Friday, January 8, 2010

Voorhees Township settles with police lieutenant for $930,000

On December 2, 2009, Jeffrey Nardello, a former lieutenant with the Voorhees Township (Camden County) Police Department, accepted $930,000 as full settlement of his Conscientious Employee Protection Act (CEPA) claim (also known as a "whistle blower" claim) against Voorhees Police Chief Keith Hummel, Deputy Chief John Prettyman and Lieutenant Louis Bordi. $520,000 of that amount goes to Nardello and the remaining $410,000 goes to Nardello's lawyer.

Nardello's civil lawsuit, originally filed in 2001, alleges that in 1999 he was assigned to investigate an internal affairs complaint against an officer that Chief Hummel was "gunning" for. Deputy Chief Prettyman allegedly told Nardello that Hummel expected him to work hard to find incriminating evidence against the officer. When Nardello reportedly told Prettyman that he would treat the officer fairly, he claims that his work environment became hostile and retaliatory.

Many more of Nardello's claims are detailed in two Appellate Division decisions issued April 4, 2005 and July 8, 2009. Copies of both decisions are available at the link below. The theme of Nardello's claims is that Hummel demanded all his subordinates to do exactly as he ordered, whether it was right or wrong, and retaliated against any who questioned him. On at least two occasions, Nardello reportedly contacted the Camden County Prosecutor's Office regarding Hummel's decisions which allegedly caused Hummel to consider him a troublemaker and retaliate against him.

A Camden County Superior Court Judge dismissed Nardello's lawsuit on October 10, 2003. The Appellate Division reversed the dismissal and the matter proceeded to trial. After a 32-day trial, which began on March 8, 2006, a jury awarded Nardello $500,000. Yet, on August 18, 2006, Superior Court Judge Mary E. Colalillo set aside the verdict after finding it "manifestly unjust."

Nardello filed another appeal and on July 8, 2009, the Appellate Division reinstated the $500,000 verdict. The court also reversed Colalillo's decision to dismiss Hummel from the lawsuit and directed that a new trial be held to determine whether Hummel was individually liable to Nardello.

The case is captioned Nardello v. Township of Voorhees, et al, Case No. CAM-L-5639-01. Nardello's lawyer was Clifford Van Syoc of Cherry Hill. The lawsuit and settlement agreement are on-line here.

The settlement agreement contains a provision requiring the parties to keep the "facts, amounts and terms" of the settlement confidential.Fortunately, however, such "confidentiality clauses" do not trump the public's right to know under the Open Public Records Act.

Even though Nardello convinced the jury that at least some of his claims were true, the settlement agreement expressly states that the $930,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by the Township of any of the officers or employees.