Wednesday, February 27, 2013

New Jersey pays $162,500 to settle Public Defender's malpractice claim

On January 25, 2013, the State of New Jersey agreed to pay $162,500 to a man who sued the Cape May County Office of Public Defender for legal malpractice.

In his petition to file a late Tort Claim notice, John Rogers he was wrongfully convicted in 1999 for drug trafficking and spent 6 years in state prison.  In 2007, the Appellate Division held that the public defender who represented him court provided him with ineffective legal counsel.  In his petition, Rogers claimed that Erica Smith, Esq. was the attorney who ineffectively represented him at his trial. After the Appellate Division reversed his conviction and remanded the matter for a new trial, Rogers claimed that the trial court dismissed all charges against him.

The Appellate Division's October 23, 2007 decision, which details the ineffective lawyering that Rogers received, is on-line here.

The case is captioned Rogers v. Cape May County Office of the Public Defender, et al, Docket No. CPM-L-480-09 and Rogers' attorney was Joseph C. Grassi of Wildwood.  Case documents are on-line here.

None of Rogers's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The  $162,500 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by New Jersey, Erica Smith or any other official. All that is known for sure is that New Jersey, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Rogers $162,500 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, February 23, 2013

Lawrence pays $25,250.61 to settle police officer's New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (LAD) suit

On May 23, 2012, the Township of Lawrence (Mercer County) agreed to pay $25,250.61 to former Township police officer who claimed that the police department refused to promote him to police sergeant due to him being African-American.

In his suit, John Glenn, who has served as a Lawrence Township office for 17 years, alleged that had he been promoted, he would have been the first African-American or other minority to attain the rank of sergeant or above.  According to Glenn's complaint, Lawrence Township's police force of 67 had, as of 2005, only 7 African-American officers. 

As part of the settlement, the Township also agreed to help Glenn obtain a disability pension and retiree medical benefits from the Police and Firemen's Retirement System (PFRS).

The case is captioned Glenn v. Lawrence Township Police Department, Federal Case No. 3:10-cv-03121 and Glenn's attorney was Daniel S. Sweetser of Lawrenceville.  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 Glenn's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $25,250.61 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 Glenn $25,250.61 than take the matter to trial. Perhaps the defendants' decision to settle was done to save further legal expense and the costs of trying what were in fact exaggerated or meritless claims. Or, perhaps the claims were true and the defendants wanted to avoid being embarrassed at trial. This is the problem when cases settle before trial--it is impossible to know the truth of what really happened.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Pohatcong pays $15,000 to settle New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (LAD) suit

On November 26, 2012, the Township of Pohatcong (Warren County) agreed to pay $15,000 to a former Pohatcong Municipal Court employee who said he was harassed because he was diagnosed with Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder ("ADHD").

In his suit, Christopher Pugliese said that his boss, Court Administrator Cyndi Lehr, despite knowing of his ADHD diagnosis, "undertook a program of harassment against" him.  According to the complaint, Lehr, in May or June 2010, "began to become snippy, short and condescending against" Pugliese. 

He claims that Lehr "would make a habit of 'chatting' and performing other non-work related activities" near his work station which, due to his ADHD, "proved a significant distraction" to him.  When Pugliese complained, Lehr allegedly "laugh[ed] at [him] in a condescending way and simply continue the conduct."

According to the complaint, Lehr, in August 2010, told Pugliese "I hope you don't start using this ADHD bullshit as some kind of excuse. If I would have known it was going to be this big a deal, 1 never would have hired you."  Thereafter, according to the complaint, Lehr began to refer to Pugliese as her "dumbass deputy."

Ultimately, Pugliese said that the Township Council, as Lehr's "cat's paw," refused to renew his contract thus ending his employment on or about July 19, 2011.

The case is captioned Pugliese v. Pohatcong, Warren County Superior Court Docket No. WRN-L-386-11 and Pugliese's attorney was Kevin M. Costello of Mount Laurel.  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 Pugliese'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 Pohatcong or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Pohatcong or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Pugliese $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.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Pohatcong Township, two weeks prior to OPRA lawsuit hearing, discloses its 2010 settlement agreement with former Police Sergeant.

On February 1, 2013, the Township of Pohatcong (Warren County) publicly released, for the first time, a copy of a December 2, 2010 settlement agreement the Township entered into with former Township Police Sergeant Francesco "Frank" Pagano. 

The settlement was one of the subjects of an Open Public Records Act (OPRA) lawsuit that Somerset County resident Blanca Carroll filed against the Township in 2012 (Carroll v. Pohatcong, Docket No. WRN-L-412-12).  Carroll's case is scheduled to be heard before Superior Court Judge Amy O'Connor in Belvidere on Friday, February 15, 2013.

The settlement agreement, which is on-line here, reveals that Pagano was paid a total of $255,000--with $215,000 representing back pay and the remaining $40,000 "representing settlement of threatened litigation."  In exchange, Pagano tendered a letter of resignation, which the Township agreed was a resignation "in good standing."

In addition, the settlement agreement required the Township Police to "withdraw and dismiss all charges set forth in the Notice of Charges dated July 30, 2008 and November 8, 2010" as well as "any uncharged allegations of violations of rules and regulations presently under investigation or contemplated."

Finally, and importantly, the settlement agreement specifically allowed Pagano to pursue additional financial claims against the Township "for attorney's fees related to his defense of the criminal indictment."  Indeed, Pagano has pursued those attorney fees by way of a 2011 civil suit (Docket No. WRN-L-63-11) that was covered by a January 24, 2013 Express-Times article entitled "Testimony against ex-cop denied. Trial Over Legal Fees resumes for Frank Pagano, former Pohatcong Township police sergeant," by Andrew George.

According to earlier Express-Times articles, Pagano was tried to a jury in September 2010 on charges of official misconduct, perjury and falsifying public records.  The prosecution contended that Pagano lied about the circumstances surrounding his search of a vehicle during a January 2007 traffic stop.  Pagano's criminal defense attorney, Jeff Garrigan, was reported to have said that the decision to prosecute Pagano was "a conspiracy by high-ranking Pohatcong Township police officers was the reason his client made inaccurate statements under oath." (Express-Times, September 16, 2010, "Report, video at odds in stop Defense Alleges Conspiracy against Pohatcong Twp. police Sgt. Frank Pagano as trial opens." by Sarah M. Wojcik.)

The "conspiracy" appears to be connected to Pagano's sworn statements that he had received reports from two officers that Pohatcong Lieutenant Dean McBride had "sexually touched" them at police headquarters.  He claimed that the retaliation began after he submitted those reports to Pohatcong Police Chief Paul Hager.  See a separate story on this matter here.

After a five day trial, the jury cleared Pagano of all charges on September 28, 2010.

The settlement agreement contains a confidentiality provision.  According to ¶ 10 the agreement, had Pagano breached confidentiality, he could be forced to repay $255,000 to the Township.  Under ¶ 8, however, Pagano is apparently able to now "comment on the contents of [the] agreement]" since it has, by virtue of Carroll's suit, "become part of the public domain through a lawful request for its production."

Did Pohatcong Police retaliate against Sergeant Francesco "Frank" Pagano because Pagano reported Police Lieutenant Dean McBride for sexually assaulting two police officers?

From reading trial transcripts, on-line here, it is clear that former Pohatcong Township [Warren County] Police Sergeant Francesco "Frank" Pagano accused Lieutenant Dean McBride of "sexually touch[ing" two officers at headquarters.  See the following excerpt from the March 13, 2012 trial transcripts in Pagano v. Township of Pohatcong, Docket No. WRN-L-63-11, pp. 143, 146 and 147.
Attorney: Who do you believe was retaliating against you?

Pagano: Lieutenant [Dean] McBride.

Attorney: Why?

Pagano: In the beginning of 2007, I was approached by two officers from my shift.  They stated to me that while at headquarters they were sexually touched by Lieutenant McBride. I filed a report with the chief which he was away at the time down --
(Objection made and overruled)

Pagano: I wanted to report it right away to Chief [Paul] Hager but he was away.  So I waited until he came back.  Since I wasn't -- I had to report it and the next level would be Lieutenant McBride.  Above him was the chief.  So I waited for the chief to come back from his class.  In the meantime, a whole bunch of investigations started against me from that day on.
And, it is also clear from those transcripts that Pagano believes that the reason for the alleged retaliation, which Pagano claims culminated in criminal charges being brought against him--of which he was ultimately exonerated--was his complaint against McBride.

Questions remain.  Among them:

1. Are Pagano's allegations against McBride true?
2. If so, why is McBride still employed by the Pohatcong Police?
3. If not, why wasn't Pagano charged with perjury (or at least sued civilly) for lying under oath about McBride?

See, also, a related story here about the recently disclosed settlement agreement in which Pagano received $255,000 from Pohatcong Township.