Thursday, November 10, 2011

Cherry Hill board pays $35,000 to settle teacher/student sex assault case

On May 16, 2011, a federal judge approved an agreement under which the Cherry Hill Board of Education (Camden County) would pay $35,000 to a then fourteen year-old school student at Rosa International Middle School who sued a teacher's aide for allegedly sexually assaulting her.

In her suit, the Plaintiff, identified by her initials, claimed that teacher's aide Jeffrey Powell "physically and sexually assault[ed]" her. She also claimed that school officials acted "with negligence, recklessness and indifference" to Powell's alleged sexual misconduct.

The case is captioned K.R. v. Jeffrey Powell, et al, Docket No. CAM-L-4005-10 and K.R.'s attorney was Louis G. Hasner of Cherry Hill. Case documents are on-line here. Also at this link is an Appellate Division decision concerning Powell's appeal of related criminal charges. Also, $35,000 settled the matter only against the school board. A private settlement may have been reached between Powell and the plaintiff.

None of K.R.'s allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by the Cherry Hill board or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that the Cherry Hill board or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay K.R. $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.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Egg Harbor Township pays $650,000 to settle police officer's whistle blower suit

On May 28, 2009, the Township of Egg Harbor (Atlantic County) agreed to pay $650,000 to a Township police officer who sued the Egg Harbor Police Department for retaliating against him after he reported suspected cheating on a sergeant promotional exam.

In his suit, Christopher Mozitis said after he took the sergeant promotional exam in 2005, he was "shocked" to learn that five other officers who "were definitely not the best and the brightest" had achieved the top five test scores. He further claimed that he had hear rumors that some of the top scorers had boasted "that they had been given access to a surreptitiously made audiotape recording of the sergeant's promotional exam oral test portions by the Key Schools."

Mozitis said that he after reported his suspicions to Captain John Pope and Chief John Coyle a "half-hearted" investigation was done. However, Mozitis alleged, Chief Coyle promoted one of the top scorers to sergeant prior to the investigation's completion.

Mozitis also alleged that after the test scores were known, Chief Coyle and other supervisors evaluated the candidates and "then manipulated the ultimate promotional list rankings based upon non-objective factors." In sum, Mozitis claimed, "favoritism was allowed to trump merit."

Mozitis claimed that his complaints about the testing process resulted in "a grotesquely hostile and retaliatory work environment." He claimed, for example, that police union shop steward Ray Theriault threatened to "kick his ass" when Mozitis confronted Theriault for failing to pursue his grievance.

Also named in the suit was Egg Harbor Police Captain Matthew Coyle who is Chief Coyle's brother.

The case is captioned Mozitis v. Coyle, Docket No. ATL-L-1936-06 and Mozitis's attorney was Clifford Van Syoc of Cherry Hill. Case documents are on-line here.

The settlement agreement contains a confidentiality clause which, curiously, states that it is not a "confidentiality agreement" but limits the parties' statements about the settlement to "The matter has been resolved to the satisfaction of the parties." 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 Mozitis's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $650,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Egg Harbor or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Egg Harbor or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Mozitis $650,000 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 24, 2011

Egg Harbor Township pays $32,500 to settle police false arrest/intimidation suit

On November 17, 2008, the Township of Egg Harbor (Atlantic County) agreed to pay $32,500 to a man who sued members of the Egg Harbor Township Police Department for allegedly beating him and arresting him without probable cause.

According to a June 8, 2008 federal court opinion, Pierre Reid, Sr. said that he was falsely arrested by Patrolmen Scott Nell, Michael Steinman, Christopher Mozitis, Anthony Venuto, William Reed and Jeffrey Lancaster and Lieutenant Larry Szapor on September 13, 2003. The arrest arose out of domestic violence charges brought against Reid by his former girlfriend Michelle Nieves. The second count of Reid's lawsuit alleges that Szapor, Steinman, Mozitis, Venuto, Reed and Lancaster hurled "racial slurs and profanity" at him and "maced him uncontrollably" in the face and genitals while again arresting him two days later on September 15, 2003.

The crux of Reid's complaints is that Patrolman Scott Nell was allegedly in a romantic relationship with Michelle Nieves and that Nell and Nieves conspired to falsely assert domestic violence charges against Reid. According to a footnote in the court decision, "Nell and Nieves became romantically involved and were married in December of 2004."

Also named as plaintiffs in the suit were Pierre Reid, Jr., Kristen Amber Reed and Victor Nelson. Also named as defendants were Michelle Nieves, Patrolman Michael Bordonaro and the Township of Egg Harbor.

The case is captioned Reid v. Nell, et al, Federal Case No. 1:05-cv-04885-RMB-JS and Reid's attorney was Ericka A. Appenzeller of Atlantic City. Case documents are on-line here.

The settlement agreement contains a confidentiality clause, which prevents the parties to the suit from publicly disclosing the settlement terms. Fortunately, however, these confidentiality clauses do not trump the public's right to obtain copies of settlement agreements that arise out of lawsuits in which a government agency or official is a defendant.

None of Reid's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $32,500 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Egg Harbor or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Egg Harbor or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Reid $32,500 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, July 19, 2011

Merchantville pays $11,000 to settle suit alleging illegal MV stop

On May 11, 2011, the Borough of Merchantville (Camden County) agreed to pay $11,000 to a Pennsauken man who sued members of the Merchantville Police Department for allegedly stopping his vehicle and arresting him for Driving While Intoxicated without probable cause.

In his suit, Alan Donia said that on September 23, 2007, he was stopped in Pennsauken by Merchantville Police Sergeant Jeffrey Brocious, Sergeant Michael Reilly and Officer Matthew Rull and arrested for drunk driving, refusing to submit to a breath test and careless driving. After being convicted in municipal court, Donia claimed that Superior Court Judge William J. Cook reversed his conviction, finding that "there was no probable cause for the police to stop Alan Donia's vehicle and arrest him."

The case is captioned Donia v. Merchantville, Superior Court Docket No. CAM-L-2623-09 and Donia's attorney was Kimberly Stuart Kluchnick of Cherry Hill. Case documents are on-line here.

None of Donia's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $11,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Merchantville or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Merchantville or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Donia $11,000 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 7, 2011

Bayonne pays $95,000 to settle police false arrest/excessive force suit

On May 25, 2011, the City of Bayonne (Hudson County) agreed to pay $95,000 to two local men who sued members of the Bayonne Police Department for allegedly beating them and arresting them without probable cause.

In their suit, Michael Condo and Craig S. DeRocco said that they were assaulted by police as they left Fratelli's Bar on Broadway, Bayonne on March 18, 2007. Specifically, Condo said that Bayonne Police Detective David Macre beat, kicked and threw him to the ground while cursing at him. DeRocco claimed that Officer Dominick Lillo tackled him and punched him "numerous times in the face and head." DeRocco also claimed that Lillo kicked DeRocco's sister when she asked him to stop beating her brother. The men also accused Detectives William Peterson and Timothy Carey as well as Sergeant Timothy McAuliffe of "assaulting other individuals" who were in the area.

Both men claimed that they were taken to Bayonne Hospital's Emergency room while handcuffed and then taken back to the police department where they were "booked, searched and detained." Both men said that they were charged with aggravated assault and resisting arrest but that all charges were administratively dismissed by the Hudson County Prosecutor on December 3, 2007.

The case is captioned Condo and DeRocco v. City of Bayonne, Federal Case No. 2:09-cv-01215 and the men were represented by Ida Cambria of New Brunswick. Case documents are on-line here.

None of the men's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $95,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Bayonne or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Bayonne or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay the men $95,000 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 24, 2011

Elizabeth Board pays $205,000 to settle employee age discrimination suit

On January 26, 2011, the Elizabeth Board of Education (Union County) agreed to pay $205,000 to worker in its technology department who sued the Board for allegedly firing him because of his age.

In his suit, Carmen Fortunato of Belleville, claims that he showed up to work on June 26, 2006, he discovered that he had been locked out of the Board's computer system. He subsequently learned that he had been terminated "as a consequence of performance, attendance, credentials and/or budgetary reasons." He claimed that those reasons were pretextual and that the real reason for firing him was his age.

The case is captioned Fortunato v. Elizabeth Board of Education, Docket No. UNN-L-2500-07 and Fortunato's attorney was Thomas R. Basta of Warren. Case documents are on-line here.

None of Fortunato's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $205,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by the school board or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that the school board or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Fortunato $205,000 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.

Elizabeth Board pays $500,000 to settle employee discrimination suit

On May 9, 2011, the Elizabeth Board of Education (Union County) agreed to pay $500,000 to an electrician who sued the Board and Superintendent Pablo Munoz for allegedly firing him because of his age, Italian ancestry, perceived disability or because he filed a workers compensation claim.

In his suit, Frank LaFace, who was 60 when the lawsuit was filed, said that he was hired by the Board in 1983 and was placed on administrative leave on June 30, 2006 while he was seeking a workers compensation claim. He claims that he was then discharged even though he had seniority and "an excellent work history."

The Board agreed to pay the $500,000 as follows:

a) an initial check of $240,000, $110,000 of which is for LaFace's attorney's fees, $65,000 for his pain and suffering and $65,000 for economic damages.

b) one year later, another check for $130,000, $65,000 for LaFace's pain and suffering and $65,000 for economic damages.

c) one year after that, another $130,000 check, similar split between pain & suffering and economic damages.

The case is captioned LaFace v. Elizabeth Board of Education, Docket No. UNN-L-3662-07 and LaFace's attorney was Phillip B. Linder of Edison. 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 LaFace's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $500,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by the school board or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that the school board or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay LaFace $500,000 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 20, 2011

Department of Corrections pays $415,000 to settle discrimination suit

On April 21, 2011, the State of New Jersey Department of Corrections agreed to pay $415,000 to settle a lawsuit filed by a former female instructor who worked at the Corrections Officer Training Academy in Sea Girt, New Jersey.

In her suit, Gina Marie DiPasquale, who served as a Senior Corrections Officer since 1996, said that after she began working as an instructor at the Sea Girt Academy in 2001, she "was subjected to harassment, retaliation and other discriminatory conduct on account of her sex and was forced to endure a work environment hostile to her and others."

As one example, she said that she complained in February 2002 about "sexually offensive cadences" used in training including one that included the phrase "don't let your ding dong dangle in the dirt."

In her complaint, DiPasquale alleged that her complaint fell on deaf ears and that she "renewed" those complaints when Craig Conway was hired as the new director of the the Academy in 2002. In a December 18, 2009 Appellate Division decision, Conway was described as "an openly gay man" who "allegedly created an inner-circle of good-looking, young male officers, including captains, lieutenants and sergeants who supervised plaintiff [and that Conway] allegedly gave preferential treatment and more favorable assignments to these men."

She said that she was discriminated after she complained, and that she was not allowed to instruct classes for which she was qualified. She said that Conway and others in management referred to her as "psycho-bitch" and other derogatory terms.

DiPasquale claimed that the campaign of harassment forced her to take a temporary disability leave in early 2003. While she was on leave, she was notified that upon her return, she would be reassigned to work in the prison in Trenton and not teach at the Academy. She claimed that the harassment escalated and became so severe that she was forced to resign.

The case is captioned DiPasquale v. State of New Jersey, Docket No. MER-L-228-05 and DiPasquale's attorney was Patricia A. Barasch of Moorestown. Case documents are on-line here.

The settlement agreement contains a confidentiality clause, which prevents the parties to the suit from publicly disclosing the settlement terms. Fortunately, however, these confidentiality clauses do not trump the public's right to obtain copies of settlement agreements that arise out of lawsuits in which a government agency or official is a defendant.

None of DiPasquale's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $415,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Department of Corrections or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Department of Corrections or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay DiPasquale $415,000 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 2, 2011

Sparta pays $225,000 to settle suit alleging Uranium-tainted drinking water

On September 2008, the Township of Sparta (Sussex County) agreed to pay a total of $225,000 to ten local residents ($22,500) who sued the Township and its Water Utility claiming that their drinking water contained levels of Uranium in excess of EPA regulations.

In their suit, Suzanne Cohen, Alyson Cohen, Jeffrey Cohen, Sharon Strickland, Ken Strickland, Barrette Strickland, Sally Finegan, Christina Finegan, Stephen Finegan and Gerald Finegan claimed that Township and Water Utility officials were negligent and failed to warn them of the hazard and "acted with conscious disregard of [their] safety with malice and oppression for which punitive and exemplary damages should be imposed."

The case is captioned Cohen et al v. Township of Sparta, et al, Docket No. SSX-L-361-05 and the residents' attorney was Shari M. Blecher of Princeton. 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 Plaintiffs' allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $225,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Sparta or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Sparta or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay the Plaintiffs $225,000 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, May 7, 2011

Vineland pays $12,694.05 to settle police officers' suit for legal costs

In January and March 2011, the City of Vineland (Cumberland County) agreed to pay $12,694.05 toward the legal expenses incurred by two City police officers who claimed to have been suspended for two days but had those suspensions reversed by a Superior Court judge.

In theirs suit, Officers Brad Marchesano and Gregory Pacitto both claimed to have been suspended in 2008 and 2009 by Business Administrator Denise Monaco, who acted as a disciplinary hearing officer, for violating the Police Department's rules and regulations. Both officers appealed their suspensions and received reversals from Cumberland County Superior Court Judge Richard J. Geiger.

Marchesano and Pacitto, respectively, claimed $9,880.05 and $11,304.00 for their attorney fees expended in seeking relief from Judge Geiger. Even though they claimed a total of $21,184.05, they settled, respectively, for $5,832.15 and $6,862.90, which is about 60% of that claimed.

The cases are captioned Marchesano v. City of Vineland, Docket No. CUM-L-743-10 and Pacitto v. City of Vineland, Docket No. CUM-L-744.10. Both officers were represented by Christopher Gray of the Marlton firm of Alterman & Associates, LLC. . Case documents are on-line here.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Cedar Grove pays $8,000 to settle free speech lawsuit

On February 28, 2011, the Township of Cedar Grove (Essex County) agreed to pay $8,000 to a Millburn woman who sued the Township and its former mayor for refusing to let her speak during two Township Council meetings held in 2009.

In her suit, Janet Piszar, along with Verona resident Marilyn English, who both oppose the killing of deer as a way of managing deer population, said that they attended an April 6, 2009 public meeting of the Cedar Grove Township Council "to present arguments and evidence regarding the efficacy of deer kills and to encourage the Township to employ alternate methods." According to the lawsuit, Paul Lee, who was Mayor at the time, and several Council members "repeatedly interrupted Plaintiffs, refused to permit [them] to finish their comments and refused to allow Ms. Piszar to make her presentation regarding deer kills."

At a May 18, 2009 public meeting, Mayor Lee allegedly told the pair that "I am not listening to your comments" and accused Ms. Piszar of "denigrating" the Township and implied that unless Ms. Piszar left the podium, she would be arrested.

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.

The case is captioned Piszar v. Cedar Grove, Superior Court Docket No. ESX-DC-34868-09 and Piszar's attorney was Walter M. Luers of Oxford. Case documents are on-line here.

None of Piszar's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $8,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Cedar Grove or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Cedar Grove or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Piszar $8,000 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, March 1, 2011

Clayton and Elk pay $35,000 to settle police harassment suit

On October 26, 2010, the Borough of Clayton and Township of Elk, (both in Gloucester County) each agreed to pay $17,500 (for a total of $35,000) to a Sewell Church, two church pastors and a church worker who alleged that police and officials from both municipalities harassed them. The suit was brought by the City Harvest World Outreach Church, Pastors Richard Beatty, his wife Pastor Leola Beatty and church worker Harry Hampton.

According to the lawsuit, Hampton was living at an Elk Township residence owned by City Harvest Church while the residence was being renovated and converted into a place of worship. On October 31, 2006, Elk Mayor William J. Rainey, accompanied by Elk Police Corporal Victor Molinari and Elk Police Officers Walter P. Garrison II, Joseph Pierson and Kevin Przybyszewski, allegedly knocked on the door, entered the premises and accused Hampton of possessing illegal drugs. According to the suit, Mayor Rainey and police detained Hampton while searching "the inside of closets, cabinets, rooms and storage areas." The police allegedly did not have a warrant, not did they have probable cause or permission to search the premises. The lawsuit further alleges that no charges were brought against Hampton or the other plaintiffs as a result of the search.

Hampton also alleged that Clayton Police Officer Mark Konnick stopped him while he was walking down the street at about 11 a.m. on December 12, 2006. He alleges that there was no justification for the stop and that Elk Police Officers Victor Molinari and Joseph Pierson and Clayton Officer Michael J. Foley also responded to the scene and assisted in questioning Hampton. Hampton alleged that after questioning him and finding no outstanding warrants against him, the four officers transported him to his Elk Township residence, "confiscated his house keys" and opened the front door without his permission.

Hampton further alleged that January 1, 2007, at about 11 p.m., Elk Police Corporal Lance Hitzelberger, who was later accompanied by Elk Officer Kevin Przybyszewski, stopped and questioned him without reason or cause.

Also named in the suit were Clayton Police Chief Dennis R. Marchei, Elk Police Chief Stephen B. Brogan and the Gloucester County Sheriff's Department. According to Clayton's release, Marchei was dismissed from the suit after a successful summary judgment motion and Officers Konnick and Foley were voluntarily dismissed from the suit. It is unclear exactly what injury either pastor suffered or why Gloucester County was named in the suit.

The case is captioned Beatty et al v. County of Gloucester, et al, Federal Case No. 3:08-cv-02235 and the plaintiffs' attorney was Jonathan H. Lomurro of Freehold. Case documents are on-line here.

The settlement agreement with Clayton 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 plaintiffs' allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreements expressly state that the $35,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Clayton, Elk, Gloucester County or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that the defendants or their insurers, for whatever reason, decided they would rather pay the plaintiffs $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.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Gloucester City pays $45,000 to settle police false arrest/excessive force suit

On October 14, 2010, two officers in the Gloucester City (Camden County) Police Department agreed to pay $45,000 to a Woodbury man who sued them for allegedly falsely arresting and using excessive force against him.

In his suit, Reginal Gaines, a 45 year old, African American man, said that on July 7, 2006 he was pulled over by Gloucester City Police Officer James Little for "not having a tag light and for failing to use a turn signal." Gaines claims that Little, without provocation, sprayed mace in his face and eyes.

He alleged that Officer J. Flood (presumably Jason S. Flood) threatened to have Marco, a police dog, attack him. Further, he alleged that Officer Carlos A. DePoder tackled him to the asphalt without provocation.

Gaines stated that he was arrested, charged with disorderly conduct, obstruction and aggravated assault on a police officer held under $20,000 bail. According to a March 3, 2010 court opinion, Gaines was later found not guilty of those charges in Audubon Municipal Court.

According to the court opinion, the mobile video camera on Little's car ran out of videotape prior to the arrest and Flood's vehicle camera also did not record the police interaction with Gaines because of the way it was parked.

The two officers who settled were Little and DePoder. Also named in the suit were Gloucester City Police Chief William G. Crothers, Deputy Chief Michael Kaye, Lieutenant G. Berglund (presumably George J. Berglund) and several official from Audubon Borough. These officials, as well as Flood, were dismissed from the suit.

The case is captioned Gaines v. Gloucester City, Federal Case No. 1:08-cv-03879 and Gaines' attorney was Ronald P. Sierzega of Woodbury. Case documents are on-line here.

None of Gaines' allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $45,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Gloucester City or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Gloucester City or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Gaines $45,000 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, February 24, 2011

East Brunswick pays $22,500 to police officer who claimed retaliation

On October 22, 2010, the Township of East Brunswick (Middlesex County) agreed to pay $22,500 to a Township police officer who claimed he was retaliated against after speaking out about the East Brunswick Police Department allegedly "engaging in illegal racial profiling" and allowing police officers who drive drunk to drive away without being charged. He also claims to have spoken out about several other safety issues, including officers in patrol cars having loaded shotguns on a rack behind their heads.

In his suit, Joseph Marcantonio, who claims to have a very high success rate in arresting drunk drivers, complained about being regularly scheduled to appear in municipal court at 9 a.m. on the mornings after he completed his shift at 4 a.m. He claims that his supervisors refused to allow him sufficient time to sleep and this resulted in increased blood pressure, sleeping disorders, anxiety and depression.

Named in the suit were East Brunswick Police Director Barry Roberson, Captain Scott Mayer, Lieutenant Alan Quercia and Sergeant George Kaltenbach.

The case is captioned Marcantonio v. East Brunswick, Superior Court Docket No. MID-L-6428-07 and Marcantonio's attorney was William H. Buckman of Moorestown. Case documents are on-line here.

None of Marcantonio's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $22,500 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by East Brunswick or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that East Brunswick or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Marcantonio $22,500 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.

Seaside Heights pays $30,000 to settle police excessive force suit

On January 20, 2011, the Borough of Seaside Heights (Ocean County) agreed to pay $30,000 to an Avenel man who sued members of the Seaside Heights Police Department for allegedly assaulting him.

In his suit, Justin Racelis said that on July 29, 2007, he was leaving the Bamboo Bar when Police Officer Robert Rezzonico yelled to him "Hey, f*****' retard, get over here!" After he and his friends emptied their pockets in accordance with Rezzonico's instructions, Rezzonico allegedly threatened Racelis with arrest if he said "another word." After Racelis asked Rezzonico if he was serious, Rezzonico reportedly arrested and handcuffed him.

Racelis' girlfriend then allegedly put her attorney's business card and a PBA card into Racelis' mouth, and Rezzonico reportedly took them out. After the girlfriend asked for the cards back, Rezzonico allegedly threatened to "kick her ass."

Racelis started calling out to passersby and asked them to videotape the event. At this point, Racelis alleges, Rezzonico, together with Officers Shawn Heckler, Sean J. McGinley, Matthew Quinn and Moutros Constantino, "tackled [Racelis] to the ground, rammed a knee into [his] next and maced him."

But, allegedly, a passerby by the name of George W. Kramer, did photograph the event and when police realized it, they allegedly arrested Kramer and deleted the photos from his camera. (Kramer sued and later settled for $50,000 -- see our blog post here)

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

The case is captioned Racelis v. Seaside Heights, Federal Case No. 3:09-cv-03066 and Racelis's attorney was Thomas J. Mallon of Freehold. Case documents are on-line here.

None of Racelis's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $30,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by 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 Racelis $30,000 than take the matter to trial. Perhaps the defendants' decision to settle was done to save further legal expense and the costs of trying what were in fact exaggerated or meritless claims. Or, perhaps the claims were true and the defendants wanted to avoid being embarrassed at trial. This is the problem when cases settle before trial--it is impossible to know the truth of what really happened.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Bordentown Fire District 2 pays $13,756.98 to settle firefighter lawsuit

In August 2010, Fire District No. 2 in Bordentown Township (Burlington County) agreed to pay $13,756.98 to a career firefighter who claimed that the Fire District violated his due process rights when it suspended him without pay for three months. As part of the settlement, the firefighter--David J. MacFarland of Florence--agreed to resign effective December 31, 2009.

In his suit, MacFarland claimed that he was suspended by the Fire District on January 29, 2009 based on a psychogist's evaluation deeming him unfit for duty. He said that the suspension was procedurally defective because it did not provide him with meaningful notice and an opportunity to be heard. He also said that the suspension was "ludicrous and irrational" because he was already excused from duty for medical reasons when the suspension was imposed.

Named in the suit were Fire Commissioners Stephen Monson, Matt Dillon, Joseph Fresco, Andrew Watson and David Horsnall.

The case is captioned MacFarland v. Commissioners of Fire District No. 2, Federal Case No. 1:09-cv-02865 and MacFarland's attorney was John F. Pilles, Jr. of Mount Holly. Case documents are on-line here.

None of MacFarland's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement expressly states that the $13,756.98 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by the Fire District or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that the Fire District or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay MacFarland $13,756.98 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, February 16, 2011

Ridgefield pays $7,500 to settle police false arrest suit

On April 30, 2010, the Borough of Ridgefield (Bergen County) agreed to pay $7,500 to a developmentally disabled man who sued members of the Ridgefield Police Department for allegedly falsely arresting and maliciously prosecuting him.

In his suit, Bryan Parker said that he was at a Little League field on July 7, 2006 when he was taunted and teased by several teenage boys. Among them was Julian Benitez, who is also named as defendant in the suit.

Parker, who said that he became afraid, called the police. When Ridgefield Police Officers Robert Katz, Joseph Castellitto, Hagop Cigercioglu, Robert Williams and Richard Besser responded, Benitez allegedly told them that "Parker had touched him on the butt and rubbed his leg."

Benitez's allegation caused Katz to arrest him and charge him with criminal sexual contact. He was released on his own recognizance after being in custody for about three hours. The charge was reportedly amended to harassment and was later dismissed by the municipal court.

The complaint alleges that subsequent police interviews of Benitez revealed "contradictions that called into doubt his credibility." Even though Police Chief John Bogovich was aware of the contradictions prior to Parker's first court hearing, he allegedly did nothing to stop his prosecution from continuing.

The case is captioned Parker v. Ridgefield, Federal Case No. 2:08-cv-3226 and Parker's attorney was Stephen M. Latimer of Hackensack. 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.

The settlement agreement releases only Ridgefield and its officers, not Julian Benitez. According to an October 1, 2010 article in the Record, Benitez will be representing himself in the trial of the case.

None of Parker'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 Ridgefield or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Ridgefield or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Parker $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, February 15, 2011

Camden County pays $400,000 to settle wrongful death action

On July 16, 2008, the County of Camden agreed to pay $400,000 to a estate of man who hanged himself while incarcerated at the Camden County Correctional Facility (CCCF).

In her suit, Agnes E. Walls, administratrix of the estate of Christopher L. Miller, claimed that CCCF officials ignored Miller's repeated threats of suicide while he was incarcerated in early January 2005. According to the suit, Miller allegedly "begged [the guards] to again place him in restraints, so as to prevent him from taking his own life." He reportedly hanged himself after guards "turned a deaf ear to his entreaties and ignored his prayer for help."

Named in the suit were Facility Warden Eric Taylor and CCCF officers Harry Sweeten, Troy Jones, Walter Radlinger, Glen Titus, Donald Souder, Christopher Burcii, J. DeForge, and Donovan Washington.

According to a July 16, 2008 settlement, the County agreed to pay Walls $300,000 of the $400,000 settlement immediately and work with her to file direct claims against CFG Health Systems, LLC and Steininger Behavioral Care Services, who appear to be private contractors retained by the County. According to a December 3, 2009 release, the County recovered a total of $150,000 from CFG and Steininger.

The case is captioned Walls v. County of Camden, Federal Case No. 1:06-cv-05961 and Walls' attorney was Philip Stephen Fuoco of Haddonfield. Case documents are on-line here.

None of Walls' allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $400,000 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 Walls $400,000 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.

Asbury Park pays $10,000 to settle police false arrest suit

On January 24, 2010, the City of Asbury Park (Monmouth County) agreed to pay $10,000 to a local woman who sued Asbury Park Police Officer Michael Paulk for falsely arresting her.

In her suit, Lissa McQueen said that on June 30, 2008, she smelled an odor coming from a boarded-up house next door to her residence. She claimed that she knocked on the door to speak to the occupants about the odor when she was approached by Paulk who accused her of trespassing and being engaged in drug activity. She said that after she became upset at these accusations, Paulk handcuffed her, took her to the policy station and charged her with disorderly conduct. She claims that the charges were dismissed by the court on October 14, 2008.

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.

The case is captioned McQueen v. Asbury Park, Federal Case No. 3:09-cv-02657 and McQueen's attorney was Dwight P. Ransom of Neptune. Case documents are on-line here.

None of McQueen'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 Asbury Park or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Asbury Park or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay McQueen $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, February 10, 2011

Camden school board pays $75,000 to settle teacher's suit

On October 23, 2009, the Camden Board of Education (Camden County) agreed to pay $75,000 to a former fifth-grade teacher who claimed that the Board retaliated against him after after he brought public attention to a vice principal allegedly making Hispanic students eat their lunch off the cafeteria's floor.

In his suit, Jose L. Rivera of Vineland said in February 2008, one of the students in his bi-lingual class, consisting exclusively of Hispanic students, spilled some water on the floor while trying to change a jug of water on a water cooler. This incident allegedly happened on day when Rivera was absent and a substitute was teaching the class.

He alleges that as a result of this accident, Vice Principal Theresa Brown "decided to punish the whole class [by making the Hispanic children] eat lunch on the floor of the cafeteria without trays, while the African-American and mixed classes sat at the lunch table with trays. This went on for more than a week before [Rivera] learned of the punishment."

Rivera reported that his students told him that Vice Principal Brown had threatened them with more punishment if they told anyone about having to eat off the floor. Rivera, who said he feared retaliation, advised his students to tell their parents of the punishment and have the parents call the Board of Education. In his suit, Rivera said that he didn't report the matter to Acting Principal Alex DeFlavia because he felt that he would "be either indifferent to or in support of" the punishment.

After the Board received parents' complaints, Rivera said that the Board reprimanded and suspended him "for failing to notify the principal, even though the principal already knew and had taken no action." He said that he "never worked another day" for the Board, but that Vice Principal Brown was not fired but transferred to another school.

The case is captioned Rivera v. Camden Board of Education, Federal Case No. 1:08-cv-04306 and Rivera's attorney was Alan H. Schorr of Cherry Hill. Case documents are on-line here.

None of Rivera'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 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 Rivera $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.

Robbinsville pays $9,000 to settle lawsuit by former Playgirl Man of the Year

On January 10, 2011, the Township of Robbinsville (Mercer County) agreed to pay $9,000 to a California man who sued Mayor David Fried, Police Chief Martin Masseroni and Township Administrator Mary K. Cafferty for reneging on an employment offer.

In his suit, John M. Holliday said that in 2007 he was offered a position as a Robbinsville police officer. After he completed the application process and accepted the position, he claims that he began moving his wife and family from California to New Jersey. Holliday alleges, however, that on October 9, 2007, the Township revoked its employment offer claiming that Holliday had "lacked full disclosure of his employment history."

Acording to an article in the October 16, 2009 Trentonian ("Playgirl hunk suing R'ville over disputed officer's job," by Joe D'Aqula), Holliday's employment offer was revoked because he was a former "Playgirl Magazine Man of the Year" who posed nude for the magazine.

The case is captioned Holliday v. Robbinsville, New Jersey Superior Court, Docket No. MER-L-2514-09 and Holliday's attorney was Raymond C. Staub of Trenton. 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 Holliday's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $9,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Robbinsville or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Robbinsville or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Holliday $9,000 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.