Thursday, January 28, 2010

River Vale pays $20,000 to settle "frivolous" lawsuit

On January 25, 2010, River Vale Township (Bergen County) authorized its insurer to pay $20,000 to resident Jeffrey Matfus who had sued the Township claiming that River Vale officials "engaged in continuous, relentless and malicious campaigns of retaliation" against him. Named in the suit were Mayor Joseph Blundo, Township Attorney Holly Schepisi, Councilwoman Denise Sieg, Councilman Dwight de Stefan, Councilman Mark Bromberg, former Police Chief Aaron Back, Lt. Robert Ryan, former Superintendent of Schools David Verducci, Board of Education Business Administrator Kelly Ippolitoa and Board of Education President Lorraine Waldes.

In a January 28, 2010 news article Township Attorney Holly Schepisi was quoted as saying that the settlement "is no admission of any guilt whatsoever" and that "The only reason we're doing this is that it's financially responsible to do so." She is quoted as having said that the amount paid was a "nuisance value payment," which is "generally regarded as a payment to end frivolous litigation." Yet, she declined disclose the amount of the settlement. I learned that the settlement was $20,000 by filing an Open Public Records Act (OPRA) request with River Vale.

The settlement agreement and the news article are on-line here.

None of Matfus' allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement expressly states that the $20,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by River Vale or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that defendants and their insurers, for whatever reason, decided that they would rather pay Matfus $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.

Lawnside pays $17,500 to settle political free speech case

On December 7, 2009, a Cherry Hill couple accepted $17,500 from the Borough of Lawnside (Camden County) to settle their claim that the Borough and its Construction Code Official, Mengste Thomas El, violated their right to free speech.

In June 2006, according to the lawsuit, Ronald and Alice Wood placed a political banner on their business property on Emlen Avenue in Lawnside. The banner, which was critical of Mayor Mark Bryant and the Borough Council, stated "Lawnside Needs New Leadership--20 Years Is Enough." According to the suit, the Construction Code Official threatened them with prosecution unless they removed the banner within five days. Given the threat, the Woods removed the banner.

The lawsuit alleged that this First Amendment violation is consistent with an "established custom and practice of the Borough of Lawnside, which custom and practice had the objective of stifling political opposition to the existing public officials."

The case is captioned Wood v. Borough of Lawnside et al, Case No. 08-cv-02941. The plaintiff's lawyer was F. Michael Daily, Jr., Esq. of Westmont. The lawsuit and settlement agreement are on-line here.

None of the Woods' allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement expressly states that the $17,500 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Lawnside or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that defendants, and perhaps their insurers, for whatever reason, decided that they would rather pay the Woods and their lawyer $17,500 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.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Deceased inmate's estate receives $76,000 settlement

On July 23, 2009, the estate of a deceased Essex County Correctional Facility inmate received $76,000 to settle a lawsuit charging that County officials and Correctional Health Services, Inc., a private contractor providing prison health services, failed to properly monitor and remedy the inmate's medical condition.

According to the lawsuit, filed in federal court in 2008, the deceased, Santos Javier Cajigas, was lodged in the Essex Facility on April 3, 2006 and died on April 16, 2006. The lawsuit alleges that Cajigas "became increasingly ill during his incarceration" but that the defendants failed to deliver the medical attention he required.

The case is captioned Ines Cajigas v. County of Essex, et al Case No. 08-cv-05834. The plaintiff's lawyer was Anthony L. Coviello, Esq. of Bloomfield. 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.

None of Cajigas' allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement expressly states that the $76,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by the County Officials or the private contractor. All that is known for sure is that defendants, and perhaps their insurers, for whatever reason, decided that they would rather pay Cajigas and her lawyer $76,000 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.

Deceased arrestee's estate receives $100,000 settlement

In July 2009, the estate of an East Orange woman received a total of $100,000 to settle a lawsuit charging that she was falsely arrested and subsequently died while in custody. Of the $100,000, $2,000 was paid by Essex County, $10,000 was paid by the City of East Orange and the remaining $88,000 was paid by Correctional Health Services, Inc., a private contractor providing prison health services to the Essex County Correctional Facility.

According to the lawsuit, filed in state court on August 8, 2008 and later transferred to federal court, the deceased, Barbara Cheryl Patrick, was arrested while visiting her deceased mother's East Orange residence on August 8, 2007. According to the suit, Patrick was her mother's sole child and heir and she was at her mother's residence to attend to affairs related to the estate.

During her visit, East Orange Police Officer S. L. Thigpen (probably Sanford Thigpen) allegedly arrested her for burglary and theft despite Patrick having told Thigpen that she was lawfully in the residence. Her bail was reportedly set at $25,000 and on August 9, 2007, she was transferred to the Essex County Correctional Facility. On August 12, 2007, while still in custody, she reportedly died. An autopsy report allegedly indicated that Patrick "suffered from injuries consisting of three broken ribs." The lawsuit further alleges that Patrick did not have broken ribs prior to her arrest and that "it is unclear whether those injuries were sustained while in the custody of" East Orange Police or the Essex County Correctional Facility.

Also named in the suit were East Orange Police Sergeant A. Y. Sanchez (probably Alejandro Sanchez), East Orange Police Sergeant Darryl Wright and East Orange Police Detective John Olivera.

The case is captioned Chekirra D. Mitchell a/k/a Chekirra Patrick et al v. City of East Orange, et al Case No. 08-cv-05079-JLL. The plaintiff's lawyer was Cynthia H. Hardaway, Esq. of Newark. The lawsuit and settlement agreement are on-line here.

None of Mitchell's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement expressly states that the $100,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by the City or County Officials or the private contractor. All that is known for sure is that these defendants, and perhaps their insurers, for whatever reason, decided that they would rather pay Mitchell and her lawyer $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.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Atlantic City and Absecon settle with three false arrest claimants for $45,000

In May 2009, three men--Joseph Spears, Vincent McWilliams and Rodney Thomas--each accepted $15,000 as full settlement of their civil rights lawsuit against the City of Atlantic City, the City of Absecon, their police departments, Atlantic City Police Officers Daniel Corcoran, Mark Pincus and Stephen Rando and Absecon Police Officers Kevin Craig and Raymond Adams.

In their lawsuit, filed on May 16, 2008, the three men allege that on June 10, 2006, Pincus, based on information received from Corcoran and Rando, radioed a police dispatcher that the three men were suspected of having committed a crime even though the none of the officers had attempted match the trio's descriptions to those of the actual suspects. According to the complaint, this radio transmission would cause the men to "be arrested utilizing swat unit techniques or a high profile motor vehicle stop." The men allege that they were later stopped and arrested and that excessive force was used against them.

The case is captioned Spears et al v. Corcoran et al, Case No. ATL-L-1428-08. The trio's lawyer was Alan M. Lands of Pleasantville. The lawsuit and settlement agreement are on-line here.

None of the trio's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement expressly states that the $45,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by any of the officers. All that is known for sure is that Atlantic City, Absecon and perhaps their insurers, for whatever reason, decided that they would rather pay $45,000 than take the matter to trial. Perhaps the 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 Atlantic City and Absecon 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.

Atlantic City settles with Absecon woman for $30,000

On November 20, 2009, Tina Marshello of Absecon, accepted $30,000 as full settlement of her civil rights lawsuit against the City of Atlantic City, its police department and Police Detective Joseph M. Rauch

Marshello's civil lawsuit, filed on August 15, 2007, alleges that she and her friends were at the Nikki Beach nightclub at about midnight on August 21, 2005 when they attempted to walk back into the Resorts Hotel and Casino carrying a plastic water bottle. Marshello contends that the water bottle was needed by one of her friends, who was eight months pregnant and needed to remain hydrated.

A security guard allegedly called out to the group that the water bottle was not allowed, but Marshello, "assuming [the guard] was not talking to them" continued to walk. According to the complaint, the guard whistled for Detective Rauch, who responded by "barreling towards" Marshello and "attempting to tackle her to the ground while wrestling a plastic water bottle from her grip." Rauch also reportedly dumped the contents of Marshello's purse into a planter, arrested her for Disorderly Conduct, put the handcuffs on her too tightly and locked her up at the Atlantic City Police Station. Marshello also alleges that the criminal complaints Rauch filed against her were later dismissed.

The case is captioned Marshello v. Atlantic City, et al, Case No. 07-cv-3888. Marshello's lawyer was Richard F. Klineburger, III of Haddonfield. The lawsuit and settlement agreement are on-line here.

None of Marshello's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement expressly states that the $30,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Rauch or any other official. All that is known for sure is that Atlantic City, and perhaps its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that they would rather pay Marshello and her lawyer $30,000 than take the matter to trial. Perhaps Atlantic City' 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 Atlantic City 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, January 8, 2010

Voorhees Township settles with police dispatcher for $40,000

On November 25, 2008, Geraldine Rock, a former records clerk and dispatcher with the Voorhees Township (Camden County) Police Department, accepted $40,000 as full settlement of her discrimination and wrongful retaliation suit against the Voorhees Police Department and Police Lieutenant Louis Bordi. $18,432.50 of the $40,000 went to Rock while the remaining $21,567.50 went to her lawyer.

Rock's civil lawsuit, filed on January 23, 2008, alleges that she tripped and fell at work, injuring her foot, and that her injury caused her physician to restrict her "from prolonged walking or standing." Yet, she alleges, police officials would not let her use a unisex restroom that was close to her desk, but instead made her walk to a women's restroom that was much further away. She was also required, despite her doctor's note, "to stand up to help patrons at the window upwards to twenty times per day."

After she complained about the Department's refusal to accommodate her injury, Bordi and others allegedly "began a swift and harsh systematic pattern of harassment and retaliation." This allegedly included taking away of overtime hours, filing disciplinary charges against her for having moved her computer monintor so that she could dust under it and making her bring water from home instead of using the office's watercooler.

As part of the settlement, the Township agreed to remove several documents from Rock's personnel file and agreed not to mention anything negative to any of Rock's prospective employers.

The case is captioned Rock v. Township of Voorhees, et al, Case No. 08-cv-1385. Rock's lawyer was Alan H. Schorr of Cherry Hill. The lawsuit and settlement agreement are on-line here,

None of Rock's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement expressly states that the $40,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Bordi or any other official. All that is known for sure is that Voorhees Township, and perhaps its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that they would rather pay Rock and her lawyer $40,000 than take the matter to trial. Perhaps Voorhees' 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 Voorhees 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.

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.