Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Plainfield and Fanwood pay $103,000 to settle civil rights suit filed by former Plainfield judge.

In early 2012, the City of Plainfield and Borough of Fanwood (Union County) agreed to pay $103,000 to a former municipal court judge who claimed her civil rights were violated.  Plainfield paid $100,000 and Fanwood paid $3,000.

In her suit, Paulette Brown said that on November 12, 2006, she was arrested by police in Fanwood for a warrant that was erroneously issued on June 6, 2001 by the Plainfield Municipal Court.  Brown claims that the warrant arose out of a criminal trespass matter that had been dismissed on September 22, 1997.  She further claims that she was never notified that the warrant had issued.

Even though she claimed that the warrant was invalid, the arresting office, named Santiago, allegedly "pulled [her] from her vehicle and transported her to the Fanwood police station where she was photographed and processed."  She further claims to have been held at the station for several hours and that Plainfield gave her a difficult time recalling the warrant even though court personnel had admitted that the warrant was invalid.

The case is captioned Brown v. Plainfield, Union County Superior Court Docket No. UNN-L-3943-08 and Brown's attorney was Michael A. Armstrong of Willingboro.  Case documents are on-line here.

Fanwood's 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 Brown's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $103,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Plainfield, Fanwood or any of their officials. All that is known for sure is that Plainfield and Fanwood, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Brown $103,000 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.