Thursday, December 4, 2014

Plainfield secretly gives police captain back pay, release from discipline and $27,500 in attorney fees to settle whistleblower suit.

On April 2, 2013, the City of Plainfield (Union County) agreed to reinstate a police lieutenant to his previous position of captain, dismiss all disciplinary charges against him and pay his attorneys $27,500 to settle his whistleblower suit against the City and former Police Director Martin R. Hellwig.  In his suit, the captain said that he was demoted to lieutenant on May 26, 2010 after having reported Director Hellwig's alleged work-related use of the Internet to solicit prostitution services.

The plaintiff, Captain Michael Gilliam, claimed that his demotion was a direct result of his report of Hellwig's alleged activities to to Plainfield's business administrator.  According to the blog Plainfield Today, Hellwig retired in late 2013.

The case is captioned Gilliam v. Plainfield, Docket No. UNN-L-2104-11 and Gilliam's attorney was Cahn & Parra of Edison.  Case documents are on-line here.

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

None of Gilliam's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the concessions and payment do not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Plainfield or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Plainfield or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather settle with Gilliam 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.