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.