Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Bridgeton confidentially pays $142,500 to settle former employee's vaguely written "whistleblower" lawsuit.

On January 18, 2016, the City of Bridgeton (Cumberland County) agreed to pay $142,500 to settle a former female employee's lawsuit claiming that City officials violated her rights after she complained about discriminatory actions committed by the City's Business Administrator.

Teresa Delp's complaint is intentionally vague.  She claimed that her complaints against the Business Administrator led to a June 2013 meeting in the Mayor's conference room and that the Mayor, City Council President and City Solicitor attended.  Delp claimed that she walked out of the meeting believing that remedial action would be taken.

Relying on the agreements made at the meeting, Delp claimed that she withdrew her union membership and entered into a separation agreement with the City.  She claimed that the City Council then met and discussed her performance without giving her a Rice notice and forbade her from attending the meeting.  Unidentified City officials allegedly told her that if she attempted to attend the City Council meeting, "it would 'negatively' impact upon her."

Delp claimed that the City presented her with a writing that "vastly and materially" mischaracterized the agreements that had been made at her meeting with City officials. She claimed that the City's refusal to honor the previously made agreements was retaliatory and violated both the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination and the Conscientious Employee Protection Act.

The case is captioned Delp v. City of Bridgeton, et al, Cumberland County Superior Court Docket No. CUM-L-342-14 and Delp's attorney was Richard M. Pescatore of Vineland.  Case documents are on-line here.

Records on DataUniverse show that Delp retired in 2014 at a final salary of $134,186 from all her employers and is collecting a pension of $78,380 per year.

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 Delp'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 Bridgeton or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Delp $142,500 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.

Monday, March 28, 2016

Boonton to confidentially pay $75,000 to settle motorist's excessive force suit.

On March 17, 2016, the Town of Boonton (Morris County) produced a draft settlement agreement that calls for a $75,000 settlement payment to a local man who claimed that a Boonton police officer assaulted him and threatened to shoot his dogs.

In his complaint, Jefrrey B. Eckert (also referred to as Jeffrey B. Eckert) said that on August 2, 2012 he was driving through town when Officer Stephen Jones determined by way of a license plate check that he had an expired driver license.  After Jones made a U-turn and caught up to Eckert, Eckert's car was already in front of his residence.  Eckert claims that after he got out of his car, Jones struck him violently, sprayed him with OC spray, kicked him in the head and in his ribs while he was on the ground and threatened to shoot his two dogs. Eckert, who said that he did nothing to provoke the attack, claimed that he was charged with Obstructing and Resisting as well as motor vehicle offenses.  Eckert said that he was indicted but that the indictment was ultimately dismissed and the matters against him handled in municipal court.

The case is captioned Eckert v. Town of Boonton, et al, Federal Case No. 2:14-cv-04807 and Eckert's attorney was Gregg D. Trautmann of Denville.  Case documents are on-line here.

The draft 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 Eckert'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 Boonton or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Eckert $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.

Note: The court marked the case as having settled on March 2, 2016.  While it is possible that a dispute will arise prior to the settlement agreement being signed, 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, March 26, 2016

Plainfield: Plum settles for $2,500; Walz settles for lieutenant promotion and $80,000

On November 25, 2014, I wrote about two lawsuits filed by Plainfield Police Officers. In one of those lawsuits, Lieutenant Jeffrey Plum claimed that Officer Andre Crawford, the police union president, assaulted him by placing his arm around his neck, pulling him into his office and not allowing him to leave.  In the other, Sergeant Frederick W. Walz claimed that Public Safety Director Martin Hellwig retaliated against him after Walz found a three-page printed e-mail on the center console of a police vehicle that he and his supervising captain "interpreted as indicating that defendant Hellwig was soliciting prostitution services via the Internet while in the course of his employment."

Plum's lawsuit settled on October 25, 2015 for $2,500.  Walz settled his suit on November 30, 2015 in exchange for being promoted to lieutenant on January 1, 2016 with the promotion, pay and pension being "made retroactive for a period of one (1) year" plus an $80,000 payout for his attorney fees and compensatory damages.

While obtaining the settlement agreements through an Open Public Records Act request to Plainfield, I also obtained a February 25, 2016, 36-page written decision by Judge Alan G. Lesnewich that provides some details and context to Walz's claim and the City's defense. (Judge Lesnewich's opinion begins after Walz's settlement agreement in the file at the link above.)

None of Plum's or Walz'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 Plainfield or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather settle with Plum and Walz than take the matters 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, March 22, 2016

South Bound Brook pays $100,000 to resolve police excessive force claim.

In a March 15, 2016 letter, an attorney for the Borough of South Bound Brook (Somerset County) confirmed that the Borough's insurer will pay $100,000 to a local man who claimed that he was unjustifiably arrested, verbally abused and suffered excessive force at the hands of Borough police.

In his lawsuit, Francisco J. Villaneuva said that on July 8, 2011 Officer Edward McGovern "began a course of verbal abuse toward" Villaneuva's son after pulling over his vehicle. When Villaneuva approached his son's vehicle, McGovern allegedly ordered him to go back to his house and then verbally abused the senior Villaneuva while he complied.  Villaneuva claimed that he was then attacked by McGovern, Officer Douglas LaGrua and others and arrested for obstructing justice, disorderly conduct, resisting arrest and aggravated assault.  Villaneuva said that the charges were still pending on July 2, 2013, the date his suit was filed.

The case is captioned Villaneuva v. Borough of South Bound Brook, et al, Federal Case No. 3:13-cv-04089 and Villaneuva's attorney was Thomas J. Mallon of Freehold.  Case documents are on-line here.

None of Villaneuva'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 South Bound Brook or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Villaneuva $100,000 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, March 19, 2016

Kiss and tell: Plainfield confidentially pays $27,500 to resolve police officer's hostile workplace lawsuit.

On January 21, 2016, the City of Plainfield (Union County) filed a stipulation of dismissal with the court after agreeing to pay $27,500 to a police officer who said that he was subjected to retaliation after he reported a police lieutenant kissing a subordinate employee.

In his lawsuit, Andre Crawford, the local police union president, said that he "wrote up" Lieutenant Jeffrey Plum after he observed Plum on February 29, 2013 "kissing and otherwise acting unprofessionally and inappropriately with a subordinate, Melissa Howell" while off duty.  He claimed that after making his report, he was transferred, made to work holidays and became "the subject of ridicule by fellow officers."

In a separate suit, Plum claimed that on the same date, February 19, 2013, Crawford assaulted him by placing his arm around Plum's neck, pulling him into an office, yelling at him and not allowing him to leave.  He claims that after reporting this incident, Crawford make a "false report" concerning Plum which is probably the "kissing" report that Crawford alleged in his complaint.  (Plum's lawsuit appears to have recently settled and I have submitted an OPRA request for the settlement agreement and will post it upon receipt).

Plum was the subject of a 2014 settlement for $145,000.

Crawford's case is captioned Crawford v. City of Plainfield, et al, Union County Superior Court Docket No. UNN-L-3184-13 and Crawford's attorney was Lawrence N. Lavigne of Union.  Case documents are on-line here.

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

None of Crawford'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 Plainfield or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Crawford $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.

Friday, March 18, 2016

Bridgewater-Raritan Regional school board confidentially pays $100,000 to a high school sophomore who was allegedly targeted by her teacher's graphic sexual advances.

On March 17 2016, Peter F. Starrs, Business Administrator of the Bridgewater-Raritan Regional Board of Education (Somerset County) was the final school official to sign off on an agreement to pay $100,000 to a then 15-year old sophomore who claimed that her 9th grade Spanish teacher "used his encounters with" her "as a pretext to further his own interests and to groom [her] for satisfying his own personal desires."

In her lawsuit, the student, identified only by her initials, said that teacher George H. Friery, Jr. "flirted" with her, texted her frequently, arranged for hall passes so she could skip other classes to visit with him and engaged in graphically sexual conversation with her.

According to the lawsuit, Friery, who was allegedly at them time 50 years old and married with two children, told the girl that she had "the best body," discussed "spreading the eagle" and told her that "every time you hear the school bell ring, I want you to get wet thinking about f***ing me."  Friery allegedly masturbated while speaking with V.F. on the phone and, according to the lawsuit, on one evening masturbated while parked in front of the girl's house. The lawsuit alleged that Friery demanded nude photos of the 15 year old and then "leveraged his coercive control and influence over [her] by his threats to expose the images."

After she told Friery that she wanted to cease contact because she felt bad for his wife and children, he allegedly ratcheted up his threats of exposing the photos and demanded that she spend a weekend with him in 2009.  The same day, the girls father discovered images on her laptop "including one depicting a sexually stimulated Friery" and reported the matter to the Somerset County Prosecutor's Office.

Despite the girl's parents' plea that the investigation proceed confidentially, school officials allegedly publicly called her from class to the office where he was transported to the prosecutor's office in the back seat of a police car.  This and other alleged instances of indiscretion and blabber-mouthing by school officials caused the girl to return to a hostile school environment where she was "subject to bullying, called a 'slut,' shoved into lockers and humiliated in many other ways."

Friery was reportedly indicted on December 17, 2009, pled guilty to an amended charge on November 16, 2010 and was sentenced to 364 days in jail, parole supervision for life, revocation of his teacher's license and registration under Megan's law.

The case bears Somerset County Superior Court Docket No. SOM-L-268-14 and the girl's attorneys were Gregory G. Gianforcaro of Phillipsburg and Glenn T. Wertheim of Bridgewater.  Case documents are on-line here.  The settlement releases only the school district and its official from the lawsuit.

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 girl's allegations have been proven or disproven in civil court although the criminal conviction speaks for itself. 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 Bridgewater-Raritan Regional school board or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay this girl. $100,000 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, March 17, 2016

Dumont confidentially pays $140,000 to resolve family's excessive force claims.


Updated: March 20, 2016

On February 27, 2016, the Borough of Dumont (Bergen County) agreed to pay $140,000 to four members of a Trinidadian family who claimed that Dumont police falsely arrested, maliciously prosecuted and applied excessive force against them.

In their lawsuit, parents Bindhyana and Anjanie Persad and two of the their sons, Chonan and Rovin Persad, claimed that two Dumont police officers and a police sergeant escalated a June 23, 2012 routine motor vehicle stop into a "riot" that resulted in the arrest of four family members with one of them being pepper-sprayed and another son, Rovie, who is not a party to the lawsuit, being pepper-sprayed and choked.

According to the complaint, Rovie was the driver of a vehicle in which his brother Chonan and two others were passengers.  As the car pulled into the driveway of the Persad family's Dumont home, Dumont Officer Steven Quintano stopped the vehicle and accused Rovie of driving under the influence of alcohol.  Rovie said that he passed all the field sobriety tests that Quintano and fellow officer Brian Joyce had him do and then, "tired of harassment" he "started to walked towards his house to speak to his father."

At this point, Quintano and Joyce allegedly jumped Rovie and put him in a headlock and began choking him.  Chonan then exited the vehicle and started taking photographs which led to him being placed in handcuffs and being accused of assaulting a police officer.  Sergeant James Flaherty then arrived and allegedly "joined in [Quintano's and Joyce's] assault" on Rovie and Chonan.

The mother, Anjanie Persad, was allegedly pepper-sprayed while she was inside her home after she allegedly refused Quintano's order to close the door and stay inside.  Rovie claims also to have been pepper-sprayed.

Rovie and Chonan said that they were held at the Bergen County Jail for about twelve hours.  Chonan reportedly received 3rd degree aggravated assault and 4th degree threatening and obstruction charges. Rovin, who was inside the house with his parents Bindhyana and Anjanie, said that they were charged by Officer Joyce five days later with Obstruction of Justice.

According to the lawsuit, the Bergen County Prosecutor dismissed all charges against the family except that Rovie pleaded guilty to a disorderly persons offense.

The case is captioned Persad v. Borough of Dumont, et al, Federal Case No. 2:13-cv-02944 and the Persads' attorney was Diego F. Navas 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 Persads' 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 Dumont or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay the Persads $140,000 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, March 14, 2016

Bellmawr pays $32,500 to resolve former EMT's wrongful termination suit.

On October 1, 2015, the Borough of Bellmawr (Camden County) agreed to pay $32,500 to former EMT who said that the Borough improperly fired him.

In his complaint, Eric Heidrich said that on April 24, 2010, while he was working as an EMT in Deptford Township, an unknown person pointed a handgun at his face.  Heidrich claimed that while he could not return to work in Deptford, he continued to perform his EMT duties in Bellmawr.

Yet, on May 24, 2011 Charles Hannum, Heidrich's supervisor, allegedly said that he wasn't fit for duty and sent him home.  Heidrich claims that Hannum came to this conclusion without Heidrich having been examined by a physician.  According to the complaint, Bellmawr fired him on February 26, 2013 and Hannum stated that he was "a liability."

The case is captioned Heidrich v. Borough of Bellmawr, et al, Camden County Superior Court Docket No. CAM-L-4438-14 and Heidrich's attorney was Anthony F. DiMento of Cherry Hill.  Case documents are on-line here.

None of Heidrich'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 Bellmawr or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Heidrich $32,500 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.

Union City confidentially pays $67,000 to resolve former Newark cop's false arrest suit.

On September 4, 2015, the City of Union City (Hudson County) agreed to pay $67,000 to former Newark police officer who claimed that she was falsely arrested after she had sought employment from Union City's former Deputy Police Chief who had started his own private investigation company after retirement.

In her complaint, former Newark officer Moraima Medina said that on July 20, 2011 she drove to Union City to meet with former Deputy Chief Joseph Blaetter to discuss employment with his firm East Coast Private Investigations of New Jersey.  Medina described Blaetter as someone who has "worked tirelessly to expose widespread corruption" in Union City that been "perpetrated by [Union City Mayor] Brian Stack."

Before she met Blaetter, she noticed that her car was surrounded by several uniformed police officers including Chief Charles Everett, Lieutenant Raymond Vasquez and Officer Anthony Onorato as well Legislative Aide Mark Albiez who was dressed in civilian clothes.   Upon her approach, Confidential Assistant Carlos Vallejo allegedly announced "That's her!" at which point Everett and Public Works Deputy Director Phil Iacovelli allegedly asked Medina who she was working for and what she was doing in Union City.  Medina claimed that Everett said "Tell us that you work for Joe Blaetter and we'll let you go."

Medina claimed that she was then arrested for driving while suspended and placed in jail while her car was impounded and searched. She said that during her arrest, Everett told her "that she was NEVER to go into Union City again."  After her arrest, additional charges of 4th degree stalking, owning an unregistered vehicle, blocking a crosswalk and driving an uninsured vehicle were lodged against her, although the stalking charge was later downgraded to harassment.

She said that her case bounced around among the Union City, Secaucus, East Newark and Jersey City municipal courts and that the charges were ultimately dismissed on double jeopardy grounds. Medina said that her defense lawyer, Wolodymyr Tyschenko then received a letter from lawyer James M. LaBianca who claimed that he was appealing the dismissal on behalf of Carlos Vallejo.  Tyschenko, according to Medina's complaint, was later told by LaBianca that he was pursuing the appeal on behalf of Union City and its police department "in an attempt to shield those entities from civil liability should Moraima file suit against them."  At the time of the complaint's filing, Medina's motion to dismiss the appeal was pending.

The case is captioned Medina v. City of Union City, et al, Federal Case No. 2:13-cv-04393 and Medina's attorney was Lora B. Glick 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 Medina'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 Union City or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Medina $67,000 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, March 11, 2016

Camden pays $35,000 to settle police excessive force claim.

On January 12, 2016, the City of Camden (Camden County) agreed to pay $35,000 to a man who claimed that he suffered broken ribs at the hands of two Camden Police officers who, according to a police expert, were the subjects of at least 19 Internal Affairs excessive force complaints.

In his suit, Robert Noble, a handyman, said that after dropping off his helper at about 7:30 p.m. on January 26, 2012, he decided to take a nap in his van before returning to his home in Blackwood.  He was noticed by Officer Christopher Frucci who, along with Officer Jeffrey Frampton, was providing support and protection to State Parole officers who were conducting parolee checks in the area. After Noble yells at Frucci for shining a flashlight in his eyes, he is ordered out of the van at which time an altercation erupts that results in Noble being taken to the ground face first and punched and kicked by the officers.  He is later treated at a hospital for broken ribs, bruises and abrasions. Noble is charged with aggravated assault and resisting arrest, but the charges were later dropped.

Included in the documents at the link below is a August 1, 2014 report by police expert Richard Rivera.  Rivera reported that "Frampton and Frucci . . . together had at least 19 complaints against them for excessive force alone."  Rivera, however, labeled the Internal Affairs unit "dysfunctional and inept" in conducting excessive force complaints filed against Camden officers.

The case is captioned Noble v. City of Camden, et al 1:13-cv-04391 and Noble's attorney was Gabriel Z. Levin of Philadelphia. Case documents are on-line here.

None of Noble'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 Noble $35,000 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.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Metuchen pays $2,000 to resolve police excessive force lawsuit.

On March 7, 2016, the Borough of Metuchen (Middlesex County) agreed to pay $2,000 to a man who claimed that police applied excessive force when arresting him.

In his complaint, Matthew Kuchar said that on May 20, 2014, tackled him to the ground and lifted him by his cuffed hands.  Named in the complaint are Sergeant A. Flaherty (presumably Arthur M. Flaherty) and Officers Joseph Wenskowski and Kevin Doherty.

The case is captioned Kuchar v. Borough of Metuchen, et al, Federal Case No. 15-cv-03464 and Kuchar's attorney was Patrick G. Patel of Jersey City, but it appears that Kuchar was not represented when the settlement was consummated.  Case documents are on-line here.

None of Kuchar's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $2,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Metuchen or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Metuchen or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Kuchar $2,000 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.

Atlantic City pays $50,000 to resolve police excessive force lawsuit.

On December 22, 2015, the City of Atlantic City (Atlantic County) agreed to pay $50,000 to a local man who claimed that police beat him and sicced a police dog on him after he was handcuffed.

In his complaint, Julius A.H. Baldwin, IV said that on May 2, 2013, he was writing on a metal box attached to a telephone pole located at Florida and Pacific Avenues when he was confronted by Officer Peter Calabrese. Baldwin said that he ran away from Calabrese "because he was afraid of being a victim of excessive force."

Baldwin claimed that Calabrese, accompanied by Officers John Devlin, James Karins and Brian Hambrecht beat him with their fists and clubs after he fell to the ground and surrendered.  After being handcuffed, Baldwin claimed that a police dog was sicced on him that bit him several times on the back of both of his legs.  He said that he was charged with aggravated assault and ended up pleading guilty to disorderly conduct.

The case is captioned Baldwin v. City of Atlantic City, et al, Federal Case No. 15-cv-03130 and Baldwin's attorney was Herbert McDuffy, Jr. of Willingboro.  Case documents are on-line here.

None of Baldwin's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $50,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Atlantic City or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Atlantic City or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Baldwin $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.

Brooklawn school board confidentially pays $25,000 to resolve wrongful firing, defamation lawsuit.

On January 7, 2016, the Brooklawn Board of Education (Camden County) agreed to pay $25,000 to a former school maintenance man who claimed in a lawsuit that the Board's former president and the school district's superintendent orchestrated a plan to fire him without cause.  The man's lawsuit also alleged that the Board violated the Open Public Meetings Act and that the former Board president fabricated a story about the custodian being a thief and caused that story to be circulated around the school system by the maintenance man's daughter's classmate.

In his lawsuit, Ryan Kincaid said that on June 12, 2014 Superintendent Dr. John Kellmayer "illegally searched [Kincaid's] backpack" without probable cause and without Kincaid being present or having granted his permission.  He claimed that later that day, he and his union representative were called to Kellmayer's office where Kincaid consented a Kellmayer's request to search the backpack. According to Kincaid, the search came up empty.

Kincaid asserts that Kellmayer, along with former Board President Bruce Darrow, "orchestrated a plan to wrongfully terminate [him] for reasons that were willful, wanton and in bad faith."  According to Kincaid, Kellmayer and Darrow realized that they "could not use theft as a reason to terminate" him so "they devised the scheme of [his] alleged excessive use of the Internet as the reason for the termination."

When he was served with a Rice Notice, Kincaid said that he opted to have his disciplinary hearing held in public rather than in closed or executive session.  He claimed that despite his election, he was only allowed to make a statement in public after which the Board went into closed session.

Kincaid also accused Darrow of being the source of a false rumor that Kincaid was fired for stealing laptops and notebook computers.  He said that on December 19, 2014, his daughter was approached by two girls on the playground and informed that a another girl had been telling all the other children at her school that Kincaid was a thief.  A subsequent investigation allegedly showed that "the source of the false statement was attributed to the Board's president, Bruce Darrow."

The case is captioned Kincaid v. Brooklawn Public School District, et al, Camden County Superior Court Docket No. CAM-L-531-15 and Kincaid's attorney was Guido Babore of Merchantville.  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 Kincaid'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 the Brooklawn school board or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that the Brooklawn school board or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Kincaid $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.

Quinton pays $50,000 to resolve former Housing Officer's wrongful discharge lawsuit.

On February 9, 2016, the Township of Quinton (Salem County) agreed to pay $50,000 to a former Township employee who claimed that the Township wrongly discharged him and that the disciplinary hearing he underwent was a "legal nullity."

Gary L. Bell, Sr. filed a lawsuit in New Jersey Superior Court on January 16, 2014 that was later transferred to the United States District Court.  In his state court complaint, Bell claimed that his father Albert, prior to his death, gave him verbal permission to have the father's condemned dwelling demolished.  Bell said that he contacted Patrick Foster, Chief of the Quinton Volunteer Fire Company, and arranged with Foster to have the fire department burn the structure down on December 21, 2010 as part of a training exercise.

The state court complaint goes on to say that Housing Official Bell, Chief Foster, Deputy Chief David Stites and Salem County Fire Academy Instructor Brent Sullivan were arrested on July 21, 2011 for arson and other charges.  Bell's lawsuit alleges that he charges were dismissed against him, Stites and Sullivan on May 28, 2013 but that Foster pled guilty to some of the charges and received a jail sentence.  Foster's guilty plea is the topic of  a December 3, 2012 press release from the New Jersey Attorney General.  

The Township reportedly initiated removal proceedings against Bell on September 4, 2013, who had been on unpaid administrative leave since July 27, 2011.  Bell said that on November 20, 2013, he appeared without a lawyer before Hearing Officer Earl Gage who sustained nine of the ten charges brought against him.  The Township Committee reviewed Gage's findings and terminated Bell at its December 18, 2013 meeting.

The purpose of the state court lawsuit was to appeal the termination, restore Bell to his position and to pay for his lost pay, emotional damages and attorney fees.  Bell argued that the Township violated state law by not having rules and regulations regarding the procedures to be followed at disciplinary hearings.  He also claimed that the hearing was held more than 30 days after the charges were served upon him, which is also a violation of the law; that the Township never informed him of his right to be represented by a lawyer at the hearing and that he was surprised at the hearing by discovery that he had not before seen.

Bell's amended complaint, filed in federal court, raised many of the same allegations and arguments made in the state court action. It added, however, allegations that Gage, at the urging of attorney Elizabeth M. Garcia, denied Bell's request for a continuance of the November 20, 2013 hearing so that Bell could retain a lawyer. Bell also claimed that Gage allowed hearsay testimony and did not give him an opportunity to present rebuttal testimony under oath.  Bell claimed that Gage wasn't appointed hearing officer until seventy-seven days after the hearing was held and that the hearing itself was "more or less a 'Kangaroo Court.'"

Bell was represented in state court case case by David R. Branco of Turnersville.  In the federal case, he was represented by William H. Tobolsky of Willingboro. Case documents are on-line here.

None of Bell's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. All that is known for sure is that Quinton or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Bell $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.

Saturday, March 5, 2016

Mount Ephraim school board pays $50,000 to resolve lawsuit that claimed it was lax in preventing bullying.

Update:  It looks as if there were two $50,000 settlements for a total of $100,000.  Also, I obtained a more narrowly redacted version of the civil lawsuit.  Everything is on-line here.

On November 2, 2015, Camden County Superior Court Judge Louis R. Meloni approved a $50,000 settlement for a two former student in the Mount Ephraim (Camden County) school district who claimed that school officials were "willfully indifferent" to harassment and physical assaults that they suffered at the hands of fellow students.

The students are identified in court documents only by their initials which, along with other information, was redacted from the versions of those records supplied by the school district.  In sum, both students claim to have been the targets of harassment and bullying by other students and that school officials, while on notice of the harassment, took insufficient steps to prevent it.

Of the $50,000, nearly half of it went to the students' lawyer, Kevin M. Costello of Mount Laurel. The civil complaint and judgment that embodied the settlement are on-line here.

None of the students' allegations have been proven or disproven in court. All that is known for sure is that Mount Ephraim or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay the students $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.