Friday, May 27, 2016

West Deptford Township and Woodbury Heights Borough pay $575,000 to settle man's police excessive force lawsuit.

On April 11, 2016, the Township of West Deptford and the Borough of Woodbury Heights (Gloucester County) agreed to pay $237,500 each, for a total of $575,000, to settle a lawsuit filed by a man who claimed he suffered excessive force at the hands of a Township police officer in 2012.

In his suit, Joseph M. Rickert gave little information about the event underlying his suit.  The suit states only that West Deptford Officer Michael Franks, assisted by Woodbury Heights Officer Nicholas DiBlasio, "unreasonably and unlawfully seized" Rickert on April 6, 2012 and "used excessive force causing a significant permanent injury."

The case is captioned Rickert v. Borough of Woodbury Heights, et al, Federal Case No. 14-cv-0093 and Rickert's attorney was Richard M. Pescatore of Vineland. The civil lawsuit and West Deptford's settlement are on-line here and the Woodbury Heights settlement is here..

West Deptford's 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.  Woodbury Height's agreement contains no confidentiality clause.

None of Rickert'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 Deptford or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Rickert $237,500 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.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

SPCA chief quietly pays $40,000 to settle Santeria priest's religious freedom lawsuit.

On October 24, 2014, the Chief of Police for the Monmouth County Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) agreed to pay $40,000 to a Freehold-based Santeria priest who sued the Chief for "defil[ing] sacred space" and improperly charging him with animal cruelty for a faith-based chicken sacrifice.

In his lawsuit, Jorge Badillo alleged that SPCA Police Chief Victor Amato and other Monmouth County and Freehold Borough law enforcement officials violated his constitutional rights during a March 2011 residential weapons search where a dead chicken was found inside a shed that Badillo used as a religious temple.  Amato, who was called to the scene to investigate possible animal cruelty, found a "recently sacrificed chicken and 2 bird heads that were drying for sacrificial use."  According to the complaint, Amato issued nine summonses to Badillo and notified the local newspaper causing publication of Badillo's home address which resulted in Badillo's home and vehicles being vandalized and his family threatened.

Badillo claimed that no law prevented sacrificing chickens and that the killings were humane and had been done "in the same manner as kosher butchers." He said that he ultimately pled guilty to not providing water for his pet rabbit even though "the photograph taken by Chief Amato clearly shows water in the rabbit’s crate."

In a January 28, 2014 opinion, United State District Court Judge Freda L. Wolfson dismissed Badillo's complaint against the SPCA, Freehold and County officials leaving only Badillo's constitutional claims against Amato.  Of the $40,000, $13,000 went to Badillo and $27,000 went to his attorney.

The case is captioned Badillo v. Amato, et al, Federal Case No. 3:13-cv-01553 and Badillo's attorney was Jennifer Meyer-Mahoney  of Millstone Township.  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 Badillo'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 Amato or his insurer, for whatever reason, decided that he would rather pay Badillo $40,000 than take the matter to trial. Perhaps the defendants' decision to settle was done to save further legal expense and the costs of trying what were in fact exaggerated or meritless claims. Or, perhaps the claims were true and the defendants wanted to avoid being embarrassed at trial. This is the problem when cases settle before trial--it is impossible to know the truth of what really happened.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Englewood pays $125,000 to settle lawsuit filed by man who claimed police shot him in the leg, fabricated evidence.

On April 11, 2016, the City of Englewood (Bergen County) agreed to pay $125,000 to an African-American man who said that a City police officer shot him in the leg and that officers lied and fabricated evidence.

In his suit, Edward M. Smalls said that on December 12, 2009, a female whose home he was visiting falsely reported to police that he was harassing her.  When Officer Michael Hargrave arrived, Smalls, who claimed that he "heard someone approaching him from the rear," ran away without realizing that his pursuer was a a police officer.  Smalls claimed that Hargrave shot him in the leg with his service revolver.

Smalls claimed that Hargrave other Englewood officers concocted a story that Smalls "came toward [Hargrave] with a razor blade" causing him to be arrested and held under $500,000 bail.  He claimed that the Bergen County Prosecutor's office failed to properly investigate and that he was ultimately acquitted of all charges except for a harassment, which is a disorderly persons offense.

Also named in the suit were various officials from Bergen County and Bergen County Prosecutor's office.  It is presently unknown whether the county settled separately with Smalls.

The case is captioned Smalls v. Englewood, et al, Federal Case No. :11-cv-07210 and Smalls' attorney was Robert Blossner of Morristown.  Case documents are on-line here.

None of Smalls' 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 Englewood or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Smalls $125,000 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, May 21, 2016

Teaneck to pay $275,000 to settle church custodian's police excessive force lawsuit.

On May 20, 2016, the Township of Teaneck (Bergen County) produced a draft settlement agreement that calls for $275,000 to be paid to settle a church custodian's lawsuit that charged Township officers with beating him while he was handcuffed.

In his suit, Donald Farrar claimed that at about one o'clock on the morning of May 25, 2010 he was working as a custodian of St. Paul's Lutheran Church cleaning the church's lounge area.  After hearing sounds outside the church, we went outside and saw Officer Spence Osaigbovo approaching him.  Farrar alleged that when he tried to explain that nothing was wrong and that he was working a late shift, Osaigbovo struck him without provocation "across the face and on the side of [his] head with his flashlight . . . . tackled [Farrar] to the ground causing [him] to hit the back of his head upon the floor and momentarily lose consciousness and sustain personal injuries to his mouth and teeth."

According to the complaint, Officer Craig Luebeck then arrived and kicked Farrar while Osaigbovo held him down.  Osaigbovo and Luebeck then allegedly beat him some more when he was handcuffed in the back of a patrol car.  Sergeant Harry Harrison and Officers Glen Coley and Michael Danenza also arrived on scene and allegedly refused Farrar's pleas to verify his identity.

Also named in the suit were Chief Robert Wilson and Officer Kevin Brennan.

The case is captioned Farrar v. County of Teaneck, et al, Federal Case No. 2:12-cv-03096 and Farrar's attorney was Paul Rizzo of Warren.  Case documents are on-line here

None of Farrar'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 Teaneck or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Farrar $275,000 than take the matter to trial. Perhaps the defendants' decision to settle was done to save further legal expense and the costs of trying what were in fact exaggerated or meritless claims. Or, perhaps the claims were true and the defendants wanted to avoid being 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 Township, 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, May 18, 2016

Robbinsville to quietly pay former officer $117,500 to settle his discrimination suit.

On May 18, 2016, the Township of Robbinsville (Mercer County) produced a draft settlement agreement that calls for a $117,500 settlement payment to a former Township police officer who claimed that Robbinsville failed to accommodate a disability that caused an on-duty "psychotic episode" during which he allegedly assaulted a woman in a wheelchair and her 4-year-old son.

In his complaint, Mark B. Lee, a 17-year veteran of the police department, said police noticed something was "wrong with him" and that "he didn't act right" after they arrived at a Hutchinson Avenue home in response to a September 17, 2012 911 call reporting an assault in progress.  Officers reportedly found Lee sitting on a couch in his uniform pants and a white T-shirt.

Lee's episode continued while he was being transported to the police station and Chief Martin P. Masseroni heard Lee's screaming over the patrol car radio.  While the officers accompanying Lee in the patrol car considered taking him to a hospital, Masseroni allegedly ordered him returned to the police station.  He was ultimately taken to the hospital and then admitted to the Ann Klein Forensic Center for thirty days.

According to the complaint, Robbinsville suspended Lee without pay immediately after the incident and conditioned paying his accrued sick time upon him resigning from the department.  Lee later resigned as a condition of the criminal charges against him for which he was admitted to Pretrial Intervention with thirty-six months of supervision.

Lee complained that Robbinsville officials "consistently viewed the incident as a criminal matter, and failed to even concede the possibility, let alone recognize, despite substantial medical evidence, that the unfortunate events of September 17 were due to a serious medical event."  He said that Robbinsville officials impeded his efforts to obtain his accrued time and opposed his application for temporary disability benefits from New Jersey.

The settlement calls for $12,500 of the $117,500 to be held in escrow to pay toward settlements or judgments that the Hutchinson Avenue family or another lawsuit claimant, Bashemah Rountree, may take against Robbinsville.

Also named in the suit was Lieutenant Michael Polaski.

The case is captioned Lee v. Township of Robbinsville, et al, Mercer County Superior Court Docket No. MER-L-2023-14 and Lee's attorney was Edward J. Nolan of Hackensack.  Case documents are on-line here.

The draft settlement agreement contains a confidentiality clause, which prevents Lee from making "any efforts to publicize or publish the terms of" or "initiate oral or written communications about" 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 Lee'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 Robbinsville or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Lee $117,500 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.

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, 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.

Rutgers confidentially pays $300,000 to settle varsity basketball player's discrimination and abuse suit.

On April 22, 2016, Rutgers University quietly paid $300,000 to settle a 2013 lawsuit filed by a learning disabled basketball player who claimed that the university's former head basketball coach "chronically and heinously targeted and abused [him], both physically and psychologically."

In his suit, Derrick Randall alleged that coach Michael Rice "violently grabbed, kicked, shoved and berated" him and other players, threw basketballs directly at the players' heads and subjected them to profane language and homophobic slurs.  The alleged abuse was video recorded aired on April 2, 2013 by ESPN's "Outside the Lines" television program.

Rice's abuse allegedly caused Randall to experience a "constant and debilitating stale of anxiety and fear" and caused him to "shut down" and lose all his confidence.

Also named in the the lawsuit were Rutgers former Athletic Director Timothy Pernetti, assistant basketball coach James Martelli, Rutgers CFO for Intercollegiate Athletics Janine Purcaro, Rutgers Board of Governors member Mark P. Hershhorn and Rutgers University President Robert L. Barchi.

The lawsuit was reported in the Star Ledger on December 9, 2013.  As part of the settlement, Rutgers also agreed to pay $6,800 for Randall's expert witness fees.

The case is captioned Randall v. Rutgers et al, Federal Case No. 3:13-cv-0735 and Randall's attorney was Daniel S. Kokhba 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 Randall'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 Rutgers or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Randall $300,000 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.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Perth Amboy school board confidentially pays $48,500 to settle another racial discrimination lawsuit.

On November 19, 2015, the Perth Amboy Board of Education (Middlesex County) quietly paid $48,500 to settle its former transportation manager's lawsuit that claimed that Board members non-reviewed his contract because they were heavily biased in favor of hiring Hispanics. The lawsuit is very similar to the one filed by Bernice Marshall that resulted in a $170,000 settlement and was recently reported by New Jersey Civil Settlements.

In his suit, Edmund Treadaway, who is Caucasian,, said that Board members "openly stated they sought to hire only individuals of Latino or Hispanic descent."  In one instance, Board Member Samuel Lebreault allegedly stated, "[i]f it were up to me, and there were 88 positions in the school district, all 88 positions would be filled by Dominicans."

Treadaway claimed that he was told by several people that "his employment was in jeopardy because the Board of Education wanted to replace him because he was not Hispanics or Latino."  According to the lawsuit, the Board of Education voted to non-renew Treadaway's reappointment effective June 30, 2014.  The settlement agreement calls for the Board to give a "neutral job reference" to Treadaway's prospective employers.

Named in the suit were Acting Superintendent Vivian Rodriguez and individual Board members Obdulia Gonzalez, Israel Varela, Milady Tejeda, Samuel Lebreault, and Business Administrator Derek Jess.

The case is captioned Treadaway v. Perth Amboy Board of Education, et al, New Jersey Superior Court Docket No. MID-L-5622-14 and Treadaway's attorney was Christopher M. Leddy 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 Treadaway'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 Perth Amboy school district or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Treadaway $48,500 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.

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Lindenwold interracial couple receives confidential $80,000 settlement plus $30,000 more when they leave town. Couple also agrees to "cease and desist" using basketball hoops in violation of Borough code.

On April 14, 2016, a member of the Lindenwold Borough Council (Camden County) signed off on a $110,000 settlement agreement that resolved a selective enforcement and racial discrimination lawsuit filed by an interracial couple whose yard is visible from the Council member's home.  The agreement called for the Borough's insurer to pay the couple $80,000 within thirty days with the remaining $30,000 to be held until after the couple leaves town.

In their lawsuit, Alfred D. and Deborah A. Patterson claimed that Strippoli had it out for them since their 2003 move to Elm Avenue which is within view of Strippoli's home.  Strippoli allegedly expressed his displeasure to Deborah that she had married an African-American man and "singled [them] out for unfair and harassing treatment by other Borough of Lindenwold governmental authorities."  The Pattersons alleged that Strippoli used his position as Councilman to have the police sent to their home seventeen times and code enforcement officials sent there fifteen times.

According to the complaint, some of the police and code enforcement officers grew so weary of Strippoli's campaign that they "refus[ed] to do Council Strippoli's bidding."  The lawsuit goes on to allege that Strippoli "forced the resignation" of one of these recalcitrant employees and threatened to fire others.  The couple also accuses Strippoli of trying to amend the Borough Code to prevent Alfred from conducting his used merchandise business from the family's home.

The Pattersons filed their lawsuit in 2012 against the Borough and Strippoli.  After their lawsuit was dismissed in 2014, an appeals court reinstated the claims against Strippoli on February 11, 2016 but did not disturb the dismissal against the Borough.

The case is captioned Patterson v. Strippoli, et al, Federal Case No. 1:12-cv-04688 and the Pattersons' attorney was Thomas Bruno, II of Philadelphia.  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 Pattersons' 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 Lindenwold or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay the Pattersons $110,000 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, May 12, 2016

Perth Amboy school board confidentially pays $170,000 to settle HR Manager's racial discrimination lawsuit.

On November 19, 2015, the Perth Amboy Board of Education (Middlesex County) quietly paid $170,000 to settle its former human resources manager's lawsuit that claimed that Board members were so biased in favor of Hispanics that they "paid for Administrators of the Perth Amboy School District to travel to Puerto Rico to recruit Hispanic individuals."

In her suit, Bernice Marshall, who is African-American, said that the Board voted on May 7, 2014 to abolish her position of Human Resources Manager and created another similar position called Director of Personnel and Evaluations.  The newly created position, which Marshall said was later offered to two individuals of Hispanic descent, required a certification that Marshall said she was working to receive and would have attained within two months.

Marshall claims that she was "berated in Spanish" and subjected to a pattern of intimidation and harassment by Acting Superintendent Vivian Rodriguez. According to the suit, Board member Israel Varela said that Rodriguez's alleged treatment of Marshall was to "teach her a lesson."

Marshall's racial discrimination claims were featured in an October 9, 2014 newspaper article entitled "School workers say they were fired because they weren't Hispanic."

Named in the suit were Rodriguez and individual Board members Obdulia Gonzalez, Israel Varela, Dianne Roman, Kenneth Puccio, Milady Tejeda, Maria Garcia, Anthony Bermudez, Samuel Lebreault, and William Ortiz.

The case is captioned Marshall v. Perth Amboy Board of Education, et al, New Jersey Superior Court Docket No. MID-L-5615-14 and Marshall's attorney was Christopher M. Leddy 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 Marshall'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 Perth Amboy school district or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Marshall $170,000 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.

Salem County confidentially pays $13,500 to settle inmate's jail beat-down lawsuit.

On May 9, 2016, Salem County signed off on a confidential agreement that settled a lawsuit filed in 2014 by a Virginia man who claimed that he was "assaulted and beaten" by several corrections officers at the county's correctional facility.

In his suit, Leon Foreman, who also goes by the name Leon Carter, claimed that on June 1, 2013, while incarcerated at the Salem County Correctional Center in Woodstown, he was beaten by "approximately seven" corrections officers including officers with the surnames Brooks, White and DiMauro.  He said that two of the officers continued to assault him after he was taken to the hospital.

Also named in the suit were Sheriff Charles M. Miller and Warden Raymond C. Skradzinski.

The case is captioned Foreman v. County of Salem, et al, New Jersey Superior Court Docket No. SLM-L-52-14 and Foreman's attorney was Bruce G. Cassidy 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 Foreman'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 Salem or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Foreman $13,500 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.

Passaic Valley school board confidentially pays $35,000 to settle student's molestation suit.

According to a draft settlement agreement released today, the Passaic Valley Board of Education (Passaic County) has agreed to pay a former Passaic Valley High School student, who is now 23, $35,000 to settle her lawsuit which alleged that one of her high school teachers subjected her to inappropriate, sexual behavior.

In her suit, Crystal Chmielewski said that during the 2007-08 school year, one of her teachers, Demetrick A. Williams, "began a course of inappropriate affection, touching and physical battery, assault and sexual molestation of the plaintiff which included forcing plaintiff to take sexually explicit photographs of herself."  According to the lawsuit, Chmielewski's mother became aware of Williams' alleged misconduct on February 27, 2008 and Williams was arrested by the Little Falls Police the following day.  The lawsuit alleged that Williams "subsequently pled guilty to N.J.S.A. 2C:24-4B(3) Endangering the Welfare of a Child."

Also named in the suit was former Superintendent Victor Joganow.

The case is captioned Chmielewski v. Passaic Valley Board of Education, et al, Federal Case No. 2:12-cv-02993 and Chmielewski's attorney was Alan T. Friedman of Jersey City.  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 Chmielewski'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 Passaic Valley or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Chmielewski $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.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

William Paterson University pays $25,000, Wayne Township pays $50,000, to settle cable television public access channel censorship lawsuit.

On April 29, 2016, William Paterson University and the Township of Wayne (Passaic County) agreed to pay a total of $75,000 to pay the attorney fees of a local man who claimed that the Township and University violated his First Amendment rights by preventing him from airing his cable show on public access channels.

In his complaint, William J. Brennan, producer of "The New Jersey Civil Circus" television program, alleged that Township and the University, which control the two "Public, Educational and Governmental" channels provided by the Township's franchise agreement with Cablevision, violated his rights by preventing his show from airing on those channels.

According to the complaint, Sandra L. Miller and Brian Gorski, who are employees of the University and exercise editorial discretion over programming aired on Wayne's Channel 77, told Brennan in 2010 that his program violated "general rules of conduct" because it used the word "tit."  Brennan claimed that his program's use of the word was not "lewd, lascivious or obscene" but described "unethical politicians obtaining government benefits and payments [from]the 'public tit'"

After he removed "tit" from the program, Brennan claimed that his show was still rejected because he had declared his candidacy for State Assembly and that a Township ordinance severely curtailed a political candidate's right to have his or her programming aired on the channels.  Ten days after the suit was filed, however, Brennan claimed the Township reversed its decision and aired his program and that the Township repealed the ordinance several months later.

Still, the University allegedly persisted in censoring Brennan's program unless it met a "general rules of conduct" code that Brennan claimed was not provided to him until "many months" after his lawsuit was filed.  The code allowed for the University to reject programming that did not meet a "good broadcasting practice and taste" standard which Brennan argued is so vague that it "gives essentially unbridled discretion to William Paterson University to reject any proposed programming."

The case is captioned Brennan v. William Paterson University, et al, Federal Case No. 2:11-cv-06101 and Brennan's lawyer was Donald F. Burke of Brick.  Case documents are on-line here.

None of Brennan'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 William Paterson and Wayne Township or their insurers, for whatever reason, decided that they would rather pay Brennan $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.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Bayonne confidentially pays $25,000 to settle former Parking Authority head's malicious prosecution lawsuit.

On April 29, 2016, the City of Bayonne (Hudson County) agreed to pay $25,000 to settle a malicious prosecution lawsuit the City's former Business Administrator and Parking Authority head filed against the City's former Law Director and its former Public Safety Director.

In his complaint, Peter J. Cresci alleged that former Public Safety Director Jason O'Donnell and former Law Director Charles D'Amico caused him to be falsely charged with theft in July 2011.  He claimed that the the charges were dismissed in August 2012 after a Grand Jury declined to issue an indictment.

Cresci accused O'Donnell and D'Amico of taking "steps to harm [his] personal and professional lives" including filing frivolous complaints against him with various state agencies, keeping tabs on his whereabouts and destroying evidential e-mails.

According to a November 13, 2015 Jersey Journal article, Cresci pleaded guilty to an unrelated fourth degree crime having to do with forging a signature on a settlement agreement.

The case is captioned Cresci v. Jason O'Donnell, et al, Federal Case No. 2:14-cv-05094 and Cresci represented himself in the matter.  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 Cresci'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 Bayonne or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Cresci $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.

Monday, May 2, 2016

Lower agrees to reinstate police officer's leave time and pay $15,000 to settle lawsuit.

On February 23, 2016, the Township of Lower (Cape May County) agreed to return 340 hours of accumulated leave time to a Township police officer and also to reimburse the officer $15,000 in attorneys fees.

In his suit, Officer Robert Hartman claimed that despite a departmental policy that allowed ill and injured offices to be placed on "light duty," he was denied the light duty designation and required to use his accumulated leave time from April 17, 2013 to June 17, 2013.  Hartman also vaguely claimed that Chief Brian Marker sent him a communication that "set forth threats and intimidation" and was intended to "extract a monetary penalty from him without legal basis."

As part of the settlement, the Township agreed "to remove the report of Dr. Matthew
Guller from the plaintiff's personnel/disciplinary file in connection with this matter"

The case is captioned Hartman v. Township of Lower, et al, Docket No. CPM-L-326-14 and Hartman's attorney was John C. Eastlack, Jr. of Cherry Hill.  Case documents are on-line here.

None of Hartman'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 Lower or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather settle with Hartman 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.

Perth Amboy confidentially pays $850,000 to settle excessive force and malicious prosecution lawsuit.

On April 29, 2016, the City of Perth Amboy (Middlesex County) agreed to pay $850,000 to settle a local man's lawsuit that claimed that city police used excessive force against him and that a city police officer repeatedly lied on the stand to falsely convict him.

In his suit, Edwin Rodriguez claimed that Officer Davis Salazar entered into his residence on September 5, 2013 and assaulted him and arrested him for unlawful possession of a weapon, disorderly conduct, obstruction and resisting arrest.  He claimed that Salazar wrote up an untrue police report regarding his encounter with Rodriguez and that Officers Marino Diaz and Luis Perez, although aware that the report was untrue, did nothing to intervene.

Rodriguez claimed that Salazar's "knowingly false" testimony caused him to be convicted  of disorderly conduct offenses after a May 29, 2014 municipal court trial.  These convictions, he claimed, violated the conditions of his parole in a different matter causing him to be "remanded to the New Jersey Department of Corrections" where he remained in custody until August 25, 2014.  According to the complaint, Rodriguez's May 29, 2014 municipal court conviction was reversed on appeal.

Salazar has been a Perth Amboy police officer since August 25, 2011 and remains in that position at the time of this writing.  According to City records his 2016 annual salary is $73,404.

The case is captioned Rodriguez v. City of Perth Amboy, et al, Docket No. MID-L-6473-13 and Rodriguez's attorney was Brian S. Schiller of Scotch Plains.  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 Rodriguez'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 Rodriguez $850,000 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.