Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Nutley secretly pays $40,000 to settle police officer's suit against Township and Mayor.

Alphonse Petracco
Mayor of Nutley
On October 14, 2014, the Township of Nutley (Essex County) agreed to pay $40,000 to a retired Township police officer who said that Township officials, particularly Mayor Alphonse Petracco, harassed and retaliated against him and ultimately left him with "no reasonable choice but to retire" in February 2013.

In his suit, Michael Patrick O'Halloran claimed that Petracco lived "above the law" by, for example, a) using the Nutley Fire Department's generators "to power his personal deli business during an extended power outage, when other facilities in town went without power;" b) signing and handing out PBA cards to his cronies; c) parking on the sidewalk in front of his deli and d) using police vehicles for personal use, such as for hunting trips to Mendham and to go to out-of-town parties.  O'Halloran also claimed that Commissioner Thomas J. Evans tried to force him to amend an accident report involving Evans' son.   O'Halloran claimed that when he objected to Petracco's conduct and reported him to the Essex County Prosecutor's office, Petracco retaliated by, for instance, interfering with his overtime pay and by taking adverse action against O'Halloran's mother, who was also a Township employee.

The case is captioned O'Halloran v. Nutley, Essex County Superior Court, Docket No. ESX-L-5246-13 and O'Halloran's attorney was Patrick P. Toscano of Caldwell.  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 O'Halloran'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 Nutley or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Nutley or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay O'Halloran $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.