Thursday, December 27, 2012

Seaside Heights pays $10,000 to settle police excessive force suit

On December 17, 2012, the Borough of Seaside Heights (Ocean County) agreed to pay $10,000 to a Brick Township man who sued members of the Seaside Heights Police Department for allegedly beating him.

In his suit, Jason Billingham said that on March 20, 2010, he was waiting for his girlfriend outside of Club Karma when he was "without justification . . . punched, maced and beaten with police batons by" Seaside Police Officers Christopher Linnell, Joseph Fastige, Edward Pasieka and Christopher Diaz. 

Also named in the suit were Seaside Heights Police Chief Thomas Boyd, Sergeant James Hans and Detective Stephen Korman.

The case is captioned Billingham v. Seaside Heights, Federal Case No. 3:11-cv-00920 and Billingham'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 Billingham'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 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 Billingham $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.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Neptune pays $15,000 to settle police excessive force suit

On August 20, 2012, the Township of Neptune (Monmouth County) agreed to pay $15,000 to a local man who sued members of the Neptune Police Department for allegedly applying excessive force against him.

In his suit, John Williams said that on May 9, 2011, he was home recuperating from a broken leg when Neptune police officers Marques Jamar Alston and Kristopher Daly knocked at his door.  According to the lawsuit, Alston told Williams twice to "get up" and threw Williams' walker against a wall, breaking it.  Alston allegedly pulled Williams out of his chair, threw him to the floor and arrested him.  Alston reportedly stepped on Williams' laptop computer, breaking it, and also broke Williams' eyeglasses.

According to the complaint, the impetus for the officers' visit to Williams' home was some harassing phone calls that Williams allegedly made to Jersey Shore Medical Center.  Daly was named in the suit only because he failed to intervene when Alston allegedly assaulted Williams. Also named in the suit was Neptune Police Chief Robert H. Adams.

The case is captioned Williams v. Neptune, Federal Case No. 3:11-cv-07405 and Williams'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 Williams' 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 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 Williams $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.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Long Branch pays $80,000 to settle police excessive force suit

On September 14, 2012, the City of Long Branch (Monmouth County) agreed to pay $80,000 to two local residents who sued members of the Long Branch Police Department for allegedly beating them.

In their suit, Michael Ribot and Cindy Tomaini said that on September 9, 2007, while they were at home, Long Branch Police Officers Ramon L. Camacho, Sam Yoo, Marshall Brown and Joseph Kennedy "knocked [them] to the ground, kicked, punched, beaten, and spayed [them] with mace."  No further details are provided in the complaint.

The case is captioned Ribot and Tomaini v. Camaco, et al, Monmouth County Superior Court, Docket No. MON-L-4356-09 and Ribot's and Tomaini's attorney was Frank S. Gaudio of Red Bank. 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 Ribot's and Tomaini's 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 Long Branch or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Long Branch or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Ribot and Tomaini $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.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Essex County pays $45,000 of $280,000 to settle New Year's party-goers' police beat-down suit.

On September 4, 2012, the County of Essex agreed to pay $45,000 to a Germantown, Maryland couple who sued a Sheriff officer and a Newark Police officer for allegedly beating them and arresting them without probable cause.

In their suit, Morgann Schultz and Lya Barbosa, who are husband and wife, said that they attended a New Year's Eve party at the Robert Treat Hotel at 50 Park Place in Newark on December 31, 2008.  They claimed that they had booked a room at the hotel so that "they could celebrate the coming of the New Year responsibly and safely."

The couple claimed that at about 3:30 a.m., they were in a hotel elevator with several friends "singing and chanting in Portuguese, dancing and blowing noise makers," when Ronald Rumsby and Bazeek Burgess (also referred to as Bazyt Bergus), who were employed, respectively, as an Essex County Sheriff's officer and a Newark Police officer, and who also worked as hotel security, entered the elevator.  According to the complaint, both Rumsby and Burgess were wearing civilian clothes that bore no indication of their status as hotel security or law enforcement officers.

As the elevator began to move, Burgess asked the crowd in the elevator to quiet down.  In response, Schultz "responded by tooting a noise maker that he obtained from the hotel party.  Schultz admits that his response was "a juvenile act and a bit obnoxious."  The couple alleged that Rumsby said "Give me that f***ing thing," as he tried to forcible take the noise maker from Schultz.  In response, Schultz demanded to see a "f***ing badge."

At this point, the complaint alleges, Burgess and Rumsby "began to assault" Schultz and, when Barbosa stepped in to help, Rumsby "grabbed [her] forcefully about the arms and threw her out of the elevator."  Rumsby then allegedly "pulled out a gun [and] pistol whipped Plaintiff Morgann Schultz about the head and face."  The two officers allegedly pushed Schultz back into the elevator and struck him "with their fists, knees and feet."

Schultz claimed to receive "six facial bone fractures, including two nasal bone fractures and various right eye orbital fracture."  He also claims to have suffered a concussion, breathing difficulties and blurred vision in his right eye."  Barbosa claimed to receive bruises on her head, arms and body.

The couple alleged that Rumsby and Burgess filed "false criminal complaints" against them, which were later dismissed, but which required Schultz to spend 4 days in jail.

The case is captioned Schultz and Barbosa v. Ronald Rumsby et al, Federal Case No. 2:10-cv-6570 and Schultz's and Barbosa's attorney was Raoul Bustillo of Jersey City.  Case documents are on-line here

In addition to the $45,000 paid by Essex County, the other defendants (e.g. the Robert Treat Hotel) paid the couple $235,000.

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 Schultz's and Barbosa's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the  payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Essex County, the hotel, or any of their officials and employees. All that is known for sure is that Essex County or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Schultz and Barbosa  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, November 10, 2012

Pleasantville pays $20,146.77 to settle retaliation suit brought former police officer.

On September 14, 2012, the City of Pleasantville (Atlantic County) agreed to pay $20,146.77 to a former city police officer who sued members of the Pleasantville Police Department for allegedly retaliating against him with false disciplinary charges for not supporting a mayoral candidate.

In his suit, Charles Oglesby said Police Chief Duane Comeaux, Captain Jose Ruiz, Sergeant Danny Adcock, Mayor Ralph Peterson, City Council President Jesse Tweedle and City Administrator Marvin Hopkins brought false disciplinary charges against him because he refused Ruiz's demand to get the Masons and the local PBA, with which Oglesby was affiliated, to give their "support . . . for the Mayoral Candidate Len Green."

Yet, according to an April 27, 2010 article in the Press of Atlantic City, Oglesby pleaded guilty to stealing money from a suspect and falsifying police reports to cover up the crime.

The case is captioned Oglesby v. Pleasantville, Atlantic County Superior Court Docket No. ATL-L-1015-10 and Oglesby's attorney was David R. Castellani of Northfield.  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 Oglesby's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $20,146.77 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Pleasantville or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Pleasantville or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Oglesby $20,146.77 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, November 6, 2012

Willingboro pays $25,000 to settle police false arrest/excessive force suit

On September 12, 2012, the Township of Willingboro (Burlington County) agreed to pay $25,000 to a local man who sued a Willingboro police officer for allegedly beating him and arresting him without probable cause.

In his suit, Jullian D. Booker (also referred to as Jullian F. Booker) said that on April 2, 2009 he was riding in a car driven by Sylvester Williams when it was pulled over by Willingboro Police Officer Sean Malone.  He said that Malone, accompanied by a police dog, pointed a gun at Booker's head and screamed "Get the f**k out of the car." 

After pulling Booker out of the car, Malone allegedly threw Booker onto the concrete pavement, punched him several times in the head and screamed "if you f**king move I'll have my f**king dog bite your f**king face off."  He claims that Malone's punches caused his lip, which was between the concrete and his teeth, to receive a massive gash.  He claims that he was charged with resisting arrest and eluding an officer but that both charges were later dismissed.

The case is captioned Booker v. Willingboro, Federal Case No. 1:10-cv-04886 and Booker's attorney was Robert H. Bembry, III of Philadelphia.  Case documents are on-line here.

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

Greenwich pays $123,000 to settle minor's sexual assault claim against fire chief

On October 8, 2012, the Township of Greenwich (Cumberland County) and the Greenwich Township Fire Department agreed to pay $123,000 to a local couple and daughter who claimed that the daughter was sexually assaulted and otherwise mistreated by officials of the local volunteer fire department and that neither the fire department nor the Township took corrective action.

In their two lawsuits, John and Patricia Newton, parents of Jordan Newton, said that in September 2007, when Jordan was nearly sixteen years old, Fire Chief Wade MacFarland asked them whether Jordan would be interested in becoming a volunteer firefighter.  According to the lawsuit, MacFarland said that Jordan was needed to complete and file various fire reports with the State and that he and other officials at the department would be her guardians.  Jordan, who had been home schooled and "had not been exposed . . . to many social settings involving a number of adults," reported to the department and started completing the reports under MacFarland's direction. Jordan claimed that she began meeting with MacFarland on a number of occasions when she and MacFarland were the only ones present.

After her seventeenth birthday, Jordan became certified as an EMT and started responding to fire calls under the command of EMS Unit Captain Laurie Larue MacFarland, who was then Wade MacFarland's wife. According to the lawsuits, at about the same time, Wade MacFarland called Jordan to the firehouse and subjected her to "flirting and increased attention . . . including, among other things, back rubs being administered . . . when others were not present."  Chief MacFarland, who was in his early to mid thirties, allegedly also promised Jordan that he would marry her and "she would be groomed by him to become the first and youngest female fire chief in the State of New Jersey."  Wade MacFarland allegedly "soon engaged himself in a sexual relationship with [Jordan] while she was a minor and while he served in a direct supervisory capacity to her as the Chief of the Defendant Greenwich Fire Department."

Jordan's parents learned about the alleged relationship in November 2010 and immediately demanded that the fire department investigate.  Fire Captain Matthew Elwell, who knew about the alleged relationship, reportly encouraged other fire officers to "look the other way."  After not getting anywhere with the fire department, Jordan's parents sought help from the Greenwich Township Committee but were allegedly "rebuffed in their request."

Also named in the suits were Mayor Theodore Keifer; William Reinhart, who served on the Township Committee as well as president of the fire department; Charles Reinhart and Misty Reinhart who, respectively, served as deputy chief and as an active member in the fire department.

The settled cases are captioned Newton v. Greenwich Township, Federal Case No. 1:12-cv-00238 and Newton v. MacFarland, Federal Case No. 1:12-cv-00237.  In addition to the $123,000 pay out, the settlement agreement also requires the fire department to amend its bylaws to require a) that a junior firefighter must be at least 18 years old and b) prevent departmental disciplinary matters from being decided by relatives of the accused.  Further, the agreement requires the department to adopt a sexual harassment policy and confirms that both Wade MacFarland and Charles Reinhart, by unanimous votes, were dismissed from the fire department on June 30, 2011.  Finally, the settlement agreement prevents MacFarland from ever holding a position with the Township or the fire department and prevents Reinhart from holding such a position unless "the full record of this matter" as well as "the findings of Hearing Officer, J. Fred Coldren, in the matter of City of Bridgeton v. Charles Reinhart" are taken into consideration.

A third lawsuit, filed by Jordan Newton against Charles Reinhart and bearing Superior Court Docket No. CUM-L-1060-11, is not being dismissed as part of the settlement.  According to a December 1, 2011 article in the News of Cumberland County, this lawsuit alleged that Charles Reinhart “forced [Jordan], against her will, to engage in sexual intercourse with him and forced her to perform fellatio upon him.” In her suit, Jordan claimed that this incident took place at Reinhart's home where Jordan “had been house sitting and dog sitting for Defendant Charles Reinhart and his wife when they would take trips.”   According to the article, Reinhart encouraged Jordan to take a nap in the master bedroom and then sexually assaulted her approximately one hour after she fell asleep fully clothed.  She further alleged that Reinhart later asked her to meet him at the parking lot of the Bridgeton Hospital but that Reinhart attempted to sexually assault her again after she entered his vehicle.

Newton's attorney was John P. Morris of Bridgeton.  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 Newton family's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $123,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Greenwich or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Greenwich or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay the Newton family $123,000 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, October 16, 2012

Belmar pays $7,500 to settle police excessive force suit

On October 10, 2012, the Borough of Belmar (Monmouth County) agreed to pay $7,500 to a Bradley Beach man who sued members of the Belmar Police Department for allegedly beating and choking him.

In his suit, Jason Bernardinello said that on July 25, 2009, when he was 19 years old, he and some friends were riding their bicycles on Ocean Avenue at about 10 p.m.  He said that Special Officer whose name was stated in the lawsuit as "Sean Bowers" (but who is presumably Shawn Bowens or perhaps Sean Bowens) grabbed one of his friends' bicycles, tackled the friend from behind, "slammed [him] violently" and handcuffed him.  Thereafter, while Bernardinello was allegedly having a "civil discussion" with another office, Bowens reportedly screamed "Get the f**k out of here" to him.

Bernardinello claimed that when he tried to "respectfully and calmly respond," Bowens grabbed his throat and started choking him and shoved his head into a light pole.  He claims that four other officers jumped on him and "pummeled him while he lay, defenseless on the ground, punching him in the face and the groin while bystanders pleaded with the special cops to stop the beating."

Bernardinello further claims that he was detained at police headquarters for two hours and the officer on desk duty, who "was highly intoxicated," refused to let his parents see him.

The case is captioned Bernardinello v. Belmar, Federal Case No. 3:11-cv-0413 and Bernardinello's attorney was Dan A. Druz of Belmar.  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 Bernardinello'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 Belmar or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Belmar or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Bernardinello $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.

Winslow Board of Education pays $32,400 to settle IDEA attorney fee claim.

On September 12, 2012, the Winslow Township (Camden County) Board of Education agreed to pay $32,400 to a not-for-profit law firm that successfully represented a 12-year0old disabled student in an action under the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).

In his suit, the twelve year old Sicklerville student, identified only by his initials "P.B.," who had been diagnosed with "Autism Spectrum Disorder with features closely aligned to Asperger's Syndrome" wanted to continue to attend Yale Academy, in Cherry Hill, while the school district wanted him to attend its own in-district class for disabled students.

After several hearings before the New Jersey Office of Administrative Law, including a due process trial that spanned six days, Administrative Law Judge Patricia M. Kerins concluded "that Winslow has failed to provide P.B. with a free appropriate public education . . . [and the school board's] program is not individualized to P.B.'s unique needs and is not designed to provide him with meaningful educational benefit."

Thereafter, the law firm representing P.B. sued the Winslow school board for $31,935 it said that it earned in attorney fees for representing P.B. in the litigation.  Specifically, the firm claimed $150 per hour for 212.9 hours spent on the case.

After further litigation, the law firms fees rose to $36,000, but the firm agreed, in order to settle the case, to take 90% of that amount, which is $32,400.

The case is captioned P.B. v. Winslow Township Board of Education, Federal Case No. 1:12-cv-01225 and P.B.'s attorneys were Sean M. Benoit and W. Emmett Dwyer of Disability Rights New Jersey of Trenton.  Case documents are on-line here.

None of P.B.'s allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $32,400 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Winslow or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Winslow or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay P.B. $32,400 than take the matter to trial.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Wayne pays $220,000 to settle zoning and discrimination lawsuit

On August 23, 2012, the Township of Wayne (Passaic County) agreed to pay $220,000 to a local car wash/quick lube center and its owner.  In its lawsuit, the car wash, Wayne Auto Spa, which advertises itself as being "environmentally responsible" claimed that the Township "unlawfully targeted [its] efforts to install a wind powered electric system on its premises.  The Auto Spa's owner, Robert Burke of Morristown, alleged that Wayne officials subjected him to "invidious discrimination" because of "his outspoken advocacy for the wind energy system." 

Burke alleged that he was the campaign manager for William Brennan, who challenged Council incumbent and Planning Board member Paul Margiotta in an election.  He claimed that his support of Brennan resulted in the Council and Planning Board taking action to "impede, frustrate and prohibit the Wayne Auto Spa application for approval of a proposed wind energy system."

Burke claimed that Joseph Connolly of Wayne, who is a retired Bergen County Sheriff's Officer, opposed his wind energy proposal and threatened him.  Specifically, Burke claimed that Connolly e-mailed him that "I will come back and see you about this.  I expect you to get the point this time around."

Burke also claimed that Connolly came to the Auto Spa, flashed his Sheriff's badge and told him "I will kick your ass" unless he stopped pursuing his wind energy application.  The threats, he claimed, were not investigated by the Wayne Police Department or the Passaic County Prosecutors's Office despite his repeated requests.

Burke further claimed that the Wayne Police Department "began stopping patrons of Wayne Auto Spa who were making or attempting to make left turns," which Burke said are legal, into his business.  This, according to Burke, was the police department's attempt to intimidate and harass his customers.

During an October 20, 2011, "sealed settlement conference" before U.S. District Court Magistrate Judge Joseph A. Dickson, Burke and Wayne Auto Spa agreed to a) accept $220,000 as a settlement amount, b) not disclose the amount of the settlement to anyone, c) not disparage Wayne or its officials and d) to not file any more Open Public Records Act (OPRA) requests regarding any matters relating to his lawsuit.  The settlement was made contingent upon the failure of a legal challenge to Burke's application to the Planning Board for permission to install his wind turbine system.   The transcript from the October 20, 2011 conference, together with a transcript of another conference held on October 24, 2011, are on-line here.

Fortunately, however, confidentiality provisions, such as the one agreed to in this case, 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 Burke v. Wayne, Federal Case No. 11-cv-1066 and Burke's attorney was, at least initially, R. William Potter of Princeton.  The lawsuit is on-line here and the settlement agreement is here.  The resolution under which the Township Council accepted the settlement is on-line here.

None of Burke's or Wayne Auto Spa's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $220,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Wayne or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Wayne or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Burke and Wayne Auto Spa $220,000 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, October 9, 2012

Hackensack pays $67,500 to settle police officer's retaliation lawsuit

On May 15, 2012, the City of Hackensack (Bergen County) agreed to pay $67,500 to a Hackensack police officer, who also served in the New Jersey National Guard, who claimed that he was retaliated against for not supporting candidates favored by Police Chief C. Kenneth Zisa and for claiming benefits under the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA).

In his suit, Alexander Lopez-Arenas accused Chief Zisa of "using his office of Chief of Police . . . to extort monies from police officers to support his candidacies" as well as the candidacies of others, favored by Zisa, who ran for public office or for positions within the local Policemen's Benevolent Association.  He claimed that police officers "who did not financially support Zisa's [preferred] candidates . . . were retaliated against."

Lopez-Arenas said that from the time he was hired in 2003, Sergeant Anthony Trezza told him "that if he wanted things to work out for him on the job that it was in his best interest to contribute to Chief Zisa's electoral campaigns. In effect if he wanted to proceed up the ranks he needed to contribute." He also claims that while on duty, he and other officers were "compelled to travel around the City . . . removing campaign signs of Zisa opponents and replacing them with those supportive of Defendant Zisa."

He claimed that in 2004 and again in 2008, he was called up to serve in active duty in Cuba and Iraq.  Yet, when he returned and tried to claim his benefits he was due under the USERRA, he was allegedly demoted to "a walking post."  When he complained to Lieutenant John Heinemann, he was allegedly told that he shouldn't "push the issue."

He also claimed that he used to date a female Hackensack police officer and that this officer, after a breakup, started dating Deputy Chief Frank Zisa, who is Chief Zisa's brother. Lopez-Arenas said that Frank Zisa ordered him to stay away from his girlfriend and that Lopez-Arenas "understood that even the slightest breach of this order would result in retaliation in the workplace."

Also named in the suit were Trezza, Heinemann and Frank Zisa.

The case is captioned Lopez-Arenas v. Hackensack, Federal Case No. 2:10-cv-02668 and Lopez-Arenas's attorney was Robert B. Woodruff of Morristown.  Case documents are on-line here.

None of Lopez-Arenas's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $67,500 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Hackensack or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Hackensack or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Lopez-Arenas $67,500 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 2, 2012

NJDEP pays $22,500 to settle employment discrimination suit

On August 22, 2012, the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) agreed to pay $22,500 to a Lambertville woman who claimed that NJDEP officials discriminated against her based on her gender and displayed hostility toward her.

In her suit, Martha Goodwin said NJDEP Bureau Chief, Robert Soboleski, and Section Chief, Donald Kakas, created a hostile work environment for her from 2006 through 2009.  She alleged "a general pattern of adverse actions and undermining female employees." She claimed that employee Thomas Gryzmski, who allegedly "had a reputation of causing havoc wherever he worked in the NJDEP" did not like have a female supervisor and would begin "loud soliloquies" and "loud tirades" in front of others but that Soboleski and Kakas "never told him to stop."

The alleged hostility culminated on February 24, 2009 when Soboleski allegedly told a co-worker about Goodwin that "that f***ing c**t is dead meat. Her days are numbered."  She alleged that the conduct to which she was subject caused her to suffer depression and that her attempts to be reassigned to another bureau were not honored.

The case is captioned Goodwin v. NJDEP, Federal Case No. 11-cv-4236 and Goodwin represented herself in the lawsuit. Case documents are on-line here.

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

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Greenwich pays $25,000 to settle police whistleblower case

On September 23, 2011, the Township of Greenwich (Warren County) agreed to pay $25,000 to a former Township police officer who sued the Greenwich Police Chief for allegedly retaliating against him and creating a hostile work environment.

In his suit, Christopher T. Tasiopoulos said that Chief Richard J. Guzzo retaliated against him after he reported that Lieutenant Arthur J. Morrow "had made intentional and fraudulent misrepresentations" in official police department documents concerning Tasiopoulos and his fellow officers. 

Tasiopoulos claims that prior to reporting Morrow he "received excellent performance evaluations."  After reporting Morrow, however, he claims that he was removed from his position as a K-9 handler, was denied overtime hours and was subjected to "several petty and unfounded Internal Affairs investigations" against him.  He also claims that he was ordered to not speak with the Mayor or Township Committee members, which violated his right to free speech.

The case is captioned Tasiopoulos v. Township of Greenwich, Warren County Superior Court Docket No. WRN-L-109-09 and Tasiopoulos's attorney was John F. McDonnell of Washington.  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 Tasiopoulos'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 Greenwich or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Greenwich or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Tasiopoulos $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 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.

Update:

Christopher Tasiopoulos' other lawsuits against Greenwich Township

Officer Tasiopoulos, in addition to the lawsuit that resulted in the $25,000 settlement, also filed two other suits which were consolidated.  Both of these suits (available here and here) seek reversal of disciplinary actions, including discharge, taken against Tasiopoulos and one of them alleges a violation of the Open Public Meetings Act by Greenwich Township Officials.

The court has already scheduled a trial for both matters but that trial was postponed until a motion filed by Greenwich Township is argued on Friday, October 5, 2012.  If the consolidated lawsuits survive that motion, then it is likely that the court will order the matters tried within the next month or so.

Also, those who wish to see the January 14, 2006 report of the motor vehicle accident involving Pohatcong Officer Alan B. Hill, which was referred to as a "drunken driving crash" in a May 20, 2011 Express-Times article, may download the report here.

Tasiopoulos' allegations that his firing stemmed from his attempt to expose "a cover-up of what was done on his DUI," are fleshed out in a July 3, 2011 Express-Times article available on-line.  This article, as well as others regarding Officer Tasiopoulos' litigation with Greenwich Township are on-line here.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Buena pays $375,000 to settle police officer's whistleblower suit

On December 15, 2009, the Borough of Buena (Atlantic County) agreed to pay $375,000 to a borough police officer who alleged that she was harassed and subjected to a hostile work environment after she had reported that a police sergeant was stealing taxpayer dollars by falsifying time sheets.

In her suit, Stacy L. Steudle said that in 2007, she became aware that Buena Police Sergeant Lawrence Petrillo "was falsifying time records by indicating that he had worked on days and/or during times when he had not worked."  She claims that after she reported the matter to Chief Douglas E. Adams, Adams communicated to Petrillo that "we have a rat." Steudle further alleges that Petrillo told her that Chief Adams had said that he was was "pissed" at her for starting "drama in the department." Thereafter, she claims that she was retaliated against and treated differently than other officers.

The case is captioned Steudle v. Buena, Atlantic County Superior Court, Docket No. L-833-08 and Steudle's attorney was Eileen Oakes Muskett of Atlantic City.  Case documents are on-line here.

None of Steudle's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $375,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Buena or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Buena or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Steudle $375,000 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 11, 2012

Atlantic City pays $2,500 to settle police assault suit

On May 16, 2012, the City of Atlantic City (Atlantic County) agreed to pay $2,500 to a local man who sued members of the Atlantic City Police Department for allegedly assaulting him.

In his suit,Benjamin Demby said that on April 23, 2009, he was at 1401 Memorial Drive, Atlantic City when he was assaulted by Officer Brent Dooley and/or Brian Hambrecht.  The lawsuit is very vague and gives no other information about the alleged assault.

The case is captioned Demby v. Atlantic City, Federal Civil No. 1:11-cv-1881 and Demby's attorney was Jeffrey M. Sheppard of Absecon.  Case documents are on-line here.

None of Demby's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $2,500 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Atlantic City or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Atlantic City or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Demby $2,500 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.

Edison pays $27,500 to settle police excessive force and malicious prosecution suit

On July 16, 2012, the Township of Edison (Middlesex County) agreed to pay $27,500 to a  man who sued members of the Edison Police Department for allegedly beating him and maliciously prosecuting him.

In his suit, Taleb Ahmed said that on September 11, 2007 he "was falsely arrested, violently assaulted and brutally beaten, hit with a weapon, pushed into the ground, and held in jail by" Edison police officers Theodore Hamer, Michael Dotro, Peter Conforte and Sergeant Jason Gerba.  He claims that he was charged with obstruction of justice and resisting arrest, but that the Grand Jury returned a "no bill" when the Township sought an indictment against him.

The case is captioned Ahmed v. Edison, Federal Case No. 2:08-cv-00066 and Ahmed's attorney was Nicholas Martino of Marlboro.  Case documents are on-line here.

None of Ahmed's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $27,500 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Edison or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Edison or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Ahmed $27,500 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.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Seaside Heights pays $62,500 to settle police assault/excessive force suit

On August 9, 2012, the Borough of Seaside Heights (Ocean County) agreed to pay $62,500 to a Manahawkin man who sued members of the Seaside Heights Police Department for allegedly beating him and applying handcuffs too tightly.

In his suit, Joseph Alfieri said that on either April 26th or April 27, 2009 he was assaulted by his live-in girlfriend.  The girlfriend, who was allegedly arrested by Seaside Heights Officer Elijah Bryant, returned to the residence the next and demanded her car keys. 

Alfieri alleged that when he told his girlfriend to leave and return the following day, Bryant, along with fellow officers John Clarizio and John Dudas entered the apartment without his consent and proceeded to assault him.  Alfieri claims that he was "maced, choked, kicked and [that police applied inordinate pressure in handcuffing [him.]"

Also named in the suit were Seaside Heights Police Chief Thomas Boyd, Stephen Korman and James Hans.

The case is captioned Alfieri v. Seaside Heights, Federal Case No. 3:11-cv-00919 and Alfieri's attorney was Thomas J. Mallon of Freehold.  Case documents are on-line here.

None of Alfieri's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $62,500 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 Alfieri $62,500 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.

Matawan pays $7,500 to settle police false arrest/excessive force suit

On April 9, 2012, the Borough of Matawan (Monmouth County) agreed to pay $7,500 to a Neptune man who sued members of the Matawan Police Department for allegedly flicking a lit cigarette butt down his shirt and arresting him without probable cause.

In his suit, Anthony Gray said that on October 5, 2009, he was walking down the street on crutches when Matawan Police Officer James Alston allegedly "pulled his vehicle up to house in the neighborhood in reckless fashion, nearly sideswiping a young man on a bicycle." Officer Alston, who Gray claims was intoxicated and "was often intoxicated in public during police/citizen encounters" allegedly yelled and cursed at neighbors who asked him why he almost hit the bicyclist.

When other officers arrived at the scene, they allegedly ignored Alston's instructions to arrest Gray.  Alston then reportedly told Gray that he was under arrest and when Gray asked why, Alston allegedly told him to "shut the f**k up."  During the arrest, Alston allegedly flicked a lit cigarette butt down Gray's shirt in order to provoke him.

The case is captioned Gray v. Matawan, Federal Case No. 3:11-cv-05508 and Gray's attorney was Thomas J. Mallon of Freehold.  Case documents are on-line here.

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

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Newark pays $300,000 to taxicab company that alleged licensing discrimination

On June 7, 2012, the City of Newark (Essex County) agreed to pay $300,000 to a taxicab company who sued the City and its Taxicab and Limousine Commission for unfairly applying its licensing laws against it.

In its suit, Jacob's Limousine Transportation, Inc. said Newark "thwarted and rejected" its efforts to get licenses so that it could lawfully operate taxicabs in the city.  Despite the trouble that the city allegedly gave to it, Jacob's Limousine claims that city officials "have allowed numerous other autocab, limousine, and livery services companies to operate in and on Newark's streets and highways without complying with, and in blatant violation of, the requirements of the Newark Code for the operation and licensing of autocab, limousine, and livery services companies to operate in and on Newark's streets and highways."

In addition to the $300,000 payment, Newark also agreed to permit Jacob's Limousine to "register, license, and operate up to 150 vehicles" until August 31, 2014. 

The case is captioned Jacob's Limousine v. Newark, Federal Case No. 09-cv-6331 and Jacob's Limousine's attorney was Jeffrey Kantowitz of Florham Park.  Case documents are on-line here.

None of Jacob's Limousine's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $300,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Newark or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Newark or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Jacob's Limousine $300,000 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 4, 2012

Warren County pays $140,000 to settle trespass and invasion of privacy claim against deputy sheriff.

In November 2011, the County of Warren agreed to pay $140,000 to a Blairstown woman who sued an employee of the Warren County Sheriff's Office for allegedly breaking a lock to enter her home and frightening the minor daughter who was home alone at the time.

In her suit, Sylvia Zika said that on January 28, 2008, her minor daughter was home in their secluded, rural house when she observed Anthony DiLauri, who is employed by the Warren County Sheriff's Office, approach the house in an unmarked car.  Unknown to the daughter was that DiLauri was at the house in order to serve legal papers.  She claims that because she was alone and did not recognize DiLauri, she went into the house through the garage and locked the garage door behind her.

Zika alleges that DiLauri, who didn't identify himself as a sheriff's officer, pounded on the door and demanded entry.  Fearing for her safety, the daughter called 911 and reported a break in.  DiLauri allegedly broke the lock on the door and entered the house and put the legal papers he intended to serve on a table.

When Blairstown police responded to the daughter's 911 call, DiLauri allegedly falsely told them that he had "served the paperwork without incident."  The recordings of Zika's daughter's 911 calls as well as photographs that Blairstown police took of the broken door were "subsequently lost" or "deleted."

The case is captioned Zika v. Warren County, New Jersey Superior Court Docket No. WRN-L-114-09 and Zika's attorney was Walter M. Luers of Clinton.  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 Zika's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $140,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Warren or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Warren or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Zika $140,000 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, September 1, 2012

Ocean Board of Social Services pays $50,000 to settle breach of contract case

On May 2, 2012, the Ocean County Board of Social Services (OCBSS) agreed to pay $50,000 to a vendor who successfully bid on a two year contract to provide local and long-distance telephone service to three PBX phone systems at the OCBSS' Lakewood, Toms River and Manahawkin offices.

In its suit, Data Networking Services (DNS), a telecommunications service provider out of Tinton Falls, bid on the OCBBS's publicly advertised request for proposal.  According to the suit, Larry Perlberg, who is the lawyer for the OCBSS, was the project manager even though he had "stated he did not understand telecommunications words and their meanings."  Accordingly, he hired Robert E. Hammond of Hammond Consulting Group, LLC of Wall Township as a "go between" between Perlberg and DNS.

According to the complaint, Hammond, at a design review meeting allegedly rejected DNS' design, which employed fiber optic cabling, as "non traditional" and insisted that DNS amend its design to "match exactly the OCBSS existing voice network technology [which was] over 30 years old."  Hammond allegedly required DNS to use "traditional copper circuits" which the suit characterizes as "absurd and wasteful."  DNS also alleged that the OCBBS already had some fiber optic cabling in place but prevented DNS from using that cabling by "falsely claim{ing that they] were dedicated to the local computer network."

While the specifics in the complaint are technical and difficult to understand, DNS alleges, generally, that OCBSS and Hammond deliberately sabotaged its attempts to fulfill the contract and then breached the contract by replacing DNS with a different vendor.

The case is captioned Business Automation Technologies d/b/a Data Network Service v. Ocean County Board of Social Services, et al,  Federal Case No. 3:11-cv-6453 and DNS's attorney was Walter M. Luers of Clinton.  Case documents are on-line here. As part of the settlement, Hammond also paid DNS $5,000.

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

Monday, August 27, 2012

New Brunswick and the Middlesex County Prosecutor's Office pay $120,000 to settle excessive force suit

On July 17, 2012, the City of New Brunswick and the Middlesex County Prosecutor's Office (Middlesex County) agreed to pay a total of $120,000 to two local men who sued members of the New Brunswick Police Department and the Middlesex County Prosecutor's Office for allegedly beating them and requiring them to sit for two hours in a cold room while handcuffed and sitting in their underwear.  According to the settlement agreement, New Brunswick paid $95,000 and the prosecutor's office paid $25,000.

In their suit, Jake Kostman and Kareem Najjar claimed that at about 4:30 a.m. on December 10, 2010, they were sleeping in their apartment when New Brunswick Police Detective Miguel Chang, Detective Drew Weiss, Detective Robert Bogdanski, Police Officer Keith Walcott and Sergeant Scott Gould, while dressed in civilian clothes, unlawfully entered their bedroom and accosted them.  According to the suit, Najjar and Kostman were "punched in the head" and "beaten about the face head and body with fists and feet."  Kostman further claimed that after he was handcuffed and lying on this stomach, police still stomped and kicked him.

Both 19-year-olds were taken the main floor of the building and were allegedly forced to sit in their underwear on the couch in front of police and others who lived in the house.  They alleged that since the front door had been kicked in by police, they had to sit in the cold for two hours while police refused their requests to clothe themselves.  When they were shivering in their underwear, one of the police officers allegedly said "I'm feeling pretty warm, I don't know about you guys."

According to Kostman and Najjar, the officers taunted them and the other occupants in the house with the insults such as "faggot" and "fat slob."  One tenant of Korean decent was reportedly told that "damn Koreans breed with the damn Japanese and those were the ones that bombed pearl harbor."  The police allegedly searched the pair's basement apartment without a warrant, found nothing and neither man was "charged with any crime and both were eventually released."

Also named in the suit were Lieutenant Daniel J. Muntone, and Investigator Donald S. Carruth of the Middlesex County Prosecutor's Office,

The case is captioned Kostman and Najjar v. New Brunswick and the Middlesex County Prosecutor's Office, Federal Case No. 3:11-cv-00756 and Kostman's and Najjar's attorney was Bryan Konoski of New York.  Case documents are on-line here.

None of the pair's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $120,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by New Brunswick, Middlesex County or any of their officials. All that is known for sure is that New Brunswick and the Middlesex County Prosecutor's Office or their insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Kostman and Najjar $120,000 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.

ABOUT ME AND WHY I'M POSTING THIS.

I chair the New Jersey Libertarian Party's Open Government Advocacy Project which seeks to increase governmental transparency and accountability, particularly at a local level. For more information on the Libertarian Party, go to http://www.njlp.org.

As part of my work, I routinely check civil court cases where at least one of the parties is a government agency or official. Most often, these settlement agreements are never revealed to the public. I post them on the Libertarian Party's blog at http://njcivilsettlements.blogspot.com and other public forums because I believe that civil settlements, regardless of amount, may be of interest to citizens and taxpayers.

John Paff
Somerset, New Jersey

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Little Egg Harbor pays $15,000 to settle police excessive force suit

On June 15, 2012, the Township of Little Egg Harbor (Ocean County) agreed to pay $15,000 to a diabetic heart transplant patient who sued members of the Township's Police Department for allegedly forcefully throwing him on the ground and putting handcuffs on him too tightly.

In his suit, Ciro Esposito said that he was in a local Rite Aid Pharmacy on December 28, 2007 to pick up a prescription.  A dispute arose between the pharmacist and Esposito and Esposito "insisted that the pharmacist call the police."  Officers Eric Nelson and Kevin Hogan, who allegedly knew of Esposito's medical condition, arrived at the scene and allegedly "forcibly grabbed [Esposito] by the arm and roughly escorted him out of the premises" where Esposito claims that the officers "threw him to the ground in an excessively forceful manner, striking his face on the floor."  He said that the officers handcuffed him "with such force that his arms and wrists were bruised."  Also named in the suit were Little Egg Harbor Police Chief Mark Siino.

The case is captioned Esposito v. Little Egg Harbor, Federal Case No. 3:08-cv-03725 and Esposito's attorney was Thomas J. Mallon of Freehold.  Case documents are on-line here.

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

Monday, August 20, 2012

Millville pays $12,500 to settle police defamation and "intentional infliction of emotional distress" suit.

On July 25, 2012, the City of Millville (Cumberland County) agreed to pay $12,500 to a city man who sued his neighbor, a Millville police officer, for allegedly defaming him and causing him emotional distress.

In his suit, Paul Vidro said that he and police officer Julio Pumarejo were neighbors who were on friendly terms.  According to Vidro, Pumarejo's attitude changed when he suspected that someone in the neighborhood had called the City to report junk, unregistered vehicles in front and along side of Pumarejo's home.  Pumarejo allegedly said that if he found out who reported him to the city, he would make that person's life "miserable."

After an abruptly terminated conversation with Vidro, Pumarejo reportedly believed that Vidro was the person who called in the complaint.  But, according to Vidro, a realtor who listed a nearby house actually made the complaint.

According to Vidro's complaint, matters became worse after Pumarejo stopped by Vidro's local business and asked for some "under the table" side work while he was on disability from the police department.  Vidro claims that Pumarejo "became short" and "non-sociable" after he refused to provide him with "under the table" work.

Thereafter, Vidro claimed that his wife, based on information received from Pumarejo, angrily accused him of having a sexual affair with a neighbor.  When Vidro spoke to the neighbor's husband, he was allegedly told that Pumarejo had told the husband the same thing and that his statement was causing him marital difficulties.  According to Vidro, the neighbor's problems with Pumarejo started after the neighbor called in a noise complaint against Pumarejo.  Vidro claimed that Pumarejo's allegation about the extra-marital affair was false and defamatory.

A few months later, Vidro reportedly receiving a reckless driving summons in the mail.  The complaining witness was Pumarejo.  He claimed that Pumarejo fabricated the offense, which allegedly occurred in front of Pumarejo's house, in order to harass him.  He alleges that he was found not guilty of the violation and filed an internal affairs complaint that resulted in Pumarejo being disciplined.

Also named in the suit were Millville Police Chief Thomas Haas.

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 Vidro v. Millville, Cumberland County Superior Court Docket No. L-564-11 and Vidro's attorney was Louis Charles Shapiro of Vineland.  Case documents are on-line here.

None of Vidro'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 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 Vidro $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.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Lawrence pays $104,689.22 to settle police officer's back pay lawsuit

On June 7, 2012, the Township of Lawrence (Mercer County) agreed to pay $104,689.22 to a Township police officer who sued the Township for back pay for the time he was out of work waiting for a favorable disposition of criminal charges brought against him.

In his suit, Todd Sparks said that he was suspended without pay on March 16, 2010 after having been charged with third degree theft by deception.  The indictment against him was dismissed on April 26, 2011.  During his period of suspension, Sparks claims that he is due back salary, vacation days, uniform allowance and other benefits he would have received had he not been suspended.

The case is captioned Sparks v. Lawrence, Mercer County Superior Court Docket No. L-1746-11 and Sparks's attorney was Christopher A. Gray of Marlton.  Case documents are on-line here.

None of Sparks's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $104,689.22 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Lawrence or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Lawrence or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Sparks $104,689.22 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, August 11, 2012

Camden Board of Education pays $500,000 to students who were forced to eat on cafeteria floor

On July 30, 2012, the Camden City Board of Education (Camden County) agreed to pay $500,000 to seven Hispanic, fifth graders who were students at the Sumner Elementary School.  The seven students claimed that Vice Principal Theresa Brown forced them to "eat lunch on the floor of the cafeteria without trays" as punishment for one student spilling a jug of water.  According to the lawsuit, Brown allegedly threatened the children with further punishment if they told anyone about the punishment.  Each of the seven students will receive $71,428.57, less their share of their attorney fees to be calculated by the court.

On October 23, 2009, the Board settled with Jose L. Rivera, the students' teacher, who claimed that he was retaliated against for bringing public attention to the cafeteria punishment. More on that settlement is available here.

The students' case is captioned J.G., et al v. City of Camden Board of Education, Federal Case No. 1:10-cv-01047 and seven students' attorney was Alan B. Schorr of Cherry Hill.  Case documents are on-line here.

None of students' allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement implies that the $500,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by the Camden Board or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that the Camden Board or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay seven students $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.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Brick pays $275,000 to settle police shooting suit

On July 16, 2012, the Township of Brick (Ocean County) agreed to pay $275,000 to a local man who sued members of the Brick Police Department for allegedly unnecessarily shooting him in the hip.

In his suit, Salim Cofi said that on January 8, 2009, he was in a Waterside Garden Apartment when Brick Police Sergeant Terrance Covert shot him in the hip, causing a fractured femur.  Cofi claims to have been unarmed at the time.  He further claims that after being shot, police handcuffed him and "then conversed among themselves for an extended period of time before transport to the hospital was arranged."

Cofi claimed that he was arrested for cocaine possession but ended up taking a guilty plea to a disorderly persons violation, which required only the payment of fines and costs and not jail time or probation.

Also named in the suit were Lieutenant Frank Docherty, Sergeant Todd Friedman, Investigators Kristopher Demarco, Michael Pluta, and Kenneth Hess and Patrolman Lawrence Petrola.

The case is captioned Cofi v. Brick Township, Federal Case No. 3:2011-cv-00087 and Cofi's attorney was Jeffrey S. Arons of South Orange.  Case documents are on-line here.

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

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Clayton and Elk pay $20,000 to settle police false arrest/excessive force suit

On June 25, 2012, the Borough of Clayton and Township of Elk (Gloucester County) agreed to pay $20,000 to a Clayton man who sued members of the Clayton and Elk Police Departments for allegedly arresting him on fabricated charges and for applying excessive force to him.

In his suit, Murray Celestine said that on April 8, 2008, he and his girlfriend, Marlena Hunsinger, who had just had an argument, were sitting on their front porch talking calmly.  Clayton Police Officer Michael J. Foley, Jr. then arrived.  According to the lawsuit, Celestine and Foley walked out into the back yard where Celestine told Foley that "every was fine at that time."  Foley then allegedly had Celestine put his hands on Hunsinger's van that was parked in the driveway so that Foley could frisk him. Meanwhile, Elk Township Officer Michael Bielski allegedly came into the back yard and "began putting black gloves on both of this hands."  After Celestine expressed that Bielski's actions made him uncomfortable, Bielski, at Foley's request, allegedly went into the front yard. 

During the frisk, Celestine said that he started to turn to his right in order to talk to Foley.  At this point, Foley allegedly grabbed Celestine's right wrist and told him he was under arrest for domestic violence.  During the arrest, Foley allegedly pushed Celestine "so hard that Mr. Celestine's hand snapped the antenna off" the van that he was leaning against.  Celestine claims that Foley put him in a "bear hug" and "slammed him to the ground" resulting in Celestine breaking his wrist and Foley dislocating his shoulder. This event was allegedly followed by Bielski jumping on top of Celestine, pushing his face into the ground and hitting him with his right fist.  Elk Officer Joseph Pierson then handcuffed Celestine.

After Clayton Police Sergeant John Dick filed an allegedly "false criminal charges against" him, Celestine spent the night in the Gloucester County Jail.  Celestine claims that he was diagnosed at a hospital with "a concussion, wrist fracture and lumbar strain."

The case is captioned Celestine v. Foley, et al, Federal Case No. 1:10-cv-01775 and Celestine's attorney was George R. Szymanski of Laurel Springs.  Case documents are on-line here.

None of Celestine'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 Clayton or Elk or any of their officials. All that is known for sure is that Clayton and Elk or their insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Celestine $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.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Passaic County pays $49,000 to mother for death of her son.


On July 13, 2012, the County of Passaic agreed to pay $49,000 to a woman whose son died in jail after allegedly not receiving needed medical treatment.

In her suit, Anita Jackson said that her son, John E. Jackson, died on March 15, 2007 while in custody at the Passaic County Jail.  She claims that her son became "extremely ill while incarcerated" but, despite numerous requested for treatment, "the nurse employed by the Passaic County Jail took no action."

Also named in the suit was the United States Marshal Service.  The Marshall Service, however, is not named in the settlement agreement and may have settled separately with Jackson.

The case is captioned Jackson v. County of Passaic, Federal Case No. 2:09-cv-01134 and Jackson's attorney was Shannon Garrahan of Oradell.  Case documents are on-line here.

None of Jackson's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $49,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Passaic or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Passaic or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Jackson $49,000 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 1, 2012

Essex County pays $30,000 to settle jail guard assault case

On June 18, 2012, the County of Essex agreed to pay $30,000 to a Irvington man who sued the County's correctional facility and several corrections officers for allegedly assaulting him.

In his suit, Lester Seeley said that on December 15, 2007 Essex County Corrections Officers Jermaine Baptiste, Bruce Moore, Danny Smith and Fuquan Countryman repeatedly assaulted him "deliberately, maliciously and with willful indifference."  No further details are contained in the lawsuit.  Seeley also named Essex County Sheriff Armando B. Fontoura in the suit.

The case is captioned Seeley v. Essex County Correctional Facility et al, Case No. 2:2010-cv-00706 and Seeley's attorney was Kevin C. Corriston of Hackensack.  Case documents are on-line here.

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

Friday, July 27, 2012

Lakewood school board pays $225,000 and "costs of the lawsuit" to two employees who sued for discrimination and retaliation.

On May 10, 2012, the Lakewood Board of Education (Ocean County) entered into two separate settlement agreements that resolved a federal lawsuit that was jointly brought by Board employees Dean Richburg and Tammy Mitchell.

In the suit, Richburg claimed that he moved to New Jersey from Maryland in March 2010 to work as the Lakewood school board's Director of Counseling.  Richburg, an African-American, claimed that he, unlike other directors, had an office at the high school instead of at the school district's main office.  He alleged that the office he was assigned to was more of a storage facility that he was forced to enter through the offices of other employees.  Richburg alleged that this was discriminatory because other employees with an title lower than his had their own private offices.  He particularly claimed that high school principal Tina Yulie would invade his privacy by entering his office during staff meetings.

When he complained about Yulie to Superintendent Lydia Silva, Richburg claimed that Yulie excluded him from critical planning meetings.  When he spoke out about the treatment to which he was allegedly subjected, he claimed that "Lakewood orchestrated a false accusation of unprofessional conduct."  Specifically, Richburg alleged that he was falsely accused by Vice Principal Todd Pazilla of making "homosexual advances towards him." 

He further claimed that the school board, at a subsequent meeting, required him to submit to an evaluation by psychiatrist David J. Gallina who concluded that Richburg was unfit for employment because he suffered from “adjustment disorder and occupational stress”.  Based on Gallina's report, the Board reportedly fired Richburg after he refused the Board's request to resign.

Special Education teacher Tammy Mitchell, the other plaintiff in the lawsuit, alleged that she was repeatedly rebuffed when she applied for a promotion to assistant principal.  Mitchell attributed these rejections to her being a female, African American. Mitchell also claimed that school board attorney Michael I. Inzelbuch, Esq. "continually blocked" her promotion efforts because she had sued him for legal malpractice for allegedly failing "to timely file" a federal claim that she had against a federal prison in Fort Dix, New Jersey. 

In settlement of Richburg's claims, the Board agreed to pay him "the costs of the lawsuit," with no further specification of the amount of those costs, together with $5,340 for his unused vacation days.  To settle Mitchell's claims, the Board agreed to pay her $225,000 and to place her on "a paid administrative leave through the end of her annual employment contract for the 2011-2012 school year" together with unused vacation time.

The case is captioned Richburg and Mitchell v. Lakewood Board of Education, et al, Federal Case No. 3:11-cv-00774 and the plaintiffs' attorney was Michael A. Nelson of Freehold.  Case documents are on-line here.

The settlement agreements both contain a confidentiality clause, which prevents the parties to the suit from disclosing the settlement terms, or even the settlement's or the lawsuit's existence, to anyone.  Mitchell's agreement characterizes the settlement as "a private, unpublished settlement" and calls for her to pay $30,000 in damages to the Board if she discloses its existence.  Fortunately, 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 payments do not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by the Lakewood school board or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Lakewood or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay the plaintiffs approximately a quarter million dollars 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 17, 2012

North Brunswick pays $30,000 to settle police false arrest/excessive force suit

On October 31, 2011, the Township of North Brunswick (Middlesex County) agreed to pay $30,000 to a local couple who sued members of the North Brunswick Police Department for allegedly falsely arresting one of them and applying excessive force to both.

In their suit, Natalya Yermakova and Michael Boksner said that on September 14, 2007, they were driving on Route 1 when North Brunswick Police Officer Myron O. Cox directed them to pull over into a parking lot.  When Officer Cordell Harris approached the car, Boksner, who was the driver, asked him why he was pulled over.  In response to Boksner's question, Harris allegedly responded because he was driving on the shoulder.  When Boksner protested that he was merely following Cox's instruction, Harris allegedly threatened to write him a summons for "obstructed view." 

Yermakova, who was seated in the back seat next to her infant child, then allegedly exited the vehicle and asked Harris for an explanation for the traffic stop.  According to the suit, Harris' response was "belligerent" and "provided her no details surrounding the traffic stop." 

The suit alleges that Cox then pushed Boksner, who had also exited the vehicle, into the vehicle's door, causing injury, and "forcefully pulled [Yermakova] out of the car, causing her eyeglasses to fall from her face."  When Yermakova pleaded with the officers to watch out for her glasses, Cox allegedly "intentionally stepped on" them, "twisted [Yermakova's] left arm behind her back and threw [her] onto the rear driver's side of the vehicle."  Cox then allegedly handcuffed Yermakova and placed her in a patrol car.  Yermakova allegedly pleaded with the officers "to let her go since her child needed to be breast fed."

Police charged Yermakova with aggravated assault, obstruction of justice, resisting arrest and disorderly conduct and lodged her in the Middlesex County Workhouse.  They issued Boksner a summons for improper passing.  According to the lawsuit, all charges against Yermakova were dismissed because "the arresting officers failed to appear in municipal court on numerous occasions."  The motor vehicles summons was also allegedly dismissed.

The case is captioned Yermakova and Boksner v. North Brunswick, New Jersey Superior Court Docket No. MID-L-7508-09 and Yermakova's and Boksner's attorney was Thomas J. Mallon of Freehold.  Case documents are on-line here.

None of Yermakova's and Boksner'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 North Brunswick or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that North Brunswick or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Yermakova and Boksner $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, June 28, 2012

Cumberland Salem Conservation District pays $10,000 to settle employee's defamation and improper termination suit

On October 12, 2011, the Cumberland Salem Conservation District, located in Upper Deerfield Township in Cumberland County, agreed to pay $10,000 to a former employee who sued the District claiming that the District's Director defamed her and that the District fired her .

In her suit, Bridgeton resident Lisa Carll claimed that she was a 17 year employee who performed administrative work for the  Conservation District.  After her hours were cut back, she applied for partial unemployment benefits.  While receiving the benefits, she claims to have noticed that they were "inconsistent and inaccurate with respect to holidays and vacation days" so she deposited what she felt may have been overpayments "into a savings account and waited for the Division of Unemployment Compensation to correct any overpayment."

In November 2009, Carll claims that she was confronted by Conversation District Director Garry Timberman, who allegedly "accused [Carll] of improperly seeking unemployment benefits for her own benefit and use."  Thereafter, Carll claims to have contacted the Division of Unemployment Compensation, confirmed that she had been overpaid and then paid the overpaid amounts back to the Division.

Carll alleges that Timberman, despite knowing that the overpaid benefits were paid back, "published defamatory remarks accusing [her] of misappropriation or theft."  Based on Timberman's remarked, Carll claims that she was summoned into the District's January 26, 2010 executive session, without proper notice, and "summarily fired."

The case is captioned Carll v. Cumberland Salem Conservation District, Cumberland County Superior Court Docket No. L-67-11 and Carll's attorney was Theodore E. Baker of Bridgeton.  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 Carll'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 the Conservation District or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Cumberland Salem or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Carll $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.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Vineland pays $375,000 to settle employment discrimination suit.

On March 16, 2011, the City of Vineland (Cumberland County) agreed to pay $375,000 to a City employee who claimed that he was not transferred to a job he was able to perform.

In his suit, Ryan M. Asselta, who had been employed by the City's Electric Utilities Department since 1988, claims to have suffered a serious work-related spinal injury on March 2, 2005.  After about a year of recovery, Asselta said that he sought to return to work for the City in a different capacity since he was no longer able to work at his former job--an electrical lineman.  He claims that despite the availability of meter reading job, he was not given that job even though he was medically fit to perform it.  In addition to his discrimination claims, Asselta claimed that the City's refusal to re-hire him was in retaliation for him having filed Workers Compensation claims.

The settlement agreement requires Asselta to agree not to ever again seek employment from the City of Vineland.

The case is captioned Asselta v. Vineland, Cumberland County Superior Court Docket No. L-294-07 and Asselta's attorney was Christine P. O'Hearn of Westmont.  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 Asselta's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $375,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Vineland or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Vineland or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Asselta $375,000 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.

Bridgeton Board of Education pays $75,000 to settle lawsuit alleging racist, sexually harassing comments.

On January 20, 2012, the Bridgeton Board of Education (Cumberland County) agreed to pay $75,000 to a former Bridgeton school guidance counselor who claimed that her supervisor, Robert Cwik, sexually harassed and racially discriminated against her.  She also claimed that school principal Lynn Williams ignored her complaints about Cwik's alleged conduct.

In her suit, Angela Combs made some very specific and graphic allegations regarding Cwik's conduct and comments.  Those who will not be offended by these allegations are invited to read them in paragraph 23 of Comb's complaint, which is on-line at the link below.

The case is captioned Combs v. Bridgeton Board of Education, Cumberland County Superior Court Docket No. L-1069-08.  Combs' attorney was Kevin M. Costello of Cherry Hill.  Case documents are on-line here.

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

Monday, June 25, 2012

State pays $1.5 million to settle Bayside Prison inmate lawsuit

Update/Correction: According to the Division of Law Records Custodian: "Settlement was between the plaintiff and a private entity and as part of the settlement all claims against the State of NJ were dismissed as per order above."
On June 22, 2012, the State of New Jersey agreed to pay $1.5 million to an inmate who claimed that he was severely beaten by correction officials at the Bayside State Prison and received insufficient medical attention at both Bayside and South Woods State Prison.  Both prisons are located in Cumberland County, New Jersey.

In his suit, Lewis Williford, who brought his suit through legal guardian Wanda Brigmon of Voorhees, said that on May 2, 2005, prison guards entered his cell and "slammed his head against the wall and beat him."  He claims that beating was "performed, orchestrated, condoned, planned and/or directed" by correctional officials John Clendaniel, Gary Sheppard, Clyde Koerner and Michael Bryan and was in retaliation for an administrative complaint that Williford filed against Clendaniel. 

He further claims that despite his head trauma, Dr. Vitaly G. Steinberg, Registered Nurse Claire Cantrell and Licensed Practical Nurse Beverly Timmons, who provided medical services at Bayside, failed to properly diagnose or treat him. 

Williford claims that he was transferred to South Woods the day after his attack and the medical staff there, consisting of Marci L. MacKenzie, Ph.D., Kevin Frank, R.N., Stephanie Kudla, R.N., Elvira Maldonado, L.P.N., Sharon Akey, R.N., Fran Green, N.P.C., Diane M. Hollenbeck, R.N., Abu Ahsan, M.D., Michele McAdams, R.N. and Narrissa Pierce, R.N., similarly failed to properly diagnose or treat his injuries.

Williford claims that the alleged beating, together with the alleged failure to diagnose and treat his injuries, caused him to suffer a hemorrhagic stroke on May 20, 2005, which left him incapacitated and "unable to ambulate himself, feed himself, dress himself or take care of his bodily functions."  He is allegedly left with a "feeding tube to provide him with nourishment" and is unable to speak or "comprehend anything beyond basic instructions."

The case is captioned Williford v. Bayside State Prison, Superior Court Docket No. CUM-L-509-07 Williford's attorneys were Jonathan M. Cohen and James Waldenberger of Philadelphia. Case documents are on-line here.

None of Williford's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. Since the case settled, nothing in the record constitutes an admission of wrongdoing by State or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that State or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Williford $1.5 million 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 21, 2012

Egg Harbor pays $110,000 to settle hostile work environment suit

On April 24, 2012, the Township of Egg Harbor (Atlantic County) agreed to pay $110,000 to a former Township police officer who sued members of the Egg Harbor Police Department for allegedly retaliating against him and creating a hostile work environment.

In his suit, Robert Gleisberg, who has worked for the department since 1985, claimed that police department officials, including Lieutenant Hector Tavarez and Sergeant William Fair, retaliated against him.  Among Gleisberg's grievances were:

  1. Tavarez was hostile toward Gleisberg because Gleisberg had allegedly "objected to Tavarez's status as a person responsible for dealing with children pursuant to the Police Athletic League in light of Tavarez's conviction in municipal court for misconduct involving female children in the year 1988."
  2. Gleisberg had objected to a "Master Police Officer" designation because it was a "non-existent rank" and "was contrary to law."
  3. Gleisberg had objected to Fair allegedly having "coached" Officer Bob Smith on what to say to ensure that Margate Police Officer Mark Ciambrone would not succeed in his efforts to suppress "certain illegal gun(s)" that had been seized from him." Gleisberg alleged that Fair's intent was to "have Officer Smith lie under oath."
  4. He was denied entry into the motorcycle unit.
  5. Gleisberg was allegedly was "forced to inform the entire police department every time he had to defecate on duty" which Gleisberg felt was "embarrassing and humiliating."
  6. He supported fellow officer Christopher Mozitis in his grievances against the department.  In 2011, Mozitis settled his lawsuit against Egg Harbor Township for $650,000.  Click here for more details on the Mozitis matter.
The case is captioned Gleisberg v. Egg Harbor, New Jersey Superior Court, Docket No. ATL-L-2932-08 and Gleisberg's attorney was Clifford L. Van Syoc of Cherry Hill.  Case documents are on-line here.

None of Gleisberg's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $110,000 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 Gleisberg $110,000 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.