Wednesday, January 11, 2017

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.