Thursday, July 31, 2014

Union City pays $150,000 to settle former City official's retaliation suit.

On September 17, 2013, the City of Union City (Hudson County) agreed to pay $150,000 to its former Planning Board Attorney who sued the City and Mayor Brian P. Stack for retaliation and violation of his right to free speech.

In his suit, Mateo Perez said that Mayor Stack had "created a political machine to foster a 'pay to play' culture in Hudson County with the primary purpose of promoting, protecting and maintaining Mayor Stack's political power in Union City and the 33rd District, in particular, and Hudson County politics, in general."

He alleged an elaborate "pay to play" scheme in which the Mayor "measures and evaluates, in terms of financial donations, the loyalty and political patronage shown by individuals and companies for purposes of conferring and providing government benefits and privileges." 

Perez alleges an array of examples, from putting favored people, including Stack's girlfriend, into Section 8 apartments ahead of the waiting list to order the Planning Board to approve some applications while denying others.

Perez claimed that he was major supporter of Stack during his initial rise in Hudson County politics.  That relationship allegedly went sour after Perez "complained about Stack's unfavorable treatment of [Housing Authority] tenants who did not support him politically and favorable treatment of unsavory tenants merely because they supported him."

He said that Stack retaliated by preventing Perez's father from getting a certificate of occupancy on a building, causing him "to lose about one million dollars."  Perez also alleged that Stack caused him to be fired from his jobs with the Union City Housing Authority and the Union City Library..

Also named in the suit were Virgil Cabello, the Executive Director of the Union City Housing Authority Board, and the Brian Stack Civic Organization.

The case is captioned Perez v. Stack, Hudson County Superior Court, Docket No. L-1070-12 and Perez's attorney was Louis A. Zayas of North Bergen.  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 Perez's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $150,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Union City or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Union City or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Perez $150,000 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, July 23, 2014

Union City pays $50,000 to settle police false arrest/excessive force suit

On December 7, 2013, the City of Union City (Hudson County) agreed to pay $50,000 to two local women who sued members of the Union City Police Department for falsely arresting and maliciously prosecuting them.

In their complaint, Carlene Peguero and her mother Ingrid DeCastro claimed that Union City Police Sergeant Mark Julve, accompanied by Detectives Jasen Bellamy, R. Cetinich (presumably Raymond Cetinich) and Ruben Rodriguez came to their home on August 12, 2011 to execute a search warrant against Jean Peguero (who was Carlene's brother and Ingrid's son). The officers allegedly arrested Jean after finding marijuana and a marijuana grinder in his room. 

Even though the officers found no other contraband in the home, they allegedly arrested Carlene and Ingrid.  The women claim that the male officers frisked and searched them even though they had requested a female officer.

The pair claimed that they were handcuffed and taken to the police station.  They said that police threatened to charge them with drug offenses unless Jean admitted to possessing the contraband.  They claim that they were both charged, but that the charges were later dropped after Jean admitted to the drug offenses.

The case is captioned Peguero and DeCastro v. Union City, Federal Case No. 2:12-cv-06045 and Peguero'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 Peguero's or DeCastros'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 Union City or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Union City or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Peguero and DeCastro $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.

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

On September 30, 2013, the City of Union City (Hudson County) agreed to pay $25,000 to a local man who sued members of the Union City Police Department for arresting him on October 2, 2010 without justification and applying excessive force against him. 

In his complaint, Plaintiff Franklin Garcia does not recite the particular manner in which the excessive force was allegedly used.  It only claimed that William Varona and Frank DePinto, Jr. were the Union City officers involved.  Garcia claimed that the charges of Aggravated Assault and Obstruction of justice were dismissed on December 5, 2011. 

Also named in the suit was Union City Police Chief Charles Everett.

The case is captioned Garcia v. Union City, Federal Case No. 2:12-cv-06044 and Garcia'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 Garcia'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 Union City or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Union City or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Garcia $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.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Beachwood pays $75,000 to settle police excessive force suit

On September 22, 2011, the Borough of Beachwood (Ocean County) agreed to pay $75,000 to a local couple who sued members of the Beachwood Police Department for allegedly applying excessive force during a traffic stop.

In their suit, Kevin and Maria Chabot said that on August 26, 2007, their truck was pulled over by Patrolman Glen DeMarco.  DeMarco allegedly pushed and maced Kevin, with some of the mace getting in Marie's eyes.  At that point, Patrolmen Eric Harris and Sean Langan arrived on the scene and arrested Marie. The complaint alleged that Harris applied the handcuffs so tightly that they lacerated Marie's wrists.  The complaint further alleged that Harris and Langan hurt Marie's back when they pushed her into an ambulance.

Also named in the suit were Beachwood Police Chief William J. Cairns, Leetuenant Robert Tapp and Sergeants Kenneth Halucha, Bruce Harris and Jason Froberg.

The case is captioned Chabot v. Beachwood, Federal Case No. 09-cv-02991 and the Chabots' attorney was Thomas J. Mallon of Freehold.  Case documents are on-line here.

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

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Lavallette pays $75,000 to settle municipal judge's lawsuit against police

On April 23, 2013, the Borough of Lavallette (Ocean County) agreed to pay $75,000 to a Bridgewater Township Municipal Court judge who claimed that Lavallette police arrested him without probable cause after he declined to take a field balance test.  He also claimed that the arrest put him "in the throes of a full blow panic/anxiety attack" and that the police chief's quotes to the local press forced him to resign his position.

In his suit, Stanley F. Rizzolo, a municipal court judge who "aspired to the bench of the Superior Court of New Jersey," said that shortly before midnight on August 22, 2009, he was stopped by Lavallette Officer Andrew Baldino for slightly weaving in his lane of travel.  He said that after he "flawlessly performed two field sobriety tests" he told Baldino that he might have difficulty performing the balance test because of injuries to his back and ankle. Baldino apparently accepted Rizzolo's explanation and instructed him to wait in his vehicle.  According to the lawsuit, a very angry Officer Charles Russell then arrived on scene, berated Rizzolo and threatened him with arrest unless he did the balance test.  Rizzolo claimed that Sergeant John Andrews then arrived on scene and participated in the "menacing and antagonizing."

Rizzolo claimed that he was then handcuffed and placed in a patrol car and taken to the police station where he was told to take a breathalyzer.  The stress from this allegedly caused him to go into a panic attack, which is a condition he said he suffered from prior to this incident.  The officers, however, "cynically believed [Rizzolo] was feigning illness to avoid taking the breathalyzer" and "openly disparaged" him.  He claimed that Russell gave him oxygen which caused him to lose consciousness and that later, in the hospital, he required physical restraints and chemical sedation due to his "uncontrollable shaking and hyperventilation." While sedated, blood was drawn that allegedly revealed a blood alcohol concentration of .068% which, according to the lawsuit, was "well below the 0.08 level of impermissible intoxication established by [law.]"  Finally, he claimed that Police Chief Colin Grant gave "skewed account of the events" to local newspapers which ultimately "forced him to resign from his municipal judgeship at great professional and financial cost."

The case is captioned Rizzolo v. Lavallette, Federal Case No. 11-cv-01033 and Rizzolo's attorney was Robert F. Varady of Union.  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 Rizzolo's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $75,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Lavallette or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Lavallette or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Rizzolo $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.

Lakewood pays $40,000 to settle excessive force suit against cop who was later arrested

On September 18, 2013, the Township of Lakewood (Ocean County) entered into a confidential agreement to pay $40,000 to a local man who sued members of the Lakewood Police Department for assaulting him and applying excessive force against him.

In his suit, Edwin A. Alicea said that on January 15, 2012, he was stopped by former Lakewood Police Officer Jeremy Felder who "assaulted him without justification and with excessive force."  He claimed that Felder forcibly removed him from his car, threw him to the ground, assaulted him and sprayed his face with pepper spray "without justification."  According to a March 5, 2014 Star Ledger article (here), Felder was arrested in March 2014 for official misconduct arising out of a separate incident.

A You Tube video of the incident is on-line here.  Unfortunately, most of the interaction between Felder and Alicea is off-camera.  The Police report, criminal complaint against Alicea and Alicea's blood alcohol report are on-line here.

The case is captioned Alicea v. Lakewood, Federal Case No. 33:12-cv-06404 and Alicea'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 Alicea's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $40,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Lakewood 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 Alicea $40,000 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 4, 2014

Southern Regional pays $325,000 to settle five women's Law Against Discrimination suit.

On October 18, 2006, the Southern Regional Board of Education (Ocean County) agreed to pay $325,000 to five women who claimed that a school district official "notoriously committed, on an ongoing and continuous basis, remarkable, egregious conduct prohibited by the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination."  Under the terms of the confidential settlement agreement, each woman received $47,500 while their attorney received $88,500 plus $1,500 in court costs.

In their suit, Carol Cornelius, Carmasita DeSalvo, Jodi Wallis, Merry Niewojna and Stephanie Chadwick, all of whom worked for the school district as administrative personnel, said District Business Administrator James A. Moran had "an apparent prejudice against people of color" because he often referred to his son's Jamaican girlfriend in a racially derogatory manner.  Beyond his alleged racism, the women complained that Moran would "regularly, almost on a daily basis, discuss personal, supposed amorous relationships digressing often into detailed, graphic accounts of [his] purported sexual activity."  The lawsuit, which is at the link below, describes the plaintiffs' allegation in graphic detail.  The suit went on to say that Moran retaliated against the women when they complained about his misconduct.

The lawsuit claimed that in exchange for his 2003 resignation, the school district gave him a $200,000 "golden parachute."  The terms of Moran's separation of employment from the school district are confirmed by Judge Stanley R. Chesler's February 10, 2006 opinion (on line here) in Moran v. Southern Regional, Case No. 05-1062.

According to a December 9, 2009 Press of Atlantic City article, "Stafford Township agrees to contract with new administrator James Moran," Moran was hired by Stafford Township after separating from employment with Southern Regional.  According to Stafford Township's August 16, 2016 response to an Open Public Records Act (OPRA) request, Moran serves as Township Administrator who is "currently making $182,436.84 annually."

The case is captioned Cornelius et al v Moran et al, Federal Case No. 04-cv-3765 and the women's attorney was Michael W. Hoffman of Forked River.  Case documents are on-line here.

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

None of the women's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $325,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Moran, Southern Regional or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Southern Regional or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay the women $325,000 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.