

Keenan's suit further alleges that Mayor Angelucci threatened him with "the harshest political response" and that Council met in executive session to discuss consequences against Keenan without having first given him a "Rice" notice (i.e. advance written notice to public employees whose rights could be adversely affected advising them of their right to force the matter to be discussed at a public meeting).

The case is captioned Keenan v. Borough of Stratford, et al, Case No. CAM-L-3861-07. Keenan's lawyer was Michelle J. Douglass of Northfield. The lawsuit and settlement agreement are on-line here.

The settlement agreement contains a provision requiring both Keenan and the Borough from disclosing the terms of the settlement. Fortunately, however, such "confidentiality clauses" do not trump the public's right to know under the Open Public Records Act.

None of Keenan's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement expressly states that the $75,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by the Borough of any of the officers or employees. All that is known for sure is that Stratford, and perhaps its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that they would rather pay Keenan and his lawyer $75,000 than take the matter to trial. Perhaps Stratford's 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 Stratford 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.