Saturday, April 8, 2017

Kean University paid out $375,000 to settle age discrimination suit.

On December 15, 2016, Kean University agreed to pay $375,000 to a 55-year old male employee who said he was let go because his supervisor wanted "new blood in the department."

In his suit, William DeGarcia, a 30-year employee of Kean University, claimed that he was not selected as Director of Kean's Educational Opportunity Center (EOC).  DeGarcia claimed that even though he had served as the EOC's interim director during the period when the EOC received praise from both Governor Chris Christie and Senator Robert Menendez, the Director position was given to employee named Rosa Perez who was under forty and had no prior executive experience.  DeGarcia said that his was only one example of pattern of age discrimination by Kean University.

Of the $375,000 DeGarcia received $260,367.41 and DeGarcia's lawyer received $114,632.59.

The case is captioned DeGarcia v. Kean University, Union County Superior Court Docket No. UNN-L-1303-14 and DeGarcia's attorneys were Andrew M. Moskowitz of Springfield.  The complaint and settlement agreement are on-line here(Note: The settlement may not be the final version.  According to a January 3, 2017 letter from Kean's attorney, which is included at the link above, there was a dispute over the effect the settlement might have on Mr. DeGarcia's pension benefits. All other aspects of the agreement, however, appear to be agreed to by both parties.)

None of DeGarcia's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $375,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Kean or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Kean or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay DeGarcia $375,000 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.

Elizabeth pays $50,000 to settle police excessive force lawsuit.

On October 25, 2016, the City of Elizabeth (Union County) agreed to to pay $50,000 to settle a lawsuit filed by two local residents and one of the resident's son that claimed that police falsely arrested and inflicted excessive force upon them during a motor vehicle stop.

In their suit, Sojay Mojica, Jean Precois and Precois' son Antonio Mojica claimed that on November 1, 2012 they were at a convenience store seeking to buy a container of gas.  After learning that the store was out of containers, Precois said he asked Elizabeth Officers William J. DiLollo and Louis P. Demondo for information and that a altercation broke out between Pecois and the two officers.  Precois claimed that after driving away from the altercation, his vehicle was later stopped by DiLollo and Demondo as well as officers with surnames Croban and Blanco.  The trio claimed that they were arrested when they ought to have issued a summons and that the officers used excessive force against them.

According to the settlements, Antonio Mojica and Sojay Mojica received $10,000 each and Jean Precois received $30,000.

The case is captioned Precios, et al v. William J. DiLollo, et al, Federal Case No. 2:13-cv-6279 and the trio's attorney was originally Michael S. Harwin of Fair Lawn.  Case documents are on-line here.  

None of the trio's allegations have been proven or disproven in court and settlement, without more, does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Elizabeth or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Elizabeth or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay the trio $50,000 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, March 29, 2017

Bloomfield confidentially paid out $243,250 to resolve police excessive force lawsuit.

On November 17, 2015, the Township of Bloomfield (Essex County) agreed to pay $243,250 to a man who said that two township police officers assaulted him and that his ear "was practically ripped from his head."

In his complaint, Rodolfo Crespo said that after he was arrested after a March 5, 2013 traffic accident, he was assaulted at police headquarters by officers Orlando Trinidad and Jennifer P. Horn.  According to the complaint, Trinidad, in response to Crespo's request for assistance making a phone call, grabbed Crespo by the throat, threw him on the floor and placed his knee in the small of Crespo's back while he and Horn took turns punching him.  Crespo said that he suffered "head trauma, contusions and a right ear hematoma with a posterior laceration and cartilaginous disruption."  He also claimed to have a "thoracic spine fracture" and said that "his right ear . . . had to be sewn back on."

Crespo claimed that his was not an isolated case but part of a pervasive pattern of Bloomfield police applying excessive force.  A September 30, 2014 news report on Crespo's lawsuit referenced another lawsuit filed against Trinidad that arose out of an incident that resulted in official misconduct and other charges being filed against Trinidad and Officer Sean Courter.  A February 23, 2016 news article reported that both Trinidad and Courter were sentenced to five years in prison.  According to an April 10, 2015 article, Horn was promoted to detective.

Also named in the suit were Sergeant John Serchio, Lieutenant Michael Cofone, Chief Chris Goul and Captain Glen Wiegand who Crespo claimed conspired to cover up the incident. 

The case is captioned Crespo v. Township of Bloomfield, et al, Superior Court Docket No. ESX-L-6533-14 and Crespo's attorney was Tracey C. Hinson of Princeton.  Case documents are on-line here.

The release contains a confidentiality clause, which prevents Crespo from disclosing "the amount or facts of settlement to any third persons."  Fortunately, however, these confidentiality clauses do not trump the public's right to obtain copies of settlement agreements or releases that arise out of lawsuits in which a government agency or official is a defendant.

None of Crespo'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 Bloomfield or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Crespo $243,250 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, March 21, 2017

Union City confidentially paid out $100,000 to resolve ICE agent's false arrest lawsuit.

On December 27, 2016, the City of Union City (Hudson County) agreed to pay $100,000 to a Homeland Security Special Agent who claimed that he was arrested for questioning a woman who he believed was surveilling his apartment.  Mayor/State Senator Brian Stack, who allegedly became irate after the woman called him, came to the scene and reportedly screamed "I am the f**king Mayor! This is my city! F**k the feds!" several times.

In his complaint, Ricky Patel, an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agent, said that on November 30, 2012 he observed a woman parked outside his residence "conducting what he thought was surveillance since the previous day."  He confronted the woman after learning that there was a note from the Union City Police Department on his windshield saying that his vehicle was "part of an ongoing investigation."

According to the complaint, the woman became combative when Patel questioned her and made a phone call at the same time Patel called Union City Police.  Patel said that he heard the woman make the call and say "Brian, that guy from the silver car is asking me why I'm parked here."  Soon thereafter, Stack arrived on the scene with two other men and reportedly "began screaming in [Patel's] face."  Patel said that he heard Stack on the phone saying "get the f**king Chief of Police down here."  When Captain Nichelle Luster arrived, Stack allegedly demanded that Patel be arrested for harassment and that his vehicle be impounded.

When questioned by Luster at the police station, Patel said that Luster was concerned that federal agents were "conducting an unsanctioned investigation against our mayor."  According to the complaint, Mayor Stack lived on the same street as Patel and an FBI corruption raid on City Hall occurred just two weeks prior.  Patel said that he didn't know that Stack lived on his street and that he refused Luster's request to search his apartment.  Patel said that he was released after other Union City officers vouched for his identity.

Patel claimed that shortly thereafter he received a notice from the State of New Jersey that his apartment was to be inspected.  He claimed that Stack used his position as a State Senator to arrange for the inspection.  He moved out of the apartment about a month later.

The case is captioned Patel v. City of Union City, et al, Federal Case No. 2:14-cv-07398 and Patel's attorney was Thomas J. Mallon of Freehold.  Case documents are on-line here

The lawsuit received news coverage shortly after it was filed.

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 Patel'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 Patel $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.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Point Pleasant Beach agrees to pay out $90,000 to settle former water billing clerk's retaliation lawsuit.

An undated and unsigned release recently disclosed by the Borough of Point Pleasant Beach (Ocean County) indicates that the Borough has agreed to pay $90,000 to settle a former borough employee's 2014 retaliation lawsuit against the Borough's administrator, deputy finance officer and tax clerk.  The suit, filed by the Borough's former water and sewer billing clerk, alleged that she was subjected to "a pervasive pattern of adverse employment actions" after reporting that another borough employee falsified water meter readings.

In her suit, Sandra Petersen, who is joined in the lawsuit by her husband Kenneth Petersen, claimed that after discovering in January 2012 that employee Gary McRae "had been falsifying and entering fictitious water meter readings which resulted in [Borough] residents being overbilled and/or under billed for their water/sewer usage," she made a report of her findings to Borough Administrator Christine Riehl and Deputy Finance Officer Kathy Beno.  She claimed that Beno laughed at her report and said "Oh, he's been doing that for years." 

Petersen claimed that she was ridiculed and ostracized by her co-workers and that Riehl, Beno and Tax Clerk Jennifer Coyne "spread vicious and false rumors about Plaintiff having an extramarital affair with the Superintendent of the Department, James Broyles, who had also reported" the alleged fictitious meter readings.  Petersen claimed that she was stripped of her duties, prevented from taking certification courses and was told by the borough clerk that Administrator Riehl "does not want you to advance here."  The lawsuit sets forth a litany Petersen's other claims including being forced to listen to racist and anti-Semitic jokes and being ridiculed for having to use the restroom.  She said that she was "effectively terminated" on May 31, 2013.  The lawsuit was reported by NJ Advance media on June 4, 2014.

The case is captioned Petersen v. Borough of Point Pleasant Beach, et al, Docket No. OCN-L-1404-14 and Petersen's attorney was Rosemarie Arnold of Fort Lee. Case documents are on-line here.

None of lawsuit's allegations have been proven or disproven in court.  Releases typically state that payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by any of the defendants.  All that is known for sure is that Point Pleasant Beach or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Petersen $90,000 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.  While it is possible that a dispute will arise prior to the release being signed, this rarely happens because the settlement terms have 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 released.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Elizabeth pays $60,000 to settle police excessive force lawsuit.

On February 28, 2017, the Elizabeth City Council (Union County) resolved to pay $60,000 to settle (see note below) a family's lawsuit that claimed that police inflicted excessive force upon them during a gathering of friends and family who came to mourn a family member's recent shooting death.

In their suit, Chantal Theodore, David Romilus and Jessica Theodore claimed that on June 13, 2008, friends and family gathered at the Theodore's family home to grieve the death of Chantel's son, Curtis, who had been shot and killed earlier that day.  According to the suit, Elizabeth Police Captain Tyrone Tourner, accompanied by a contingent of about twenty police officers, came to the house and ordered the mourners to vacate.  Chantal and Romilus claimed that when they objected to Tourner's order, they were arrested.

Chantal said that she was "grabbed by several officers, thrown against a fence, lifted off her feet, forcibly handcuffed" and arrested for resisting arrest and obstruction.  Romilus, who is Chantal's brother, claimed that Officer Edward J. Pinkevicz sprayed in him in the face with a chemical agent and arrested him for resisting arrest and disorderly conduct.  Jessica, who is Chantal's daughter and Romilus' niece, said that when she ran outside barefoot, she "was almost immediately struck in the back of the head with a nightstick" and was arrested for aggravated assault and resisting arrest.  The trio claimed to have been kept in jail overnight and denied medical attention.

In a June 30, 2008 opinion, the Appellate Division found that Chantal was convicted in municipal court of the obstruction charge, Romilus of disorderly conduct and Jessica of simple assault and that all three convictions were upheld by the Union County Superior Court.  The Appellate Division, however, reversed Romilus' and Jessica's convictions but upheld Chantal's.  The Appellate Division's opinion also provides more context regarding the June 13, 2008 incident, including Tourner's testimony that police had received three complaints that "disorderly people" were at the Theodore residence and that some of the people gathered were sitting on cars in an adjacent restaurant parking lot drinking beer and littering.

The lawsuit also alleges that Officer Phillip McKenna had taken a photograph of Curtis' body after he was shot and circulated it among his fellow officers, friends and acquaintances.  McKenna and other officers named Turner, Pereira and Benenati allegedly assaulted Curtis nearly a year before his death causing him to receive a broken nose and front teeth.  Aggravated assault, disorderly conduct and resisting arrest charges brought against Curtis were allegedly dismissed.

The case is captioned Theodore, et al v. City of Elizabeth et al, Federal Case No. 2:10-cv-0279 and the trio's attorney was originally Mitzy Galis-Menedez of Secaucus who is now a Hudson County Superior Court Judge.  Case documents are on-line here.   

None of the trio's allegations have been proven or disproven in court and settlement, without more, does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Elizabeth or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Elizabeth or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay the trio $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: It is presently unclear whether or not there might be another, separate settlement agreement pertaining to this lawsuit.  Another OPRA request was filed on March 13, 2017 and this article will be updated upon receipt.)

Update: According to Elizabeth's response to the OPRA request, there is no separate settlement.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Paulsboro paid out $300,000 to settle former Borough Administrator's "racially hostile work environment" lawsuit.

On June 28, 2016, the Borough of Paulsboro (Gloucester County) agreed to pay $300,000 to settle a retaliation lawsuit filed in 2015 by its former Borough Administrator.

In her suit, Leeann Ruggeri claimed that Mayor W. Jeffrey Hamilton and Council members Theodore D. Holloway II, Joe Kidd and Jennifer Turner created a racially hostile work environment for her.  She claimed that at least some of the four defendants supported hiring candidates based on their race rather than on their qualifications.  The lawsuit describes Ruggeri as "a non-Hispanic Caucasian female" and says that Hamilton, Holloway, Kidd and Turner are all African American.  According to the Borough's website, Hamilton and Turner no longer hold elected office in Paulsboro while Holloway and Kidd do. 

Ruggeri claimed that Holloway and other unnamed officials made public statements urging the hiring of African American employees over prospective employees of other races.  She claimed that after she interviewed seven candidates for a position in the water and sewer department, Mayor Hamilton and Councilman Kidd were displeased that her recommended candidate was not African American.  According to the suit, Ruggeri later learned that Kidd had promised the job to an African American individual who was not the best candidate. 

The lawsuit contains many other grievances, including a claim that Ruggeri was retaliated against after she blocked Mayor Hamilton's attempt to hire an unqualified relative of Councilman Kidd to fill a Borough position.  As another example, Ruggeri said that she was "evicted from her office" and that Kidd went so far as to try to get the local police to forcibly remove her from her office.

According to an August 15, 2015 NJ.com article, the Borough Council "voted along racial lines" to fire Ruggeri a few days after she filed her lawsuit. 

The case is captioned Ruggeri v. Borough of Paulsboro, et al, Docket No. GLO-L-1145-15 and Ruggeri's attorneys were Matthew S. Wolf and Marisa Hermanovich 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 Paulsboro or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Ruggeri $300,000 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 3, 2017

Englewood Cliffs Borough agreed, subject to Council approval, to pay $375,000 to settle recently retired deputy chief's retaliation lawsuit.

In a handwritten document signed on December 22, 2016, the Borough of Englewood Cliffs (Bergen County) agreed to pay $375,000 to settle a lawsuit filed in 2012 by the Borough's recently-retired deputy police chief who claimed that Borough officials retaliated against him after a lawsuit he filed in 2006 resulted in him being promoted from lieutenant to captain.

The handwritten settlement agreement stated that it was subject to the approval of the Borough Council. That apparently did not happen because the deputy filed a motion to enforce the settlement which will be heard by Superior Court Judge Keith A. Bachmann on March 17, 2017.  (Update: I have learned that the Borough Council did, at its January 1, 2017 sine die meeting (go to minute mark 19:00), resolved to not interfere with or object to the Borough Council's insurance carrier's plan to settle this case.  I have also submitted an Open Public Records Act request for the briefs for and against the motion for reconsideration and will post them here upon receipt.)

In his lawsuit, Deputy Chief Michael McMorrow, husband of Borough Council President Carol McMorrow, claimed that former Mayor Joseph Parisi reneged on his promise to promote him to police captain in 2006 "as a result of a political agreement between [then Council member Patricia] Drimones and Parisi."  McMorrow claimed that Drimones, who was Lieutenant (now Chief) Michael Cioffi's sister, "became upset" that Cioffi was not to receive the captain promotion and "improperly utilized her influence as a duly elected Councilwoman to block the promotion process." 

According to the lawsuit, Cioffi was appointed to Deputy Chief effective July 1, 2006 and McMorrow was not promoted to captain "despite him having more seniority than Cioffi."  McMorrow said that he was one of two plaintiffs in a lawsuit filed on June 29, 2006 that resulted in a settlement that promoted him to the rank of police captain.

McMorrow said that he was harassed after his promotion.  The complaint recites many examples of alleged harassment, all of which can be read in the civil complaint at the link below.  McMorrow said that the harassment intensified after his wife Carol filed as a Republican candidate to run for Borough Council in November 2009. 

After Bauernschmidt's retirement, Cioffi was promoted to Chief and McMorrow to Deputy.  McMorrow claimed that Cioffi removed many responsibilities from him, said that he could not trust him and kept him out of the loop on important decisions.  McMorrow said that his wife Carol began to receive harassing, anonymous letters at their home.  He claimed that he was served with six disciplinary charges on April 30, 2012 and was later suspended for thirty days for refusing to attend a meeting with the attorney who represented the Borough in a whistle blower suit filed by another police officer.  McMorrow said that he was willing to attend the meeting but only if he had his own attorney present.

According to a December 1, 2016 NorthJersey.com article, McMorrow will also receive a $441,554.05 retirement payout for unused sick and vacation days.  According to the same article, McMorrow, who was earning $212,132 per year, also received a $103,295 payout in 2013 for unused compensatory time. 

The case is captioned McMorrow v. Borough of Englewood Cliffs, et al, Bergen County Superior Court Docket No. BER-L-9051-12 and the McMorrow's attorney was Jeffrey D. Catrambone of Clifton. 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 Englewood Cliffs Borough or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay $375,000 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, February 25, 2017

Ocean City paid out $200,000 to settle teen's sex lawsuit against retired police officer.

On October 4, 2016, the City of Ocean City (Cape May County) paid $200,000 to settle a lawsuit filed by a2013 high school graduate who claimed that a retired Ocean City police officer who provided school security and who was more than 30 years older than her "engaged in increasingly inappropriate behavior" toward her while she was in eleventh grade.  She also alleged that the retired officer, who hired her to inspect beach access tags during the 2012 tourist season, "penetrated [her] vagina with his penis" in their workplace shortly after her seventeenth birthday.

The woman claimed that  retired Ocean City Police Officer Charles E. Cusack would force her to perform oral sex on him and to engage in "rough" sex that involved him "choking her throat as he penetrated her."  On August 4, 2012, one of the teen's coworker allegedly entered the Beach Fee Operations office and witnessed Cusack having sex with the teen.  The coworker reported to another supervisor who reported the matter to police. 

The acts complained about in the woman's lawsuit have been widely reported and resulted in Cusack being sentenced to five years probation, forfeiture of public employment and sex offender registration after entering into a plea bargain.  According to the lawsuit, Cusack retired when he was 48 and collected an annual pension of nearly $70,000.

The case, which bears Cape May Superior Court Docket No. CPM-L-115-15 and the woman's attorneys were Michael L. Testa and Justin R. White of Vineland. Case documents are on-line here.

None of lawsuit's allegations have been proven or disproven in court (although there was a plea bargain in the related criminal matter.)  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 Ocean City or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay the woman $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.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Mantua paid out $85,000 to settle DPW mechanic's hostile workplace lawsuit.

On July 21, 2016, the Township of Mantua (Gloucester County) paid $85,000 to settle a lawsuit filed by a former Public Works mechanic who said that Township officials retaliated against him for insisting that the Township's Anti-Harassment policy be enforced.

According to his lawsuit, Joseph Graciano, who described himself as "dark-skinned and of Mexican/Latin American descent," said that in July 2013 he complained to DPW Director Mike Datz about a co-worker calling him a "f**king n**ger" in the break room.  Graciano, who said that he was the only racial minority employed by Mantua as of May 2016, said that the same co-worker "drove a truck into him and nearly ran him over" in 2008.  After the 2008 incident, the same co-worker, Rick Cade, allegedly yelled out "stupid n**ger, you should have moved." Graciano claimed that despite its Anti-Harassment Policy, Mantua Township did not investigate his allegations and actually promoted Cade after his alleged use of racial slurs was reported.

Graciano's lawsuit also alleged that Township officials retaliated against him for continuing to press his discrimination complaint against Cade.  He said that he was arrested on November 21, 2013 for stealing an old trash can that he had "borrowed from the pile of discarded Township equipment."  He said that other Township employees routinely took equipment home for their personal use.  His lawsuit alleged that Cade "took Township lawn mowers, trucks, trailers and a leaf blower home on numerous occasions."  The suit also claimed that another employee "took a tire changing machine home and used it in his side business."  (As stated below, neither allegation has been proven.) 

Graciano said that he was suspended without pay on November 22, 2013 and that the charges against him were dismissed by the Glassboro Municipal Court after a hearing on June 13, 2014.  When he returned to work on June 17, 2014, he said that Datz gave him a Notice of Disciplinary Action suspending him for 10 days for the trash can theft charge.  He said that the Township did not actually carry through on the suspension.  He said that in October 2014, the Township paid him back pay for the period of his suspension--November 2013 through June 2014.

The lawsuit claimed that the retaliation against Graciano increased after he filed his lawsuit in August 2015.  He said that Mantua official repeatedly wrote him up "for bogus reasons."  He said that the situation was so bad that he resigned in May 2016.

The case is captioned Graciano v. Township of Mantua, et al, Docket No. GLO-L-1151-15 and Graciano's attorney was Scott M. Pollins of Swarthmore, Pennsylvania. 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 Mantua or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Graciano $85,000 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, February 14, 2017

Tenafly to pay $400,000 and give over five months of paid leave to settle DPW worker's discrimination lawsuit.

On January 24, 2017, the Tenafly Borough Council (Bergen County) resolved to pay $400,000 to settle a lawsuit filed by a Department of Public Works employee who said that he was subjected to a hostile work environment since his hiring in 2002.  The worker will get $250,000 right away and $150,000 when he resigns his position on June 30, 2017.  In the meantime, he will be on paid leave with full benefits.

According to his lawsuit, Aaron Perelli, who has worked for the Tenafly Department of Public Works as a driver/laborer, claimed that his Agoraphobia and a Panic Disorder caused him to have panic attacks if he had to drive to unfamiliar towns.  He said that Borough administration was aware of his disability and agreed, upon hiring him, to not make him drive out-of-town or long distances. 

Despite the agreement, Perelli alleged that Borough Administrator Jewel V. Thompson-Chin, DPW Director Robert Buetel and DPW foreman Ken Kraus sent him on frequent out-of-town assignments and threatened to fire him if he refused.  He said that this caused him to "suffer severe panic and anxiety attacks on an almost daily basis."  He said that Kraus would barrage him with hostile obscenities such as calling him a "f***ing p***y" who "sucked his father's c**k."  Perelli also claimed that it was well known by Thompson-Chin and Buetel that Kraus was an anti-Semite who frequently called Jewish people "Jew F**ks" and that Kraus allegedly stole scrap metal as well as tip money that Borough residents had taped to their garbage cans during the holidays.  Perelli claimed that Kraus was a vulgar person who once allegedly announced in front of a large group of employees that a female employee should "take out her teeth" and give him a "blow job."

In subsequent counts of his complaint, Perelli alleged that he received a serious back injury in January 2011 when he was thrown off a garbage truck driven in an unsafe manner by a drunk co-worker.  He claimed that Thompson-Chin, Buetel and Kraus refused to assign him to light duty while he recovered. He similarly claimed that he was forced to wheelbarrow asphalt after returning to work after being out for asthma and bronchitis.

The case is captioned Perelli v. Borough of Tenafly, et al, Bergen County Docket No. BER-L-19784-14 and Perelli's attorney was Rosemarie Arnold of Fort Lee.  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 Perelli $400,000 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, February 2, 2017

Newark confidentially paid out $80,000 to settle mother's suit that claimed that Newark police failed to inform her of her son's death.

On November 2, 2016, the City of Newark (Essex County) agreed to pay $80,000 to settle a Garfield woman's lawsuit that claimed that Newark Police found her son's body on November 23, 2007 but refused her attempts to file two missing person reports in December 2007 and failed to notify her that her son was deceased.  The woman claimed that she was not informed of her son's death until the New York Police Department reported it to her in January 2012, which was well after her son's body was buried in a mass grave.

In her lawsuit, Zdenka Simkova said that the body of her son, Michael Simkova, was found by Newark police on November 23, 2007 and was positively identified by fingerprints on November 27, 2007.  She claimed that although Newark police officials knew that Michael was deceased, they rebuffed her December 1, 2007 and December 9, 2007 attempts to file a missing persons report.  According to Mrs. Simkova, Newark police told her both times that they had recently seen her son alive.  She said that the Newark police refused to let her post flyers in the Pennsylvania Station seeking the public's help in locating her son. By the time she finally learned of her son's death more than four years later, he had already been buried in a mass grave as an indigent.

Named in the lawsuit are Michael Chirico, Miguel Arroyo, Keith Jones, Luis Sequinot, John Evangelista, Vincent Vitiello, J. Hadley, Bethzaida Cruz and Miriam Smith. All are employed by the Newark Police Department.

The case is captioned Simkova v. Newark, Federal Case No. 2:13-cv-01264 and Simkova's attorney was Peter Briskin of Hillsdale.  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 Simkova $80,000 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, January 16, 2017

Fort Lee paid out $75,000 to settle false arrest case filed by man who possessed bath salts.

On September 22, 2016, the Borough of Fort Lee (Bergen County) paid $75,000 to settle a lawsuit filed by a Bronx, New York man who claimed that he was jailed for three days because Fort Lee police "were unable or unwilling to differentiate between lawful and unlawful bath salts."

According to his lawsuit, Anthony Cordero Small said that he was a passenger in car that was pulled over by Fort Lee Police Officer Richard Hernandez at about 8:30 p.m. on October 28, 2013.  He said that he and other two occupants of the car were African Americans and that the basis of Hernandez's stop was "minor motor vehicle violations."  The lawsuit alleged that the trio were returning from a meeting with the producers of a popular VH1 television show who had agreed to feature Small's clothing line in upcoming episodes.  Officers Michael Ferraro and John Reuter arrived shortly afterward to provide back-up.

Small alleged that a video recording of the stop exists showing that all three occupants were removed from the vehicle and subjected to a lengthy roadside interrogation.  The lawsuit claimed that Hernandez, in addition to some unidentified red liquid, found a bag of bath salts in the car that he "mistakenly believed to be illegal bath salts."  Small said that he told Hernandez that his girlfriend had received the bag of bath salts at an NFL promotional event and that the salts were in their original packaging and labeled "Soak" which is a brand endorsed by many professional sports teams.

Small claimed that he and the other occupants were arrested and charged with CDS possession of bath salts.  Small said that he was held under $25,000 cash bail, with no ten percent option, which caused him to remain in jail until October 31, 2013.  He said that because of his confinement, he missed his meeting with VH1 officials which resulted in a decreased business opportunity.  He claimed that on November 19, 2013, the New Jersey State Police Laboratory determined that the bath salts were not a controlled dangerous substance--rather they were of "the type of legal and commonly available therapeutic bath salts people commonly use to mix in water when bathing."  All charges against him were reportedly dismissed.

Also named as a defendant was Fort Lee Police Chief Keith N. Bendul.

The case is captioned Small v. Borough of Fort Lee, et al, Federal Case No. 2:15-cv-05898 and Small's attorney was John E. Hogan of Woodbridge. 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 Fort Lee or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Small $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.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Elizabeth school board confidentially paid $75,000 to settle school residency investigator's discrimination lawsuit.

On December 15, 2016, the Elizabeth Board of Education (Union County) quietly paid $75,000 to settle a former employee's lawsuit that claimed that the Board refused to hire him, despite his qualifications, and instead hired "an individual of Hispanic ancestry" who had not even applied for the position.

In his suit, Martin P. Starr, a former police officer, said that he worked for eight years investigating whether students actually resided within the school district until his and the positions of five other investigators were terminated for budgetary reasons.  He claimed that school officials refused to remove some nonresident students that he found to be improperly enrolled "because these students were some of the more talented, either academically or athletically, ones in the District."

Later, he twice applied for a residency investigator position that the Board posted.  He claimed that his application was "not properly considered" and that the position was awarded to an Hispanic person who had not submitted an application for the position.

The case is captioned Starr and C.K. v. Elizabeth Township Board of Education, et al, New Jersey Superior Court Docket No. UNN-L-3040-13 and UNN-L-4003-15 and Starr's attorney was Peter B. Linder of Edison.  Case documents are on-line here.

Also named as defendants in the matter were Acting Superintendent Pablo Muniz and personnel director Karen Murray.

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 Starr'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 Elizabeth school district or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Starr $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.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

New Jersey Assemblyman receives $50,000 settlement.

A State Assemblyman's 2014 lawsuit against a Washington Township (Gloucester County) patrol officer was settled on September 27, 2016 for $50,000.

In a case that has received substantial media coverageAssemblyman Paul D. Moriarty sued Washington Township and Patrol Officer Joseph DiBuonaventura for wrongly stopping his car and arresting him for drunk driving on July 31, 2012.  The drunk driving charge was later dropped by the Gloucester County Prosecutor's Office.

DiBuonaventura was tried to a jury on fourteen counts of false swearing, false reporting, tampering nd official misconduct.  He was acquitted on all charges on March 3, 2015.

Moriarity's lawsuit against the Township and against DiBuonaventura in his official capacity was dismissed on March 30, 2015 leaving him to pursue claims against DiBuonaventura in his personal capacity.  It is unclear whether the $50,000 was paid for by DiBuonaventura, Washington Township or the Township's insurance carrier.

The case is captioned Moriarty v. DiBuonaventura, Federal Case No. 1:14-cv-02492 and Moriarty's attorney was William C. Popjoy, III of Woodbury. 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 the defendant(s), for whatever reason, decided that they would rather pay Moriarty $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.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Bound Brook Board of Ed entered into three confidential employee separation agreements during 2016.

Update 01/22/17:  Portacio's tenure charges have been received and placed on-line here.  She was charged with doing work for other other school district while being paid by (and on the clock for) the Bound Brook school district.
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During 2016, the Bound Brook Board of Education (Somerset County) entered into confidential separation agreements with at least three employees.  Two of the agreements were to settle "pending personnel matters" and one was to settle "pending tenure charges."

The tenure charge matter involved School Psychologist Gladys Portacio who agreed to resign effective August 31, 2016. The agreement did not call for Portacio to receive any money and did not specify the nature of the conduct underlying the tenure charges.  An Open Public Records Act (OPRA) has been filed for the tenure charges and this article will be updated with the results of that settlement.

Nearly identical agreements were also signed by Director of Building and Grounds Raul Nieves and Director of Technology Leo Dreitser who, respectively, resigned on March 31, 2016 and June 30, 2016.  Both agreements resolved undefined "pending personnel matters" and Nieves received $12,284.71 accrued sick and vacation time under the agreement.

Both Nieves' and Dreitser's agreements had text redacted from them that stated: "The Board agrees that any [redacted] records or notes relating to [redacted] will be kept out of his School District personnel file(s)."  The reason given for the redactions was "Confidential Personnel Information, N.J.S.A. 47:1A-10."

Each agreement contained a confidentiality clause that prevents the parties from disclosing it.  Fortunately, OPRA trumps such clauses.

Woodbridge confidentially paid out $125,000 to settle police excessive force lawsuit.

On October 25, 2016, the Township of Woodbridge (Middlesex County) quietly paid $125,000 to settle a lawsuit filed by a local man who claimed that he lost several of his front teeth after police smashed him in the face with a flashlight.

According to his lawsuit, Jeffrey Gutierrez said that he was at the Friday's restaurant on Gills Lane on December 9, 2011 when police arrived in response to a call about a person with a knife.  According to Gutierrez, he was at the bar with his brother Jorge when police searched him for the knife and, after not finding one, pushed him to the ground and hit him in the face with a flashlight.  Police took him to police headquarters where he was processed and released.  Named in the lawsuit were officers Michael Agosta, Matthew Carney, Michael Dellisanti, Brian McGuirk, Lukasz Pepkowski, Daniel Perovic, Adrian Valentino, Brett Wider and Matthew Herbert.  Also named were Police Director Robert Hubner and Captain Roy Hoppock.

The case is captioned Gutierrez v. Township of Woodbridge, et al, Federal Case No. 2:13-cv-01937 and Gutierrez'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 Woodbridge or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Gutierrez $125,000 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.

Rahway confidentially paid out $150,000 to settle high school athletic director's malicious prosecution lawsuit.

On December 22, 2016, the City of Rahway (Union County) quietly paid $150,000 to settle a lawsuit filed by the Rahway High School Athletic Director who said that he was falsely charged with a crime because of Police Chief John Rodger's "personal animus" against him.  The athletic director claimed that his rejection of the Chief's attempts to hire more police officers to provide security at high school sporting events was the basis for the Chief's animus.

According to his lawsuit, Thomas Lewis, who worked for the Rahway school district for over 40 years and who also serves a member of the Clark Board of Education, said that he was falsely arrested on December 28, 2014 for pushing a police officer outside the Rahway High School gymnasium after a basketball tournament.  Lewis claimed that after he attempted to diffuse a tense situation caused by an unruly fan, Officer Justyna Halat misread the situation and inappropriately intervened.  Lewis claimed that although eyewitnesses and security camera footage confirmed that he he did not assault Halat, Lieutenant Charles Sabba fed a false report up the chain of command that led to Captain Joseph Simonetti directing that Lewis be arrested and charged with aggravated assault.  Lewis claimed that police officials refused to interview witnesses that would have said "that the charge against Lewis was demonstrably false" and sought to "influence and intimidate witnesses to provide incriminating evidence against" Lewis.

According to the lawsuit, the Union County Prosecutor's Office voluntarily dismissed the charge against Lewis on March 2, 2015.

Also named in the lawsuit were Detective Sergeant Richard Long, Detective Shawn Ganley and Officers Scott Maloney and Joseph Kostick.

The case is captioned Lewis v. City of Rahway, et al, Federal Case No. 2:15-cv-08880 and Lewis's attorneys were Kevin H. Marino and John A. Boyle of Chatham. 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 Rahway or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Lewis $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, January 10, 2017

Guttenberg confidentially paid out $39,900 to settle aspiring cop's retaliation lawsuit.

On December 19, 2016, the Town of Guttenberg (Hudson County) quietly agreed to pay $39,900 to settle a lawsuit filed by an aspiring Baltimore police officer who claimed that he subjected to retaliatory criminal charges after his sister broke off a dating relationship with a Guttenberg police officer.

According to his lawsuit, Brian Dorador, who was about to be hired by the Baltimore police department, fell out of favor with members of the Guttenberg Police Department after his sister broke off a dating relationship with Officer Joseph Keselica.  According his lawsuit, "Officer Keselica resented Mr. Dorador for the break up with his sister and held a personal vendetta against him."  Dorador claimed that Officer Laura Sorio told him in early August 2011 that Keselica "was planning a scheme to set up Mr. Dorador and arrest him for impersonating a police officer and carrying a weapon."  Dorador claimed that Sorio later denied telling him this.

Fearing that an arrest would derail his police career, Dorador said that he reported the threat to Captain Joel Magenheimer.  Dorador claimed that after Magenheimer refused to process his complaint, he filed an Internal Affairs complaint with the New York Police Department where Dorador worked as an auxiliary officer.  When the NYPD notified the Guttenberg department about the complaint, Dorador claimed that retaliatory criminal charges were fabricated against him resulting in his arrest on August 15, 2011.  Dorador claimed that weapon possession charges were dismissed by the Hudson County Prosecutor and he was approved for Pretrial Intervention (PTI) for other charges over the Prosecutor's objection.

Dorador also claimed that a deliberately false report that he was armed and dangerous caused him to be pulled over by West New York officers on October 13, 2011 and that his father received "an excessive amount of tickets only a few days before [Dorador] was to be accepted into the PTI program." 

Also named in the lawsuit were Sergeants Jeff Lugo and Juan Berrera and Investigator Joseph Terello

The case is captioned Dorador v. Town of Guttenberg, et al, Federal Case No. 2:13-cv-05696 and Dorador's attorney was Louis A. Zayas of North Bergen. 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 Guttenberg or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Dorador $39,900 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.