Sunday, August 7, 2016

Newark City confidentially paid out $380,000 to settle former official's wrongful termination lawsuit.

Mayor Ras J. Baraka
On April 15, 2016, the City of Newark (Essex County) agreed to pay its former Emergency Management Coordinator $380,000 to settle his claim that he was terminated for political reasons

In his lawsuit, Keith Isaac said that he was appointed to his first 3-year term as Emergency Management Coordinator on August 17, 2007 by former Newark Mayor Cory Booker who reappointed him to a second 3-year term.  On August 18, 2013, he was reappointed to an abbreviated term by then Mayor Luis Quintana who later extended the term to a full three years that was set to expire on August 17, 2016.  He claimed that Mayor Ras J. Baraka, contrary to statute, removed him from his position on July 11, 2014.

State law allows only the governor, not a mayor, to remove an Emergency Management Coordinator.  According to Isaac's lawsuit, this law exists "to depoliticize and insure continuity in this highly sensitive position."

According to the settlement agreement, Newark is to pay Isaac two installments of $190,000, the first being due sixty days after settlement and the final installment being due on January 31, 2017.  According to a June 23 2016 motion filed by Isaac but later withdrawn, Newark failed to pay him the first installment in a timely manner. 

On June 17, 2015, Isaac offered Newark an opportunity to resolve the matter for $290,000 but the City apparently opted to settle for $90,000 more less than a year after the offer was made.

The case is captioned Isaac v. Newark, Essex County Superior Court Docket No. ESX-L-1467-15 and Isaac's attorney was Colin M. Page of Roseland.  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 Newark or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Isaac $380,000 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.