Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Seaside Heights pays $50,000 to man who photographed arrest

On November 2, 2010, the Borough of Seaside Heights (Ocean County) agreed to pay $50,000 to a Bloomingdale man who sued members of the Seaside Heights Police Department for falsely arresting him after he photographed the officers arresting another man.

In his suit, George W. Kramer said that on July 29, 2007 he was returning to his friend's car after a night on the town when he observed police "in the process of assaulting and/or arresting a number of individuals, including one individual who was on the ground, handcuffed, and being 'Maced.'" Since he had a camera on him, he snapped a couple photos of the encounter from across the street.

He claimed that Police Officer Shawn Heckler, after seeing him take the photos, crossed the street and accused Kramer of "playing Paparazzi." Kramer claimed that he offered to delete the photos but Heckler handcuffed him and placed him under arrest with help from officers Robert Rezzonico, Sean J. McGinley, Matthew Quinn and Moutros Constantino. He claimed to have been charged with "purposely obstructing, impairing or perverting the administration of law or government function" and was released from custody later that same morning. He alleged that all charges against him were dismissed on October 30, 2009.

After his release, Kramer claimed to have run into Heckler again at a convenience store. During that encounter, Kramer said that Heckler told him that if he pled guilty "maybe we can work something out" and that he, Rezzonico, McGinley, Quinn and Constantino had deleted the arrest photo's from Kramer's camera.

Also named in the suit were Seaside Heights Police Chief Thomas Boyd and another police supervisor named Terrence R. Farley.

The case is captioned Kramer v. Seaside Heights, Federal Case No. 3:09-cv-0366 and Kramer's attorney was David B. Rubin of Metuchen. Case documents are on-line here.

None of Kramer's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $50,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Seaside Heights or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Seaside Heights or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Kramer $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.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Gloucester Twp pays $13,500 to settle employee's retaliation suit

On February 26, 2009, the Township of Gloucester (Camden County), Scibal Associates (the Township's provider of insurance and claims adjustment services) and Jose Eduardo Diaz-Jiminez, M.D. agreed to pay a total of $13,500 to a Gloucester Township employee who claimed that Township officials, Scibal Associates and Dr. Diaz-Jiminez conspired "to create a pretext that [the employee] was engaged in fraudulent conduct."

In his suit, David Pomianek, Department of Public Works employee, said that he was injured on the job on August 23, 2005. Since his injury was covered by workers compensation, Scibal and Associates required Pomianek to receive treatment by Dr. Diaz-Jiminez who was employed by Express Urgent Care & Occupational Health Services.

According to the suit, Scibal placed Pomianek under surveillance to to see if he "was performing activities within the limits prescribed by Dr. Diaz-Jiminez." Pomianek alleges that Diaz-Jiminez "falsely resubmitted . . . documents changing the limitations . . . to create a pretext that [Pomianek] was engaged in fraudulent conduct." He claims that Dr. Diaz-Jiminez "interrogated" him at a subsequent office visit "seeking to illicit [sic] information that could be used against [Pomianek] and to establish that [Pomianek] engaged in fraud."

Thereafter, Pomianek claims, the Township filed disciplinary charges against him for "misrepresentation of Worker's Compensation restrictions." After Pomianek contested the charges, he claims that additional charges were filed against him for "his inability to perform the essential functions of his job" and for falsifying his employment application.

After the first day of his disciplinary hearing, Pomianek alleges that the Township "abandoned the charges and returned [him] to work." He claimed that the period of time he was out of work damaged his credit rating and required him to pay $2,700 for a lawyer.

The case is captioned Pomianek v. Gloucester Township, New Jersey Superior Court, Camden County, Docket NO. L-982-07 and Pomianek's attorney was F. Michael Daily, Jr. of Westmont. The lawsuit and settlement agreement are on-line here.

None of Pomianek's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $13,500 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Gloucester, Scibal Associates, Dr. Diaz-Jiminez or any of their employees or officials. All that is known for sure is that Gloucester, Scibal and Diaz-Jiminez or their insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it was better to pay Pomianek $13,500 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.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Bridgeton pays $100,000 to police officer who claimed hostile work environment

On July 19, 2010, the City of Bridgeton (Cumberland County) agreed to pay $100,000 to one of its police officers who claimed that he was wrongfully fired and then, after reinstatement, was subjected to a hostile work environment.

In his suit, Shawn Reed said that he a broken ankle he received while drinking alcohol at a June 17, 2006 P.B.A. picnic caused him to go on medical leave. In August 2006, Reed claimed that he advised the City that he was ready to report back to work for light duty. Yet, he claimed that even though he was assured by Lieutenant Dan Morning that he could report for light duty, "Business Administrator Arch Liston, with the express approval of the Mayor and perhaps other members of the City Council unilaterally changed [city policy such that] no one would be allowed to return to light duty." When Reed attempted to use the "sick bank" (i.e. other city employees "bank" their unused sick time to benefit their fellow employees), he claims that Liston "again changed the policy, saying that sick bank time would not be allowed to be used by employees who had run out of sick time." Reed alleged that the City next accused him of "abandoning his job" and telling him that if he did not report back to work, he would be fired. He claims that since he was still disabled it was not possible for him to obey the City's orders.

Reed alleged that the City also "concocted other pretextual charges" based on allegations of Reed's chronic alcoholism. He said that the alcoholism charges arose from reports by Dr. Farrell Crouse. Yet, Reed claimed, the City had sent Reed to see Mr. Frank Hudson, an alcohol counselor, who, along with member of the City's Employment Advisory System, determined that Reed had no drinking problem and was fit for duty. Liston and the police chief, however, allegedly relied upon Dr. Crouse's report and initiated charges that ultimately led to Reed being fired.

After Reed appealed his termination, the City of Bridgeton "determined it was in their best interest to return [him] to employment status. According to an August 8, 2008 article in the Press of Atlantic City, the City then paid Reed $100,000 in back pay plus $26,000 in legal fees. After Reed returned to work, he alleged that he was made to wear "a uniform specifically designed only for him" and forced to work as a file clerk which caused him to be "ridiculed and laughed at by his co-employees."

Also named in the suit were Bridgeton Police Chiefs Jeffrey C. Wentz and Mark Ott. Reed's wife, Suzanne Reed, joined as plaintiff in the lawsuit.

The case is captioned Reed v. Bridgeton, Superior Court Docket No. CUM-L-845-08 and Reed's attorney was Kevin P. McCann of Bridgeton. The lawsuit and settlement agreement are on-line here.

None of Reed's 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 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 Reed $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.

Monday, November 8, 2010

NHVRHSD pays $302,000 to settle sexual harassment lawsuit

On May 13, 2010, the North Hunterdon-Voorhees Regional High School District (NHVRHSD) in Hunterdon County agreed to pay $302,000 to two female school bus drivers who claimed they were sexually harassed by a male bus driver.

In their suit, Bonnie Haydu and Bernice Rude both claimed that after being hired in 2006, they were "almost immediately" sexually harassed by Donald Hockenberry, who also drove a bus for the district. They further alleged that Hockenberry's immediate supervisor, Gerald H. Oram, Human Resources official Ann Marie Rose and other school district managers at knew about but were "intentionally indifferent" to the alleged harassment.

The case is captioned Haydu and Rude v. NHVRHSD, Docket No. HUN-L-133-08 and the womens' attorney was Frank J. Morelli of Phillipsburg. According to the settlement agreement, Haydu received $133,664, Rude received $44,152 and the attorney received $124,184. The lawsuit and settlement agreement are on-line here.

None of Haydu's and Rude's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement expressly states that the $302,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by NHVRHSD or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that NHVRHSD or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Haydu and Rude $302,000 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.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Paterson pays $10,000 (or perhaps $60,000) to settle police excessive force suit

On February 2, 2010, the City of Paterson (Passaic County) agreed to pay $10,000 or perhaps $60,000 to a Totowa man who sued members of the Paterson Police Department for allegedly injuring him during an arrest.

In his suit, Carlos Colon said that on May 16, 2006 he was arrested by Police Officers D. Giles (presumably Dewayn Giles), W. Lazu (presumably Wilson Lazu), J. Bernasconi (presumably Jason D. Bernasconi), McDowell (presumably Carl L. McDowell) and Sergeant J. Wolfe (presumably Jeffrey Wolfe). He claims that the officers, while arresting him, lacerated his forehead and the rear of his head which required stitches. He also claims that the arrest exacerbated his pre-existing epilepsy.

Since there are six separate releases, each one for $10,000, it is difficult to tell if the total settlement is $10,000 or $60,000.

The case is captioned Colon v. Giles, et al, Federal Case No. 2:08-cv-03621 and Colon's attorney was Richard G. Potter of Hackensack. The lawsuit and settlement agreement are on-line here.

None of Colon's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $10,000 (or $60,000) payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Paterson or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Paterson or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Colon $10,000 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, October 21, 2010

Freehold pays $150,000 to settle police false arrest/excessive force suit

On December 11, 2009, the Township of Freehold (Monmouth County) agreed to pay $150,000 to a local man who sued members of the Freehold Police Department for arresting and detaining him without cause and for injuring his wrist by applying handcuffs too tightly.

In his suit, Frank J. Constantino said that on April 21, 2007, he was driving home with his son. He claims that while he was stopped at an intersection and signaling a right turn, he noticed a bicycle approaching about 30 to 40 yards behind him on his right hand side. After making sure that his turn would not cut off the bicyclist, he claims that he safely executed his turn when the bicyclist screamed "A--hole, stop at the stop sign." Constantino claimed that he said "I did. Have a nice day" to the bicyclist and drove home.

A few minutes after he got to his home, Constantino claims that the angered bicyclist arrived and approached him and said "I am a Freehold Township Police Officer and you're under arrest." As his neighbors began to congregate around him, Constantino alleges that he asked the man for his badge or some other proof that he was indeed an officer. Then some squad cars arrived and the bicyclist, who was later identified as Officer George A. Burdge, III, allegedly "grabbed Constantino's arm, twisted his arm very aggressively behind his back and threw [him] down on his knees on his front lawn in front of his wife, children and neighbors." Burdge then allegedly applied handcuffs so tightly to cause Constantino to "yell out in pain." When Constantino asked Burdge to loosen the cuffs, he was allegedly told to "shut up."

When he was taken to the police station, Constantino claims that he was chained to a bench for three hours while Burdge denied him a request for a drink of water while the officer was drinking water in front of him and mocking him. He was given six summonses and released. He claims that all of the charges were later dismissed or resulted in not guilty verdicts. He claims that he lost his job as a specialist at the New York Stock Exchange. Also named in the suit was Freehold Police Officer Ernest Schriefer.

The case is captioned Constantino v. Freehold, Federal Case No. 3:08-cv-5159 and Constantino's attorney was Gary L. Mason of Manalapan. 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 Constantino's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $150,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Freehold or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Freehold or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Constantino $150,000 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.

Vineland Board of Education pays $60,000 to settle "whistle blower" suit

On December 9, 2009, the Vineland Board of Education (Cumberland County) agreed to pay $60,000 to and clear the disciplinary record of the assistant principal at the Landis Intermediate School.

In his suit, Richard Panas said that beginning in the 2007-08 school year, he noticed an increase in school violence at the Landis school which coincided with the replacement of the school's disciplinary code with a less strict version. Panas said that he shared his concerns with Superintendent Charles Ottinger and Principal Donald Kohaut but neither "made any serious effort to address the situation."

After the violence at the Landis school continued to escalate, Panas contends that he contacted the Board of Education members directly and told about "his unsuccessful effort to bring [the issue] to the administration's attention." This, Panas claims, caused Ottinger to discipline him for violating the Board's policies regarding "chain of command" and "media relations." As a result of the discipline, Panas claims he was put on "indefinite probation" and was being "monitored." He claims that his attempts to appeal the discipline were unsuccessful and that Kohaut and Ottinger took additional adverse action against him, including assigning him to hallway monitoring duty, giving him an adverse performance rating and forbidding him from speaking to teachers about violence at the school.

In addition to paying Panas $60,000 in damages, the school board also agreed to expunge the discipline and evaluation from Panas' personnel file and to not retaliate against him in the future.

The case is captioned Panas v. Vineland Board of Education, Federal Case No. 1:09-cv-03003 and Panas's attorney was Frank L. Corrado of Wildwood. The lawsuit and settlement agreement are on-line here.

None of Panas'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 Vineland Board of Education or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Vineland Board of Education or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Panas $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.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Trenton pays $12,500 to settle police false arrest/excessive force suit

On December 1, 2009, the City of Trenton (Mercer County) agreed to pay $12,500 to a man who sued members of the Trenton Police Department for allegedly beating him and arresting him without probable cause.

In his suit, Jeffrey Bastien said that on April 23, 2006 he was in the lobby of 620 West State Street when he was "violently arrested" by Trenton Police Sergeant Benito R. Bello and other officers. He claims to have suffered "severe brusing and lacerations to his torso, face and left eye."

The case is captioned Bastien v. Trenton, Federal Case No. 3:08-cv-2022 and Bastien's attorney was David E. Sachs of Metuchen. The lawsuit and settlement agreement are on-line here.

None of Bastien's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $12,500 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Trenton or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Trenton or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Bastien $12,500 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, October 19, 2010

Camden pays $4,500 to settle police harassment/intimidation suit

On December 8, 2009, the City of Camden (Camden County) agreed to pay $4,500 to a local man who sued members of the Camden Police Department for allegedly harassing him.

In his suit, Halbert Coursey said that after all charges arising out of his February 5, 2004 arrest were dropped on December 20, 2004, he filed filed suit against the Camden Police officers who sued him. He claims that Camden Police retaliated against him through a pattern of abuse and harassment.

On December 1, 2005, he alleges, Officer Steven Gracia (also referred to as Stephen Gracia) arrested him because he thought that he was on a "list of people who were prohibited from being in" a certain neighborhood. After not being able to verify that Coursey was on that list, Gracia allegedly released him but issued him a summons for "loitering with the intent to purchase a CDS." Coursey claims that the summons was issued solely to harass him and that he was forced to hire an attorney and appear in court. He claims that Gracia never appeared in court to prosecute the charge and that it was eventually dismissed.

On November 16, 2006, Coursey alleges, he was in a group of men that was approached by two police officers who he believes were D. Vautierinze and. C. Concepcion (presumably Carlos Concepcion). The officers allegedly told everyone in the group except for Coursey to leave. After Coursey was alone with the two officers, he saw that Gracia "lurking in the background" and asked him to come over to identify him for the two officers. Gracia allegedly refused to do so and the other officers intimidated Coursey with a flashlight and pepper spray.

On January 11, 2007, Coursey claims that he was washing his car when "a number of officers" told him to put his hands on his car and searched him without his consent. When the officers found a letter from Coursey's lawyer in his pocket, one of them allegedly asked "What are you doing with an attorney? If you are suing, why do you live in this piece of s---?" The officers allegedly locked him the back seat of a police car and later released him.

Also named in the suit were Camden Police Chief Edwin Figuero and Arturo Venegas.

The case is captioned Coursey v. Camden, Federal Case No. 1:08-cv-2169 and Coursey's attorney was George L. Farmer of Ventnor. The lawsuit and settlement agreement are on-line here.

None of Coursey's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $4,500 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Camden or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Camden or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Coursey $4,500 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.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Lenape Valley Regional school board pays $275,000 to settle racial slur lawsuit

On March 31, 2010, the Lenape Valley Regional Board of Education (Sussex County) agreed to pay $275,000 to a Byram Township high school student who sued the Board and Principal Douglas deMarrais for failing to take prompt, corrective action after the student's parents reported that their son had been harassed and called racial slurs. According to the lawsuit, the plaintiff was one of only 13 African-American students out of a total of 1,970 students enrolled at the high school.

The student is identified in court papers only by his initials, "E.L." His parents, however, are identified as Edward Lee, Sr. and Leanne Lee.

The case is captioned Lee v. Lenape Valley Regional, Federal Case No. 2:06-cv-04634 and Lee's attorneys were Bennet Zurofsky of Newark and Joshua Friedman of Larchmont, New York. Case documents are on-line here.

The settlement agreement contains a confidentiality clause, which prevents the parties to the suit from publishing 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 Lee's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $275,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Lenape Valley Regional or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Lenape Valley Regional or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Lee $275,000 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 28, 2010

Seaside Heights pays $75,000 to settle police brutality suit

On August 18, 2010, the Borough of Seaside Heights (Ocean County) agreed to pay $75,000 to a pair of Rahway residents who sued members of the Seaside Heights Police Department for allegedly using excessive force against the man and falsely arresting both the man and the woman.

In their suit, Anton Maricic and Audrone Jurgeleviciene said that on September 2, 2007 they were walking on the boardwalk back to their car after taking Jurgeleviciene's daughter and four year old grandson to an amusement park. Maricic alleged that he was carrying the grandson's toy sword and was "gesturing with it in a joking fashion to various parts of the boardwalk."

After a passerby allegedly "uttered a vulgarity" to Maricic and Maricic "returned the vulgarity" the group went back to where their car was parked. At this point, Maricic alleges, he was "pushed by" Patrolman Joseph Minialga and Sergeant Jon Lombardi and was told to "keep moving." Maricic, who claims to have a "dislocated shoulder and rotator cuff injury" which prevents him from putting his arms behind his back, stated that it was a free country and that he had done nothing wrong.

He alleges that the officers then put him in a chokehold and "yank[ed] his arms behind his back and handcuff[ed] him, causing him to experience excruciating pain." When Jurgeleviciene tried to assist, she was allegedly arrested as well.

Also named in the suit was Seaside Heights Police Chief Thomas Boyd.

The case is captioned Maricic et al v. Seaside Heights, Federal Case No. 3:08-cv-03088 and the pair's attorney was Thomas J. Mallon of Freehold. 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 pair'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 Seaside Heights or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Seaside Heights or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay the pair $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.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Franklin Board of Ed pays $80,000 to settle racial discrimination suit

On February 22, 2010, the Franklin Township Board of Education (Somerset County) agreed to pay $80,000 to a couple who sued the Board and Franklin Park Elementary School Vice Principal Anthony Caparoso for allegedly racially discriminating against their African-American son.

The couple, Desmond and Celeste Clark, claimed that Caparoso repeatedly suspended their four year old son from preschool even though the Board's own policy prohibited suspending preschool students. (The school district, however, alleges that it was not improper to suspend preschool students until 2006 when the New Jersey Department of Education specifically prohibited such suspensions.)

The parents further claim that Caparoso's suspensions were a result of his racial animus toward their son. In support of this claim, the Clarks referred to a statement that Caparoso allegedly made on June 16, 2004 that "I don't like that little black kid, he reminds me of one of those little black kids in the ghetto."

The case is captioned Clark v. Board of Education of the Township of Franklin, Federal Case No. 3:06-cv-02736 and the Clarks' attorney was Brian F. Curley 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 the Clarks' allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $80,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by the Franklin Board or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that the Franklin Board or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay the Clarks $80,000 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, August 18, 2010

Bridgeton Board of Education pays $54,900 in attorney fees to settle First Amendment lawsuit

On May 19, 2010, the Bridgeton Board of Education (Cumberland County) and/or its insurer agreed to pay $54,900 toward the attorney's fees of a student (identified only as C.H.) who successfully sued the Board for violating her First Amendment rights.

On April 22, 2010, United States District Court Judge Robert B. Kugler found that the Board violated C.H.'s rights by denying her permission to 1) wear a black and red tape armband saying “Life,” 2) distribute anti-abortion flyers during non-instructional times, and 3) wear tape over her mouth during the school day as part of her participation in the Pro-Life Day of Silent Solidarity.

The case is captioned C.H., a minor v. Bridgeton Board of Education, Federal Case No. 1:09-cv-05815 and C.H.'s attorneys were David A. Cortman of Lawrenceville, GA and Michael W. Kiernan of Marlton, NJ. The court's decision and settlement agreement are on-line here.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Millville Police Dept pays $100,000 to settle sexual harassment suit

On February 22, 2010, the City of Millville (Cumberland County) agreed to pay $100,000 to a female Millville police officer who sued her follow officers for allegedly subjecting her to "repeated humiliating and degrading sexual harassment."

In her suit, Jennifer Gentile claimed that her fellow officers and members of upper management would "make sexual comments about her breasts and what they desired to do to her sexually." She alleged that one of her superior officers would state that he always wanted to "get in her pants."

She claims that she would "basically hide in her office" and take the elevator to the basement to enter and leave the building to avoid contact with the harassing co-workers. She complained that upper management was not responsive to her complaints and took no action against her harassers.

The case is captioned Gentile v. Millville, Docket No. CUM-L-701-09 and Gentile's attorney was James M. Carter of Turnersville. The lawsuit and settlement agreement are on-line here.

None of Gentile's 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 Millville or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Millville or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Gentile $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.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

State pays $90,000 to family of prisoner who died in custody

On January 15, 2010, the State of New Jersey, Department of Corrections agreed to pay $90,000 to the mother of a man who died at Eastern State Prison on April 23, 2007.

In her suit, Hazel Richardson, mother Rickie Allen Goldware, alleged that her son, classified as a psychiatric patient, was beaten by guards and forcibly medicated while strapped to a chair.

The case is captioned Richardson v. State of New Jersey, Federal Case No. 09-cv-01383 and the mother's attorney was Vijayant Pawar of Morristown. The lawsuit and settlement agreement are on-line here.

None of Richardson's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $90,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by the Department of Corrections or any of its employees. All that is known for sure is that the State or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Richardson $90,000 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.

State pays $75,000 to family of prisoner who committed suicide

On July 10, 2009, the State of New Jersey, Department of Corrections agreed to pay $75,000 to the family of a man who allegedly hanged himself in his prison cell while incarcerated at Northern State Prison.

In their suit, the family of Tyree Wilson alleged that prison officials were "deliberately indifferent" to Wilson's medical needs, and that prison guards Todd Barnett and Craig Sears "failed to conduct the required rounds in the Unit in which [Wilson] was placed for close observation. The suit also accuses medical professionals employed by CFG Health Systems, LLC., a private vendor of health services, of failing to properly diagnose and treat Wilson. Wilson's family alleged that these failures, along with "injuries deliberately, wantonly and maliciously inflicted upon" Wilson led to his alleged suicide on January 16, 2005

The case is captioned Estate of Tyree Wilson v. Northern State Prison, et al., Federal Case No. 07-cv-1942 (WJM) and the Wilson family's attorney was Michael D'Aquanni of Springfield. A court opinion and settlement agreement are on-line here. There may have been a separate settlement with CFG Health Systems, LLC, but since that company is private, it does not respond to Open Public Records Act (OPRA) requests.

None of the family'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 the Department of Corrections or any of its employees. All that is known for sure is that the State or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay the family $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.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Gloucester County pays $35,000 to settle prison guard beating suit

Update: July 20, 2010: Since I didn't have the first names of the officers sued, I submitted an OPRA request to Gloucester Township for those names. According to a July 20, 2010 e-mail from Debra E. Press-Costello, Deputy Clerk for the Gloucester County Board of Chosen Freeholders, the actual names of the four individual defendants are:

Antonio J. Frontado
Richard S. Fox
Michael P. Hickman
Michael McLaughlin


On January 22, 2010, the County of Gloucester agreed to pay $35,000 to a Pitman man who sued three officers at the Gloucester County Corrections Facility for allegedly beating him.

In his suit, Ryan Martin said that on January 22, 2008, while an inmate at the Corrections Facility, Officers Furtado (also spelled Fortago), Fox, Hickman and McGloughlin beat him "mercilessly." Unfortunately, the court records do not identify the officers' first names.

The case is captioned Martin v. Gloucester County, Federal Case No. 1:09-04483 and Martin's attorney was Michael M. Mulligan of Carney's Point. The lawsuit and settlement agreement are on-line here.

None of Martin's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $35,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Gloucester or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Gloucester or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Martin $35,000 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, July 14, 2010

Elizabeth pays $5,000 to settle police excessive force suit

On February 13, 2010, the City of Elizabeth (Union County) agreed to pay $5,000 to a man who sued members of the Elizabeth Police Department for allegedly punching him and hitting him in the head with a sharp object.

In an August 25, 2009 court opinion, United States District Judge Jose L. Linares describes Boone's lawsuit's allegations. According to the opinion, Elizabeth Police Officers Amilcar Colon and David Conrad, while in plain clothes on June 11, 2005, observed Boone on a bicycle interacting with a person at the intersection of Jackson and Bond. Officer "Conrad saw Boone holding money in his right hand after the interaction." When of the officers approached, Boone allegedly pedaled away and shouted that he "didn't sell anything."

According to allegations summarized in the opinion, after Boone jumped a fence and entered an Anna Street residence by kicking down the rear door, he surrendered to officers. Boone alleges that after he was handcuffed, one or two of the officers punched him and that a sharp object struck his head and drew blood. Officer Colon claimed that he wasn't present at the arrest and that Boone's head wound was a result of him going over the handlebars of his bike.

Boone was arrested for various charges and was sentenced to three years probation on July 31, 2006. He brought his civil suit on March 30, 2007. Also named in the suit sere Michael Kurinzi and Vincent Flatley.

The case is captioned Boone v. Elizabeth, Federal Case No. 2:07-cv-01848 and Boone's attorney was Robert Alan Ungvary of Elizabeth. Judge Linares' opinion and settlement agreement are on-line here.

None of Boone'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 Elizabeth or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Elizabeth or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Boone $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.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Weehawken pays $105,000 to settle police excessive force suit

On November 18, 2009, the Township of Weehawken (Hudson County) agreed to pay $105,000 to a Palisades Park man who sued members of the Weehawken Police Department for allegedly applying excessive force upon him during an arrest.

In his suit, Richard Sedell, said that on June 30, 2006, he was arrested by Weehawken Police Officers William Paynter and John Mulvaney. During the arrest, the suit alleges, the officers force Sedell's "previously compromised left shoulder beyond the range of motion that it could tolerate, despite [his] prior advice and contemporaneous protests."

The case is captioned Sedell v. Weehawken, Federal Case No. 2:08-cv-03151 and Sedell's attorney was Jonathan Koles of Jersey 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 Sedell's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $105,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Weehawken or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Weehawken or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Sedell $105,000 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, June 19, 2010

Highlands Fire Department pays $7,500 to settle sexual assault lawsuit

On March 22, 2010, the Borough of Highlands (Monmouth County) and the Highlands Fire Department agreed to pay $7,500 to a Colts Neck woman who claimed that she was sexually assaulted by a member of the fire department in the firehouse.

In her suit, the woman said that she became separated from her boyfriend on September 3, 2005 while she was at the Sugar Shack in Highlands. She claimed that while she was walking around town looking for her boyfriend, she was approached by Gary Branin, Jr., who was on a bicycle, who "under the pretext and ruse of helping [the woman], coaxed and lured her inside the confines of the Highlands Fire Department." She claims that Branin sexually assaulted her, that she reported the assault to the police and that Branin "was convicted and ultimately sentenced to serve a term in State Prison."

She based her suit against the fire department for "retaining Branin as a member of the Highlands Fire Department and permitt[ing] him to have unsupervised access to the premises . . . when they knew or should have known that he was not fit to be a member."

The lawsuit continues against Branin individually. The woman's attorney was Darren M. Gelber of Woodbridge. The lawsuit and settlement agreement are on-line here.

None of the woman's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $7,500 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Highlands, the fire department or any of their officials (except for Branin). All that is known for sure is that Highlands or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay the woman $7,500 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, June 15, 2010

Long Beach pays $125,000 to settle retaliation lawsuit

On December 21, 2009, the Township of Long Beach (Ocean County) agreed to pay $125,000 to a local man who claimed that Township officials "commenced and continued an outrageous, despicable, year long campaign of retaliation against" him. Named in the suit were Mayor DiAnne C. Gove, Commissioner Ralph H. Bayard, Zoning Official Francis A. Rowen, Construction Official Ron Pingaro and Municipal Attorney Richard Shackleton.

In his suit, Anthony Majer, claimed that Township officials set their sites on him after he complained about health and safety code violations committed by his neighbor Eugene Kelly, who is also named in the suit, who Majer claims has family and friends employed by the Township. According to Majer, the retaliation campaign included confiscation of his "open house" signs, issuance of "baseless Notices of Violation," "amendment of ordinances without any rational basis in order to prevent [him] from renting his home," and "effecting a 'local ordinance arrest'" against him.

Majer claims that he has, since 2000, owned a duplex on Long Beach Island that he rents out during the summer months. In 2003, he claims he was permanently disabled after being hit by a drunk driver, making the rental income more critical than before. In March 2004, Majer alleges, he called the police about Kelly's dog running loose and defecating on the lawn of another neighbor named Rohr. According to the complaint, the "fecal matter left on the Rohr lawn by the Kelly dog accumulated over many months and filled a thirty pound garbage bag."

Kelly, Majer claimed, was a long-time resident whose family had lived in the Township for over seventy five years. According to Majer, Kelly felt that he was entitled to special privileges because of the length of his residence and his family ties. He allegedly called Majer a "f------ a--hole" and told him that he did not know who he was "messing with."

After not being successful with court mediation, Majer claims he filed two citizen complaint against Kelly on May 23, 2005 because his dog allegedly still was running loose. Kelly allegedly threatened him by saying he would not be able to "rent his property anymore." Majer allegedly responded by filing harassment charges against Kelly.

Shortly thereafter, Majer alleges, John Jones, the DPW supervisor, confiscated one of Majer's "Open House-For Rent" signs. He also received a Notice of Violation on the same day alleging that placing the sign in the right-of-way violated a municipal ordinance. Then a day later, Pingaro allegedly went to Majer's home and confiscated three additional signs. Majer claims that many other residents put out similar signs and that none of them had any ordinances enforced against them.

After the signs were confiscated, Kelly allegedly told Majer "See what happens you fat f---, you're out of business now! We can settle his another way, why bother going to Court. I'll f------ kill you next time." These comments reportedly resulted in Majer filing another harassment claim against Kelly.

Then,on July 10, 2005, Kelly allegedly "made a false statement to the Township police that Mr. Majer 'lived in a shack with no bathroom." The police allegedly responded to Majer's home at 9:30 in the evening with three patrol cars with flashing lights to investigate whether or not Majer's home had a bathroom. The, other Township officials inspected Majer's bathroom but "broadened" their inspection to other rooms in Majer's house. The officials "questioned the validity of Mr. Majer's Certificate of Occupancy and hinted that his property taxes would be raised."

Majer claims that on September 29, 2005, he met with Township officials regarding the Notices of Violation. Attorney Shackleton, who was at the meeting, allegedly said that a temporary measure that allowed for temporary "open house" signs would be withdrawn and that all such signs, going forward, will be banned. Shackleton allegedly cited safety concerns for withdrawing the policy and also wanted to ensure that Mr. Majer didn't feel discriminated against.

Thereafter, the Township reportedly issued Majer another Notice of Violation for putting out an "open house" sign. Majer allegedly responded by documenting fifty other residence who had similar signs. One of those residents was reportedly sent a Notice of Violating, listing Majer as the "complainant" while the other forty-nine cases went unaddressed.

On November 10, 2005, the Township allegedly passed an ordinance banning "Open House-For Rent" signs while permitting "Open House-For Sale" signs. Majer claims that he was the only resident who put out "Open House-For Rent" signs, so the ordinance unfairly targeted him.

The complaint goes on to allege additional acts of retaliation including a Township street sweeper dumping sand and stones in front of Majer's house.

The case is captioned Majer v. Long Beach, Federal Case No. 3:06-cv-02919 and Majer's attorney was Steven Siegler of East Brunswick. The lawsuit, a court opinion and settlement agreement are on-line here.

None of Majer's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $125,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Long Beach or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Long Beach or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Majer $125,000 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, June 14, 2010

Middletown pays $125,000 to settle abuse case that resulted in officer's suicide

Middletown pays $125,000 to settle abuse case that resulted in officer's suicide

On December 11, 2009, the Township of Middletown (Monmouth County) agreed to pay $125,000 to the family of Middletown Auxiliary Police Officer who sued the Middletown Police Department, particularly Police Lieutenant Robert Morrell for the officer's wrongful death.

In her suit suit, Kathleen Prevost, the wife of the late Robert Prevost, said that her husband, then age 39, committed suicide on November 2, 2005 after having been berated and arrested by Morrell and other members of the Middletown Police Department.

Prevost alleged that her husband Robert, who had Attention Deficit Disorder, was a cocaine addict who overcame his addiction in 1998. While clean and sober, he allegedly reinvented himself and dedicated himself to his family and community. In 2004, he "realized his dream of becoming an auxiliary police officer" with Middletown Township.

The complaint further alleges that unlike most others in the police department, Lieutenant Morrell "harbored a sinister dislike of" Prevost because he was a recovering drug addict. Morrell's contempt for Prevost was allegedly well known throughout the department and Prevost "became intimidated and fearful of Lt. Morrell and sought to avoid personal contact with him whenever possible." Morrell is alleged to have also abused other officers and reportedly "sent boxes filled with horse manure" to the homes of four officers he had a dispute with. Despite complaints from others and questions arising as to Morrell's emotional and mental stability, Police Chief Robert Oches and others in the administration "were deliberately indifferent to numerous recurring complaints about Lt. Morrell and his increasingly obvious emotional problems."

On the day of his suicide, Prevost was assigned to traffic control detail at a funeral. Allegedly fearful of running into Morrell, Prevost reportedly took his own licensed B92-5 Beretta pistol with him instead of retrieving his identical, department issued pistol from the police station. When Morrell learned that Prevost was carrying his personal pistol, he allegedly "became enraged." Even though Morrell's direct supervisor allegedly ordered him to handle the issue as a minor disciplinary matter, Morrell "issued an all points bulletin ordering that [Prevost] be arrested and brought to the the Police Department headquarters."

After officers arrested Prevost and brought him in, he was locked in "the cage" and Morrell allegedly went into a "an ear-splitting, hysterical rage that could be overheard throughout headquarters." He allegedly "mercilessly berated, cursed and threatened [Prevost] in a vile, malevolent manner. Morrell then allegedly charged Prevost with unlawful possession of a hand gun and bail was set at $7,500. After making bail, Prevost went home, "wrote two poignant notes, one to his wife and one to Morrell [and] ended his life with a single rifle shot to the head."

$75,000 of the $125,000 was paid to Prevost's estate to settle the federal civil lawsuit and the other $50,000 was paid because of a dependency claim filed with the New Jersey Division of Worker's Compensation.

The case is captioned Prevost v. Middletown, Federal Case No. 3:07-cv-5260 and Prevost's attorney was Robert F. Vardy of Union. The lawsuit and settlement agreement are on-line here.

None of Prevost's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $125,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Middletown or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Middletown or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Prevost $125,000 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.

Dover pays $15,000 to settle police false arrest/excessive force suit

On October 29, 2009, the Town of Dover (Morris County) agreed to pay $15,000 to a Morris County woman who sued members of the Dover Police Department for false arrest, excessive force and malicious prosecution.

In her suit, Angelica Lopez said that on March 7, 2003, when she was 15 years old, she was exiting a teen-party when she was approached by a Dover Police Officer who she believed to be Justin Gabrys who yelled "move along" or words to that effect. Lopez, who was 5'1" tall and weighed 110 pounds, allegedly told the officer that she was waiting for her ride. The officer then allegedly got out of his car, grabbed Lopez by her arm and pushed her against a wall "pressing his body hard against hers."

Gabrys then allegedly spun Lopez around, handcuffed her and called for back-up. The back-up officer, who was alleged to probably be Sergeant Bruce Cole, reportedly sprayed Lopez with mace. Lopez says that she was then "thrown into the police car" and taken to the station. While at the station, she alleges that Cole screamed at her, used obscenities and threatened to have her taken to a mental institution. Lopez says she was charged with aggravated assault, resisting arrest, disorderly conduct and obstructing the administration of justice and held in detention for two days. She alleges to have been acquitted of all charges except for disorderly conduct.

The case is captioned Lopez v. Dover, Federal Case No. 2:2008cv02115 and Lopez's attorney was Jeffrey J. Mahoney of Flemington. The lawsuit and settlement agreement are on-line here.

None of Lopez's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $15,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Dover or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Dover or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Lopez $15,000 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.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Eatontown pays $200,000 to settle police negligence suit

On January 25, 2010, the Borough of Eatontown (Monmouth County) agreed to pay $200,000 to the family of a woman who sued members of the Eatontown Police Department for allegedly failing to warn her about a hazardous road condition that resulted in the woman's death.

In their suit, the parents of Allison M. Lynman, then 19, said that their daughter lost control of her car after hitting a large body of water that accumulated on Route 35. Her car collided with a utility pole causing her to sustain fatal injuries.

Her family alleges that prior to the accident, Eatontown Patrolman Robert Green had been dispatched to the Route 35 location by Patrolman James DiGiovanni after DiGiovanni received a report that the road was flooded and represented a dangerous condition. According to the lawsuit, Green went to the site and observed "the accumulation of at least two (2) to three (3) inches of water on both northbound laes of travel of Route 35 and the shoulder of the roadway."

Green then allegedly reported the flood condition to DeGiovanni and the left the scene "without attempting to correct the dangerous condition or warn the public of its existence." DiGiovanni then allegedly took no further action except to notify the State Department of Transportation of the flooding.

The suit alleges that both DiGiovanni and Green breached their duty to warn Lynam of the dangerous condition and that this failure was the proximate cause of her death. Press reports indicate that in addition to the $200,000 paid by Eatontown, the New Jersey Department of Transportation also contributed $10,000 to the settlement.

The case is captioned the Lynam v. Eatontown, Docket No. MON-L-4522-04 and the Lynams' attorney was James A. Maggs of Brielle. 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 Lynams' allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $200,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Eatontown or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Eatontown or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay the Lynams $200,000 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, June 10, 2010

Plainsboro pays $12,500 to settle police false arrest suit

On January 21, 2010, the Township of Plainsboro (Middlesex County) agreed to pay $12,500 to a Collingswood man who sued Plainsboro Police Officer Jason Mariano for allegedly arresting him without probable cause.

In his suit, Vincent Capriotti said that on April 5, 2009, he was driving on Route 1 North when Mariano, who was "conducting selective enforcement" pulled him over. He claims to have given Mariano his registration and a lapsed insurance card, but could not produce his driver license because his wallet had recently been stolen. He said, however, that he was able to tell Mariano his driver license number.

After Capriotti got out of his vehicle at Mariano's request, he claims that Mariano "unlawfully requested to search [his] vehicle for his driver's license and insurance card." Capriotti allegedly told Mariano that "he would not allow [Mariano] to search his vehicle without first speaking to his supervisor."

At this point, Capriotti claims that Mariano handcuffed him and took him to the Plainsboro police station where he was released after being held for four hours. Although it is not clear from the complaint, Capriotti was apparently charged with obstructing the administration of law and government function and was later acquitted of that charge.

He sued for the attorney fees he expended fighting the charge, his car's towing and storage charges, lost wages and "severe emotional distress." Also named in the lawsuit was Police Chief Richard Furda.

The case is captioned Capriotti v. Plainsboro, Middlesex County Superior Court, Docket No. L-9620-09 and Capriotti's attorney was Richard T. Silverman of Cherry Hill. The lawsuit and settlement agreement are on-line here.

None of Capriotti's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $12,500 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Plainsboro or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Plainsboro or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Capriotti $12,500 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.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Springfield Board of Ed pays $20,000 to settle fired bus driver's racial discrimination suit

On July 6, 2009, the Springfield Board of Education (Union County) agreed to pay $20,000 to an Irvington woman who sued the Springfield Board of Education and several Board employees and officials for wrongfully terminating her and for subjecting her to "an intolerable, abusive, and racially hostile work environment.

In her suit, Sharon Moore, an African-American woman, claimed that certain employees and officials of the Board of Education, all of whom are white, treated her disparately "and despite her excellent performance and experience, her responsibilities and shifts were decreased until she was ultimately and wrongfully terminated." Named in the lawsuit were Superintendent Michael A. Davino, Board Secretary Matthew A. Clarke, Human Resources Director Ellyn Atherton, Transportation Coordinator Sheila Hahn, Facilities Supervisor Michael L. Moore and supervisor Jared Moskowitz.

According to the suit, Moore, who was employed by the Board in 2000, said that in 2003, the Board hired another, white bus driver named Dixie Dougherty who received preferential treatment even though she had been newly hired. When Moore complained to Hahn about her treatment, she was allegedly summoned by Michael Moore who told her that she was "stirring the pot." When she asked Moore why Dougherty was receiving preferential treatment, Moore reportedly responded that it was "none of your damn business" and told her that "he would do whatever is necessary to get rid of 'troublemakers.'" Moore also alleged that she was assigned to drive busses that "barely had heat in the winter and no air conditioning in the summer" while a newer bus remained idle in the garage.

Her suit also claims that she was suspended on November 21, 2005 as a result of "a ridiculous and unfounded child abuse charge brought against" her "as direct retaliation" for her discrimination complaints. She claims to have been "cleared on all allegations." She further claims that she was again suspended on January 23, 2006 in response to Moskowitz's "bogus and unfounded complaint [the she] was driving recklessly." She claims that this charge resulted in her being fired as well as being "subjected to an unwarranted DYFS investigation."

The case is captioned Moore v. Springfield Board of Education, Union County Superior Court Docket No. UNN-L-1191-08. Moore's attorney was Gina Mendola Longarzo of Madison. 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 Moore's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $20,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Springfield Board of Education or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Springfield Board of Education or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Moore $20,000 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.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Neptune Township pays $65,000 to settle police false arrest/excessive force suit

On April 5, 2010, the Township of Neptune (Monmouth County) agreed to pay $65,000 to a Brick Township man who sued members of the Neptune Police Department for allegedly beating, falsely arresting and maliciously prosecuting him.

In his suit, Carl R. Lepis said that shortly before midnight on March 15, 2008, he and a friend, identified as Vitale, were having a cigarette outside the Jumping Brook Spirits and Bar on State Route 33 in Neptune. While Lepis was standing next to Vitale's truck smoking his cigarette, a Neptune patrol car allegedly approached and shined a spot light on the pair. According to the suit, Patrolman John Jackson asked for Lepis' identification and Lepis handed him his passport.

Jackson then allegedly asked Lepis for his address and Lepis responded that the address was listed on the passport. After asking for and receiving Vitale's identification as well, Jackon allegedly ordered Lepis to turn around because he was under arrest.

Lepis claims that although he complied with Jackson's request, Patrolman J. Hunter Ellison approached and both officers "grabbed" him and "slammed [his] body against Vitale's truck." The two officers then allegedly "slammed [Lepis'] body against Jackson's police vehicle" and pushed him to the ground. Jackson then allegedly sprayed Lepis with OC Spray while Ellison allegedly "punched [him] in the face and back."

According to the complaint, "without any resistance from [Lepis], Defendants Jackson and Ellison continued to beat, punch, kick and pull [his] hair." They then allegedly handcuffed him and "slammed [his] head against the door frame as he was pushed into the police vehicle." These incidents were allegedly witnessed by Neptune Police Officers Fred Faulhaber, Leslie Borges and Bryce Byham, but all of these officers are claimed to have "failed to intervene and prevent the violation of [Lepis'] civil rights."

Lepis was charged with Disorderly Conduct, Resisting Arrest and a local ordinance for being drunk in public. Lepis claims that Jackson "made numerous false statements of fact in order to justify [his] arrest and beating. Lepis alleges that "the criminal proceedings initiated by [the officers] terminated in [his] favor."

Also named in the suit was Neptune Police Chief John O'Neil.

The case is captioned Lepis v. Township of Neptune, et al, Federal Case No. 3:09-cv-00402 and Lepis' attorney was Thomas J. Mallon of Freehold. 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 Lepis' allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $65,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Neptune or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Neptune or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Lepis $65,000 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.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Point Pleasant Beach pays $10,000 to MTV star to settle police assault claim

On January 28, 2010, the Borough of Point Pleasant Beach (Ocean County) agreed to pay $10,000 to an MTV star who lives in Elmwood Park and who sued members of the Point Pleasant Beach Police Department for allegedly assaulting him.

The MTV star who is plaintiff in the lawsuit is named Thomas J. Perno. An Internet search suggests, but does not prove, that Perno played "Tommy Cheeseballs" in MTV's "True Life."

In his suit, Perno said that he and his friends went to Jenkinson's in Point Pleasant Beach on July 22, 2006. Perno claims that even though he is a celebrity, he and his friends "maintained a low profile and drew no attention to themselves." Despite this, Perno was recognized and "accosted because of his appearance and speech in the [MTV] special."

He claimed to have been "assaulted and injured" by "bouncers" or other Jenkinson's employees. He further claimed that Point Pleasant Beach police officer Robert Kowalewski came to the scene and "further assaulted" him. Perno said that he had done nothing wrong and the Jenkinsons employees and Officer Kowalewski assaulted him to "put him in his place because of his fame and status as a public figure through the MTV special and his following."

The case is captioned Perno v. Borough of Point Pleasant Beach, Federal Case No. 3:07-cv-02627 and Perno's attorney was Maurice W. McLaughlin of Totowa. The lawsuit and settlement agreement are on-line here.

The $10,000 settlement discharges only Point Pleasant Beach Borough and its employees from the suit. There may have been additional sums paid by or on behalf of the private defendants in the matter.

None of Perno's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $10,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Point Pleasant Beach or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Point Pleasant Beach or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Perno $10,000 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.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Spring Lake Heights pays $7,500 to settle police brutality suit

On January 17, 2010, the Borough of Spring Lake Heights (Monmouth County) agreed to pay $7,500 to a Belmar man who sued members of the Spring Lake Heights Police Department for allegedly beating him. The officers named in the suit are Patrolmen Andrew O'Neil, Douglas Mayer, Christopher Bennett, Edward Gunnell and Sergeant Barry Johnstone.

In his suit, Joseph Dellago said that on July 14, 2007, at 12:26 a.m., he was "wrongfully pulled out of his vehicle" by Patrolman O'Neil. He said that O'Neil "put his foot or knee on [his] neck and head area and was pushing his head into the macadam." He said that another officer "kicked [him] very hard in the testicles while [he] was lying prone on the ground after having been handcuffed."

The case is captioned Dellago v. Spring Lake Heights, Federal Case No. 3:09-cv-04231 and Dellago's attorney was Edward A. Genz of Brick. The lawsuit and settlement agreement are on-line here.

None of Dellago's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $7,500 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Spring Lake Heights or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Spring Lake Heights or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Dellago $7,500 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.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Springfield pays $250,000 to settle lawsuit filed by two township cops

On March 18, 2010, the Township of Springfield (Union County) agreed to pay $250,000 to two police officers who sued the Township and its police chief for mistreating them.

The two officers, Patrolman Walter Brooks, who is African-American, and Captain Peter Davis will receive $150,000 and $100,000 respectively. According to an April 30, 2010 Star Ledger article on the settlement, Davis continues to work for the Springfield Police Department while Brooks has been transferred to the Union County Prosecutor’s Office.

In their suit, Brooks and Davis claimed that Police Chief William Chisholm conducted himself inappropriately. As one example, Brooks claimed that Chisolm took him to a Halloween display that included a effigy of an African-American man hanging from a tree. Brooks also claimed that Chisolm manipulated the scoring of a test which deprived him of a departmental promotion.

Brooks also made the startling allegation that Chisolm purchased an armor piercing handgun and fired an armor piercing bullet into the type of bullet-proof vests that Brooks and other officers typically wore. Chisolm allegedly brought the pierced vest into police headquarters even though he knew that Captain Vernon Peterson allegedly had earlier made threats against Brooks' life. Peterson, according to Brooks' complaint, had a history of telling racist jokes within earshot of Brooks.

Davis' allegations stem from a February 17, 2009 deposition that he gave in Brooks' lawsuit. After Davis testified in a manner critical of Chisholm, Chisholm allegedly retaliated against him by assigning him to the midnight shift.

The case is captioned Brooks and Davis v. Springfield, Docket No. UNN-L-137-08 and Brooks' and Davis' attorney was Mark Mulick of Montclair. Case documents are on-line here.

Also included at the above link are two written decisions by Union County Superior Court Judge Kathryn A. Brock. The decisions provides some insight into the Springfield Police Department's inner workings. For example, the August 26, 2009 decision (page 7), reveals that in 2007, Chief Chisholm was found to have violated the Township's harassment policy and was required to successfully complete a harassment training program.

None of Brooks and Davis's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement expressly states that the $250,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Springfield or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Springfield or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Brooks and Davis $250,000 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, May 17, 2010

Elmwood Park and Rutgers University pay $12,000 to settle police false arrest malicious prosecution suit

In January 2010, the Borough of Elmwood Park (Bergen County) and Rutgers University agreed to pay $6,000 each to a Hillside man who sued members of Elmwood Park's and Rutgers' police departments for false arrest and malicious prosecution.

In his suit, Andre Shakoor said that a Rutgers student, on September 20, 2007, reported his laptop computer stolen. A campus security camera captured an image of a bearded man taking the laptop. The laptop was "equipped with a 'LoJack' tracking system which activates when a user of the computer goes on the Internet."

Shakoor alleges that he purchased a used laptop the next day for $400 from a store in East Orange. About a week later, when Shakoor went on the Internet, the LoJack monitoring agency was able to track the laptop to an Elmwood Park motel where Shakoor was staying. But, when police showed the security video to a motel clerk, she couldn't identify the bearded man.

On October 4, 2007, Rutgers Police traced the laptop to Shakoor, who had used it to pay a traffic ticket. Elmwood Park Police Officer Vincent Scillieri, along with Rutgers Police Officers Bradley Morgan, Gregg A. Hippe and Joseph Churchill, reportedly went to the motel where Shakoor was staying. There, they allegedly stopped Shakoor as he drove into the motel's parking lot and asked to search his room and car because "they were looking for drugs." Shakoor consented to the request, according to the lawsuit, although he later learned that it was based on a "false pretense."

During a search of Shakoor's room, the officers reportedly found the laptop and arrested Shakoor even though he claimed to have explained that he purchased it and even though he didn't resemble the person identified in the security video. He claimed to have been taken to the police station, fingerprinted, photographed, issued a summons and released.

On October 17, 2009, Shakoor alleged that Officers Hippe and Churchill spoke to someone at the store where Shakoor purchased the laptop and received information that led them to another man who later admitted to stealing the laptop. Shakoor's lawyer requested discovery from the Rutgers Police Department, but was allegedly not informed that police had arrested another man for stealing the laptop which resulted in Shakoor's prosecution being prolonged. According to the lawsuit, the police knew that Shakoor legitimately purchased the laptop but "refused to disclose [the arrest of the other man to Shakoor] and persisted in their prosecution of [Shakoor]. After making numerous court appearances, the charges were dismissed on the prosecutor's motion on March 26, 2009.

The case is captioned Shakoor v. Borough of Elmwood Park, et al, Federal Case No. 2:09-cv-04724-JAG-MCA and Shakoor's attorney was Paul Casteleiro of Hoboken. Case documents are on-line here.

None of Shakoor's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $12,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Elmwood Park, Rutgers or any of their officials. All that is known for sure is that Elmwood Park, Rutgers or their insurers, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Shakoor $12,000 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.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

NJDOT pays $175,000 to settle racial/gender discrimination suit

On October 27, 2009, the New Jersey Department of Transportation agreed to pay $175,000 to a Burlington County woman who sued four officers and employees of the New Jersey Department of Transportation for attempting to prevent her from receiving a promotion. The Department officials and employees named in the suit all were white males: Malcolm Palmer, Regional Construction Engineer for Region South; Paul Hofmann, who was the woman's supervisor; William Mullowney, who was the woman's Supervising Engineer and Joseph Sacco, who was a Department employee.

In her suit, Marlene Lane, an African American woman, claimed that she was a model Department employee for 21 years and in 1999 sought a promotion to the position of Principal Engineer in the region that covered Burlington County. After qualifying for the position by passing a Civil Service examination, her name was put on the Civil Service list but she did not receive either of the two Principal Engineer positions that were open.

After allegedly learning from her supervisors that no more Principal Engineer positions were going to be offered in her region, she applied for and received a promotion to Principle Engineer in the Trenton region in March 2002. However, she alleges that within six months after taking the position in Trenton, "five vacancies for Principal Engineer were open" in the Burlington region, all of which were awarded to white males.

She alleges that in 2003 she applied for one of two Principal Engineer positions in the Burlington region and was interviewed by Hofmann and Mullowney. She claimed, however, that one of positions was given to Joe Paradise, a white male who was promised the position even though he had less seniority than Lane and was not on the list for the position. She further alleges that Hofmann and Mullowney "made effort to score [her] poorly" on the interview and accused her of being untruthful when she actually was being truthful. She claims that the two men "continued during such interview to undermine [her] resume and give her a low score so that the position could be given to a white male."

In December 2003, Lane filed a discrimination complaint with the Division of Civil Rights and attached to her lawsuit a December 20, 2004 letter from the Division concluding that the Department violated the State's policy on discrimination.

The case is captioned Lane v. New Jersey Department of Transportation, et al, Federal Case No. 1:05-cv-04727-JEI-JS and Lane's attorney was Miriam Benton Barish of Cherry Hill. After the federal case was dismissed at both parties' request, the case continued in the New Jersey Superior Court, Docket No. CAM-L-1316-08. Case documents are on-line here.

None of Lane's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $175,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by New Jersey Department of Transportation or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that New Jersey Department of Transportation or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Lane $175,000 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, April 21, 2010

Millville pays $100,000 to settle police excessive force suit

On February 9, 2010, the City of Millville (Cumberland County) agreed to pay $100,000 to a Vineland woman who sued members of the Millville Police Department for allegedly beating her.

In her suit, Sheila Stevenson said that on February 3, 2008, former officer Carlo Drogo punched her in the face, head, arms, legs and other parts of her body after stopping her as she rode her bicycle. Also named in her suit were Millville Patrolmen Sean Guy and Edmund Ansara

According to a December 13, 2008 article in the News of Cumberland County ("Suit filed against former Millville police officer," by Joe Green), Stevenson was charged with possession of cocaine, failing to deliver a controlled dangerous substance to police, resisting arrest, obstruction of justice and giving false information to an officer in connection with the incident.

Police dash-camera footage of the alleged beating are on various Internet sites in including You Tube.

The case is captioned Stevenson v. City of Millville, Federal Case No. 09-cv-3508 and Stevenson's attorney was Harold B. Shapiro of Vineland. The settlement agreement is 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 Stevenson's 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 Millville or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Millville or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Stevenson $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.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Mount Olive pays $25,000 to settle malicious prosecution suit

On March 8, 2010, the Township of Mount Olive (Morris County) agreed to pay $25,000 to a man who sued members of the Mount Olive Police Department and the Township's mayor and prosecutor for maliciously prosecuting him for harshly criticizing the police department for setting up a motor vehicle roadblock.

In his suit, William P. Duncan, Jr. said that on August 4, 2002, his elderly aunt was taken to the hospital by ambulance after falling down some concrete stairs and breaking her hip. Duncan said he drove to the hospital in order to care for his aunt and to supply a blood transfusion if needed.

While driving to the hospital on Route 46 at about 1 p.m., Duncan claimed that he was stopped by a roadblock set up by Mount Olive Police and detained there for about eight minutes while the police looked through car windows for evidence of criminal activity or motor vehicle violations. Duncan said that he felt that the roadblock was unconstitutional and was annoyed that it may have delayed his aunt's trip to the hospital.

In order to express his displeasure at the roadblock, he stopped at a phone booth to call Mount Olive Police. When he found he had no change, Duncan called 911 and "criticized the police for having the roadblock and asked the operator whether they lived in a Nazi state." Duncan admits to having used foul and offensive language.

According to Duncan's lawsuit, the Mount Olive police "immediately traced [Duncan's] call and tracked him down on the way to the hospital." Police allegedly "seized [Duncan] and forced him back to the site of the roadblock to have their supervisor" Michael Pocquat speak with him. There, Pocquat allegedly lectured Duncan for about twenty minutes about how the roadblock was needed to search for terrorists. After the lecture, Pocquat released Duncan and let him continue on his way to the hospital.

According to the lawsuit, Pocquat, during the next several weeks, decided to press criminal charges against Duncan because of his "criticism of the roadblock and his indirect suggestion that the Mount Olive Police Department were 'Nazis.'" Duncan alleged that this decision to press charges was made with the assistance and cooperation of Mayor Richard DeLaRoche, Police Chief Edward Katona, Jr. and Municipal Prosecutor Brian Mason.

Duncan alleged that Pocquat began calling members of Duncan's family to ask where Duncan lived, "even though Mount Olive police had written down [Duncan's] full name and address at the time of the roadblock incident and knew exactly where he lived." Duncan further alleged that at about 10 p.m. on August 27, 2002, Pocquat sent an officer to Duncan's elderly mother's house. He claimed that the officer told her that her house was under surveillance and that Duncan "is in a lot of trouble." He alleged that the visit "served no legitimate purpose but was designed to terrorize [Duncan's] mother.

Duncan claimed that he was issued a summons and complaint at his home at about 10:15 the same night for having "knowingly placed a 911 call knowing no emergency existed and using offensive language to convey his dissatisfaction with Mt. Olive." Duncan alleged that the summons and complaint, which contained his full address, was written prior to the police visit to his mother's house, thus demonstrating that the police "had [Duncan's] home address all along and had no need to be harassing his mother late at night."

Duncan was charged with violating N.J.S.A. 2C:33-3(e) (using 911 for non-emergency purposes). Duncan claimed that he was summoned to the Mount Olive Municipal Court to answer the charge even though it is a crime of the fourth degree which cannot be prosecuted in municipal court.. After apparently learning that the charge could not be prosecuted in municipal court, Mount Olive officials referred the case to the Morris County Prosecutor who declined to prosecute it as a crime. Rather, the County Prosecutor returned the matter to the Mount Olive Municipal Court to be prosecuted as the petty disorderly persons offense of harassment.

Duncan claimed that since his right to criticize the police was protected by the First Amendment, the prosecution was "utterly without probable cause." He also alleged that at his March 29, 2004 trial, Pocquat and two other officers perjured themselves. After having been found guilty by Municipal Court Judge Philip J. Maenza, he was sentenced to pay a $1,000 fine and spend 30 days in jail.

Duncan alleged that he asked Maenza to defer his sentence for a short while because his wife was having cancer surgery leaving him to care for his minor children. Despite this, Duncan claimed, Maenza ordered him to be sent to the Morris County Jail immediately where he stayed until March 31, 2004 when he was able to obtain a stay of sentence.

Duncan alleged that on April 14, 2005, all the charges against him were dismissed by the Appellate Division of the New Jersey Superior Court, which found "that the charges against [him] were insufficient as a matter of law."

The case is captioned Duncan v. Pocquat, et al, Federal Case No. 2:07-cv-01570 and Duncan's attorneys were Edward P. Kelly of Spring Lake and Michael G. O’Neill of New York. Case documents are on-line here.

None of Duncan'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 Mount Olive or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Mount Olive or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Duncan $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 claimed. Or, perhaps the claimed 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.

UPDATE 04/28/10


William Duncan, the plaintiff in the civil case, asked me to add the following clarification to my blog entry. I have not verified the factual statements he made and any opinion expressed are Mr. Duncan's and not mine. Before relying on any fact alleged, you should verify it by consulting official records. JP

The above coverage of this civil suit demands some clarification. The issue and subject of my complaint was not the illegal roadblock which precipitated the event, but my allegation that that police committed perjury and lied under oath and during their testimony in my trial, amongst multiple other civil rights violations.

During a formal court hearing in Mount Olive municipal court, the prosecutor denied the existence of critical discovery evidence requested to prove my case. The prosecutor declared on the record, with the judge concurring and dismissing my motion, that police retained no records of any phone calls made to their emergency 911 line. Absurd.

I took the discovery issue to NJ Superior Court and won; the Superior Court Judge then ordering police and prosecutor to provide the exact 911 records which he had formally stated on the record did not exist. It was a clear and blatant example of perjury, obstruction of justice, and federal civil rights violation. I notified the presiding judge of the prosecutors perjury, for which he was required by law to act, and he did nothing.

Appearing at trial to answer a petty harassment charge, I was actually tried on a 4th degree felony charge outside the municipal court's jurisdiction; with both judge and prosecutor arguing their pursuit of a felony charge not formally before the court, and for which I was unprepared, until I proved myself correct. This further violation of civil rights was the subject of my appeal by the ACLU in the appellate division, which agreed and overturned my conviction.

Not being able to support an argument of harassment given there was no intent to harass as defined by NJ vs. Hoffman, (I had only called their illegal actions at a mid day Sunday afternoon roadblock as that of Nazis) the prosecutor produced a completely new argument. Three police officers lied under oath in testifying against me by stating that no ambulance had passed their roadblock; evidence of which I had in multiple Mount Olive EMS personnel eye witnesses to the event. While the hospital emergency is now acknowledged by police in their statements, it was denied to having occurred at all by the testimony of the police during my trial - allowing an openly hostile judge to negate my defense and find a guilty verdict. This was the core issue of the federal case. It was my allegation in my federal complaint that had the prosecutor not created a fraudulent argument, and had police not deliberately lied under oath in support of that fraudulent argument, I would not have been convicted and sent to jail.

In my 1st appeal in Superior Court, the judge again completely ignored a NJ Supreme Court clarification on the issue of harassment in the case of Hoffmann, as the municipal court had done, and upheld my conviction. My attorney adamantly refused to address the civil rights violations and police perjury in my appeal.

Of the many defense attorneys I had contacted originally when first charged, all stated that the NJ municipal court system was so utterly corrupt that they could not defend me if pleading not guilty. In their words, not mine, I was advised that the municipal court system was a revenue generating system and more of a "kangaroo court," not a venue for justice. They further stated the wrath I would face in the court for criticizing their police force, a prime and needed moneymaker for the township.

Except for one attorney who stated he would file a not-guilty plea for a $10,000 retainer expecting to appeal it, the rest would only take the case if I agreed to let them negotiate a plea to to a charge of something lesser. Lets make a deal you could say. This for a $2,500 fee.

I refused, and ultimately defended myself having no other options, and not willing to plead guilty to something I did not do. Immediately before my trial, I was pressured by the prosecutor to accept a guilty plea to a minor motor vehicle violation and pay maybe a $100 fine, which I refused. In the end, those attorneys I had originally spoken to were 100% correct, and I did learn first hand of how corrupt the municipal court system really is.

I filed the federal complaint myself, and turned the case over to an attorney simply due to the lack of time to properly pursue the case. I am not an attorney.

This was a solid case with every claim fully supported. My attorney however, refused to pursue the core arguments of the case, that of the perjury of police and malicious prosecution, and insisted upon a settlement.

As an outsider to the legal world, this case has been both educational to me and quite disturbing. The law is magnificent in its raw form; in print anyway. In practice, however it is corrupt from every viewpoint.

Although the American justice system is still hailed as the best, what justice exists when every attorney you speak to tells you the courts themselves are so utterly corrupt that they will not even take the case unless you plead guilty? When the reality of the court system to those practicing within its walls is completely opposite public perception?

When attorneys are afraid of bring charges against corrupt public officials due to some form of personal or official retribution? When an attorney explains he cannot defend you on a no-guilty plea because he has no fair chance whatsoever; and then further ridicules you for even thinking it even possible.

Attorneys act and like to be perceived as honorable defenders of freedom, but in fact lack the courage to oppose the system. And under such conditions, no justice can exist.

This civil suit was about violations of civil rights relating to my trial in Mount Olive and not the roadblock itself which prompted it.

William Duncan
billdunc@optonline.net