Thursday, January 29, 2015

Spring Lake pays $275,000 to settle podiatrist's malicious prosecutor suit.

On November 24, 2014, the Borough of Spring Lake (Monmouth County) agreed to pay $275,000 to a Saddle River podiatrist who sued the Borough's police chief and sergeant for falsely prosecuting him for attempting to steal a multimillion-dollar estate of Spring Lake widow.

Sollito was accused of befriending Madeleine Stockdale, a Spring Lake widow and Sollito's neighbor, and persuading her to change her will and leave him the bulk of her $6 million estate.  According to newspaper accounts, Sollito was tried in 2007 for forgery, falsifying records and endangerment or neglect of an elderly person.  All charges were dismissed after a mistrial was declared.

In his suit, he said that Police Chief Robert J. Dawson and Sergeant William Coyle conspired to have Coyle testify falsely before a Grand Jury in 2004.  Sollito claimed that Coyle perjured himself and that absent his "vindictive acts and false testimony, a grand jury would not have indicted Dr. Sollito, because there was no probable cause to support the charges."  He further claimed that Dawson and Coyle conspired against him "to steer Ms. Stockdale's fortune to their friends and fellow public safety officers, who comprise the Borough of Spring Lake's First Aid Squad."

The case is captioned Sollito v. Coyle, Docket Nos. MON-L-1990-10 and OCN-L-1763-14 and Sollito's attorney was John S. Furlong of West Trenton.  Case documents are on-line here.

None of Sollito's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $275,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Spring Lake or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Spring Lake or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Sollito $275,000 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 emb
arrassed at trial. This is the problem when cases settle before trial--it is impossible to know the truth of what really happened.

Friday, January 2, 2015

Ocean County secretly pays $25,000 to settle inmate's excessive force suit against jail guard.

On November 26, 2014, the Ocean County Department of Corrections agreed to pay $25,000 to a county jail inmate who claimed that he was assaulted by a jail guard.  Additionally, the jail guard was charged with aggravated assault and resigned from his job after entering the Pretrial Intervention Program (PTI).

In his suit, Armando Penales said that on December 22, 2012, while he was in the Ocean County Jail awaiting sentencing on a robbery charge, he was assaulted "without justification" by Corrections Officer Timothy Browning.  He also claims that he was denied medical treatment for the injury he received and that Browning filed a disciplinary charge against him for "Refusing to Obey an Order of any Staff Member" which was later dismissed.

Court records also reveal that Browning, who was 49 years old at the time of the incident, was charged with Aggravated Assault by jail officials.   In August 2013, Browning was accepted into the PTI Program.  As a condition of his acceptance, Browning had to pay $657.66 in restitution and agreed to "resign his position as a corrections officer with the Ocean County Department of Corrections and agree not to seek future public employment in New Jersey."

Also named in the suit was Ocean County Jail Warden Theodore Hutler.

The case is captioned Penales v. Ocean, Federal Case No. 3:14-cv-01277 and Penales' attorney was Thomas J. Mallon of Freehold.  Case documents, including the criminal charges and PTI enrollment paperwork, 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 Penales'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 Ocean or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Ocean or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Penales $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.