Saturday, December 31, 2016

Aberdeen confidentially paid out $15,000 to settle police invasion of privacy lawsuit.

On December 1, 2016, the Township of Aberdeen (Monmouth County) agreed to pay $15,000 to a woman who claimed that Township police trespassed on her property, invaded her privacy and terrorized her.

In her lawsuit, Yolanda Mitter, claimed that several unidentified police officers, for no reason, banged on her door at about 2 a.m. on August 15, 2013 and made "offensive, threatening, harassing, frightening, menacing and terrorizing" remarks to her from outside her home.  She claimed that the officers' presence and remarks placed her "in panic, fear and terror that her home and body may be invaded."

Individually named as defendants were Chief of Police John T. Powers, Captain Alan Geyer, Sergeant Hank Chevalier and Patrolmen Michael Plant and Craig Hausman.

The case is captioned Mitter v. Township of Aberdeen, et al, Docket No. MON-L-3803-14 and Mitter's attorney was Robert A. Morley of Shrewsbury. Case documents are on-line here.  UPDATE: See the police reports and other information on the underlying incident 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 lawsuit's allegations have been proven or disproven in court.  Settlement agreements typically state that payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by any of the defendants.  All that is known for sure is that Aberdeen or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Mitter $15,000 than take the matter to trial. Perhaps the defendants' decision 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 resolve before trial--it is impossible to know the truth of what really happened.

Barnegat school board confidentially paid $60,000 to settle middle school student's sexual harassment lawsuit.

On July 25, 2016, the Barnegat Board of Education (Ocean County) quietly paid $60,000 to settle a lawsuit filed by a Brackman Middle School student who claimed that school officials were "willfully indifferent" toward her complaints of being sexually harassed by another student.

In her suit, the student, identified only her initials K.K., claimed that another student, referred to as S.H., regularly referred to her as "a cunt, whore, slut and bitch" and threw objects at her.  Despite having made "numerous complaints" to school officials, nothing was allegedly done to remedy the issue.

The case is captioned K.K. and C.K. v. Barnegat Township Board of Education, et al, New Jersey Superior Court Docket No. OCN-L-2013-14 and K.K.'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 K.K.'s allegations have been proven or disproven in court. Settlement agreements typically state that payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by any of the defendants.  All that is known for sure is that the Barnegat school district or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay K.K. $60,000 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, December 21, 2016

Millville confidentially paid out $40,000 to teenager who said that cop pulled a gun on him.

On August 3, 2016, the City of Millville (Cumberland County) agreed to pay $40,000 to a teenage dirt bike rider who said that a Millville police officer "point[ed] a gun directly at him."

In his lawsuit filed on January 12, 2015, a thirteen year old boy, identified only by the initials C.F., claimed that Millville Police Officer Michael Thompson pointed "a gun directly at him" for about 30 seconds after Thompson stopped the boy for riding a motorized dirt bike in a wooded area near Magnolia Avenue on September 27, 2014.  The boy and his parent, identified as D.F., claimed that the officer's decision to pull his weapon was unwarranted "because  of the lack of severity of the crime at issue, because [the boy] did not pose an immediate threat to the safety of the police officer or others, and because [the boy] was not actively resisting arrest or attempting to evade arrest by flight."  According to the lawsuit, the officer's decision to deploy his weapon amounted to excessive force and violated the boy's rights under both the federal and state constitutions.

After first learning about this lawsuit in 2015, I filed an Open Public Records Act (OPRA) request for the police report, use of force report and other documents related to the event.  The police report that I received gives no indication of a gun being used by Officer Thompson.  Rather, the report depicts a rather benign event where the boy was allowed to walk his dirt bike home after Thompson verified that it wasn't stolen.

The case is captioned C.F. v. City of Millville, et al, Docket No. CUM-L-24-15 and C.F.'s attorney was Kevin M. Costello of Mount Laurel. Case documents are on-line here.  According to a court order following an August 26, 2016 "friendly hearing" before Judge Richard J. Geiger, C.F. received $20,818.45 of the $40,000 settlement amount while Costello received $19,181.55 for his attorney fees and costs.

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 lawsuit's allegations have been proven or disproven in court.  Settlement agreements typically state that payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by any of the defendants.  All that is known for sure is that Millville or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay C.F. $40,000 than take the matter to trial. Perhaps the defendants' decision 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 resolve before trial--it is impossible to know the truth of what really happened.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

East Orange paid out $200,000 to police matron who claimed that police captain ejaculated on her furniture.

A recently uncovered settlement agreement made on June 16, 2014 shows that the City of East Orange (Essex County) agreed to pay $200,000 to a police matron who said that a captain with the city's police department ejaculated on her love seat and his service revolver while he visited her home in 2007.

In her lawsuit, Candida Ray said that Captain Anthony Cooke visited her home on January 26, 2007 to "discuss a business matter involving the sale of cakes and cookies."  She claimed that the meeting was "strictly business" and that she and Cooke never had an intimate relationship.  According to the lawsuit, Ray left Cooke alone in the living room while she stepped into the kitchen.  When she returned "she found that Captain Cooke had removed his penis from his trousers and was masturbating."  When she told him to stop and leave her home, Cooke reportedly "refused and masturbated to orgasm, ejaculating over Ms. Ray's love seat and his gun, which he had withdrawn from his holster."

Ray said that she complained to Internal Affairs and was later told that Cooke had confessed to having masturbated but claimed that Ms. Ray had consented. She said that ultimately, no disciplinary action was taken against Cooke.  She said that Cooke's visit caused her to miss work and to seek therapy.

Ray claimed that she was humiliated when Cooke's alleged act of masturbation became common knowledge throughout the police department causing numerous employees to press her for "embarrassing details."  She said that employees teased her, including Sergeant Michael Williams who allegedly told her that he would come over to her apartment "butt naked" and "jerk off on the furniture."  She claimed that such comments created a hostile workplace environment.

The case is captioned Ray v. City of East Orange, et al, Docket No. ESX-L-725-11 and Ray's attorney was Mark Mulick of Montclair. Case documents are on-line here.

None of lawsuit's allegations have been proven or disproven in court.  Settlement agreements typically state that payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by any of the defendants.  All that is known for sure is that East Orange or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Ray $200,000 than take the matter to trial. Perhaps the defendants' decision 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 resolve before trial--it is impossible to know the truth of what really happened.

East Orange confidentially paid out $82,500 to settle whistleblower suit.

On May 31, 2016, the City of East Orange (Essex County) agreed to pay $82,500 to a former employee who said that she was forced out of her job after she complained about "certain improprieties" regarding the finances of some City programs.

In her lawsuit, Linda J. Hobson, who worked as a Budget Officer until her alleged "constructive discharge" on June 1, 2011, said that she found problems when she examined the books of the City's Urban Youth and Development Program, CDBG, Shelter Plus Care, and the Homeless prevention and Rapid Rehousing Programs.  She claimed that vendors "had wrongfully and illegally diverted resources from the program(s) for their own personal use and the personal use of their family members while the municipality turned a 'blind eye.'"  She said that when she complained, she was ridiculed and forced to take early retirement.

The case is captioned Hobson v. City of East Orange, et al, Docket No. ESX-L-364-12 and Hobson's attorney was Frederick Coles, III of Plainfield. 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 lawsuit's allegations have been proven or disproven in court.  Settlement agreements typically state that payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by any of the defendants.  All that is known for sure is that East Orange or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Hobson $82,500 than take the matter to trial. Perhaps the defendants' decision 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 resolve before trial--it is impossible to know the truth of what really happened.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Gloucester confidentially paid out $51,500 to settle Corrections Officer's gender and racial discrimination suit.

In a confidential settlement agreement that was only recently discovered, the County of Gloucester on March 30, 2012 agreed to pay $51,500 to settle a lawsuit filed by African-American, female Corrections Officer who claimed that her male coworkers would "grab each other's crotches" and that one specific coworker "plac[ed] a finger through the fly of his pants and pantomim[ed] that his penis had been exposed."

In her lawsuit, Malessia Lacy claimed that Sergeant Krulikowski (presumably Timothy Krulikowski) told her that he didn't think women should work as corrections officers and should instead "work in places like banks." Krulikowski also allegedly called her female coworker "a bitch" and used the word "spade" in a pejorative way.  Lacy claimed that Krulikowski, along with Corrections Officers Kirscher and Hahn (no first names given) would make sexually graphic comments about her such as "I'd let her put my d**k in her mouth" and "She can suck my b*lls."  She claimed that after she complained, she was retaliated against.

The case is captioned Lacy v. Gloucester County Department of Correctional Services, Superior Court Docket No. GLO-L-1142-11 and Lacy'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 lawsuit's allegations have been proven or disproven in court.  Settlement agreements typically state that payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by any of the defendants.  All that is known for sure is that Gloucester or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Lacy $51,500 than take the matter to trial. Perhaps the defendants' decision 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 resolve before trial--it is impossible to know the truth of what really happened.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Middle Township paid out $47,500 to settle EMT's wrongful discharge lawsuit.

On August 22, 2016, the Township of Middle (Cape May County) agreed to pay $47,500 to an Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) who claimed that she was fired after the Township refused to make accommodations for her work related back injury.

In her lawsuit, Ann Marie Camp said that she suffered a back injury on April 9, 2015 while lifting a patient who was suffering a cardiac emergency.  Camp alleged that she returned to work on "medium duty" but was fired on August 18, 2015 by Township Human Resources Director Vera Kalish because she could not yet work in a full duty capacity.  Camp said that her pleaded to be tranferred to another position, even if it meant less pay.  According to the lawsuit, Kalish told her that her request "was not open for discussion."

The case is captioned Camp v. Township of Middle, et al, Docket No. CPM-L-79-16 and Camp's attorney was Daniel M. Kurkowski of Cape May. Case documents are on-line here.

None of lawsuit's allegations have been proven or disproven in court.  Settlement agreements typically state that payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by any of the defendants.  All that is known for sure is that Middle or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Camp $47,500 than take the matter to trial. Perhaps the defendants' decision 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 resolve before trial--it is impossible to know the truth of what really happened.

Linden paid out $45,000 to settle wrongful arrest lawsuit.

On July 15, 2016, the City of Linden (Union County) agreed to pay $45,000 to a man who said that he was wrongfully arrested and held in jail for 65 days.

In his lawsuit, Eon Flemming said that Linden Police Detective "M. Rawling" (presumably Maurice S. Rawlins) wrongfully arrested him on December 6, 2011 in Long Branch, New Jersey for a drug offense.  He said that he was jailed for 65 days and that the charges were administratively dismissed.

The case is captioned Flemming v. City of Linden, et al, Docket No. UNN-L-4179-13 and Flemming's attorney was David B. Owens of Jersey City. Case documents are on-line here.

None of lawsuit's allegations have been proven or disproven in court.  Settlement agreements typically state that payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by any of the defendants.  All that is known for sure is that Linden or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Flemming $45,000 than take the matter to trial. Perhaps the defendants' decision 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 resolve before trial--it is impossible to know the truth of what really happened.

Friday, November 25, 2016

Kean University paid out $30,000 to resolve campus cop's discrimination lawsuit.

On September 27, 2016, Kean University (Union County) agreed to pay $30,000 to a former campus police officer who said that he was bullied and harassed because of his Jewish heritage.

In his lawsuit, Randy Diakunczak, who worked for Kean University Campus Police from 2004 until his termination in November 2014, recounted many examples of alleged discrimination and retaliation, including being denied overtime, suggestions that he was gay and trying to poison his ability to get positions with the Marlboro, Edison and Highland Park police departments. 

As one example, Diakunczak alleged that Detective Michael Gorman was suspended for six months without pay after a forensic handwriting analysis showed that he had written words such as "Homo," "Monkey Licker," "Box-o-Tools" and "Cow Chip" on Diakunczak's business cards.  Diakunczak claimed that Gorman was allowed to serve his suspension every other week and was given additional overtime to make up for it.

According to the lawsuit, three disciplinary charges were lodged against Diakunczak and he was ultimately terminated in November 2014.    The release called for Diakunczak to dismiss two pending Administrative Law matters and for the University to dismiss its lawsuit against Diakunczak that sought reimbursement of $29,999.18.

Named as defendants in the lawsuit were Chief David Parks, Sergeant Carlos Gonzalez, Detective Michael Gorman, Affirmative Action official Charlie Williams, Detective Sergeant Annie Coll and Lieutenant Vincent Kearney.

The case is captioned Diakunczak v. Kean University, et al, Docket No. UNN-L-0267-11 and Diakunczak's attorney was Nancy A. Valentino of Marlton. Case documents are on-line here.

None of lawsuit's allegations have been proven or disproven in court.  Settlement agreements typically state that payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by any of the defendants.  All that is known for sure is that Kean or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Diakunczak $30,000 than take the matter to trial. Perhaps the defendants' decision 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 resolve before trial--it is impossible to know the truth of what really happened.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Perth Amboy paid out $150,000 to settle sexual harassment complaint filed against former police chief.

In September 2016, the City of Perth Amboy (Middlesex County) agreed to pay $150,000 to a female secretary who said that the City's former police chief would incessantly "stare at her breasts and feet" which made the woman "feel disgusting and repulsed."

In her lawsuit, Nalda Capo said that former police chief Benjamin Ruiz stared at her and harassed her from 2007 until 2014.  According to the complaint, Ruiz told Capo to "start dressing up and get your nails and hair done."  She claimed that he would come to her office uninvited and "rub her neck and shoulders," would introduce her to citizens as his wife and stand in front of her desk and "stare at her breasts for long periods of time."  She said that she "lived in fear every time the door opened to her office" and that she "would jump out of her chair in fear that Defendant Ruiz would try to touch her again."

Capo said that she reported Ruiz's behavior to her union president Ruth Vega but that Vega "violated her rights" by reporting to Ruiz Capo's intention of filing a sexual harassment charge against him.

Capo also said that Ruiz gave her unfairly poor performance reviews and that she was passed over for a Detective Bureau secretary position in favor of someone who was less qualified and had less seniority.  She said that at a grievance hearing, her union representative, Debra Parks, told her that Ruiz "put [Capo] down like a piece of garbage."

Ruiz no longer works for the City.  According to news reports, he was suspended without pay in December 2014 and was later terminated after having been indicted on official misconduct and other charges.  In September 2016, Ruiz was acquitted by a jury on all charges.

The case is captioned Capo v. City of Perth Amboy, et al, Docket No. MID-L-7267-15 and Capo's attorney was Stephen E. Klausner of Manville. Case documents are on-line here.


The settlement agreement specifically reserves for Capo the right to pursue three orthopedic Workers Compensation claims against the City while calling for "a claim for psychiatric or psychological injury" to be dismissed.

None of lawsuit's allegations have been proven or disproven in court.  Settlement agreements typically state that payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by any of the defendants.  All that is known for sure is that Perth Amboy or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Capo $150,000 than take the matter to trial. Perhaps the defendants' decision 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 resolve before trial--it is impossible to know the truth of what really happened.

Friday, November 18, 2016

Elizabeth agrees to pay $30,000 to resolve police excessive force lawsuit.

On September 18, 2016, the Elizabeth City Council (Union County) agreed to pay $30,000 to a Roselle Park man who said that he suffered a fractured back after having been stomped by police.

In his lawsuit, Luis A. Padua said that on April 8, 2011 he was waiting for a ride outside of a parking garage on West Grand Street when he was approached by Captain Torner (presumably Tyrone E. Torner) and Officers A. Vrohidis and Marcos Diaz.  Padua claimed that the officers, who had been notified of a vehicle theft at the parking garage, "began to beat and kick [Padua], pushing him against a wall and stomping on his back, to the point where his back was fractured."  Padua claimed that the officers fabricated Obstruction, Resisting and Criminal Trespass charges against him that were eventually dismissed.

Also named in the suit were Police Chief Patrick Shannon and Police Director James Cosgrove.

The case is captioned Padua v. City of Elizabeth, et al, Federal Case No. 13-cv-04645 and Padua's attorney was Shelley L. Stangler of Springfield. Case documents are on-line here

None of lawsuit's allegations have been proven or disproven in court.  Settlement agreements typically state that payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by any of the defendants.  All that is known for sure is vthat Elizabeth or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Padua $30,000 than take the matter to trial. Perhaps the defendants' decision 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 resolve before trial--it is impossible to know the truth of what really happened.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Somerset County paid $699,000 to resolve deceased jail inmate's parents' gross negligence lawsuit.

On September 21, 2016, the parents of a South Bound Brook man who committed suicide while incarcerated at the Somerset County Jail agreed to accept $699,000 to settle their lawsuit against County.  The parents had claimed that despite jail officials having been warned of the 33-year-old man's suicidal tendencies, no action was taken to prevent the man from hanging himself with his shoelaces on December 13, 2012.

The lawsuit was brought by Daniel J. and Emily-Jo Klein of Clifton on behalf of their son Daniel J. Klein, III.  According to a June 8, 2015 newspaper article, "Family blames Somerset County Jail after inmate hangs himself with shoelace," Klein was incarcerated after having been arrested for drunk driving on December 11, 2012.  According to the lawsuit, Klein had made several past suicide attempts and his girlfriend had called jail officials to warn them of these attempts.  He was found alive on December 13, 2012 with shoelaces around his neck.  The lawsuit said that Klein was "eventually" transported to Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital which is "not the closest medical center to the jail."  He died seven days later on December 20, 2012.

Named as defendants were Sheriff Frank J. Provenzano, Sr., Warden Charles O'Neill, Deputy Warden Thomas Kelly, Chief Gary Hoats and Captain John Quinn along with the Somerville Police Chief Thomas Pasquarello, Bedminster Township and Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital.  The $699,000 settlement released only the County defendants from the suit.

The case is captioned Estate of Klein v. O'Neill, et al, Federal Case No. 3:14-cv-03361 and the Estate's attorney was Edward P. Capozzi of Roseland. Case documents are on-line here

None of lawsuit's allegations have been proven or disproven in court.  Settlement agreements typically state that payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by any of the defendants.  All that is known for sure is that Somerset County or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay the Estate $699,000 than take the matter to trial. Perhaps the defendants' decision 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 resolve before trial--it is impossible to know the truth of what really happened.

Saturday, November 5, 2016

Bridgeton Board of Education to confidentially pay $60,000 to settle former employee's race-based harassment lawsuit.

On November 3, 2016, the Bridgeton Board of Education (Cumberland County) produced a draft agreement that calls for $60,000 to be paid to a former, African-American teacher who said that she was forced out of her job by a hostile, racially charged work environment.

In her lawsuit, Sakina Davis claimed that Christine Barlas, the Caucasian principal at the Geraldyn O. Foster Early Childhood Center on Buckshutem Road, put Davis in charge of disciplining African-American students "because the school did not want African-American parents coming in and becoming 'aggressive' with Caucasian administrators and teachers."

Davis alleges that Barlas made racially derogatory comments to her such as opining that "African-American parents did not have the same level of care for their students' educational experience as did Caucasian and Hispanic Parents" and that Black mothers often had "drug dealing boyfriends" that exposed young African-American males to violence.  Davis also says that Barlas did not intervene when special education teacher Jane Krokos "implied that African-American students were disproportionately disruptive" and should be put in their own class so as to not "ruin" the educational experience for Caucasian and Hispanic students. Davis said that she was forced to resign because the "retaliatory harassment and non-response to the racial harassment became too much for her."

The case is captioned Davis v. Bridgeton Board of Education, Docket No. CUM-L-439-13 and Davis' attorney was Kevin 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 Davis' allegations have been proven or disproven in court. Settlement agreements typically state that payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by any of the defendants.  All that is known for sure is that the Bridgeton school board or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Davis $60,000 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.

Note: The court marked the case as having settled.  While it is possible that a dispute will arise prior to the settlement agreement being signed by the Board of Education, this rarely happens because the settlement has been negotiated and agreed to by all the parties.  Readers who wish to be absolutely sure that this case settled according to the terms stated above should submit an Open Public Records Act (OPRA) request for the final, signed settlement agreement.+

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Penns Grove-Carneys Point Board of Education paid out $145,000 to settle Caucasian teacher's racial discrimination lawsuit.

On July 30, 2016, the Penns Grove-Carneys Point Regional Board of Education (Salem County) agreed to pay $145,000 to a Logan Township man who claimed that the Board refused to hire him because he is Caucasian.

In his lawsuit, Brian Shields said that his 2013 job interviews with School Superintendent Joseph Massare and Field Elementary School Principal Mary Kwiatkowski went well and that Massare recommended to the Board that he be hired as a 2nd or 3rd grade teacher.  Shields also said that Massare told him that the Board "always approved his recommendations."

According to the lawsuit, unnamed individuals came to the August 12, 2013 Board meeting and accused the Board of "not hiring enough minorities at the school."  Despite Massare's refutation of the accusation, Shields claims that the board rejected his application and that Massare later told him that "his hiring had been rejected because [he]was not a minority." 

Also named in the suit was former Board President Gregory T. White.

The case is captioned Shields v. Penns Grove-Carneys Point Public Schools, et al, Federal Case No. 1:14-cv-2106 and Shields's attorney was James M. Duttera of Philadelphia.  Case documents are on-line here.  Of the $145,000, Shields received $83,778.21 and his lawyer received $61,221.79.

None of the Shields's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. Settlement agreements typically state that payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by any of the defendants.  All that is known for sure is that Penns Grove-Carneys Point or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Shields $145,000 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.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Paterson agrees to pay $150,000 to resolve DPW head's hostile work environment lawsuit.

On September 13, 2016, the Paterson City Council (Passaic County) agreed to pay $150,000 to the present Director of the City's Department of Public Works (DPW) who claimed that he suffered retaliation because he remained a supporter of Paterson Mayor Jose "Joey" Torres from 2010 to 2014 when Jeffrey Jones served as mayor.

In his lawsuit, Manuel Ojeda, who has worked for the City's DPW since 1988, said that despite his "exemplary record" Jones, Business Administrator Charles Thomas and then DPW Director Christopher Coke retaliated against him.  Ojeda claimed that the defendants demoted him to Sanitation Inspector, tried to reduce his pay by $40,000 and "doubled the size of his street cleaning route and otherwise increased his workload without a corresponding increase in pay."

He also claimed that Coke ridiculed him in front of the other DPW employees.  Coke allegedly told Ojeda that "You and Joey [Mayor Torres] did a fine job f***ing this department up."  Ojeda said that a fellow employee who brought baseless charges against him was rewarded by being allowed to have his girlfriend ride around with him during work in a City vehicle.

According to news reports, the City Council has previously rejected higher settlement offers, the most recent being a $175,000 offer which was rejected in June 2016.

The case is captioned Ojeda v. City of Paterson, et al, Federal Case No. 13-cv-0628 and Ojeda's attorney was Susan A. Champion of Wayne. Case documents are on-line here.  According to the City's settlement resolution, no payment will be made to Ojeda until the settlement is approved by the New Jersey Department of Community Affairs.

None of lawsuit's allegations have been proven or disproven in court.  Settlement agreements typically state that payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by any of the defendants.  All that is known for sure is that Paterson or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Ojeda $150,000 than take the matter to trial. Perhaps the defendants' decision 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 resolve before trial--it is impossible to know the truth of what really happened.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Mullica paid out $95,000 to laborer's discrimination lawsuit.

On September 21, 2016, the Township of Mullica (Atlantic County) agreed to pay $95,000 to settle a lawsuit filed by a "mixed race, both African-American and Puerto Rican" laborer who sued because he was allegedly discriminated against by his white supervisor and coworkers.

In his lawsuit, Jose Robles, a resident of Hammonton, said that his Supervisor, Steven Sperlak, would refer to him as "Hector, Carlos, Jesus and other traditionally Hispanic names" and that his coworkers told him that some equipment that was outside a local hunting club was for "hanging n****ers." Sperlak also allegedly made a joke about hangings that Robles found offensive.  His lawsuit claimed that when he asked why he wasn't give a code to access fuel from the fuel pumps, coworker Ronald Kahn said that it was "because you're Puerto Rican and you might steal gas."

The case is captioned Robles v. Township of Mullica, et al, Superior Court Docket No. ATL-L-871-14 and Robles's attorney was Kevin M. Costello of Mount Laurel.  Case documents are on-line here and former summary judgment briefs are on-line here.

None of lawsuit's allegations have been proven or disproven in court.  Settlement agreements typically state that payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by any of the defendants.  All that is known for sure is that Mullica or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Robles $95,000 than take the matter to trial. Perhaps the defendants' decision 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 resolve before trial--it is impossible to know the truth of what really happened.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Riverdale confidentially paid out $75,000 to police sergeant allegedly referred to as a "scumbag" by the mayor.

On July 12, 2016, the Borough of Riverdale (Morris County) agreed to pay $75,000 to settle a whistleblower and retaliation lawsuit filed by a police sergeant against the Borough and its former mayor.

In his lawsuit, Riverdale Police Sergeant Gregory Bogert claimed that former Mayor William Budesheim perceived that Bogert harassed Budesheim's son, who worked for the Borough as a police dispatcher.  Bogert, however, maintains that the junior Budesheim was often late to work and neglected his duties but escaped discipline because his father was the mayor.  Bogert also alleged that the junior Budesheim more than likely destroyed the campaign signs of his father's political opponents.  He also alleged that Mayor Budesheim has become so enraged at Bogert that he has tailgated his car and made a "scumbag" comment for which the Borough Council forced him to apologize.  This is just a sampling of Bogert's grievances. Read the lawsuit at the link below for more.

The case is captioned Bogert v. Borough of Riverdale et al, Superior Court Docket No. MRS-L-2639-13 and Bogert's attorney was Patrick P. Toscano, Jr. 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 lawsuit's allegations have been proven or disproven in court.  Settlement agreements typically state that payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by any of the defendants.  All that is known for sure is that Riverdale or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Bogert $75,000 than take the matter to trial. Perhaps the defendants' decision 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 resolve before trial--it is impossible to know the truth of what really happened.

Monday, October 10, 2016

Haddon paid out $16,000 to 73-year-old who claimed that police attacked him after he complained about officer's "leisurely" issuance of a summons.

On June 7, 2016, the Township of Haddon (Camden County) agreed to pay $16,000 to settle a lawsuit filed by a Collingswood businessman who said that Township police officers used excessive force against him in retaliation for his expression of displeasure on how one officer treated him.

In his lawsuit, John Saponara, a 73-year-old auto repair shop owner, said that on March 22, 2013 Haddon police officer Diaz Camacho detained him in the parking lot of a business named the Tire Corral for failure to have a license plate on his vehicle.  Saponara claimed that he had told Camacho that he was at the Tire Corral to buy tires for a car he was repairing at his own shop and was under "business related time constraints."  Despite his hurry, Saponara claimed that Camacho made him "wait in his car for an unreasonable period of time . . . while she leisurely prepared the summonses."  Saponara said that Camacho intentionally made him wait because she was miffed that he did not immediately comply with her order to sit in his car.

After Camacho handed him two summonses, Saponara said that he exited his car so that he could go to Tire Corral to conduct his business. While getting out of his car, Saponara said that he told Camacho that he was not pleased with how she treated him.  He said that he didn't threaten Camacho--he only conveyed to her "an expression of his frustration and disapproval."  A second officer, Joseph Talucci, who was standing nearby, ordered Saponara back into his car and then both officers allegedly tackled him when he didn't immediately comply.  He said that Camacho drove her knee into her back while he was on the ground and that he suffered bruises and abrasions while being handcuffed.  He said that he was charged with Disorderly Conduct but was later acquitted in municipal court.

The case is captioned Saponara v. Township of Haddon, et al, Superior Court Docket No. CAM-L-997-15 and Saponara's attorney was Gregg A. Shivers of Cherry Hill. Case documents are on-line here

None of lawsuit's allegations have been proven or disproven in court.  Settlement agreements typically state that payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by any of the defendants.  All that is known for sure is that Haddon or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Saponara $16,000 than take the matter to trial. Perhaps the defendants' decision 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 resolve before trial--it is impossible to know the truth of what really happened.

Friday, October 7, 2016

Belleville confidentially paid out $25,000 to retired fireman who claimed breach of contract and retaliation.

On April 24, 2016, the Township of Belleville (Essex County) agreed to pay $25,000 to settle a lawsuit filed by a retired fireman who claimed that the Township retaliated against him for refusing to drop a wage claim stemming from a 1993 agreement.

In his lawsuit, Peter Coppola said that a 1993 arbitration agreement obligated the Township to pay him for 283 hours that he had worked without pay.  He said that after the Township reneged on its agreement in 2009, the Township Manager told him that "the Township does not have the money to make the payout." 

In 2013, after his 2010 retirement, Coppola said that he was re-employed by the Township as a part-time mechanic.  He claimed that he was called in the fire chief's office and told that "the powers that be" said that if wanted to keep his part-time job, he would have to drop his claim for the 283 hours of pay.  Coppola, who said that he was "shocked and disappointed," asked the fire chief if the Township would agree to a long term contract for his present job.  Coppola claimed that the was fired a few days later.

The case is captioned Coppola v. Township of Belleville, et al, Superior Court Docket No. ESX-L-2488-14 and Coppola's attorney was Howard A. Vex of Parsippany. Case documents are on-line here.  According to the agreement, Coppola received $18,500 and Vex received $6,500.

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 lawsuit's allegations have been proven or disproven in court.  Settlement agreements typically state that payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by any of the defendants.  All that is known for sure is that Belleville or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Coppola $25,000 than take the matter to trial. Perhaps the defendants' decision 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 resolve before trial--it is impossible to know the truth of what really happened.

Sunday, October 2, 2016

NJ Transit, Far Hills paid out $15,000 to settle lawsuit filed by horse racing fan.

On July 22, 2016, the New Jersey Transit Corporation and the Borough of Far Hills (Somerset County) each agreed to pay $7,500 to a man who claimed that he was falsely arrested and assaulted by police and then, five months later, improperly charged with Criminal Mischief for allegedly urinating on a cloth-covered chair to which he was handcuffed.

In his lawsuit, Samuel H. Collingswood said that on October 20, 2012 at about 6 p.m. he and two friends were waiting at the Far Hills train station after having attended the Far Hills Races--a steeplechase horse racing event. The trio "had been drinking but had not violated any laws or ordinances."  One of Collingswood's friends, Chris Twombly, allegedly "complained loudly about the fare" charged by New Jersey Transit which the attention of a New Jersey Transit police officer who grabbed Twombly's shoulder. 

Collingwood said that he approached the officer to advise him that Twombly had recently dislocated his shoulder when, according to Collingswood, he was "assaulted" by transit officer Robert Sobocinski and other transit officers. The officers allegedly shoved Collingswood's head into the side of the train, dragged him from the station and threw him into a bush near Route 202. 

Collingswood claimed that he "urinated in his pants when he was thrown into the bush." He said that he was arrested for Disorderly Conduct and taken to the Far Hills municipal building where he was handcuffed to a cloth-covered chair.

Collingswood claimed that Far Hills Officer Ken Hartman, in response to his claims about his mistreatment by the Transit Police, videotaped him and said "I promise you that this is going be used against you" and "You're gonna be sorry that I'm videotaping."

On March 14, 2013, about five months after the arrest, Hartman allegedly issued Collingswood a Criminal Mischief summons for "urinat[ing] in his pants while being held in custody and saturating the cloth-covered seat portion of a chair within the Far Hills Municipal Court."  Collingwood said that Hartman issued the summons to retaliate against him for having filed a motion to quash the Disorderly Conduct summons on March 7, 2013.  He also said that any urine on the chair (which had been discarded by police) transferred from his pants which had become saturated when he urinated himself after having been  thrown into the bush.  According to the lawsuit, the Criminal Mischief summons was later dismissed.

Also named in the lawsuit was New Jersey Transit Officer Kevin Mooney.

The case is captioned Collingswood v. New Jersey Transit, et al, Federal Case No. 2:14-cv-6228 and Collingswood's attorney was W. James Mac Naughton of Newton.  Case documents are on-line here.

None of lawsuit's allegations have been proven or disproven in court.  Settlement agreements typically state that payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by any of the defendants.  All that is known for sure is that New Jersey Transit, Far Hills and/or their insurers, for whatever reason, decided that they would rather pay Collingswood $15,000 than take the matter to trial. Perhaps the defendants' decision 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 resolve before trial--it is impossible to know the truth of what really happened.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Little Silver Board of Education confidentially paid out $290,000 to settle Special Services Supervisor's discrimination lawsuit.

On November 15, 2015, the Little Silver Board of Education (Monmouth County) quietly agreed to pay $290,000 to its former Special Services Supervisor who claimed that she was fired "because she did not accede to the inappropriate sexual advances of" of the Superintendent.

In her suit, JoAnn Riley said that shortly after her hiring, Superintendent Carolyn M. Kossack sent her frequent texts of a personal and sexual nature regarding Kossack's prior female lovers.  Kossack allegedly flirted with Riley, invited her to the beach and joked about converting her into a lesbian.   Riley said that when she rebuffed Kossack's advances, Kossack became "hostile and threatening." 

Riley said that she and her union representative, Principal Dennis Morolda, met with Kossack in November 2012. She said that Kossack fired her and that Morolda, despite his obligatation to represent Riley's interests, instead "acted in concert with Carolyn Kossack to harass JoAnn Riley, and otherwise create a hostile work environment."  Riley said that Morolda would "smile in [her] face" while he was "secretly operating behind her back to help Dr. Kossack disparage, demean, and destroy" her.

Riley said that Board members Kevin Brennan, Christian Smith, Meggan Bateman, Michael Grant, Andrew Walsh and Lorre Weisman, all of whom were named as defendants in the suit, refused her demand to hold the discussion of her employment in public session and voted to fire her.  She said that school officials then interfered with her ability to obtain employment elsewhere.

The case is captioned Riley v. Little Silver Public Schools, et al, Superior Case Docket No. MON-L-1359-13 and Riley's attorney was Eric S. Pennington of Newark.  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 Riley's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. Settlement agreements typically state that payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by any of the defendants.  All that is known for sure is that Little Silver or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Riley $290,000 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.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

TCNJ paid out $145,000 to settle age discrimination lawsuit.

On September 6, 2016, the College of New Jersey agreed to pay $145,000 to a former Assistant Professor of Music Education who claimed that she was not reappointed because the Dean of the School of Fine Arts said that she had "been around the block a few times, in fact, more than a few times."

In her suit, Susan Guerrini, then 62, said that School of Arts Dean John Laughton overruled the college's Music Department Personnel Committee's May 2011, unanimous recommendation to reappoint her.  She claimed that Laughton said that he expected assistant professors to be "young" and "innovative" and "fresh blood" and that her age was the motivating factor behind the non-renewal decision.

The case is captioned Guerrini v. The College of New Jersey, Federal Case No. 13-cv-3974 and Guerrini's original attorney was James M. Duttera of Moorestown.  Case documents are on-line here.  Of the settlement, Guerrini received $90,022.14 and the her attorneys received $54,977.86.

None of the Guerrini's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. Settlement agreements typically state that payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by any of the defendants.  All that is known for sure is that TCNJ or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Guerrini $145,000 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.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Cape May City to pay $369,000 to settle former gay cop's discrimination lawsuit.

On September 19, 2016, the insurer for the City of Cape May (Cape May County) produced a draft agreement that calls for $369,000 to be paid to an openly gay former police officer who claimed that department officials unfairly used the Internal Affairs process to discriminate against him.  He also claimed that he was "subjected the most vile anti-gay slurs and other discriminatory conduct by members of the public" and that the City "did not take the appropriate remedial action."

In his lawsuit, Steven Pascal, who describes himself as "an openly gay male" alleged that members of the public hurled anti-gay slurs at him from his hiring in 2002 until he was suspended without pay in 2012.  Specifically, he claimed a juvenile with the initials J.C.--pretending to be Pascal--called Pascal's friends and said that he would like to engage in a sexual act with them.  Pascal said that when he confronted the juvenile about the calls, the juvenile's parents complained to the department which resulted in Pascal being suspended for two days and required to undergo therapy.

Pascal claimed that he complained to then Chief of Police Diane Sorentino who declined to take any action.  This, Pascal claimed, emboldened other members of the public to harass him.  He claimed that two City residents called him various homophobic slurs and said that they would "snap his neck in a dark alley."  This alleged harassment and threat were allegedly witnessed by six Class II Officers that Pascal supervised.

In his complaint, Pascal named Captain Robert Sheehan, Jr., (who for a short period was provisionally appointed as the police chief) as a defendant because of "his direct participant in the acts of harassment, discrimination, and retaliation."  But, allegations in the complaint limit Sheehan's involvement to improperly using the Internal Affairs system against him and requiring him to go to sham fitness for duty examinations.  Ultimately, a hearing officer found that Pascal was unfit for duty which caused his termination on August 16, 2013.

The case is captioned Pascal v. Cape May City, Superior Court Docket No. CPM-L-444-13 and Pascal's attorney was Sebastian B. Ionno of Pitman.  Case documents are on-line here: Civil lawsuit Draft Settlement Agreement and a June 4, 2015 ruling by Judge J. Christopher Gibson that quashed Pascal's subpoena that sought records of the Cape May County Prosecutor's office regarding its alleged investigation of "allegations of sexual harassment and/or inappropriate sexual conduct by Sheehan towards a female employee."  Gibson found that this information, if in existence, "would be relevant as to conduct on Defendant Sheehan's part that violated Cape May City's anti-discrimination policy."  But, Gibson quashed the subpoena because it was not specific enough.

According to the settlement, the City of Cape May paid $50,000 of the total with the remainder apparently being paid by the Atlantic County Joint Insurance Fund, the City's insurer.  Of the total amount paid, Pascal received $193,000 and his lawyer received the remainder.

None of the Pascal's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. Settlement agreements typically state that payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by any of the defendants.  All that is known for sure is that Cape May or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Pascal $369,000 than take the matter to trial. Perhaps the 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.

Note: The court marked the case as having settled.  While it is possible that a dispute will arise prior to the settlement agreement being signed by the City, this rarely happens because the settlement has been negotiated and agreed to by all the parties.  Readers who wish to be absolutely sure that this case settled according to the terms stated above should submit an Open Public Records Act (OPRA) request for the final, signed settlement agreement.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Somerset County Vo-Tech Board of Education confidentially paid out $75,000 to settle school social worker's whistleblower lawsuit.

On April 25, 2015, the Somerset County Vocational Technical Board of Education quietly agreed to pay $75,000 to a social worker who claimed that school officials diverted State grant money from a program that she ran and then fired her when the program failed for lack of resources and because of the officials' interference.

In her suit, Carolyn Brink said that she headed up the "School-Based Youth Services Program" in the Vo-Tech School.  The program, which is mostly funded by a grant from the New Jersey Department of Children and Families (NJDCF), is designed to meet the emotional, behavioral, and family well-being of students.  Brink claimed that Superintendent Chrys Harttraft and Vo-Tech school principal Diane Ziegler intentionally underutilized the program and diverted grant money to purposes that were not authorized or permitted by the NJDCF.  She said that Harttraft's and Ziegler's actions caused a marked reduction in student use of the Program which was later used as a justification for eliminating both the Program and Brink's position.

She said that Harttraft and Ziegler retaliated against her for having reported them to the NJDCF for the alleged grant money diversion which Brink said she "reasonably believed to be in violation of law, rule and regulation and/or to be fraudulent and/or criminal."  Brink alleged that Director of Pupil Services Joseph Petrosino told her that she should "not be so vocal and communicative with NJDCF about her concerns" and warned her "not to challenge Defendant Ziegler on her decisions" because Harttraft and Ziegler believed that Brink was "tattle-telling" on the district to the NJDCF.

When it was filed, the lawsuit was reported by the Star Ledger

The case is captioned Brink v. Somerset County Vo-Tech Board of Education, Superior Case Docket No. SOM-L-527-13 and Brink's attorney was George W. Fisher of Princeton.  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 Brink's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. Settlement agreements typically state that payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by any of the defendants.  All that is known for sure is that Somerset County Vo-Tech or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Brink $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.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Camden paid out $27,500 to settle retired police sergeant's First Amendment violation lawsuit.

Chief J. Scott Thomson
On August 1, 2016, the City and County of Camden agreed to pay $27,500 to a retired Camden City police sergeant who said that he was wrongly arrested for exercising his First Amendment rights during a police installation ceremony.

In his lawsuit, Melvin Ways said that he was forced to retire when the city's police department was dismantled and replaced with a county-wide Metro Police Department.  Ways said that he and other similarly displaced officers went to a May 1, 2013 public ceremony for the newly created Metro department in order to lay their uniform boots outside of the event "as a symbolic gesture signifying the many police officers displaced."

Ways said that although other members of the public were being admitted to the event, he was arrested by Sergeant Zach James as he tried to enter.  Immediately prior to his arrest, Ways told the media that "the City of Camden intentionally sabotaged the [city police department] in order to create Metro."  Ways alleged that J. Scott Thomson, Metro's Chief, had unlawfully ordered officers to not admit any of the displaced officers to the event and "was motivated by a desire to prevent [Ways] and others like him from exercising their First Amendment rights to free speech and to assemble."

Ways said that there was no legitimate reason for the arrest because he could have been issued a summons.  After being chained to a bench for 45 minutes, Ways was issued a defiant tresspassing summons and was released.  He said the summons was later dismissed.

The case is captioned Ways v. Borough of Camden, et al, Camden County Superior Court Docket No. CAM-L-1233-14 and Ways's attorney was Jacqueline M. Vigilante of Mullica Hill.  Case documents are on-line here.

None of lawsuit's allegations have been proven or disproven in court.  Settlement agreements typically state that payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by any of the defendants.  All that is known for sure is that Camden or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Ways $27,500 than take the matter to trial. Perhaps the defendants' decision 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 resolve before trial--it is impossible to know the truth of what really happened.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Millburn Board of Education paid out $435,000 to settle African-American family's lawsuit.

On June 17, 2016, the Millburn Board of Education (Essex County) agreed to pay $435,000 to an African-American family who claimed that school officials turned a blind eye toward racially motivated bullying directed at one of the family's sons, who was then attending Millburn High School.  The family also claim that the son was improperly expelled from school and that Board of Education attempted to condition a grant of an adjournment of the son's expulsion hearing upon the family giving up its right to sue.

In their suit, the parents, Darryl George and Brenda Barnes-George, and their son Omari George, described Millburn as a township with very few African-American residents.  They claimed that as of the day of his enrollment, Omari was subjected to racial slurs and physical injuries, including a broken nose, at the hands of older students.  They claimed that neither Millburn High School Principal William Miron nor Vice-Principal Michelle Pitts took appropriate action except for a January 9, 2009 mediation session that resulted in no disciplinary action being taken.

According to the complaint, an confrontation between Omari and his brother Lamar occurred on January 9, 2009.  Omari and Lamar said that the confrontation occurred when they were walking to the school from their father's car causing them to run back to the car. There, Lamar, reportedly took a baseball bat from his father's car "to protect himself" and was again confronted by the same student when he walked back to school.  According to the lawsuit, "Lamar defended himself resulting in an impact between the baseball bat and [student's] leg."  A fight then broke out involving the student, Omari and Lamar.

Omari, Lamar and their father Darryl were all arrested as they attempted to leave the school in Darryl's car.  According to the lawsuit, all charges against them were ultimately dismissed.  Superintendent Richard Brodow allegedly placed Omari on suspension for nine days but took no action against the other students who were involved in the altercation.  Rather, Brodow reportedly announced to newspapers that the student who allegedly confronted Lamar and Omari was a "hero" and said that the altercation was "conspiracy by members of the George family to assault" other students.  Omari was expelled on March 4, 2009 but that decision was reversed by the Commissioner of Education on November 12, 2010.

The case is captioned Omari George, et al v. Millburn Board of Education, Federal Case No. 2:11-cv-0043 and the Georges' attorneys were Harry Jay Levin and Colleen Flynn Cyphers of Toms River.  Case documents are on-line here.  The settlement agreement was signed solely by Omari George and not by his parents.

None of the George family's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. Settlement agreements typically state that payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by any of the defendants.  All that is known for sure is that Millburn or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay the family $435,000 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.


West New York confidentially paid out $50,000 to photographer who said that he was arrested for not showing his ID.

On July 27, 2016, the Town of West New York (Hudson County) agreed to pay $50,000 to a photography student from Hackensack who said that West New York police beat him up for questioning why they wanted to see his identification.  He said that police also erased a recording of the encounter from his phone and took $40 and a necklace from him that was never returned.

In his lawsuit, Rene Berdugo, a photography student at the School of Visual Arts, said that he was taking photos of a bodega at 62nd and Monroe on April 27, 2013 when Officers Marco A. Barrera and Hector A. Rodriguez asked him for identification.  When he asked the officers why they wanted his ID, they allegedly told him that they would arrest him if he refused.  Berdugo said that he began recording the encounter on his cell phone while walking backwards into the bodega.  According to Berdugo, the officers punched and kicked him, arrested him and took him to police headquarters where officers erased the video from his cell phone and took $40 in cash and a necklace from him.

The case is captioned Berdugo v. Town of West New York, et al, Federal Case No. 2:15-cv-00112 and Berdugo'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 lawsuit's allegations have been proven or disproven in court.  Settlement agreements typically state that payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by any of the defendants.  All that is known for sure is that West New York or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Berdugo $50,000 than take the matter to trial. Perhaps the defendants' decision 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 resolve before trial--it is impossible to know the truth of what really happened.

Monday, September 5, 2016

Jersey City paid out $14,500 to settle police excessive force lawsuit.

On July 15, 2016, the City of Jersey City (Hudson County) agreed to pay $14,500 to a local man who said that he he was assaulted by several Jersey City police officers and then let go.

In his suit, Tevin Henry claimed that on November 1, 2012, he put his hands up after hearing police yell "freeze."  He said that police "pushed his face into the ground and began hitting him with flashlights and night sticks in the face," "stepped on his chest" and released him without arresting him. 

Named in the suit were Police Chief Thomas J. Convey, Sergeant Stephen Trowbridge, Captain John Sabo, Sergeant Anthony Tedesco, Sergeant Timothy O'Brien and Police Officers William Costigan, Christopher Daliani, Michael J. Rivera, Keith O'Brien, J. Larkins, Anthony Cancel, Vincent Alberto and Brian Cullinane.  The lawsuit was dismissed as to the New Jersey Transit Police and Hudson County Prosecutor's Office.

The case is captioned Henry v. Jersey City et al, Federal Case No. 2:14-cv-05480 and Henry's attorney was Jessica L. DiBiana of Livingston.  Case documents are on-line here.

None of Henry's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement resolution expressly states that the $14,500 payment does not admit wrongdoing by Jersey City or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Jersey City or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Henry $14,500 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.

Montclair Township confidentially paid out $30,000 to settle false arrest and malicious prosecution lawsuit.

On May 20, 2016, the Township of Montclair (Essex County) agreed to pay $30,000 to a local man who claimed that police falsely arrested him and, at the police station, "ordered [him] to take his clothes off in a humiliating manner while officers around him ridiculed and laughed at [him]."

In his lawsuit, Kevin Ali, said that on October 12, 2012 he was a passanger in his friend Adele Perdue's car which was pulled over by Montclair police.  According to the complaint, Ali got out of the car and the officers ordered him back into the car and then ordered him out of the car to arrest him.  He said that he was charged with Disorderly Conduct and Obtructing Administration of Law or Government Function.  At the police station, he alleged that he was ordered to take his clothes off while officers ridiculed him.  Ali claimed that he was ultimately found not guilty of both charges.

The complaint lists the two officers involved only by their last names--Locklear and Russo.  Locklear is presumably Christopher Locklear, who presently holds the rank of Sergeant.  According to DataUniverse, Montclair employs two police officers with the surname Russo--Vincent D. Russo and Christopher A. Russo.  It is unknown which officer is the defendant in this lawsuit.  Police Chief David Sabagh, who recently retired, is also named as a defendant. 

The case is captioned Ali v. Township of Montclair, et al, Superior Court Docket No. ESX-L-7172-14 and Ali's attorney was Randy P. Davenport of Piscataway.  Case documents are on-line here and the lawsuit exhibits 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 lawsuit's allegations have been proven or disproven in court.  Settlement agreements typically state that payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by any of the defendants.  All that is known for sure is that Montclair or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Ali $30,000 than take the matter to trial. Perhaps the defendants' decision 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 resolve before trial--it is impossible to know the truth of what really happened.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Tenafly paid out $550,000 to settle man's auto negligence claim against Borough patrolman.

On March 10, 2016, the Borough of Tenafly (Bergen County) agreed to pay $550,000 to an Alpine man who said he suffered significant injuries after having been been involved in a car accident with a police cruiser.

In his lawsuit, Anthony Perez said that on April 21, 2012 he was driving southbound on Sylvan Boulevard when he was struck by a police cruiser driven by Police Officer Brandon M. Moriarty who was driving northbound on the same road.  No further information is given about the circumstances of the accident.

The case is captioned Perez v. Borough of Tenafly, et al, Bergen County Superior Court Docket No. BER-L-8605-13 and Perez's attorney was Robert B. Linder of Englewood.  Case documents are on-line here.

None of lawsuit's allegations have been proven or disproven in court.  Settlement agreements typically state that payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by any of the defendants.  All that is known for sure is that Tenafly or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Perez $550,000 than take the matter to trial. Perhaps the defendants' decision 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 resolve before trial--it is impossible to know the truth of what really happened.

Monday, August 29, 2016

Employee who dated Toms River school superintendent-cum-felon nets $150,000 settlement on her retaliation and sex harassment claim.

On August 29, 2016, the Toms River Board of Education (Ocean County) produced a draft agreement that calls for $150,000 to be paid to a food service manager who claimed that her June 2014 termination was motivated by her refusal to submit to her direct supervisor's sexual advances and because she had dated a former superintendent who had gone to prison for corruption.

In her suit, Donna Mansfield claimed that interim Superintendent Frank Roselli asked her to resign after Superintendent Michael Ritacco, who Mansfield was dating, was arrested in October 2010 on official corruption charges for receiving more than $1 million in bribes from insurance brokers and other service providers.  When Mansfield refused to resign, Roselli allegedly became angry and retaliated against her by transferring her, taking away assignments and cutting her salary by $20,000.  Roselli was named as Ritacco's replacement in January 2011.

Mansfield claimed that school officials then appointed Peter Brattan to serve as the school district's Food Service Director and as Mansfield's direct supervisor.  She claimed that Brattan sexually harassed her and tried to get her to sign off on fraudulent vouchers.  When she refused his sexual advances and reported him to the union, Brattan allegedly told her that "I am going to bust your balls every day until you leave."

The case is captioned Donna Mansfield v. Toms River Board of Education, Federal Case No. 3:15-cv-01078 and Mansfield's attorney was Emre Polat of New York.  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 Mansfield's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. Settlement agreements typically state that payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by any of the defendants.  All that is known for sure is that Toms River or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Mansfield $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.

Note: The court marked the case as having settled.  While it is possible that a dispute will arise prior to the settlement agreement being signed by the Board of Education, this rarely happens because the settlement has been negotiated and agreed to by all the parties.  Readers who wish to be absolutely sure that this case settled according to the terms stated above should submit an Open Public Records Act (OPRA) request for the final, signed settlement agreement.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

$250,000 paid to settle excessive force lawsuit against Vineland police.

On July 25, 2016, a handwritten settlement agreement was drawn up calling for a $250,000 settlement payment to be made to a Pittsgrove man who sued Vineland (Cumberland County) Police for allegedly beating him into unconsciousness and recklessly driving him around unrestrained causing him to bounce around inside the police car and injure himself.

In his lawsuit, John Panarello, said that he and his wife Sheri had an acrimonious relationship with their next door neighbors, Antonio and Jeanne Ramos, mostly concerning the boundary line between their adjacent properties.  Antonio Ramos was employed by the City of Vineland as a police detective. 

An argument erupted on February 11, 2010 during which Ramos allegedly told Panarello that he would get the "brotherhood" of Vineland officers to retaliate against him. This comment caused Panarello to file an Internal Affairs complaint against Ramos which Panarello said resulted in Ramos being disciplined.

The bickering ensued until July 10, 2010 when Sergeant William Bontcue came to Panarello's home to speak to him about his alleged harassment of Ramos.  Panarello claimed that Bontcue was aggressive, slapped a video camera out of Panarello's hand, shoved him and told him that if he bothered Ramos again, he would be arrested and "taught a lesson."

The same day, according to the civil complaint, Panarello was weed-whacking along his privacy fence that bordered Ramos' property.  This irritated Ramos who allegedly responded by squirting Panarello in the face with a garden hose.  According to Panarello, the water in the hose was very hot from sitting in the sun and burned his face.  The two then got into a struggle which resulted in Panarello retreating to his house to call police.

At the same time, Ramos' wife, Jeanne, called police and reported that Panarello attacked her husband with a 2 x 6.  Panarello maintained that he only used the wood to block the water stream from Ramos' hose.  Sergeant Jeffrey Riggione, in response to Jeanne's call, "ordered all available police units to the Ramos property."  The following officers responded: Adam Shaw, Matthew Laielli, Antonio Ramos, Diane Fava, William Newman, Chris Rodriquez, Jeffrey Riggione, Brian Armstrong, Stephen Houbary and Adam Austino.

Laielli, Shaw and Armstrong allegedly entered Panarello's house held him down on his dining room floor and "beat [him] about the face and head with closed fists until [he] was unconscious."  The alleged beating was done in the presence of Panarello's wife Sheri and their seven year old daughter Angelina.

According to newspaper accounts, Armstrong, who drove Panarello to the police station, placed him in an unrestrained cruiser that "stopped and accelerated abruptly" to cause Panarello additional injuries.  Panarello also accused Officer James H. Day of pepper-spraying him in the face while he was handcuffed at the police station.

On February 8, 2016 and July 7, 2016, United States District Court Judge Robert B. Kugler dismissed many of Panarello's claims and dismissed several defendants from the suit. However, warrantless arrest and entry charges against Laielli and Shaw survived Kugler's dismissal orders as excessive force claims against Armstrong and Day and assault and battery claims against Ramos.

The case is captioned Panarello v. City of Vineland, et al, Federal Case No. 1:12-cv-04165 and Panarello's attorney was Louis P. McFadden, Jr. of Northfield.  The complaint is on-line here and the settlement agreement is on-line here.

It is presently unknown how much of the $250,000 settlement was underwritten by Vineland and how much, if any, was paid by Ramos.

None of lawsuit's allegations have been proven or disproven in court.  Settlement agreements typically state that payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by any of the defendants.  All that is known for sure is that Vineland or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Panarello $250,000 than take the matter to trial. Perhaps the defendants' decision 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 resolve before trial--it is impossible to know the truth of what really happened.