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Open Government Advocacy Project
 

A popular Government without popular information, or the means of acquiring it, is but a Prologue to a Farce or a Tragedy; or perhaps both. Knowledge will forever govern ignorance. And a people who mean to be their own Governors, must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives.
 
Letter to W.T. Barry, Aug. 4, 1822, in 9 Writings of James Madison 103 (G. Hunt ed. 1910)

 

NOTE: due to relocation to a larger server OGTFarchive.org has been re-united with OGTF.LPCNJ.org.

 

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Recent issues:

State Police pay $25,000 to settle excessive force suit
On September 10, 2014, the New Jersey State Police agreed to pay $25,000 to a Jersey City who claimed that a State Trooper choked him without justification. In his suit, Joshua Agosto said that on June 29, 2012, he was arrested and charged with drunk driving and several traffic violations. He said that at the police station Trooper Damien Joseph choked him without justification. The case is captioned Agosto v. Joseph, Federal Case No. 2:13-cv-00667 and Agosto's attorney was Thomas J. Mallon of Freehold. Case documents are on-line here. None of Agosto's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $25,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by State Police or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that State Police or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Agosto $25,000 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.
 
Bergen County school board pays $10,000 to secretly settle teacher's whistleblower and age discrimination suit.
On July 25, 2013, the Bergen County Board of Education and Bergen County Special Services agreed to pay $10,000 to a 61-year old former special education teacher who claimed that she was denied tenure because of her age and her complaints about a violent student. In her suit, Anne Tremble of Westwood said since 2007, she had worked as a teacher of autistic 13 to 16 year olds who she described as "very aggressive children." She alleged that she was particularly fearful on one male student "whose behavior escalated weekly, and who made direct threats of violence to Tremble and other employees." She said that this student, who was eventually taken out of her class, "stated he was going to bring a gun or knife to school, and that he had access to such weapons from his mother's boyfriend who was a hunter." The student allegedly told "a female classmate he hoped [Tremble] was raped and attacked." Shortly after the student's removal from Tremble's classroom, she claims that "her contract was not being extended for the new school year, even though she would have received tenure if she had worked even one day into the new year." She claims that "younger, non-tenured teachers" were given preference over her. The case is captioned Tremble v. Bergen County, et al, Docket No. BER-L=-3025-12 and Tremble's attorney was Gerald Jay Resnick of Roseland. 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 Tremble's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $10,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Bergen or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Bergen County or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Tremble $10,000 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.
 
Lacey school board pays $25,000 to secretly settle lawsuit by male employee who claimed discrimination and retaliation.
On May 13, 2014, the Lacey Township Board of Education (Ocean County) agreed to pay $25,000 to a former employee who sued the school board for discriminating against him because of his gender and for retaliating against him for "disclosing or threatening to disclose illegal activity as a conscientious employee." In his suit, Joseph Amaniera of Forked River, who was a food service worker at the Lacey Township High School, alleged that he "was not permitted to use an un-labeled restroom in the kitchen of the cafeteria because he was a male." Instead, he was allegedly "told he had to use the students facility in the hallways of the school or seek a janitor to open a faculty restroom." After he complained the the school superintendent, he was allowed to use the kitchen restroom but, because of his complaint, "he was shunned by his co-workers and treated poorly . . . denied overtime [and] substitute work for the janitor." Amaniera also claimed that there were "poor sanitary and soiled food conditions" at the cafeteria of which he took photographs and videos. When he brought the video and photographs to the superintendent, he was allegedly "chastised" and fired two days later. The case is captioned Amaniera v. Lacey Township Board of Education, Ocean County Superior Court Docket No. OCN-L-1155-12 and Amaniera's attorney was John P. Brennan of Avon-by-the-Sea. 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 Amaniera's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $25,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Lacey or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Lacey or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Amaniera $25,000 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. ABOUT ME AND WHY I'M POSTING THIS. I chair the New Jersey Libertarian Party's Open Government Advocacy Project which seeks to increase governmental transparency and accountability, particularly at a local level. For more information on the Libertarian Party, go to http://www.njlp.org. As part of my work, I routinely check civil court cases where at least one of the parties is a government agency or official. Most often, these settlement agreements are never revealed to the public. I post them on the Libertarian Party's blog at http://njcivilsettlements.blogspot.com and other public forums because I believe that civil settlements, regardless of amount, may be of interest to citizens and taxpayers. John Paff Somerset, New Jersey
 
West Milford pays $75,000 to settle volunteer firefighters' whistleblower suit
On June 14, 2014, the Township of West Milford (Passaic County) agreed to pay $75,000 to a pair of firefighters who alleged that they were retaliated by Township and fire company officials. The settlement also gave each firefighter the right to pursue volunteer membership in any but one fire company at any time after December 1, 2014. In their suit, Thomas Simmons and Michael Hughes, both volunteers with West Milford's Community Volunteer Fire Company, said that they were harassed and improperly discharged from their volunteer positions after reporting various issues, such as the Department's Assistant Chief not having the proper qualifications, not having a written respiratory protection plan and not providing required "Right to Know Law" training. Prominent in the lawsuit is James Rose, who formerly served as the fire company treasurer and later became Assistant Chief while, according to Simmons, he was not properly qualified. Simmons alleged that he replaced Rose as company treasurer at the request of Chief Robert Castro and President Randy Corsen who "were dissatisfied with Rose's performance as Treasurer and there was a suspicion of missing funds." In addition to Rose and Castro, the lawsuit also named Township Manager Kevin F. Boyle, Fire Commissioner Ed Steins, Community Fire Captain Matthew Adragna, Community Fire Lieutenant and Secretary Michael McFarlane and Carla Castro, who served as secretary to Chief Castro. The case is captioned Simmons and Hughes v. West Milford, Passaic County Superior Court Docket No. PAS-L-2632-12 and Simmons' and Hughes's attorney was Paul Lomberg of Hackensack. Case documents are on-line here. None of Simmons' or Hughes's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $75,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by West Milford or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that West Milford or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Simmons and Hughes $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.
 
Waterford secretly pays $260,000 to settle police false arrest/excessive force suit
On July 21, 2014, the insurer for two Waterford (Camden County) police officers agreed to pay $260,000 to a father and his parents who sued them for alleged harassment, unlawful arrest and use of excessive force. In their separate suits, Tracey Miller and his parents Ronald and Lavina Miller said that Waterford Police Sergeant Joseph McNally is a "very close friend" of Thomas Watson, who is the father of Tracey's ex-wife Jennifer Miller. According to the complaints, the divorce between Tracey and Jennifer was "highly contested" and involved a domestic violence complaint and custody of the couple's child. According to the parents' complaint, "[e]very time that an issue arose with respect to this matter including the filing of a domestic violence complaint, Defendant, Sergeant McNally, a Waterford Township Police Officer, was involved in the investigation." The complaints go on to say that the animosity that pitted the Watson family and the Waterford police against the Millers caused Tracey to be "constantly under surveillance." The Millers, who all lived in the same house, claimed that Waterford Township Police Department, would frequently pass by Plaintiffs? house, slow down as they approached their house and would stay there for several minutes in an attempt to harass and/or intimidate Mr. Miller and his family members, including the Plaintiffs." According to the Millers, the police harassment graduated into physical violence. One of three official encounters between the Millers and the police occurred on April 9, 2011. The parents and their granddaughter were driving home and allegedly saw a police vehicle parked near their home. The granddaughter called her father, Tracey, who was following behind them and told him to be "very careful" for they were "in fear for his life." When Lavina asked one of the officers in the waiting car why the police were there, the officer, Timothy Lyons, reported said that Tracey was being stopped for ?tinted windows?. At this point, the complaints allege that Lyons beat Tracey severely while he was on the ground while his minor daughter was "crying and screaming hysterically for Officer Lyons to stop beating her father." This allegedly provoked Lyons to swing his nightstick at the daughter and her grandparents. During this time, McNally allegedly took Lyon's place on top of Tracey's back and continued holding his face in the wood chips and . . . punching him in the left side of his face and head almost knocking him unconscious. Lavina said that she went in the house to call 911 to get help from the State Police. The 911 operator allegedly told her that the State Police would not respond because Waterford police were already there. After finishing with the alleged beating of Tracey, Lyons then reportedly approached Tracey's father, who was then 69 years old and "suffers from many chronic disabilities." Lyons allegedly "slam[ed] him violently on the concrete ground causing a phone to fly out of his hand." (The father was allegedly on the line with 911.) According to the complaint, this caused a "serious right shoulder fracture." A few days after the incident, both Ronald and and Lavina said that they were called to the police station to be processed for various charged including resisting arrest and aggravated assault on a police officer. The Millers claim that the officers themselves are "under criminal investigation by the Camden County Prosecutor's Office." On January 30, 2014, U. S. District Court Judge Joseph E. Irenas dismissed all the counts against Waterford Township and most of the counts against the individual police officers. The only counts that survived the motions were civil rights and other tort claims against Lyons and McNally. Also named in the suits were Waterford Police Officer Brent J. Staiger and Sergeant Richard J. Passarella, The cases are captioned Miller v. Waterford, Federal Case No. 1:11-cv-03405 and 1:11-cv-03578 and the Millers' attorney was Charles A. Fiore of Williamstown. Both complaints, Judge Irenas' opinion and the settlement agreement 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 Millers' allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $260,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Waterford or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Waterford or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay the Millers $260,000 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.
 
Winslow pays $42,500 to settle police excessive force suit
On February 23, 2013, the Township of Winslow (Camden County) agreed to pay $42,500 to a local man who sued members of the Winslow Police Department for allegedly applying excessive force upon him. In his suit, Ronald Brown said that on September 18, 2008 he was sitting in parked car when Officer Sean Richards approached on a bicycle and ordered him to exit the vehicle and place his hands on the car. He claimed that after he complied, Officer Richards handcuffed him and threw him on the ground. Brown claimed that his injuries were serious enough to warrant a one-week stay in a jail infirmary. Also named in the suit was Winslow Police Chief Anthony Bello. The case is captioned Brown v. Winslow, Federal Case No. 1:10-cv-04774 and Brown's attorney was Randy P. Catalano of Westmont. Case documents are on-line here. None of Brown's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $42,500 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Winslow or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Winslow or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Brown $42,500 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.
 
Penns Grove and Carneys Point pay $2,000,000 to settle police wrongful death/excessive force suit
On June 18, 2014, the Borough of Penns Grove and the Township of Carneys Point (Salem County) agreed to pay $2,000,000 to the four minor daughters of a man who died while in police custody. In her suit, Judith Mincey, the mother of MoShowon Leach, claimed that Penns Grove Police Officers Raymond Rinnier and Joseph Schultz choked Leach to death during his arrest on March 21, 2010. According to the complaint, Leach was disoriented and "fighting the air" when police were called to the parking lot in which he was located. Leach allegedly ignored the officers' requests for him to stop and while he was entering the residence of a relative, Officers Rinnier and Schultz allegedly "descended upon him, maced him and took him to ground." There, Schultz allegedly told Rinnier to "choke him out." Leach was pronounced dead a short time later. Schultz allegedly said at the scene that ?Ray [Rinnier] had to put [Leach] to sleep.? Also named in the suit was Penns Grove Police Chief Gary Doubledee. Carneys Point was named in the suit because two of its officers, Joseph Johnson and Andrew Kleban, allegedly "jumped on Leach?s back and joined the attack on Leach" when they later arrived on the scene. The case is captioned Mincey v. Penns Grove, Federal Case No. 1:11-cv-01727 and Mincey's attorneys were Stanley O. King and Sharon A. King of Woodbury. Case documents are on-line here. None of Leach's estate's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $2,000,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Penns Grove and Carneys Point or any of their officials. All that is known for sure is that Penns Grove and Carneys Point or their insurer, for whatever reason, decided that they would rather pay Leach's estate $2,000,000 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.
 
Union City pays $150,000 to settle former City official's retaliation suit.
On September 17, 2013, the City of Union City (Hudson County) agreed to pay $150,000 to its former Planning Board Attorney who sued the City and Mayor Brian P. Stack for retaliation and violation of his right to free speech. In his suit, Mateo Perez said that Mayor Stack had "created a political machine to foster a 'pay to play' culture in Hudson County with the primary purpose of promoting, protecting and maintaining Mayor Stack's political power in Union City and the 33rd District, in particular, and Hudson County politics, in general." He alleged an elaborate "pay to play" scheme in which the Mayor "measures and evaluates, in terms of financial donations, the loyalty and political patronage shown by individuals and companies for purposes of conferring and providing government benefits and privileges." Perez alleges an array of examples, from putting favored people, including Stack's girlfriend, into Section 8 apartments ahead of the waiting list to order the Planning Board to approve some applications while denying others. Perez claimed that he was major supporter of Stack during his initial rise in Hudson County politics. That relationship allegedly went sour after Perez "complained about Stack's unfavorable treatment of [Housing Authority] tenants who did not support him politically and favorable treatment of unsavory tenants merely because they supported him." He said that Stack retaliated by preventing Perez's father from getting a certificate of occupancy on a building, causing him "to lose about one million dollars." Perez also alleged that Stack caused him to be fired from his jobs with the Union City Housing Authority and the Union City Library.. Also named in the suit were Virgil Cabello, the Executive Director of the Union City Housing Authority Board, and the Brian Stack Civic Organization. The case is captioned Perez v. Stack, Hudson County Superior Court, Docket No. L-1070-12 and Perez'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 Perez's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $150,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Union City or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Union City or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Perez $150,000 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.
 
Union City pays $50,000 to settle police false arrest/excessive force suit
On December 7, 2013, the City of Union City (Hudson County) agreed to pay $50,000 to two local women who sued members of the Union City Police Department for falsely arresting and maliciously prosecuting them. In their complaint, Carlene Peguero and her mother Ingrid DeCastro claimed that Union City Police Sergeant Mark Julve, accompanied by Detectives Jasen Bellamy, R. Cetinich (presumably Raymond Cetinich) and Ruben Rodriguez came to their home on August 12, 2011 to execute a search warrant against Jean Peguero (who was Carlene's brother and Ingrid's son). The officers allegedly arrested Jean after finding marijuana and a marijuana grinder in his room. Even though the officers found no other contraband in the home, they allegedly arrested Carlene and Ingrid. The women claim that the male officers frisked and searched them even though they had requested a female officer. The pair claimed that they were handcuffed and taken to the police station. They said that police threatened to charge them with drug offenses unless Jean admitted to possessing the contraband. They claim that they were both charged, but that the charges were later dropped after Jean admitted to the drug offenses. The case is captioned Peguero and DeCastro v. Union City, Federal Case No. 2:12-cv-06045 and Peguero'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 Peguero's or DeCastros's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $50,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Union City or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Union City or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Peguero and DeCastro $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.
 
Union City pays $25,000 to settle police false arrest/excessive force suit
On September 30, 2013, the City of Union City (Hudson County) agreed to pay $25,000 to a local man who sued members of the Union City Police Department for arresting him on October 2, 2010 without justification and applying excessive force against him. In his complaint, Plaintiff Franklin Garcia does not recite the particular manner in which the excessive force was allegedly used. It only claimed that William Varona and Frank DePinto, Jr. were the Union City officers involved. Garcia claimed that the charges of Aggravated Assault and Obstruction of justice were dismissed on December 5, 2011. Also named in the suit was Union City Police Chief Charles Everett. The case is captioned Garcia v. Union City, Federal Case No. 2:12-cv-06044 and Garcia'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 Garcia's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $25,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Union City or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Union City or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Garcia $25,000 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.
 
Beachwood pays $75,000 to settle police excessive force suit
On September 22, 2011, the Borough of Beachwood (Ocean County) agreed to pay $75,000 to a local couple who sued members of the Beachwood Police Department for allegedly applying excessive force during a traffic stop. In their suit, Kevin and Maria Chabot said that on August 26, 2007, their truck was pulled over by Patrolman Glen DeMarco. DeMarco allegedly pushed and maced Kevin, with some of the mace getting in Marie's eyes. At that point, Patrolmen Eric Harris and Sean Langan arrived on the scene and arrested Marie. The complaint alleged that Harris applied the handcuffs so tightly that they lacerated Marie's wrists. The complaint further alleged that Harris and Langan hurt Marie's back when they pushed her into an ambulance. Also named in the suit were Beachwood Police Chief William J. Cairns, Leetuenant Robert Tapp and Sergeants Kenneth Halucha, Bruce Harris and Jason Froberg. The case is captioned Chabot v. Beachwood, Federal Case No. 09-cv-02991 and the Chabots' attorney was Thomas J. Mallon of Freehold. Case documents are on-line here. None of the Cabots' allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $75,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Beachwood or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Beachwood or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay the Cabots $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.
 
Lavallette pays $75,000 to settle municipal judge's lawsuit against police
On April 23, 2013, the Borough of Lavallette (Ocean County) agreed to pay $75,000 to a Bridgewater Township Municipal Court judge who claimed that Lavallette police arrested him without probable cause after he declined to take a field balance test. He also claimed that the arrest put him "in the throes of a full blow panic/anxiety attack" and that the police chief's quotes to the local press forced him to resign his position. In his suit, Stanley F. Rizzolo, a municipal court judge who "aspired to the bench of the Superior Court of New Jersey," said that shortly before midnight on August 22, 2009, he was stopped by Lavallette Officer Andrew Baldino for slightly weaving in his lane of travel. He said that after he "flawlessly performed two field sobriety tests" he told Baldino that he might have difficulty performing the balance test because of injuries to his back and ankle. Baldino apparently accepted Rizzolo's explanation and instructed him to wait in his vehicle. According to the lawsuit, a very angry Officer Charles Russell then arrived on scene, berated Rizzolo and threatened him with arrest unless he did the balance test. Rizzolo claimed that Sergeant John Andrews then arrived on scene and participated in the "menacing and antagonizing." Rizzolo claimed that he was then handcuffed and placed in a patrol car and taken to the police station where he was told to take a breathalyzer. The stress from this allegedly caused him to go into a panic attack, which is a condition he said he suffered from prior to this incident. The officers, however, "cynically believed [Rizzolo] was feigning illness to avoid taking the breathalyzer" and "openly disparaged" him. He claimed that Russell gave him oxygen which caused him to lose consciousness and that later, in the hospital, he required physical restraints and chemical sedation due to his "uncontrollable shaking and hyperventilation." While sedated, blood was drawn that allegedly revealed a blood alcohol concentration of .068% which, according to the lawsuit, was "well below the 0.08 level of impermissible intoxication established by [law.]" Finally, he claimed that Police Chief Colin Grant gave "skewed account of the events" to local newspapers which ultimately "forced him to resign from his municipal judgeship at great professional and financial cost." The case is captioned Rizzolo v. Lavallette, Federal Case No. 11-cv-01033 and Rizzolo's attorney was Robert F. Varady of Union. Case documents are on-line here. The settlement agreement contains a confidentiality clause, which prevents the parties to the suit from publicly disclosing the settlement terms. Fortunately, however, these confidentiality clauses do not trump the public's right to obtain copies of settlement agreements that arise out of lawsuits in which a government agency or official is a defendant. None of Rizzolo's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $75,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Lavallette or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Lavallette or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Rizzolo $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.
 
Lakewood pays $40,000 to settle excessive force suit against cop who was later arrested
On September 18, 2013, the Township of Lakewood (Ocean County) entered into a confidential agreement to pay $40,000 to a local man who sued members of the Lakewood Police Department for assaulting him and applying excessive force against him. In his suit, Edwin A. Alicea said that on January 15, 2012, he was stopped by former Lakewood Police Officer Jeremy Felder who "assaulted him without justification and with excessive force." He claimed that Felder forcibly removed him from his car, threw him to the ground, assaulted him and sprayed his face with pepper spray "without justification." According to a March 5, 2014 Star Ledger article (here), Felder was arrested in March 2014 for official misconduct arising out of a separate incident. A You Tube video of the incident is on-line here. Unfortunately, most of the interaction between Felder and Alicea is off-camera. The Police report, criminal complaint against Alicea and Alicea's blood alcohol report are on-line here. The case is captioned Alicea v. Lakewood, Federal Case No. 33:12-cv-06404 and Alicea'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 Alicea's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $40,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Lakewood or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Lakewood or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Alicea $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.
 
Southern Regional pays $325,000 to settle five women's Law Against Discrimination suit.
On October 18, 2006, the Southern Regional Board of Education (Ocean County) agreed to pay $325,000 to five women who claimed that a school district official "notoriously committed, on an ongoing and continuous basis, remarkable, egregious conduct prohibited by the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination." Under the terms of the confidential settlement agreement, each woman received $47,500 while their attorney received $88,500 plus $1,500 in court costs. In their suit, Carol Cornelius, Carmasita DeSalvo, Jodi Wallis, Merry Niewojna and Stephanie Chadwick, all of whom worked for the school district as administrative personnel, said District Business Administrator James A. Moran had "an apparent prejudice against people of color" because he often referred to his son's Jamaican girlfriend in a racially derogatory manner. Beyond his alleged racism, the women complained that Moran would "regularly, almost on a daily basis, discuss personal, supposed amorous relationships digressing often into detailed, graphic accounts of [his] purported sexual activity." The lawsuit, which is at the link below, describes the plaintiffs' allegation in graphic detail. The suit went on to say that Moran retaliated against the women when they complained about his misconduct. The lawsuit claimed that in exchange for his 2003 resignation, the school district gave him a $200,000 "golden parachute." The terms of Moran's separation of employment from the school district are confirmed by Judge Stanley R. Chesler's February 10, 2006 opinion (on line here) in Moran v. Southern Regional, Case No. 05-1062. The case is captioned Cornelius et al v Moran et al, Federal Case No. 04-cv-3765 and the women's attorney was Michael W. Hoffman of Forked River. 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 women's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $325,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Moran, Southern Regional or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Southern Regional or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay the women $325,000 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.
 
Gilliam's lawsuit concluded against Franklin Fire District No. 3
Former District No. 3 Commissioner Chairman Michael Gilliam's lawsuit against the Franklin Township (Somerset County) Fire District, Community and East Franklin Fire Departments and several individually named defendants is over. The upshot is that Judge Yolanda Ciccone dismissed the lawsuit against Community, East Franklin, and the District but refused to dismiss it against individual defendants Douglas Krushinski, Daniel Krushinski, Christopher Fischer, Richard Ries and Herman Calvo. Shortly after Judge Ciccone's ruling, all of the individual defendants entered into some sort of settlement agreement with Gilliam. For those who are interested in reviewing all the accusations made by all sides, as well as for those who would like to learn more about defamation law, especially as it applies to public figures, I have uploaded the following documents to the Internet. District's Brief in Support of Summary Judgment Gilliam's Brief in Opposition (Part 1) Gilliam's Brief in Opposition (Part 2) District Brief in Reply to Opposition Judge Ciccone's Order Granting and Denying Summary Judgment Judge Ciccone's Order Denying District's Motion for Reconsideration. Using the Open Public Records Act, I have tried to get copies of the settlement agreements between Gilliam and the individual defendants. District No. 3 Records Custodian Sherrod Middleton denied my request for those settlement agreements for two reasons. First, Middleton reported that the agreements had not yet been reduced to writing. Second, he said that "since the District and the Fire Company were dismissed from the litigation, it is unlikely that the District will ever be in possession of a document between private parties." I have challenged Middleton's characterization of the individual defendants as being "private parties" and have submitted a supplemental OPRA request for several records. In my request, submitted today, I have asked for documents that show whether the individual defendants paid any money out-of-pocket for either the defense or settlement of Gilliam's lawsuit. It seems to me that the individual defendants can legitimately be characterized as "private parties" only to the extent that they, as opposed to the District or its insurer, contributed toward the lawsuit's defense and settlement.
 
Lakewood cop appeals 4-day unpaid suspension
On December 30, 2013, a Lakewood Township (Ocean County) police officer appealed a judge's decision to uphold a four-day unpaid suspension that was levied against the officer for driving his patrol car in an unsafe manner, leading to a September 28, 2012 collision with another patrol car. According the court filings, the same officer had received a two-day suspension in April 2012 for the another instance of driving a patrol car in an unsafe manner. An Internal Affairs investigation found that the officer, Dennis Dowden, was following Officer Jeremy Felder's patrol car when both officers were dispatched to a robbery where the victim was chasing the perpetrator. Felder, missing a turn, hit his brakes to turn around and Dowden, who said he was unable to see Felder's brake lights, slid into the rear of Felder's car doing about 35 mph. Dowden admitted fault in the accident but attributed it to failure of the ABS brake system and the rainy weather. Given that he was "responding under emergent circumstances to an armed robbery in inclement weather conditions where the dispatch had advised that the victim was in pursuit of the perpetrator," Dowden argued that the collision "should be more properly viewed as accidental in nature." In an October 25, 2013 written decision, Ocean County Assignment Judge Vincent J. Grasso disagreed. Grasso found credible Captain Paul Daly's testimony that the "officers were travelling approximately sixty (60) miles per hour in rainy weather conditions on wet road surfaces." The court found sufficient evidence that Dowden did not proceed with proper caution and due regard for the safety of persons and property. Grasso decision and other court filings are on-line here. Dowden, represented by Stuart J. Alterman of Marlton, appealed Grasso's ruling after an unsuccessful attempt to have Grasso reconsider it. In his appeal, he argues that there was insufficient evidence to warrant the suspension and that the suspension was improper because it was "restitutionary in nature."
 
Jackson pays $25,000 to settle claim that police beat husband and forced wife to use "recommended" bail bondsman
On February 19, 2014, the Township of Jackson (Ocean County), according to a confidential agreement, agreed to pay $25,000 to a local man who sued members of the Jackson Police Department for allegedly beating him and forcing his wife to use a bail bond company allegedly having financial connections to a former Jackson police officer. In his suit, Salvatore Day said that on December 20, 2009 Jackson police responded to his home because he had been in a verbal altercation with a neighbor. When police were at his door, he claimed that his wife "attempted to close the door momentarily to get [Day's] dogs away from the doorway." At that point, he claimed that officers, including Joseph Candido, Michael Cavallo, James Reynolds and/or Gregory Vidalis pushed the door open and "spun [his] body around, pushed him against wall and threw him to the floor, kneed him in his neck, and yanked his arms behind his back." Day claimed that at headquarters, the officers refused to let him call his brother to borrow bail money. When Day's wife came to headquarters, Day claimed that she was given a pen by police that was embossed with "a bail bondsman's name and telephone number" and that police told his wife "to call the bail bondsman quickly to make bail on [Day] or he would be sent to the county jail." The wife called the bondsman and, according to the complaint, the bondsman "arrived at [Day's] home and pressured her into signing paperwork retaining them" even though Day's brother had enough money to pay the bail without using a bail bond. Day said that he believed that "a former Jackson Township police officer either owns or is employed by the bail bonds company used by [his] wife under duress." Also named in the suit were Jackson Police Chief Matthew D. Kunz, Sergeant John Decker and Detective Scott Conover. The case is captioned Day v. Jackson, Federal Case No. 3:10-cv-0401 and Day'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 Day's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $25,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Jackson or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Jackson or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Day $25,000 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.
 
Willingboro pays $40,000 to settle police illegal search suit
Willingboro pays $40,000 to settle police illegal search suit On October 9, 2013, the Township of Willingboro (Burlington County) agreed to pay $40,000 to a 51-year-old local man who sued members of the Willingboro Police Department for allegedly illegally searching his vehicle and using the fruits of the search to justify arresting him. In his suit, Paul James Ash, who is African American, said that on April 15, 2008 at about 8:15 p.m. he visited the athletic fields adjacent to the high school to hit some baseballs. He alleges that he had done this several times before and that there were signs advising that the fields were open to the public until 10 p.m. He said that Officer Iris Cedeno approached in a marked patrol car and told him he was "trespassing." Ash claimed that after he "began politely to raise a question," Cedeno ordered him to put down his bat and "get on the curb." Ash said that he stood on the curb after advising Cedeno that he could not comfortably sit on the curb due to a back condition. According to the lawsuit, back up officers Jennifer Knecht and Jaime Jimenez then arrive and "forced [him] to sit on the curb and handcuffed him." The officers then allegedly searched the vehicle, including the trunk, without warrant or probable cause and arrested him after they "found a firearm in a secure container inside the trunk." He said that he spent the night in jail after being strip searched. He claimed that the weapon possession charge against him was resolved by entry into the Pretrial Intervention (PTI) Program "without admission of wrongdoing on his part." Also named in the suit were Willingboro Public Safety Director Gregory Rucker. The case is captioned Ash v. Willingboro, Federal Case No. 1:10-cv-01900 and Ash's attorney was Justin T. Loughry of Camden. Case documents are on-line here. None of Ash's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $40,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Willingboro or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Willingboro or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Ash $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. ABOUT ME AND WHY I'M POSTING THIS. I chair the New Jersey Libertarian Party's Open Government Advocacy Project which seeks to increase governmental transparency and accountability, particularly at a local level. For more information on the Libertarian Party, go to http://www.njlp.org. As part of my work, I routinely check civil court cases where at least one of the parties is a government agency or official. Most often, these settlement agreements are never revealed to the public. I post them on the Libertarian Party's blog at http://njcivilsettlements.blogspot.com and other public forums because I believe that civil settlements, regardless of amount, may be of interest to citizens and taxpayers. John Paff Somerset, New Jersey
 
Unpublished Appellate Division OPRA opinion.
"Unpublished opinions" are not published in the law books and are not ordinarily written about in legal periodicals. Given that they are not published in the law books, they might not to be located by people who may want to search for them. I think that it's important that court opinions, even if they are not precedential, are easily accessible for future use. Perry Bolkin v. Borough of Fair Lawn, et al Sat below: Hon. Peter E. Doyne, A.J.S.C. Appellate Docket No. A-2205-12T4 Date of Appellate Decision: June 16, 2014 Trial Court Docket No. BER-L-6547-12 Date of trial court decision: December 5, 2012 Click here and here, respectively, for the trial court's and the Appellate Division's decisions. Summary: Appellate Division upheld trial court's decision that pet owners' names and mailing addresses were disclosable under the Open Public Records Act (OPRA), where the requestor promised that he would not divulge the information obtained to anyone else and to limit his use of the information to send pet owners information through the mail.
 
OPRA Lawsuit seeks video of Tuckerton police use of dog to attack woman
On June 10, 2014, Montclair Attorney Richard M. Gutman filed a lawsuit on my behalf challenging the Ocean County Prosecutor's denial of my Open Public Records Act (OPRA) request for a video that allegedly depicts a police officer intentionally siccing his police dog on a 57-year-old woman. The lawsuit and brief, captioned Paff v. Ocean County Prosecutor, Docket No. OCN-L-1645-14, is on-line here. I requested the video after reading about Tuckerton Police Corporal Justin Cherry being charged with second-degree official misconduct and third-degree aggravated assault after he "allegedly allowed a K-9 to attack and bite a woman following a traffic stop earlier this year." The dog attack allegedly occurred on January 29, 2014 and was filmed by a security video camera on the outside of the Barnegat municipal building. An April 21, 2014 Star Ledger article on the alleged attack is on-line here. http://www.nj.com/ocean/index.ssf/2014/04/tuckerton_cop_accused_of_letting_k9_attack_woman_who_wouldnt_pull_over.html My request for the video was denied by Ocean County Assistant Prosecutor O. Nicholas Monaco on May 28, 2014. In his letter, Monaco stated that "this office cannot release the requested recording as it involves a criminal investigation in progress, pursuant to N.J.S.A. 47:1A-3 as well as an internal affairs matter, pursuant to the New Jersey Attorney General's Guidelines on Internal Affairs Policy and Procedures." Gutman and I argue that the tape cannot be shielded from disclosure because it preceded both the criminal and IA investigations. Monaco disclosed, however, copies of the complaints filed against the woman who was the victim of the alleged dog attack which identify her as Wendy Tucker of Barnegat.
 
Ewing pays $155,000 to settle police excessive force suit
On January 13, 2014, the Township of Ewing (Mercer County) agreed to pay $155,000 to a Trenton woman who sued members of the Ewing Police Department for allegedly beating her. In her suit, Portia Freeman said that on March 5, 2012 Ewing Township Health Inspector Carol Martin, Animal Control Officer Rick Moore came to her home with police to serve a warrant. According to the complaint, the officials were there to investigate a complaint that Plaintiff's sister, who the officials believed was a mentally handicapped juvenile, was being left alone in the home without a working heater. Freeman claimed that as she was calling her lawyer, Police Officer Jeffrey Caldwell told her "If you don't let us in three minutes we're going to burst the door in." When she attempted to unlock the door, Freeman claimed that she asked Caldwell, who was holding the screen door open fully, to close it a bit to prevent a dog inside of the house from running out when the interior door was opened. She claimed that Caldwell refused and dragged her down the three cement steps to the yard. She claimed that she "could feel her head and face hit each one until [her] head hit the pavement of the walkway." She claimed that she was then kicked and punched, sprayed with mace and thrown into the back of a patrol car. She said she spent five days in the Mercer County Workhouse, the last four days in the infirmary. Also named in the suit were Officers Christopher Boller, Jeffrey Galant, Sergeant Karl Bartowski, Officers Morris and Tettemer and Mayor Jack Ball. The case is captioned Freeman v. Ewing, Federal Case No. 3:12-cv-01366 and Freeman's attorney was Thomas J. Mallon of Freehold. Case documents are on-line here. None of Freeman's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $155,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Ewing or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Ewing or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Freeman $155,000 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.
 
Hillsdale pays $42,500 to settle Construction Official's whistleblower and gender discrimination suit
In April 2014, the Borough of Hillsdale (Bergen County) agreed to pay $42,500 to its Construction and Building Subcode Official who sued the Borough and Borough Administrator Jonathan DeJoseph for discriminating against her because of her gender and for having reported the Borough's violation of State rules concerning proper use of construction permit fees. In her suit, Michelle E. Wood said that in 2002 she and the Borough, due to budgetary issues, to cut her salary by $24,000, with a corresponding reduction in hours, provided that the Borough continue to provide her with a full time vehicle and health benefits. Wood claimed that the Borough was aware that Wood would be working part time in Saddle River to make up for the $24,000 salary reduction and would be using her Borough car for her Saddle River work. Some years later, Wood raised issues of Construction Code violations at the Pascack Valley High School as well as "improper use of Uniform Construction Code (UCC) fees for payment of salaries of" Zoning, Property Maintenance and Fire Prevention employees. According to Wood, "the use of UCC funds is strictly limited to the Construction Department in accordance with N.J.A.C. 5:23-4.17 of the New Jersey Uniform Construction Code." In 2011, Wood cited then Mayor Max Arnowitz for International Residential Code violations at his home. Specifically, Wood claimed that Mayor Arnowitz had failed to install the required guard/handrail when he had replaced his from entry steps. She also reported that DeJoseph had violated the UCC by directing DPW officials to do work at Borough Hall without the proper permits. These actions, Wood contented, caused the Borough to retaliate against her. Specifically, she claimed that Arnowitz and DeJoseph, at an April 27, 2012 meeting, decided to strip her of her healthcare benefits and Borough vehicle. During an August 2, 2012 meeting with DeJoseph and Borough Clerk Susan Witkowski, Wood claimed that she was told that "if she failed to leave the car at the office that day, she was being insubordinate." She claimed that she ultimately received a letter charging her with insubordination. The case is captioned Wood v. Borough of Hillsdale, New Jersey Superior Court Docket No. BER-L-9234-12 and Wood's attorney was Joseph J. Bell of Rockaway. Case documents are on-line here. None of Wood's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $42,500 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Hillsdale or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Hillsdale or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Wood $42,500 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.
 
Atlantic City pays $50,000 to settle police improper search lawsuit
On January 28, 2014, the City of Atlantic City (Atlantic County) agreed to pay $50,000 to a local man who sued members of the Atlantic City Police Department for allegedly beating him and arresting him without probable cause. In his suit, Jonathan Preston said that on June 16, 2011, he was driving a car in which three other African American men were passengers when he was pulled over by Atlantic City Police Officer Michele Zanes, who is Caucasian. He claims Zanes told all four men to drop what [they] were doing and put [their] hands up" when she approached the car and accused Preston of "getting smart with her" and threatened to take him to jail. Zanes then allegedly asked Preston for his social security number. Instead of speaking it in front of the others, Preston opted to write it down on a piece of paper and give it to Zanes. According to Preston's lawsuit, "at this point, approximately 12 back-up officers in cars and on motorcycles had arrived at the scene of the stop." Zanes then allegedly accused Preston of giving her the wrong social security number and asked him to leave his vehicle with his hands up. Zanes then patted Preston down and handcuffed him, allegedly "for her protection, and that of the other officers." According to the complaint, Howard Mason, another officer who knew Preston's mother, said that Preston did not belong in handcuffs and released him. When Preston asked Zanes why he had pulled him over, she allegedly "laughed and responded that he had a dim tail light." Yet, he claimed that he was never issued a summons or warning during his ninety-minute detention. Preston alleged that he filed an Internal Affairs complaint against Zanes which resulted her her being disciplined. The case is captioned Preston v. Atlantic City, Federal Case No. 1:13-cv-03695 and Preston's attorney was David J. Azotea of Atlantic City. Case documents are on-line here. None of Preston's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $50,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Atlantic City or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Atlantic City or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Preston $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.
 
Letter to Prosecutor regarding Fire District financial improprieties
June 5, 2014 Michael S. Curwin, First Assistant Prosecutor Gloucester County Prosecutor's Office 70 Hunter Street Woodbury, NJ 08096 Via e-mail only to mcurwin@co.gloucester.nj.us Dear Mr. Curwin: By way of an Open Public Records Act (OPRA) request, I have obtained a copy of the Harrison Township (Gloucester County) "Resolution No. 13-027 Censuring Commissioner William Fox." The censure resolution is on-line here. In essence, the resolution requests Commissioner Fox's resignation due to various financial misstatements that arose during his term as Fire District Treasurer. The following allegations, however, appears to allege more than mere negligence: the auditor has advised that the bank statements provided by the Fire District for review were altered and manipulated to exclude fraudulent checks issued to the former Business Administrator. unauthorized checks were issued from the Fire District's operating account to the former Business Administrator in the amount of $12,586.60 in 2012. unauthorized overtime was paid to the Business Administrator in the amount of $2,850. If the findings in the resolution are true, it appears possible that some criminal liability may have been incurred by Fox, the former Business Administrator or others. After doing an Internet search, I can find nothing that indicates, one way or the other, whether your office had been informed of this resolution. Accordingly, I am submitting it to you now, in case you are not already aware of it, so that you can conduct an investigation as you deem appropriate. Thank you very much for your attention to this matter. Very truly yours, John Paff, Chairman New Jersey Libertarian Party's Open Government Advocacy Project P.O. Box 5424 Somerset, NJ 08875 Voice: 732-873-1251 Fax: 908-325-0129 e-mail: paff@pobox.com
 
Plainfield pays $25,000 to settle police excessive force suit
On May 1, 2014, the City of Plainfield (Union County) agreed to pay $25,000 to a local woman who sued members of the Plainfield Police Department for allegedly assaulting her and using excessive force against her. In her suit, Shelby Vattelle said that on December 19, 2010, during a motor vehicle stop, Plainfield Police Officer Michael J. Auriccio, "threw [her] to the concrete, smashed [her] face into the pavement" without justification. She also claimed that Auriccio applied handcuffs too tightly and threw her to the ground again at Plainfield Police Headquarters. There, she said, another officer "ripped [her] boots from her feet, breaking one of the heels." The case is captioned Vattelle v. Plainfield, Federal Case No. 2:12-cv-07255 and Vattelle'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 Vattelle's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $25,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Plainfield or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Plainfield or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Vattelle $25,000 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.
 
Wildwood pays $75,000 to settle police intimidation and harassment suit
On May 11, 2008, the City of Wildwood (Cape May County) agreed to pay $75,000 to a local bar owner who sued members of the Wildwood Police Department for allegedly harassing him and his bar patrons and issuing bogus summonses. In his suit, Michael C. Petaccio, who operated the Fairview Cafe, said that Officer David Romeo and Sergeant Terry Osler entered his bar on two occasions and harassed his customers even though the establishment was operating legally. In the first instance, Petaccio claimed that Romeo entered his bar on June of 2004, prior to the mandated 3 a.m. closing time, arrested Frank Miller, the D.J. who was providing music that night and later issued summonses for "playing music at one minute past 3:00 a.m." Petaccio claimed that he and his bar were ultimately acquitted of the charges. In an earlier incident, Petaccio complained that Osler, based on an alleged phone call from parents worried that their under aged daughter might be in the bar, entered and started checking identification of both male and female patrons. He also complained that Romeo, dressed in full uniform and black gloves, would stand outside the bar with his arms crossed apparently in an attempt to intimidate bar customers. The case is captioned Petaccio v. Wildwood, Federal Case No. 1:06-cv-03587 and Petaccio's attorney was Robert D. Herman of Linwood. 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 Petaccio's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $75,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Wildwood or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Wildwood or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Petaccio $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.
 
State Grand Jury subpoenas Fairfield
In its May 23, 2014 response to my Open Public Records Act (OPRA) request, Fairfield Township (Cumberland County) provided me with documents that indicate that on January 9, 2014 a State Grand Jury issued a Subpoena Duces Tecum director to former Township Administrator Leo Selb. The documents also indicate that on February 14, 2014 then Acting Township Clerk Carla Smith, with the assistance of Attorney George R. Saponaro, Esq. of Mount Holly, provided the New Jersey General's Office with various financial records, including a general register of all Township checks issued during 2013. Also disclosed in response to the OPRA request was a Division of Criminal Justice "Evidence Voucher" dated January 8, 2014 indicating that file containing 4 compact discs, among other records, was retrieved from Acting Clerk Smith by Stacy P. Scott who appears to be employed by the Division of Criminal Justice in the "Corruption/South" Unit. The "Evidence Voucher" states that the "Case Title" is "Fairfield Mayor Joanne Servais" and that the "Crime" is "Official Misconduct." All of the documents referred to have been placed on-line here. There are apparently other records that exist that I do not have. For example, paragraph 3 of Smith Certification refers to a "Schedule A" that was apparently attached to the Subpoena. I do not have this document. I am not sure what all this means, but I am not aware of any charges having been filed against anyone and I remind all readers that simply because an investigation has been undertaken does not mean that anyone is guilty of any criminal wrongdoing. All people enjoy a presumption of innocence until guilt is admitted or proven. Nonetheless, I believe that the existence of these documents may be of public interest.
 
Collingswood and Woodlynne pay $15,000 to settle police false arrest/excessive force suit
On May 5, 2014, the Boroughs of Collingswood and Woodlynne (Camden County) agreed to pay $15,000 to a Woodlynne man who sued members of the Collingswood Police Department for allegedly assaulting and arresting him without probable cause. In his suit, Earl Whaley said that on August 25, 2008, he was playing cards with his friends on his front porch in Woodlynne. He claimed that even though he was creating no disturbance, Police Officer Brian Eidmann falsely stated that a neighbor had filed a noise complaint and told Whaley and his friends to "keep it down." Whaley claimed that when he "voiced his objections forcefully and with occasional profane word" Eidmann "barged through the closed screen door and onto the screened in porch" and "ripped the chair out from under [Whaley] and then struck him one or more times about the face." Whaley said he was arrested for disorderly conduct but was later acquitted. It appears from the lawsuit that Woodlynne contracts its police services out to Collingswood Borough. The case is captioned Whaley v. Collingswood, Federal Case No. 1:10-cv-04343 and Whaley's attorney was Justin T. Loughry of Camden. Case documents are on-line here. None of Whaley's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $15,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Collingswood, Woodlynne or any of their officials. All that is known for sure is that Collingswood, Woodlynne or their insurers, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Whaley $15,000 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.
 
Raritan Valley Community College pays $105,000 to settle discrimination and hostile work environment lawsuit
On May 14, 2014, the Raritan Valley Community College (Somerset County) agreed to pay $105,000 to a former employee who claimed that she was subjected to "numerous incidents [of] derogatory, ethnic and racist comments regarding ethnic backgrounds of various employees." In her suit, Teresa Carreras-Melendi, an administrative assistant first hired by the college in 2009, claimed that her supervisor, Nancy Jordan, who has served as the Dean of Students and Dean of Academic Programs and Partnerships, said such things as "Asians are smarter, Hispanics are typically poor in math, and that an African-American student would probably have to attend a traditionally African-American college." Jordan also allegedly referred to "certain parts of the population being 'White Trash.'" After Carreras-Melendi filed a complaint against Jordan with the Human Resources Department, she alleged that she was forced to sign a "self-serving document purporting to exculpate" Jordan. She said that although she disagreed with the document, she "was threatened and intimidated and informed that plaintiff could not leave the room without signing" it. After filing the grievance, Carreras-Melendi alleged that the college administration, including Human Resources Director Nancy Moore, retaliated against her and treated her negatively. She later complained to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission which ultimately issued a "Notice of Right to Sue." The case is captioned Carreras-Melendi v. Raritan Valley Community College, Federal Case No. 3:12-cv-03838 and Carreras-Melendi's attorney was Glenn A. Montgomery of Bridgewater. 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 Carreras-Melendi's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $105,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by the college or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that the college or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Carreras-Melendi $105,000 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.
 
Irvington appeals from $266,200 verdict in cop car crash.
On April 9, 2014, the Township of Irvington appealed from a Essex County jury's March 5, 2014 verdict in favor of an East Orange man who claimed to be injured in a March 31, 2010 car accident with a vehicle driven by an Irvington police officer. Albert R. Patterson claimed that Officer Shaun R. Green's negligence in the accident caused him to suffer permanent injuries. Patterson's attorney is Phillip C. Wiskow of Sparta and case documents are on-line here.
 
Court to hear EHT school custodian's claims that she was discriminated against based on her weight.
On June 6, 2014, 1:30 p.m., Atlantic County Superior Court Judge Allen J. Littlefield will hear the Egg Harbor Township school board's motion to dismiss a school custodian's Law Against Discrimination lawsuit against the school board and the custodian's supervisor. The custodian claimed that she was discriminated against and ultimately discharged from employment because of her weight. Some of the court filings are on-line here. In her suit, Barbara Sheridan, who claimed to have performed her duties in a satisfactory manner since 2004, claimed that she was repeatedly pestered and humiliated by supervisor Terri Chase about her weight. As an example of the humiliation she allegedly suffered, she claimed that Chase, seeing her on a six-foot aluminmum ladder, said "Get off the ladder, you are going to break it." If the lawsuit survives the school board's motion to dismiss, a trial will be held on July 7, 2014.
 
Roselle Park pays $15,000 to settle case alleging a wrongfully issued parking ticket
In an undated agreement, the Borough of Roselle Park (Union County) agreed to pay $15,000 to am Elizabeth woman who sued a Roselle Park Police officer for "illegally, improperly and without probable cause" issuing her a summons for unlawful parking in a space marked for the physically handicapped. In hes suit, and according to an Appellate Division decision, Lorraine Selecky said Officer James Cantrell issued her the summons by mail after Cantrell, while off duty, interjected himself in an "intense argument" that Selecky was having with her 13-year-old daughter as they approached a Redbox video machine outside a 7-Eleven store in Roselle Park. Cantrell was already at the Redbox machine with his children when Selecky and her daughter approached. According to the Appellate Division decision, "a heated argument occurred between [Selecky] and Cantrell, either because [Selecky] thought Cantrell's children were taking too long in making their choice or because Cantrell interjected himself in [Selecky's] mother-daughter dispute." Selecky was convicted of the offense in Roselle Park Municipal Court and the conviction was affirmed by the Law Division of the Union County Superior Court. It was reversed by the Appellate Division and remanded to a different judge. The second judge, sitting in Kenilworth, entered "a judgment of acquittal entered upon completion of all the testimony." The case is captioned Selecky v. Cantrell, Union County Superior Court Docket No. UNN-L-1171-13 and Selecky's attorney was Joel I. Rachmiel of Springfield. 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 Selecky's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $15,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Roselle Park or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Roselle Park or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Selecky $15,000 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. ABOUT ME AND WHY I'M POSTING THIS. I chair the New Jersey Libertarian Party's Open Government Advocacy Project which seeks to increase governmental transparency and accountability, particularly at a local level. For more information on the Libertarian Party, go to http://www.njlp.org. As part of my work, I routinely check civil court cases where at least one of the parties is a government agency or official. Most often, these settlement agreements are never revealed to the public. I post them on the Libertarian Party's blog at http://njcivilsettlements.blogspot.com and other public forums because I believe that civil settlements, regardless of amount, may be of interest to citizens and taxpayers. John Paff Somerset, New Jersey
 
Unpublished trial court OPMA opinion.
"Unpublished opinions" are not published in the law books and are not ordinarily written about in legal periodicals. Unless somebody puts them on-line and calls attention to them, they are likely not to be located by people who may want to search for them. I think that it's important that court opinions, even if they are not precedential, are easily accessible for future use. Graceffo v. Point Pleasant Beach Zoning Board Ocean County, Docket No. OCN-L-1280-13 Hon. Vincent J. Grasso, A.J.S.C. November 15, 2013 Click here for the opinion. Summary: "While education of Board members on relevant legal and engineering principles arguably falls within the broad statutory definition of 'public business,'" such education sessions did not involve the "specific public business of [the] body" as required by N.J.S.A. 10:4-8(b). Therefore, these educational sessions of the Board, to which the public is not admitted, do not violate the Open Public Meetings Act. Note: Plaintiff has appealed from this ruling.
 
Neptune pays $660,000 to settle sex discrimination lawsuit
On April 11, 2014, the Township of Neptune (Monmouth County) agreed to pay $660,000 to two female police officers who sued the Township and the Township's police officials for sexual harassment. Each officer settled for $330,000. In their suit, Christine Savage and Elena Gonzalez complained that they were discriminated against, denied training opportunities and passed over for promotion because they were female. The also alleged that Captain Michael Emmons engaged in inappropriate sexually-related speech and conduct such as "gesturing as if he was masturbating and shooting at officers with his penis saying 'Pow, pow, pow'" and announcing in front of Savage, Gonzalez and other officers that he had "fisted" another officer's wife. They complained that upper level police management, including former Chief Robert Adams and Deputy Chief James Hunt, dismissed their concerns and told them to "get used to it" and "that is the culture here." The case is captioned Savage and Gonzalez v. Neptune, Monmouth County Superior Court Docket No. L-4899-13 and Savage's and Gonzalez's attorney was Nancy Erika Smith of Montclair. 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 Savage's and Gonzalez's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $660,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Neptune or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Neptune or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Savage and Gonzalez $660,000 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.
 
Weehawken pays $120,000 to settle tax collector's whistleblower suit.
On May 14, 2014, the Township of Weehawken (Hudson County) agreed to pay $120,000 to its former tax collector who had filed a Conscientious Employee Protection Act (i.e. "whistleblower") lawsuit against the Township, Mayor Richard Turner and Manager James Marchetti. In his suit, Joseph Fredericks, who served as Weehawken's tax collector since 1994, said that Turner would call him into his office "to instruct him as to what amount of taxes to assess for political reasons." According to a December 24, 2012 Jersey Journal article, Fredericks claimed that "at times when it was politically expedient, Mayor Turner would have me manipulate the collection of garbage levy to advance his political agenda, such as the last May election when minimum garbage levy was collected." Fredericks also claimed that Marchetti simply shrugged his shoulders and asked "What do you want me to do?" in response to Frederick's complaints. http://www.nj.com/hudson/index.ssf/2012/12/weehawken_tax_collector_claims.html Frederick claimed that after he reported Turner's alleged wrongdoing to Weehawken Police Lieutenant Richard DeCosmis, Turner retaliated against him by not paying for him to go to a tax collector's conference, not paying him for additional work performed and not giving him the raises that were given to other employees. The settlement calls for Fredericks to receive a) a $15,000 annual increase in salary retroactive to May 14, 2011 (for a total of $45,000); an additional $30,000 and $45,000 for attorney fees. Fredericks has agreed to "leave the Township's employment irrevocably on May 14, 2014." The case is captioned Fredericks v. Weehawken, Federal Case No. 2:11-cv-0536 and Fredericks's attorney was Louis A. Zayas of North Bergen. Case documents are on-line here. None of Fredericks's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $120,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Weehawken or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Weehawken or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Fredericks $120,000 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.
 
Unpublished trial court OPRA opinion.
"Unpublished opinions" are not published in the law books and are not ordinarily written about in legal periodicals. Unless somebody puts them on-line and calls attention to them, they are likely not to be located by people who may want to search for them. I think that it's important that court opinions, even if they are not precedential, are easily accessible for future use. Brian E. Johnson v. City of Estell Manor Atlantic County, Docket No. ATL-L-7617-12 Hon. Nelson C. Johnson, J.S.C. October 22, 2013 and March 14, 2014 Click here for the opinions. Click here for the transcript of the September 5, 2013 plenary hearing. Summary: 1. Employee who was, without proper legal authority, compelled by subpoena to appeared before an ad hoc committee of the City Council, was entitled to a copy of the audio-disk of the proceeding at which he was compelled to attend under the common law right of access. Employee was not, however, entitled to the audio-disk under the Open Public Records Act. 2. Having prevailed on common law right claim, employee is entitled to recover from the City his costs and counsel fees totaling $21,167.92. Note: The City has appealed from both orders. The Appellate Division docket number is A-3864-13.
 
Unpublished trial court OPRA opinion
"Unpublished opinions" are not published in the law books and are not ordinarily written about in legal periodicals. Unless somebody puts them on-line and calls attention to them, they are likely not to be located by people who may want to search for them. I think that it's important that court opinions, even if they are not precedential, are easily accessible for future use. Block v. Pitman School District, et al Gloucester County, Docket No. GLO-L-657-13 Hon. Georgia M. Curio, A.J.S.C. January 27, 2014 Click here for the opinion. Summary: Booster Club for high school sports team is not subject to the Open Public Records Act (OPRA).
 
Lower Alloways Creek police officer contests suspension
On March 11, 2014, a Lower Alloways Creek Township (Salem County) police officer appealed a Superior Court judge's January 30, 2014 Order that affirmed the Township's decision to suspend him for two days. In his Notice of Appeal, which is on-line here, Police Officer Donald Rambo claimed that he was originally served with a notice of discipline for failure to do proper background checks on firearm purchaser cards. After a departmental hearing, the hearing officer recommended a letter of letter. The Lower Alloways Township Committee, however, imposed a two day suspension. After Rambo appealed, the two day suspension was affirmed by Superior Court Assignment Judge Georgia M. Curio.
 
Hackensack pays $50,000 to settle Muslim father's claim that police beat him in front of family and called him a "f***ing terrorist."
On April 15, 2014, the City of Hackensack (Bergen County) agreed to pay $50,000 to a local businessman and his family who sued members of the Hackensack Police Department for excessive force and hate crime violations.. In his suit, Fouad Dakka said that on April 7, 2007, he brought his 11 year old daughter to the Hackensack Police Department at the direction of Detective Tina M. Clouse in order to be processed under a complaint "that some other girl filed against her in retaliation for plaintiff's daughter having filed a complaint against this girl." He said that because he was Muslim and of Arab descent, he was nervous and arranged to have an attorney be with him during this encounter with police. Dakka claimed that when he arrived at the police station, he advised Clouse that his attorney was parking his car and would be in the station to accompany them in a moment. Clouse allegedly "became extremely irate, indicated that she refused to wait even a second for any attorney or for any reason . . . [because] it is Saturday and she was already late for her personal plans for that day." Dakka alleged that Clouse "lunged forward at" the 11-year-old, grabbed her arm and attempted to pull her into the police department. Dakka said that he and his daughter were hugging each other protectively while she was being pulled by Clouse. At this point, Dakka claimed that Officer Allen Borntrager and Lieutenant Donald J. Lee, Jr. grabbed him and "threw him to the ground in a violent manner, in front of his two minor daughters, his 5 year old son, and his wife." The officers then allegedly "beat him with arms, knees and legs, forcing his face and body into the ground" and "then picked him up, shoved him into the wall of the outside of the police station and searched him." Various police officers then allegedly taunted him with statements such as that he was a "typical Arab" and a "f***ing terrorist" and said things such as "this is my house, and we are the boss in our house. This is not no cave in the desert." Dakka said that he was charged with Aggravated Assault but was eventually acquitted of the charge. Also named in the suit was Hackensack Police Captain David B. Walsh. The case is captioned Dakka v. Hackensack, Federal Case No. 2:09-cv-04564 and Dakka's attorney was Douglas C. Anton of Hackensack. 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 Dakka's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $50,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Hackensack or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Hackensack or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Dakka $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.
 
Mercer Prosecutor OPRA form
May 10, 2014 Kathleen M. Petrucci, Assistant Mercer County Prosecutor's Office County Courthouse Trenton, NJ 08650 Via e-mail to kpetrucci@mercercounty.org Dear Ms. Petrucci: In response to my recent OPRA request for the Prosecutor's Office's "most recently updated Open Public Records Act (OPRA) form, you sent me the form that is on-line here. While the per-copy prices have been changed to reflect legislation, there are still some problems with the form. First, the form contains the same "misinformation" as the form at issue in O?Shea v. West Milford, Complaint No. 2007-237. In O?Shea, the Council found that the form?s blanket statement that all ?personnel files? are exempt, without informing the requestor that some ?personnel files? were nonexempt, was ?misinformation? that could "deter [some requestors] from submitting an OPRA request for certain personnel records." Although the Council made its ruling on May 28, 2008, your form--nearly six years later--still contains the same "misinformation." http://www.state.nj.us/grc/decisions/pdf/2007-237.pdf Second, ¶ 1 of the reverse of your form warns that if one does "not provide complete information in this request form" it will not be honored by your agency. Yet, the front of the form requires records requestor to provide their date of birth, which would lead some to believe that their form would not be honored if it does not contain their date of birth. A requestor's date of birth is not essential for you to fulfill a request and the presence of the question may dissuade people from exercising their rights under OPRA. I suggest that you adopt the Government Records Council's model form of request.
 
North Brunswick school board pays $20,000 to settle alleged bullying victim's lawsuit.
On June 24, 2013, the North Brunswick Board of Education (Middlesex County) agreed to pay $20,000 to a former North Brunswick High School student and his parents who sued the school's football coach for subjecting him to "bullying and abusive conduct." In his suit, former student Nicholas Fabian, together with his parents Richard and Dawn Fabian, said that Nicholas was participation in the North Brunswick High School football program in 2009 when football coach Mark Zielinski subjected him to bullying and abuse that was subsequently joined by other players and students. The family claimed that Superintendent Brian Zacowski and Principal Brian Brochel were aware of the bullying but did not prevent it. The family claimed that the bullying required them to pull Nicholas out of North Brunswick High School and place in him parochial school. The case is captioned Fabian v. Township of North Brunswick School District, Federal Case No. 3:12-cv-05964 and Fabian's attorney was Gregory J. Sullivan of Hamilton. Case documents are on-line here. None of Fabian's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $20,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by North Brunswick or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that North Brunswick or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Fabian $20,000 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. ABOUT ME AND WHY I'M POSTING THIS. I chair the New Jersey Libertarian Party's Open Government Advocacy Project which seeks to increase governmental transparency and accountability, particularly at a local level. For more information on the Libertarian Party, go to http://www.njlp.org. As part of my work, I routinely check civil court cases where at least one of the parties is a government agency or official. Most often, these settlement agreements are never revealed to the public. I post them on the Libertarian Party's blog at http://njcivilsettlements.blogspot.com and other public forums because I believe that civil settlements, regardless of amount, may be of interest to citizens and taxpayers. John Paff Somerset, New Jersey
 
Is a Galloway Township school principal's leave of absence related to an Ocean County Prosecutor's investigation?
According to the GallowayTownshipNews, John J. Gibson, the principal of two Atlantic County schools, the Arthur Rann Elementary School and the Pomona Preschool, has been out on paid leave since January 30, 2014. A February 20, 2014 letter from the school superintendent Annette C. Giaquinto to parents, obtained by Galloway Township News and on-line here, states that "because this leave is of a confidential nature, I am not able to provide you with any other information at this time." Acting on a tip that Gibson's leave might somehow be connected to an incident in Ocean County, I sent an Open Public Records Act (OPRA) request to the Ocean County Prosecutor's office (OCPO) on April 16, 2014 and have placed correspondence between me and the OCPO on-line here. In his April 29, 2014 response, Assistant Prosecutor Nicholas Monaco referred to the alleged incident as having "occurred in Little Egg Harbor Township" even though my OPRA request did not specify the municipality in which the incident allegedly occurred. Mr. Monaco's response went on to note that a "detective [has] investigated this incident but has not yet completed his report." On April 29, 2014, I submitted another OPRA request to the Monaco for "[a]ll documents that are in the file that the detective is working on to create his report, as referenced in [Monaco's] April 29, 2014 e-mail." On May 2, 2014, I received Monaco's response, which he copied to Atlantic County Assistant Prosecutor Pamela D'Arcy, in which Monaco advised me that he "cannot release a the contents of this file without a protective order" having been issued by the court. Monaco's correspondence, which confirms the existence of a file related to Gibson that a detective is working on, together with Gibson abruptly taking a leave of absence from his position as principal, strongly suggests that some incident involving him is under investigation and that this incident or the investigation is connected to his reasons for taking his leave.
 
IA Complaint against Warren Township Police Officer
Police Accountability Project of the New Jersey Libertarian Party P.O. Box 5424 Somerset, NJ 08875 April 29, 2014 Russell W. Leffert, Chief Warren Township Police Department 44 Mountain Boulevard Warren, NJ 07059 via e-mail only to rleffert@warrenpolice.com Dear Chief Leffert: I chair the New Jersey Libertarian Party's Police Accountability Project and ask that you accept this e-mail as our Internal Affairs complaint. I am forwarding this complaint to you, as Chief of Police, because there is nothing on your web site identifying the person within your Department to whom an Internal Affairs complaint should be directed. We would like your agency to investigate whether Officer Robert Ferreiro (as well as any other officers and personnel employed by your agency) acted in accordance with department policy and the law regarding a June 10, 2010 motor vehicle stop and subsequent warrantless search of a vehicle driven by Troy Henderson. According to the Appellate Division's March 21, 2014 decision in State v. Troy Henderson, Docket No. A-0032-13T4 (on-line here) which affirmed Judge John H. Pursel's July 18, 2013 order and opinion (on-line here), Ferreiro stopped Henderson's vehicle for tinted windows (according to Judge Pursel, it "was later determined that the windows did not have an illegal tint), a quickly learned that he was operating with a suspended license and did not have an insurance card. He ultimately found six bricks (three hundred decks) of heroin inside a set of workman's gloves found after a warrantless search. Judge Pursel granted Henderson's motion to suppress the heroin and noted the following: 1. Despite Ferreiro's claim that Henderson appeared "excessively nervous," Judge Pursel, who watched the audio/video recording of the stop taken by Ferreiro's patrol car dash camera, found to the contrary. 2. Ferreiro claimed that he suspected Henderson because a set of gloves he had seen on the passenger seat the first time he looked in the car window were "moved to an unknown location" by the second time he looked in the window. Judge Pursel noted that this discrepancy concerning the gloves was not mentioned by Ferreiro during the stop as recorded on the dash cam. 3. Even had the gloves been moved and Henderson was excessively nervous, those two factors would not have justified either asking Henderson for consent to search the vehicle or prolonging the vehicle stop so that a drug dog could sniff the vehicle. As the Appellate Division noted, Ferreiro's suspicion that Henderson had drugs in the car "was nothing more than a hunch." If Officer Ferreiro, despite having received adequate training and direction regarding when and how to conduct warrantless searches elected to ignore his training, we ask that you discipline him. Similarly, we request that if your investigation reveals that he fabricated the "nervousness" and the issue of the moved gloves, that you also discipline him. Otherwise, we ask that your department review and supplement your training requirements in this area of the law. Thank you for your attention to this matter. Very truly yours, John Paff, Chairman New Jersey Libertarian Party Police Accountability Project P.O. Box 5424 Somerset, NJ 08875-5424 Phone: 732-873-1251 - Fax: 908-325-0129 Email: paff@pobox.com
 
Perth Amboy school board pays $199,999 to settle teacher's sex assault claim
On March 26, 2014, the Perth Amboy Board of Education (Middlesex County) agreed to pay $199,999 to a female teacher who claimed that school district officials did not take proper action after she was sexually assaulted by another teacher in her classroom. In her suit, Kara Sakowski said that on February 22, 2010, she was in her Robert N. Wilentz School classroom when Eric Combs, a permanent substitute teacher for the school district, came in and "closed the door, causing it to become locked from the outside." She claimed that Combs "grabbed her violently, picked her off of the floor and slammed her against a concrete wall" and then proceeded to commit "various unwelcome sexual acts . . , including, but not limited to, forcefully kissing her and fondling her breasts, legs and groin area." Sakowski claimed that she went to the school office to report the incident to Principal Roland Jenkins and Vice-Principal Thomas Zmigrodski, but that both were unavailable. She said that after another teacher, Mary Griffin, interceded on her behalf she had a meeting with Jenkins and Zmigrodski. Sakowski claimed that neither man contacted the police but simply sent her back to her classroom. According to the lawsuit, Jenkins and Zmigrodski recalled Sakowski to Jenkins' office where Combs was "made to apologize" to her. Jenkins allegedly said that "he did not believe it was necessary to contact the police for Mr. Combs' sexual assault and battery" but that "if it happened again, he would support her going to the police." Zmigrodski allegedly stated to Sakowski that he hoped that they could put the incident behind them and let "by-gones be by-gones." Two days after the incident, Sakowski claimed, she went to see William Stratton, head of the school board's Human Resources Department, who said that "he needed to contact the police." The case is captioned Sakowski v. Perth Amboy Board of Education, New Jersey Superior Court Docket No. MID-L-418.11 and Sakowski's attorney was Steven T. Sullivan, Jr. of Red Bank. 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 Sakowski's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $199,999 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by the Perth Amboy school board or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that the school board or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Sakowski $199,999 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. ABOUT ME AND WHY I'M POSTING THIS. I chair the New Jersey Libertarian Party's Open Government Advocacy Project which seeks to increase governmental transparency and accountability, particularly at a local level. For more information on the Libertarian Party, go to http://www.njlp.org. As part of my work, I routinely check civil court cases where at least one of the parties is a government agency or official. Most often, these settlement agreements are never revealed to the public. I post them on the Libertarian Party's blog at http://njcivilsettlements.blogspot.com and other public forums because I believe that civil settlements, regardless of amount, may be of interest to citizens and taxpayers. John Paff Somerset, New Jersey
 
Cumberland Elections Board refers two Commercial Township voting matters to Prosecutor
At its March 13, 2014 meeting, the Cumberland County Board of Elections reported on its investigation of four alleged fraudulent ballot cast in the November 5, 2013 Commercial Township election. The minutes of that meeting, on-line here, confirm that the Board's investigation was prompted by an Open Public Records Act request filed by John Paff, who serves as Chairman of the New Jersey Libertarian Party's Open Government Advocacy Project. According to the minutes, Paff's inquiry concerns ballots cast by four voters who may have not been residents of Commercial Township when the ballots were cast. Paff had been contacted by residents of Commercial Township were were concerned that fraudulent ballots may have been cast in the election for Township's mayor, where Judson Moore edged out LaRae Smith by a vote of 427 to 413. The voters investigated by the Board, along with their addresses as shown in Board of Election records, were: Charles D. DelRossi, 1789 North Ave, Port Norris. Leslie R. Hanby, 1935 Strawberry Ave, Port Norris. Charles A. Moore, 2317 Market St, Port Norris. Cheryl A. Robbins, 6216 Brown St, Port Norris. DelRossi, Hanby and Moore had cast their ballots at the polls and Robbins had submitted a mail-in ballot. According to the meeting minutes, the Board sent certified letters to the Commercial Township addresses for each of the four voters. None of those letters were returned as being undeliverable. Of the four voters, Robbins contacted the Board and explained that she had two residences, but that her principal one was in Port Norris while DelRossi furnished a copy of his driver license showing his Port Norris address. The Board, however, referred Hanby's and Moore's cases to the Cumberland County Prosecutor because "Hanby's driver license shows that he moved out of Commercial in June 2012" and Moore didn't respond to the certified letter although he did receive it. Readers are reminded that the Board's referral of Moore's and Hanby's matters to the Prosecutor does not mean that either submitted a fraudulent ballot. All that is known at this point is that the Board found that Hanby's driver license did not reflect a Commercial Township address and that Moore did not respond to the Board's letter. Anyone with in information regarding whether or not any of the four voters did or did not reside in Port Norris on November 5, 2013 is invited to contact John Paff at paff@pobox.com or P.O. Box 5424, Somerset, NJ 08875.
 
Another lawsuit in Franklin Fire District 3
On March 24, 2014, Michael Reinbeck, who unsuccessfully ran for a Commissioner's seat in Franklin Fire District No. 3 on February 16, 2013, sued East Franklin Volunteer Fire Department, the District and Fire Chief Daniel J. Krushinski for improperly terminating him from the fire department. In his lawsuit, Reinbeck v. East Franklin Volunteer Fire Department, et al, Docket No. SOM-L0393-14 (on-line here), Reinbeck claimed that Krushinski and others "began a campaign of retaliation against" him after he "raised numerous safety concerns" and what he believed to be policy and legal infractions during his campaign. He claimed that Krushinski publicly stated that he "would force Reinbeck's termination" because of his comments. When he filed a formal complaint against Krushinski with Fire Department President Joseph Inzirillo, Reinbeck claimed that Krushinski retaliated against him by suspending him from his position of Fire Department Lieutenant for sixty days. His lawsuit also claimed that his appeal of the suspension to the Fire Department's Executive Board was ignored and resulted in further retaliation. He claimed that he was ultimately terminated from the Fire Department on March 26, 2013. His lawsuit seeks damages under the New Jersey Conscientious Employee Protection Act, also known as the Whistleblower Protection Act among other claims.
 
Fairfield Deputy Mayor files harassment complaint against former Mayor
On Wednesday, May 7, 2014 at 11 a.m., the Millville Municipal Court will conduct a hearing Fairfield Township Deputy Mayor JoAnne Servais' harassment complaint against former Fairfield Mayor Michael K. Sharp. According to Servais' complaint, which is on-line here, Sharp, despite being told to the contrary, kept accusing Servais "at every public meeting and sometimes in executive session" of owning a business called J & R Servais Building, LLC. According to Servais, the business is actually owned by her son, who lives in Rosenhayn. She alleged that her business ownership is Sharp's "main subject at every [Township Committee] meeting" and that Sharp yelled at her, stood up "in a threatening way and pointed his finger at [her] face." Servais alleges that Sharp's conduct violation N.J.S.A. 2C:33-4(c) which makes it a petty disorderly persons offense to engage in "a course of alarming conduct or of repeatedly committed acts with purpose to alarm or seriously annoy such other person." The hearing will be held at 12 S High St, Millville, New Jersey and is open to the public. Anyone who plans to attend should call the court at 856-825-7000 Ext: 7619 the day prior to the hearing to ensure that the matter has not been postponed.
 
Elected Official asked to properly fill out his Financial Disclosure Form.
April 19, 2014 Wayne D. Pelura, Committeeman Township of Carneys Point (via e-mail) Dear Committeeman Pelura: I note from your 2013 Financial Disclosure Statement (on-line here) that you listed no source of income for either you or your wife Patricia. Given that your home on Johnson Avenue is assessed at $290,800 and has taxes levied against in in the amount of $7,287.45 (property detail sheet on-line here), it seems very unlikely that neither you nor your wife have a source of income greater than $2,000. The entire point of the Financial Disclosure Statement filing is to help citizens learn whether public officials have conflicts of interest. Suppose for example, the Township Committee was considering whether to award a contract to a company that employed your wife Patricia. Clearly, it would be violation of the Local Government Ethics Law (LGEL) for you to vote on or participate in the discussion regarding that contract. Yet, absent your wife's employer being listed as a source of income on your Financial Disclosure Form, a member of the public (unless he or she knew or was familiar with you and your family) would likely not be aware that you would be conflicted from voting on that contract. Thus, when public officials decline or refuse to identify the sources of income for them and their family members, they are frustrating citizens' ability to detect violations of the LGEL. Normally, I would have simply filed a complaint against you with the Local Finance Board (LFB). I am thinking, however, that it would be more productive (and less of a burden to the LFB) to simply ask you to file a compliant FDS with the LFB in the next week or so. Thank you for your prompt attention to this matter. Very truly yours, John Paff, Chairman New Jersey Libertarian Party's Open Government Advocacy Project P.O. Box 5424 Somerset, NJ 08875 Voice: 732-873-1251 Fax: 908-325-0129 e-mail: paff@pobox.com
 
Paff and Carter unfairly blasted by Firemen's Association president at state convention.
On September 13, 2013, George H. Heflich Sr., president of the New Jersey State Firemen's Association, personally attacked me and Jeffrey Carter during his report delivered to thousands of delegates who were assembled at the convention. Let's review Heflich's statements, one by one: 1. That in 2008, the Government Records Council (GRC) refused the Association's request for an advisory opinion on whether or not the Association was subject to the Open Public Records Act (OPRA). True. A copy of The GRC's December 30, 2008 letter is on-line here. 2. Prior to my lawsuit, the Association did not believe that it was subject to OPRA and it did not have an OPRA request form nor had it appointed an OPRA records custodian. It is probably true that the Association did not believe it was subject to OPRA. It is true that the Association did not have an OPRA request and had not appointed a custodian. 3. My lawsuit filed in Union County Superior Court was "dismissed." True. Superior Court Judge Regina Caufield's February 17, 2012 order and opinion are on-line here. 4. The Appellate Division reversed Judge Caufield's dismissal and held that the Association is subject to OPRA. True. The Appellate Division's June 13, 2013 decision is on-line here. 5. I received all the information I requested and my request was not on an OPRA request form. It is true that my request was not on an OPRA request form, because the Association had not adopted a request form at the time of my request. It is false that I received "all the information I had requested," at least prior to winning in the Appellate Division. My September 23, 2011 OPRA request, which is on-line here, was denied by way of the Association's lawyer's October 13, 2011 letter, which is on-line here. In the letter, the lawyer maintains that the Association is not subject to OPRA. Notwithstanding, he provide me with some of the information I requested due to me being a Life Member of the Association. He did not, however, provide me with "records that shows the amount and type of pension received by each member of the Executive Committee who served immediately prior to the current members of the Executive Committee" as requested in part 2.a of my request. That information, on-line here, was not provided until July 13, 2013--after the Appellate Division's ruling. 6. Everything I had requested "is in the Red Book." False. The Red Book is an Association publication that lists basic information about the Association. I do not have a copy of the Red Book and the last time I consulted one, it did not contain any detailed pension information for Executive Committee members. Indeed, had the pension figures been in the Red Book, there would have been no reason for the Association to have not provided it with its attorney's October 13, 2011 letter. 7. On July 24, 2013, I sent out an e-mail throughout the State containing false and misleading information. False. After I learned that President Heflich was personally attacking me during his presentations to the County Caucuses in July 2013, I sent an e-mail, on-line here, to several Local Chapters located in counties that had not yet had their caucuses. The purpose of these e-mails was to notify Association delegates and Life Members of the facts concerning my lawsuit so that they would not be misled by President Heflich's attacks. There is nothing false or misleading in my e-mail. Also, on-line here is a flyer I handed out at the Somerset County Caucus defending myself against President Heflich's attacks. 8. President Heflich informed me of my allegedly "false and misleading" e-mail at the Somerset County Caucus. True. President Heflich did repeat his claim about my e-mail during his presentation to the Somerset County Caucus. When I challenged him to specify what was false about my e-mail, he stated, incredibly, "The fact that you sued the Firemen's Association." When I pointed out to him that it was indisputable that my suit named the Association as a defendant, he changed the subject. 9. My friendship with Jeff Carter. I know Jeff Carter. He is a former police officer in my town and also served as a firefighter for a fire company within my fire district. His OPRA requests to the Association, however, are his own and not mine. 10. I am trying to "destroy" the Association. False. The Association receives millions of dollars from a state tax that is assessed against fire insurance premiums collected by out-of-state insurers. I firmly believe that an organization that collects tax money should be publicly accountable. Indeed, even the Association itself believed that it might have been subject to OPRA, given that it sought an advisory opinion to that effect from the Government Records Council. My litigation ultimately answered the question that the Association could not get answered by the GRC. 11. I am trying to obtain information regarding who is receiving relief payments from the association to "satisfy my own ego." False. I have never sought information from the Association regarding which members are receiving relief. I am informed that Jeff Carter did make a request to the Association for payments made to one member. According to court papers filed in State Firemen's Association v. Jeff Carter, Docket No. UNN-L-2932-13 (on-line here), Carter was interested in obtaining information regarding relief payments made to "John Doe, who was the target of an investigation into the viewing of child pornography at the offices of his local Fire District (among other things)." His stated intent in receiving this information on this one member was to criticize the Local Chapter's decision to pay this money to this person. 12. Relief payments by Local Chapters are reported in the Red Book. True. The aggregate payments are reported but no information is reported that identifies the recipients and how much each received. 13. Jeff Carter is seeking the names of multiple people who are receiving relief payments. As far as I know, the only person for whom Carter requested relief payment information is for John Doe, as described above. -end-
 
Municipal Clerk in Hunterdon County agrees to pay $1,000 OPRA penalty.
On April 2, 2014, Administrative Law Judge Susan M. Scarola recommended acceptance of a settlement of an Open Public Record Act (OPRA) case filed with the Government Records Council. Judge Scarola's recommendation and the Settlement Agreement in the case of George Burdick v. Township of Franklin (Hunterdon County) are on-line here. According to the agreement, Franklin Township Clerk Ursula Stryker agreed to "personally pay a fine of $1,000 to the Government Records Council" within 60 days of Scarola's order. The agreement recites that the Township acknowledged that it was able to comply with an Interim Order of the GRC, but attributed its failure to do so to "the intentional acts of at least one of its professionals which directly affected [Stryker's] ability to comply with the Interim Order." The agreement also recites that the Township "has already made adjustments to its Open Public Records protocol to ensure continual compliance with the GRC's ruling" and that the Township "wishes to resolve this matter without having to expend additional counsel fees for one or more days of hearings." The agreement resolved a case that started with Burdick's November 19, 2009 Open Public Records act (OPRA) request for invoices that a private investigator submitted to an attorney that had been retained by the Township in connection with police disciplinary matter. The professional who allegedly acted intentionally to frustrate Stryker's ability to comply with the GRC's interim order was apparently attorney John J. O'Reilly. In an April 12, 2012 letter to the GRC (on-line here), Katrina L. Campbell, legal counsel to Franklin Township, said that, despite her best efforts, she could not convince O'Reilly to authorize release of the investigator's invoices. She suggested that the GRC "issue a subpoena to [O'Reilly] or the investigator to obtain the records."
 
Perth Amboy Code Book inaccurate
April 17, 2014 Hon. Wilda Diaz, Mayor and members of the Perth Amboy City Council 260 High St. Perth Amboy, NJ 08861 via e-mail only to ejasko@perthamboynj.org Dear Mayor Diaz and Council members: I have recently discovered that the version of the City Code Book maintained by Coded Systems, LLC and linked to the City's Internet site here is not complete. http://clerkshq.com/default.ashx?clientsite=PerthAmboy-nj Specifically, Ordinance 776-95, a copy of which is on-line here, was apparently not codified and as such does not appear in the City Code Book. An April 16, 2014 e-mail from City Clerk Elaine Jasko, on-line here, confirms that this is true. Ord. 776-95 is the only ordinance of which I am aware that has not been codified--perhaps there are others. Would the Council please discuss this matter at its April 21, 2014 meeting and ask Coded Systems, LLC to ensure that Ord. 776-95 and other ordinances that may be missing are promptly codified? Thank you for your attention to this matter. Very truly yours, John Paff, Chairman New Jersey Libertarian Party's Open Government Advocacy Project P.O. Box 5424 Somerset, NJ 08875 Voice: 732-873-1251 Fax: 908-325-0129 e-mail: paff@pobox.com cc. Coded Systems, LLC at info@codedsystems.com
 
Ocean City pays $75,000 to boardwalk trip and fall suit
On March 6, 2014, the City of Ocean City (Cape May County) agreed to pay $75,000 to a Linwood woman who sued the City after tripping and falling on the boardwalk. In her suit, Sandra Wilkinson said that "dangerous, protruding board(s) and/or nail(s)" on the boardwalk at 6th Street caused her fall on September 21, 2010 and that she suffered serious injury. The case is captioned Wilkinson v. Ocean City, Superior Court Docket No. CPM-L-383-11 and Wilkinson's attorney was Robert N. Braker of Marlton. Case documents are on-line here.
 
OPRA Case: Paff v. Little Egg Harbor Township (Ocean)
05/13/14 10:30 a.m. Ocean County Courthouse, 120 Hooper Avenue, Toms River, New Jersey (Judge Vincent J. Grasso) Issues: 1) Can a municipal clerk delegate her duties as OPRA custodian to sub-custodians? 2) Are police incident reports and audio of telephone calls and radio transmission disclosable under OPRA and/or the common law right of access?
 
Although no records existed, judge orders OPRA fees when town clerk's response was negligent.
Suppose you submit an OPRA (Open Public Records Act) request to your local town government for a record. Then, suppose the town clerk denies your record on the basis that she or he "does not have authorization to to send to you." After you file a lawsuit for the records, suppose the clerk comes clean and truthfully certifies that the records you requested do not exist. In such a situation (i.e. where the clerk's initial response was wrong or misleading), should the town still be required to pay your attorney fees and court costs for bringing the OPRA lawsuit? In the first decision of its kind, Morris County Superior Court Assignment Judge Thomas L. Weisenbeck held on April 11, 2014 that the plaintiff was entitled to his costs and attorney fees accrued up until the clerk informed him that the records didn't exist. See the Order and Decision in Kelley v. Borough of Riverdale, Docket No. MRS-L-524-14, on-line here. Weisenbeck held that the clerk technically violated OPRA by providing, albeit negligently, an incorrect response, thereby requiring plaintiff to file his complaint. Had defendants initially advised [Plaintiff[ that no such responsive e-mails exist, then presumably [Plaintiff] would not have initiated suit. This is an important victory for records requestors. Sometimes custodians, who know full well that responsive records do not exist, mislead requestors into thinking that responsive records might exist. If the ability to recover attorney fees is dependent upon the records actually existing, custodians can gain an advantage over requestors by providing less than candid OPRA responses. Hopefully, Weisenbeck's holding will be adopted by other courts.
 
Perth Amboy pays $15,000 to settle breach of contract suit filed by former city official
On April 9, 2013, the City of Perth Amboy (Middlesex County) resolved to pay $15,000 to its former Executive Director of General Government who sued the City in 2012 for failing or refusing to pay her incremental pay increases that were set forth in her contract. In her suit, Helga Van Eckert, who now resides in Palm Coast, Florida, said that she worked as the City's Executive Director of General Government, as well as Executive Director of the Perth Amboy Redevelopment Agency, since 2000. She claimed that during her final four year contract, which covered 2008 through 2012, she had negotiated for "percentage pay increases over her base salary" which were never paid by the City. She also alleged that during the contract Mayor Wilda Diaz asked her to take on additional responsibilities in exchange for an additional $10,000 in salary. She said that she performed the extra work but was never paid the additional $10,000. The case is captioned Van Eckert v. Perth Amboy, Docket No. MID-L-7542-12 and Van Eckert's attorney was Steven D. Chan of Edison. Case documents are on-line here. None of Van Eckert's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $15,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Perth Amboy or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Perth Amboy or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Van Eckert $15,000 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. ABOUT ME AND WHY I'M POSTING THIS. I chair the New Jersey Libertarian Party's Open Government Advocacy Project which seeks to increase governmental transparency and accountability, particularly at a local level. For more information on the Libertarian Party, go to http://www.njlp.org. As part of my work, I routinely check civil court cases where at least one of the parties is a government agency or official. Most often, these settlement agreements are never revealed to the public. I post them on the Libertarian Party's blog at http://njcivilsettlements.blogspot.com and other public forums because I believe that civil settlements, regardless of amount, may be of interest to citizens and taxpayers. John Paff Somerset, New Jersey
 
Hammonton pays $70,000 to settle claim that police subjected man to dog bite.
On March 25, 2014, the Town of Hammonton (Atlantic County) agreed to pay $70,000 to a Collings Lake man who sued members of the Hammonton Police Department for allegedly directing a police dog "to attack and repeatedly bite" him. In his suit, Robert Keeler said that on April 8, 2009, he was falsely stopped, searched and detained by Officers Tom Percodani and Richard Jones. Keeler said that despite a lawful basis to detain or arrest him, the officers turned the dog on him which constituted "police brutality and assault and battery." He alleged that out of the five criminal complaints filed against him, four were downgraded to disorderly persons charges and one was administratively dismissed. Named in the settlement but not the suit was Hammonton Police Corporal James Pinto. The case is captioned Keeler v. Hammonton, Federal Case No. 1:11-cv-02745 and Keeler's attorney was Jerry C. Goldhagen of Linwood. 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 Keeler's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $70,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Hammonton or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Hammonton or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Keeler $70,000 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.
 
Civil suit accuses Sayreville teacher of making racist comments
On March 11, 2014, an eighteen year old former student at Sayreville War Memorial High School sued his auto mechanics teacher of racially discriminating against him. According to the lawsuit, which is on-line here, Isaiah Roberts claimed that teacher Richard Bates called him a "gang banger" who doesn't "need a gun range, you shoot at Winding Woods" and "steal cars in Newark." Bates also allegedly told Roberts that "I hate your f*cking guts" and that he would "be dead before you're 21." Roberts claimed that Bates later apologized and admitted that he had been called a racist and a skinhead in the past. He also claimed that Vice Principal Richard Gluchowski told him that Bates had admitted making some of the comments. Roberts said that he was told to "forget about the situation" and that no disciplinary action has been taken against Bates.
 
Interesting Suppression Hearing upcoming in Atlantic County
Terrance D. Harris No. #735792-155146c Bayside State Prison 4293 Rt 47, P.O. Box F-1 Leesburg, NJ 08327 Dear Mr. Harris: I write in my capacity of Chairman of the New Jersey Libertarian Party's Police Accountability Project. Our mission is to hold police officers accountable for their misdeeds. Please know that I have posted the contents of this letter, along with documentary exhibits, to various blogs, e-mail lists and social media. I write to ask that you please share with me, at the address above, the results of the remand hearing after that matter has been decided by the Atlantic County Superior Court. For the benefit of readers who are not familiar with your matter, I will briefly summarize it below. From reading the Appellate Division's March 21, 2014 decision in your criminal case, I see that you are serving an eight-year sentence with a four-year period of parole ineligibility for "second-degree possession of a controlled dangerous substance with intent to distribute" (, N.J.S.A. 2C:35-5a(1), b(2). According to your certification and brief filed with the Appellate Division (which I received by way of an Open Public Records Act (OPRA) request, the substance at issue was cocaine which was found in your home while the police were executing a search warrant. You made a motion to suppress the search on the grounds that the search warrant was issued after, rather than before, the search was conducted. The trial judge in Atlantic County denied your motion based in part on the credibility of Egg Harbor City Police Detective Steven W. Hadley who had testified at your suppression hearing. While the appeal of the denial of your suppression motion was pending, Lynda Cohen wrote "Detective allegedly used job to get sex" in the September 26, 2013 Press of Atlantic City. That article reported that Detective Hadley was charged with four counts of official misconduct for allegedly using his official position as a police officer to have sex with four different women over a three year period. Hadley's arrest, you argued in your brief, ought to be considered by the Appellate Division as "new evidence" since it was unknown at the time of your suppression hearing. You further argued that the arrest was relevant to your case given that the trial judge denied your suppression motion at least partly because of Hadley's perceived credibility. The Appellate Division refused to supplement the record to include Hadley's arrest, but remanded the matter to the trial court, which will ultimately decide whether or not Hadley's arrest will be admitted into evidence and whether the prior decision to deny your suppression motion should stand. I'd like to follow this matter and blog the result. Would you please inform me of the results of your case and, if possible, the date, hour and location of the hearing at which this matter will be decided? If you have someone who is not incarcerated who can communicate on your behalf, please ask him or her to correspond with me at the e-mail address in the letterhead. Very truly yours, John Paff, Chairman New Jersey Libertarian Party's Open Government Advocacy Project P.O. Box 5424 Somerset, NJ 08875 Voice: 732-873-1251 Fax: 908-325-0129 e-mail: paff@pobox.com
 
Whistleblower suit filed by North Brunswick former DPW Supervisor
On March 6, 2014, Mark LaMonica, who formerly served as North Brunswick Township's (Middlesex County) Supervisor of the Department of Public Works, sued Mayor Francis Womack, Business Administrator Robert Lombard and DPW Director Glenn Sandor for transferring him to the Building and Grounds Maintenance Department in retaliation for "his constant complaints about illegal activity at the Township." In the suit, which is on-line here, LaMonica claimed that DPW worker Donald Salzman, Jr., who he claims to be "the son of a good friend of Womack" had applied Armor All "all over [LaMonica's] Township truck, including the brake and gas pedals." Since this caused "an extremely dangerous condition," LaMonica "wrote up" Salzman and insisted on him being suspended. According to the complaint Sandor said that Salzman would only receive a warning. LaMonica's suit also claimed that he complained about employees selling Township scrap metal and then keeping the cash, stealing Township tires, working on their own vehicles during company time and being paid for time when they were not working. He claims that Sandor and other officials gave him "the impression that his complaints were not appreciated." After the Armor All incident, LaMonica claims that he was transferred to Building and Grounds where he was "exiled to a basement office," ostracized and alienated and deprived of overtime. The allegations in the complaint have not yet been proven. In 2011, LaMonica and the North Brunswick DPW were mentioned in another lawsuit, which is on-line here. http://law.justia.com/cases/new-jersey/appellate-division-unpublished/2011/a0534-10-opn.html
 
Eatontown cops don't appreciate worker's sense of humor.
From today's Appellate Division decision in Connelly v. Eatontown "Plaintiff was employed in the sign shop of the Borough's Department of Public Works. He was asked to prepare a replica of a license plate that the police would use to calibrate their equipment that automatically recognizes license plates. Connelly painted the words 'Police State,' instead of 'Garden State,' at the top of the replica. Connelly's supervisor issued a notice of disciplinary action, charging him with insubordination, inefficiency and violation Borough procedures and policies."
 
Female ex-firefighter suing Community Fire for sexual harassment.
I recently learned that in 2013, a former female firefighter sued Community Volunteer Fire Department, Franklin Fire District No. 3 and Community Deputy Chief Herman Calvo for sexual harassment. The amended civil complaint in Courtney Jackson v. Frank Community Volunteer Fire Department, Docket No. MID-L-6111-13, is on-line here. According to the court filing, Courtney Jackson, who resides in Plainsboro, served as a volunteer at Community Fire (Station 25) from March 13, 2012 "until her retaliatory discharge on June 24, 2013." Jackson said that Deputy Chief Chris Calvo sexually harassed her by making an "obvious reference to her genitals" during an April 2013 conversation. Jackson claims that when she told Calvo that she was going to take an SCBA face piece "fit test," he told her that she was going to take a "different test" that he called a "triangle test . . . to see if the carpet matches the drapes." Jackson also claimed that Calvo repeated said that the Boston Marathon bombing perpetrator was a "light skinned, big tittied black girl" so that Jackson could hear it. Jackson said that her complaint letter to the Board of Fire Commissioners complaining about the harassment was not honored because it "was not properly formatted, and she had to rewrite it." She further claims that Calvo said "I can't stand this f***ing bitch Courtney! This is what the world is coming to? I didn't like the bitch before, now I definitely don't like the bitch!" She ultimately claims that her application to become a full member of the fire department was denied because she was retaliated against. Is Jackson telling the truth? Who knows? All that is known at this point is that Jackson has filed these accusation in a public forum--nothing has yet been proven. Unfortunately, the only a tiny minority of these cases actually get decided by a judge and jury at a public trial. The vast majority of them settle and the settlement agreements always claim that nobody admits to any wrongdoing. So, all we can do is wait until the case settles and then try to gauge, based on the settlement amount, the truth or falsity of Jackson's claims.
 
Judge to Lawyer: Redo your paperwork and this time put some thought into it.
When I litigate, I am often frustrated that the lawyers representing my adversary often file answers and responses that do not fairly meet the subject of the counts within my civil complaints. Too often, my adversaries' lawyers will simply issue blanket denials of all my factual assertions, even innocuous and obvious ones such as "Defendant City of X is a municipal government with the State of New Jersey." I am similarly frustrated by lawyers who, in every instance, load their filed responses up with nearly every "affirmative defense" imaginable regardless of whether any factual foundations for those defenses exist. Both of these practices are sloppy. The lawyers who write them don't read or evaluate the specific allegations set forth in my complaints. Rather, they just copy boilerplate and largely irrelevant verbiage from a standard format and robotically paste it into their answers and as defenses. A good friend of mine, who shares my frustration, recently filed a motion contesting both of these practices. And, the Presiding Judge of the Somerset County Superior Court Civil Part, Thomas C. Miller, P.J.Cv., agreed with him. In his 21-page ruling, which is on-line here, Judge Miller struck the defendant's machinelike answers and defenses and required them to be refiled " based on a reasonable inquiry of the facts." In other words, the defendant's attorney was required to actually read the individual counts of my friends complaint, make reasonable inquiries as to their truth or falsity and then respond accordingly. The attorney was also required to raise only those defenses which had a basis in fact and law. Hopefully, Judge Miller's opinion, although unpublished and of no precedential value, may help other litigants who face the same frustrations.
 
LEH

 
A solar mess in Somerset, Morris and Sussex Counties.
In 2011, Somerset, Morris and Sussex counties bonded, respectively, for $26,790,000, $34,300,000 and $27,700,000 to have approximately seventy solar generating facilities installed on governmentally owned property. The counties all guaranteed the debts in the event of a default by the firms that were awarded the contracts to design and construct the facilities. According to an Appellate Division decision issued today on-line here), the two vendors are now "embroiled in arbitration to determine which one of them is liable for cost overruns and construction delays that have affected their ability to perform under the contracts with" Morris and Somerset Counties. According to the decision "[t]he projects have all undergone extensive delays and remain incomplete to this date." Somerset and Morris Counties have expressed concern that the failure of the projects to yet generate income to pay the bond payments exposes those counties "to the risk of having to honor their pledge to the bond holders, leaving the taxpayers to bear the cost."
 
The New Jersey court system cannot produce a basic financial records.
On July 12, 2011, Glenn A. Grant, Director of the Administrative Office of the Courts (AOC) issued Directive #03-11 which states in its preamble that: An open and transparent court system is an integral part of our democratic government. The public has a right of access not only to our courts, but also to court records. Public access to court records allows citizens to understand the system and to judge its effectiveness. This lofty goal, however, does not actually play out in practice. On September 6, 2013, New Jersey enacted L.2013, Chapter 158 which established a conditional discharge program for municipal courts that allows first time offenders to avoid prosecution for a large variety of disorderly and petty disorderly offenses if they enter into a supervisory program. The new law, which became effective on January 4, 2014, requires applicants to pay $75 into a "non-lapsing fund to be known as the 'Municipal Court Diversion Fund,' which shall be administered by the Administrative Office of the Courts." In order to see whether municipal courts had promptly implemented this new diversionary tool, I submitted a request to the Administrative Office of the Courts (AOC) for a "report that shows the transactions made in the ?Municipal Court Diversion Fund? during the month of February 2014." Today, I received a response from Steven A. Somogyi of the AOC stating that no such report "is maintained by this office." Rather, developing such a report "could only be obtained through the creation of a special computer report" which the AOC is not required to produce. Thus, interested citizens are unable to receive a basic financial report to learn whether and how a legislative enactment is being implemented. So much for open government, at least in New Jersey's Judiciary. http://www.judiciary.state.nj.us/directive/2011/dir_03_11.pdf
 
Sergeant David Brintzinghoffer
Police Accountability Project of the New Jersey Libertarian Party P.O. Box 5424 Somerset, NJ 08875 March 21, 2014 Internal Affairs Unit Burlington Township Police Department 851 Old York Rd Burlington, NJ 08016 via e-mail only to kshoppas46@burltwppd.com Dear Sir or Madam: I chair the New Jersey Libertarian Party's Police Accountability Project and ask that you accept this letter as our Internal Affairs complaint. We would like your agency to investigate whether Sergeant David Brintzinghoffer (as well as any other officers and personnel employed by your agency) acted in accordance with department policy and the law regarding a July 5, 2006 incident involving Demetrious Cope. According to the Appellate Division's March 21, 2014 decision in State v. Demetrious Cope, Docket No. A-2165-11T3 (on-line here), Sergeant Brintzinghoffer conducted an unconstitutional "protective sweep" of Cope's apartment that resulted in him finding a firearm in "plain view." The Appellate Division ultimately ruled that the firearm is inadmissible because it was "discovered and seized as a result of a warrantless search that did not fall into any of the recognized exceptions to the warrant requirement." If Sergeant Brintzinghoffer, despite having received adequate training and direction regarding when and how to conduct warrantless searches elected to ignore his training, we ask that you discipline him. Otherwise, we ask that your department review and supplement your training requirements in this area of the law. Thank you for your attention to this matter. Very truly yours, John Paff, Chairman New Jersey Libertarian Party Police Accountability Project P.O. Box 5424 Somerset, NJ 08875-5424 Phone: 732-873-1251 - Fax: 908-325-0129 Email: paff@pobox.com
 
Did Little Egg Harbor retaliate against an Internal Affairs complainant?
March 19, 2014 Internal Affairs Unit Little Egg Harbor Police Department Attn: Detective Kenneth Schilling 665 Radio Rd Little Egg Harbor, NJ 08087 via e-mail only to kschilling@lehpolice.com Internal Affairs Unit Ocean County Prosecutor's Office Attn: Detective I.N. Bauman 119 Hooper Ave Toms River, NJ, 08754 via e-mail to Internalaffairs@co.ocean.nj.us Dear Detectives Schilling and Bauman: As you are aware, I serve as the Chairman of the New Jersey Libertarian Party's Police Accountability Project and had filed a February 18, 2014 Internal Affairs (IA) Complaint (on-line here) against Little Egg Harbor Police Officer Christopher G. Costa regarding a February 18, 2014 incident involving Ricky Brown of 114 Jefferson Lane, Little Egg Harbor. As you are also aware, I filed a subsequent, February 28, 2014 inquiry with the Ocean County Prosecutor (on-line here) after Mr. Brown told me that he had been stopped and ticketed by Little Egg Harbor Police immediately after he left the police station to follow up with Lieutenant Troy A. Bezak, to whom my IA complaint had been assigned. A copy of the summons issued to Mr. Brown is on-line here. In my February 28, 2014 letter, I expressed concern to the Prosecutor's Office about the timing of the traffic stop and suggested that it may have been in retaliation against Mr. Brown for reporting the February 18, 2014 incident to me. In its March 7, 2014 letter (on-line here), the Prosecutor's Office acknowledged my letter and advised me that the Little Egg Harbor Police Department would continue to handle the IA investigation. Unbeknownst to the officer who issued Mr. Brown the summons on February 28, 2014 is that Brown had audio-recorded his conversation with that officer during the traffic stop. A .wav file of the relevant portion of that conversation is on-line here. About fifteen seconds into the recording, the officer disclosed that he knew that the purpose of Mr. Brown's visit to the police station was to "talk to Lieutenant Bezak." I have spoken with both Mr. Brown and his house-mate Kim and none of us can understand how the ticketing officer would have known that Mr. Brown's visit to the police station involved Lieutenant Bezak unless that officer had been previously told by someone within the police department of the purpose of Mr. Brown's visit. The fact that the ticketing officer volunteered Lieutenant Bezak's name during the traffic stop strongly suggests that my original concern that the traffic stop was retaliatory is valid. In order to insure an impartial investigation, I ask that the Ocean County Prosecutor's Office a) take over the original investigation. I also ask that the Prosecutor's office accept this correspondence as my request for a new IA investigation against the ticketing police officer, known to me only as Badge No. 1678, for conducting a traffic stop and issuing a traffic summons against a citizen in retaliation for causing an IA complaint to be filed. Please confirm your receipt of this correspondence. Very truly yours, John Paff, Chairman New Jersey Libertarian Party's Police Accountability Project P.O. Box 5424 Somerset, NJ 08875 Voice: 732-873-1251 Fax: 908-325-0129 e-mail: paff@pobox.com
 
Tenure charges now on line regarding Mullica teacher
I read an article in the Press of Atlantic City about a Mullica Township (Atlantic County) who faced firing because she found two of her kindergarten students naked in the bathroom. The article is on-line here. What struck me was that the article was the statement that "the Board of Education met Wednesday night in executive session to determine whether to certify the charges . . . but refused to tell the public whether it had certified the complaint." I thought it was only fair that the public be informed of what action the school board ultimately took. I submitted an OPRA request to the school board and learned today that the board did certify the charges. The tenure charges, the teacher's response and related documents are on-line here.
 
Medford pays $83,000 to settle Construction Official's "whistle blower" suit
On December 10, 2013, the Township of Medford (Burlington County) agreed to pay $83,000 to a former construction official who sued the To0wnship for wrongful termination and for violating his rights under the Conscientious Employee Protection Act (CEPA). In his suit, Richard Uschmann, a Township employee since 2000 and Medford Construction Code Official since 2007, claimed that he was laid off in 2009 for what the Township claimed to be "budgetary" reasons based on the Township entering into a shared services agreement with Lumberton Township. Uschmann claimed that the Township's clamed reason for the layoff was inconsistent with a previous letter written to him by Township Manager Michael Ackey that, in addition to economic reasons, alleged "performance based reasons amounting to a lack of professionalism." Uschmann claimed that he was tenured as a Building Sub-code Official, a position he also held, which disallowed the Township from terminating his employment absent good cause and a fair and impartial hearing. He claimed to have never received such a hearing and that the Township never actually entered into the shared services agreement with Lumberton. Rather, Uschmann argued, Medford entered into a shared services agreement with Tabernacle Township for the Building Sub-code position. Despite the Township's alleged technical and procedural violations, Uschmann claimed that the real motivation behind his termination was Ackey's desire to retaliate against him for doing his job in a way that might have embarrassed Ackey. He said that he complained on April 9, 2009 that "letters were being sent out by Medford with his signature on them that he had not actually sign" and that he issued a "Notice of Violation and Order to Terminate" to Ulrich Builders who was performing construction work on the Township Clerk's Office. These actions, according to Uschmann, caused him to receive a layoff notice "a few days later." Also, he claimed that when went out on July 9, 2009 to the site of a new firehouse construction, he issued a "Stop Construction Order" after learning that no permits had yet been issued for the project despite the fact that construction "was well underway." He said that at the time of his visit, Fire Marshall Thomas Thorn, who also was the Acting Construction Official, appeared to be the project manager. The same afternoon, Uschmann claimed that he told Ackey about the lack of permits and asked him "why the project had gone this far without the required working permits." Ackey allegedly claimed ignorance of the permit problem and later produced Steve Addezio, the Township's Director of Public Safety, who allegedly "immediately owned up to the mistake, stating that he had 'screwed up' and that it was all his 'fault.'" Despite this admission, Uschmann alleged, he was laid off the following day. He claimed to have been "escorted out of the building the same day, almost immediately, with only thirty minutes or so to collect his personal belongings." Further, Uschmann claimed that after his termination, Thorn filed for the permits and a Certificate of Occupancy for the firehouse but had "misrepresented that he [Thorn] was the one who had done the electrical work on the project, which was done, upon information and belief, in order to get around the rules requiring the obtaining of inspection permits at the outset." Finally, Uschmann claimed that Ackey, who had a "relationship" with Hotsons Realty, LLC and/or its principals, which allegedly owned the land on which the firehouse was located, was worried about public embarrassment that would result if "the public should find out about any improprieties relating to this project because, upon information and belief, the project is at least one million dollars over budget and any further improprieties or 'screw ups' would reflect badly on Ackey, Thorn and others." This, according to Uschmann, was a determinative and motivating factor for Ackey's decision to terminate his employment. The case is captioned Uschmann v. Township of Medford, Burlington County Superior Court Docket No. BUR-L-3919-10 and Uschmann's attorney was Anthony Valenti of Mount Laurel. 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 or even the existence of the settlement agreement. 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 Uschmann's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $83,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Medford or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Medford or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Uschmann $83,000 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.
 
OPRA Case: Paff v. New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (Mercer)
Mercer County Courthouse, 400 S. Warren St, 4th Floor, Trenton, New Jersey (Judge Mary C. Jacobsson) Issue: The Fish and Game Council is a Division of the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection. I sought a roster showing the names of the Council members along with each member's city and county of residence. The Council's position is that since its members are "volunteers who have responsibility in developing Hunting rules and regulations, compliance, and making policy recommendations to the Governor's Office . . . [t]here is a high possibility of harassment, from individuals who do not agree with certain policies/regulations or who may have lost their license due to violating the rules." My position is that disclosure of the Council members' cities and counties of residence is not the type of information that needs to be kept confidential. (Note: I have not requested nor do I seek the actual addresses of the Council members.) Further, the Council's position conflicts with the Governor's practice of identifying the Council members' cities and counties of residences in that office's press releases.
 
Bissell Defense Fund reverted back to general revenue
Back in the late 1990's, after the downfall of Somerset County Prosecutor Nicholas L. Bissell, Somerset County established a $1 million dollar fund to defend the county from lawsuits filed by anyone who claimed to have been harmed by Bissell's actions. On January 30, 2014, I submitted an Open Public Records Act request for the disposition of this account. After a few extensions were negotiated, County Council William T. Cooper, III informed me that although he cannot find "any specific records pertaining to this account, the account had been cancelled and that the account balance of approximately $1.6 million had been "released back to general revenue" in 2008 and 2010. My OPRA request and Mr. Cooper's response are on-line here. Mr. Cooper indicated that there might be further records, but if I wanted the County to search for those records he would have to "utilize the services of the Auditing firm Supplee, Clooney & Associates." This, according to Cooper would "obviously involve an expense" which would be passed onto me.
 
Bound Brook Board of Ed
Paragraph 18 of the Deddy lawsuit states that "[o]n March 18, 2011, Board counsel from the law firm of Parker McCay sent a five-page letter to the Somerset County Prosecutor summarizing various illegal actions and schemes by a staff member." The five page letter, on-line here, was written by attorney Russell Weiss, Jr. and sets forth eight specific "schemes," most of which involve a vendor named Circle Systems and allege "an expenditure of public funds for personal use items." Paragraph 49 of the Duddy lawsuit refers to a letter from Bruce W. Padula, the school board's attorney. That letter, which is on-line here, accuses Duddy of creating "a fabrication and misrepresentation . . . in an attempt to bolster a legally baseless harassment cause of action and manufacture a whistleblower claim." The claim that Mr. Padula refers to was recently settled for $250,000.
 
Was $150K paid in 2011 to settle Wildwood officer's harassment suit?
I'm not sure if there has been any newspaper coverage of the settlement of Richard J. Adair's lawsuit against Gary DeMarzo and the City of Wildwood. The lawsuit I mean is not the one in which DeMarzo was forced to choose between his job with the police department or his position on the City Commission, but the one where Adair claimed the DeMarzo retaliated against him after he (Adair) investigated an Internal Affairs complaint that led to "major disciplinary charges" being filed against DeMarzo. Although the City's response to my OPRA request was incomplete (see my e-mail to Karen Gose below), it appears that the City's insurer proposed that the suit be settled for $150,000. I haven't seen anything about this in the newspapers' archives. I will post the protective order and actual settlement agreement when they are provided. What I've received so far from the City is on-line here: John Paff, Chairman New Jersey Libertarian Party's Open Government Advocacy Project paff@pobox.com ---------------------- Dear Ms. Gose: I am in receipt of your e-mail and attachment pertaining to my OPRA request for documents related to Adair v. Demarzo, et al, Docket No. CPM-L-727-09. You provided me with a 28-page PDF file that contained the 10/22/2009 complaint (spanning pages 4 - 28) and a June 13, 2011 letter from Scibal and Associates, Inc. (spanning pages 2 - 3) that recommended to the Mayor and Council that Adair's suit be settled for $150,000. Please review the original OPRA request (page 1) and note that I asked for three distinct records: 1. The complaint, which was filed on or about 10/22/09. 2. The Protective Order, which was filed on or about 05/27/10. 3. The Settlement Agreement between the parties, that was NOT filed but was entered into in or about Summer of 2011. Of these three items, only #1 was furnished. Your response completely ignores #2 and instead of providing me the "settlement agreement" requested in #3, you sent me a letter from Scibal asking the Mayor and Council if it had a problem with settling for $150,000. Please furnish me with the documents that are responsive to this request. Very truly yours,
 
Unpublished trial court common law access opinion
"Unpublished opinions" are not published in the law books and are not ordinarily written about in legal periodicals. Unless somebody puts them on-line and calls attention to them, they are likely not to be located by people who may want to search for them. I think that it's important that court opinions, even if they are not precedential, are easily accessible for future use. City of Wildwood v. Cape May County Cape May County, Docket No. CPM-L-656-10 Hon. Nelson C. Johnson, J.S.C. April 21, 2011 Click here for the opinion. Summary: City sought return of a video created by its own police department that was in the possession of the County Prosecutor. The court found that the video was excempt as a criminal investigatory record and that the City's need, under the common law right of access, did not exceed the confidentiality interests of the Prosecutor's office.
 
Paff v Hudson
OPRA Case: Paff v. Hudson County Sheriff (Hudson) 03/14/14 9 a.m. Hudson County Courthouse, 583 Newark Avenue, Jersey City, New Jersey (Judge Lawrence M. Maron) Issue: Whether a police incident report is exempt from access as "criminal investigatory records."
 
OPRA Case: Ward v. Borough of Paramus (Bergen)
2/28/14 11 a.m. Passaic County Courthouse, 10 Main Street, Hackensack, New Jersey (Judge Peter E. Doyne) Issue: Seeking a) records that were not timely produced and b) a declaratory judgment that Paramus may not delay production of records by funneling all of their responses to Plaintiff's OPRA requests through the Township Attorney.
 
Police Investigation sought for homeless man who died in Burlington County Jail

 
State Police pay $85,000 to settle excessive force suit
On November 23, 2013, the New Jersey State Police agreed to pay $85,000 to an Aston, Pennsylvania man who claimed to have been beaten by a Trooper In his suit, Michael French, who also goes by Robert Michael French, said that he was arrested for drunk driving in April 2009 and taken to the State Police Barracks in Berlin Borough, Camden County, New Jersey. He said that he was in a "physical altercation with another prisoner in the holding cell" when Trooper J. T. Squire-Tibbs "burst into the cell and hit Plaintiff in the face with a billy club, knocking Plaintiff unconscious." He claimed that Squire-Tibbs then beat, punched and kicked him while he was on the floor unconscious." As a result of the beating, he claimed to have received "a fractured orbital, a herniated disc and severe concussion." The case is captioned French v. Squire-Tibbs, Federal Case No. 1:11-cv-01009 and French's attorney was Matthew B. Weisberg of Pennsauken. 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 French's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $85,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by State or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that State or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay French $85,000 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.
 
Bound Brook school board pays $250,000 to settle former teaching consultants harassment suit.
On January 2, 2014, the Bound Brook Board of Education (Somerset County) agreed to pay $250,000 to a former elementary school teacher and Learning Disabilities Teaching Consultant who alleged that her supervisor and other school officials subjected her to "a campaign of harassment and abuse." In her suit, Shari Duddy, a teacher since 1989, said that despite her excellent job performance, her supervisor, Jasmine Brandt, continually harassed and abused her. Among her specific allegations were Brandt giving her own work to Duddy, Brandt falsely accusing Duddy of forging a signature on a District document and "falsely and publicly accusing Ms Duddy of having sexual relations with the principal of a District school in the principal?s office." She claims that even after she was transferred to the Administration Building, Brandt, along with school business administrator Carole Deddy and Superintendent Edward Hoffman, "undertook a course of action apparently designed to impede Ms. Duddy?s ability to perform the assigned task. Specifically, she accused Deddy of "ordering staff to inspect Ms. Duddy?s computer in her absence and observe when she went to the bathroom." Also named in the suit were Martin Gleason, Peter Allen, Stephen Clouser, Michele DeFazio, Nicholas DelVecchio, Shawn Hasting, Robert Murray, Rae Siebel and Joseph Tomaselli. The case is captioned Duddy v. Bound Brook Board of Education, Somerset County Superior Court Docket No. SOM-L-0988-11 and Duddy's attorney was Nicholas Stevens of Roseland. 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 Duddy's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $250,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by the school board or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that the Board or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Duddy $250,000 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.
 
Meetings Act compliance sought for Penns Grove-Carney's Point Regional school board
February 12, 2014 William J. Brennan, First Assistant Salem County Prosecutor's Office 87 Market Street Salem, NJ 08079 via e-mail only to william.brennan@salemcountynj.gov Dear Mr. Brennan: On behalf of the New Jersey Libertarian Party's Open Government Advocacy Project, I wish to report some issues I have with whether the manner in which the Penns Grove-Carney's Point Regional Board of Education authorizes and records minutes of its nonpublic (i.e. closed or executive) meetings comports with the Senator Byron M. Baer Open Public Meetings Act. http://ogtf.lpcnj.org/OPMA.htm Today I received copies of some recent Board non-public meeting minutes and authorizing resolutions and have put them on the Internet here. I have many several about these resolutions and minutes. Chief among them are: a) the Board appears to use the same, general, boiler-plate language to authorize each of its closed sessions (see pages 7, 11 and 17 of the PDF at the above link.) The language describes the topics in a such a general way (i.e. "matters of personal confidentiality rights, including but not limited to, staff and/or student discipline matters [and] matters which, if publicly disclosed, would constitute an unwarranted invasion of individual privacy") that the public has no real sense of what topics are discussed. Compare the Board's resolution language to that considered by the Supreme Court in McGovern v. Rutgers, 211 N.J. 94, 111 (2012). In McGovern, Rutgers' resolution informed the public that "matters involving contract negotiations for sports marketing, naming rights of athletics facilities and stadium construction; employment of personnel and terms and conditions of employment; and pending litigation, investigations, and matters falling within the attorney-client privilege with respect to these subjects? would be discussed. Unlike the public who observed the Penns Grove-Carney's Point Board meetings, those attending the Rutgers Board meetings would at least know that specific topics, such as "sport marketing" and "naming rights" of facilities would be discussed. The Penns Grove-Carney's Point Board, in order to comply with N.J.S.A. 10:4-13, should include a similar amount of detail in its N.J.S.A. 10:4-13 resolutions. b) the Board's December 2, 2013 closed meeting agenda includes a "Board Procedures/Open Forum" at its (see page 20 of the PDF at the above link) and that topic heading was followed by a redacted sentence beginning with "Ms. Cobina informed the Board [REDACTED]." The exceptions to the Meetings Act's mandate that openness and transparency should be the norm and that the Act should be strictly construed against closure of meetings calls into question the legitimacy of a "Board Procedures/Open Forum" item on the closed session agenda where, presumably, all manner of topics can be discussed. c) At 8:20 p.m. on November 18, 2013 (see page 15 of the PDF at the above link), four members (i.e. a quorum) of the Board members present "left the [closed] meeting" to have "private conversations." The practice of nesting private conversations within an executive session should be labeled improper by your office because this practice allows Board members to discuss public business without having their comments captured in the minutes. d) There are several other topics of discussion that don't appear to fall within any of the N.J.S.A. 10:4-12(b) exceptions. Among them are: 1) On page 9, a discussion related to "new hiring guidelines." (If the "personnel exception" (N.J.S.A. 10:4-12(b)(8)) is the rationale, it doesn't appear that specific employees were discussed, but that a general matter of policy was discussed.) 2) On page 13, requests to attend a New Orleans conference and the Comprehensive Maintenance Plan were privately discussed. I don't see why such a discussion could not have been held in public. I realize that N.J.S.A. 10:4-17 authorizes your office to assess civil penalties against officials who "knowingly violate" the Meetings Act. I have no evidence that any of the conduct about which I complain was done "knowingly" but some county prosecutors have issued guidelines and recommendations to help public bodies within their jurisdictions better comply with the Meetings Act's provisions. See, e.g. the Gloucester County Prosecutor's action here. http://njopengovt.blogspot.com/2011/09/gloucester-prosecutor-issues-guidelines.html Would you please, after reviewing the matters raised in this letter, reach out to the Penns Grove-Carney's Point Board with some advice on how they can better comply with the Meetings Act. Thank you for your attention to this matter. Very truly yours, John Paff, Chairman New Jersey Libertarian Party's Open Government Advocacy Project P.O. Box 5424 Somerset, NJ 08875 Voice: 732-873-1251 Fax: 908-325-0129 e-mail: paff@pobox.com cc. Penns Grove - Carneys Point Regional Board members via e-mail to bferguson@pennsgrove.k12.nj.us
 
Assault alleged against Wildwood employee and Mayor's relative.
A July 25, 2013 altercation between two men at a local electrical supply store has led to cross complaints against the two participants. According the the police reports (on-line here) one of the men is a city employee and a relative of Mayor Ernest Troiano Jr. The incident occurred at about 10:15 a.m. at Billows Electric at 3901 New Jersey Avenue, Wildwood. Jack Gallagher, 55, called police and reported that he had been assaulted. According to police records, he was in Billows speaking to Mike Marsden "about the City of Wildwood" when their conversation was overhead by Michael A. Blanda, 41, who works as a Senior Electrician for the City of Wildwood and who is a "relative of" Mayor Troiano. According to Gallagher's statement to police, Blanda reached out and grabbed Gallagher's throat and stated "I am going to kill you." Blanda then reportedly pushed Gallagher against the wall. At this point, a witness had to get between the two men to get Blanda to release his grip on Gallagher's throat. According to Blanda's statement, Blanda, who wasn't at Billows when police arrived, walked into police headquarters at about 4:23 p.m. the next day, July 26, 2013, and complained that Gallagher had been speaking in an "verbally aggressive" and obscene manner about Mayor Troiano. Blanda said that he asked Gallagher several times to stop talking about his family, but Gallagher "refused to comply." Blanda said that he "grabbed Gallagher by the shirt and pushed him against the store back" but eventually "let go of Gallagher and walked out." According to Patrolman Shawn A. Toffoli, who appeared at Billows and took Gallagher's and two witnesses' statements, he met with Blanda a short time later at the office of Wildwood Public Works Director Mark D'Amico. According to Toffoli, Blanda "admitted he was wrong and should not have grabbed Gallagher" and admitted to being on City time at the time of this incident." The incidents resulted in two municipal court complaints (on-line here), both of which have been transferred to the Stone Harbor Municipal Court. Docket No. 0514-S-2013-000892 charges Gallagher with harassment and Docket No. 0514-S-2013-000889 charges Blanda with simple assault. According to my February 11, 2014 conversation with a Wildwood Municipal Court Deputy Administrator the courts are attempting to get both Blanda and Gallagher to participate in court supervised mediation.
 
Court upholds Pennsauken police sergeant's four-day suspension.
In a decision released February 10, 2014, and on-line here, the New Jersey Superior Court, Appellate Division, upheld a suspension of Sergeant George Foss, who reported to work anyway after having been furloughed. The furloughs, which had been agreed to by the police union, were instituted "to address a budgetary shortfall and avert layoffs." Foos' lawyer was Jessica L. Arndt who can be reached at (856) 334-5737
 
Unemployment benefits denial upheld for fired Newark Airport TSA screener
On February 10, 2014, a two-judge New Jersey Appellate Division panel affirmed a state labor board's denial of unemployment benefits to a Transportation Security Administration airport screening officer who tried to avoid being screened herself when boarding a flight. According to the decision, on-line here, Lisa W. Weems just finished her shift a Newark's Liberty Airport on July 3, 2009 when she, still in uniform, walked "in through the exit ramp" of Terminal C "without presenting her bags to be x-rayed and without passing through the metal detector." Her flight to New Orleans had already taken off by the time security official, who saw Weems' deception on video, could reach the gate. "Because of the security breach, the flight was called back to the gate and all 113 passengers were ordered to disembark and were rescreened." Weems was filed about three months after the incident and applied for unemployment benefits. She was originally granted unemployment but that decision was reversed after the TSA appealed. Weems has, altogether, filed three unsuccessful appeals of her denial of unemployment benefits, arguing that "there was no . . . policy which . . . required a TSA screening checkpoint employee, to be screened or have their baggage screened, while off or on duty, when their baggage is already in a sterile area." The Appellate Division found that "there is no proof in the record where Weems kept her baggage while she worked her shift in Terminal A, even if it was stored in a sterile area in that terminal, she removed her baggage and traveled on the public monorail before entering Terminal C."
 
Why was an ethics complaint against Hillside Board of Ed President and member withdrawn?
In her handwritten, January 16, 2013 letter, Hillside Township (Union County) Board of Education member Rayba Watson stated that she "would like to withdraw" her ethics complaint against Board President George Cook and former Board member Robert Trotte. http://district.hillsidek12.org/site_res_view_template.aspx?id=e62a9a23-fc6d-4d83-8080-82dd2bfc8eb7 Watson filed her complaint on December 6, 2011 with the School Ethics Commission alleging that Cook and Trotte violated the New Jersey School Ethics Act by voting in favor of a $60,000 health insurance brokerage contract award to Fairview Insurance Agency Associates, Inc. Watson alleged that Fairview's representative, Tony Monteiro, served as campaign manager for Cook's run for Hillside Township Council and may have "financially contributed to" Cook's Council campaign as well as Trotte's run for school board in April 2011. She alleged that the pair voted to award the contract to Fairview at the Board's October 20, 2011 meeting despite having been previously told by Board attorney Perry Lattiboudere that they could recuse themselves from the meetings at which Fairview was interviewed by the Board. http://www.asgllaw.com/wordpress/attorneys/lattiboudere/ The October 20, 2011 meeting minutes, attached to Watson's complaint, show that the motion to award Fairview the $60,000 contract was passed by a 5 to 3 vote with both Cook and Trotte voting in the affirmative. Watson's complaint alleges that Fairview's contract was $12,000 more than those of two other brokers who were previously recommended by the Board's Finance Committee. Watson's complaint was forwarded to the Office of Administrative Law and an April 24, 2012 Prehearing Order had scheduled the matter for a plenary hearing for September 28, 2012, approximately three months before Watson withdrew her complaint. I am considering re-filing this ethics complaint myself, but would first like to learn whether the allegations in Watson's complaint are accurate and provable and the reason why she withdrew it. Readers should feel free to send me material anonymously to John Paff, P.O. Box 5424, Somerset, NJ 08875.
 
OPRA Case: Paff v. Clifton Board of Education (Passaic)
04/07/14 9 a.m. Passaic County Courthouse, 77 Hamilton Street, Paterson, New Jersey (Judge Ralph L. DeLuccia) Issue: Whether the absence of formal Board approval of the minutes of a Board executive session held five months ago justifies a denial of access to those minutes. Documents at: This hearing date and hour is subject to change. If you plan to attend, please call the court offices at 973-247-8198 the day prior to confirm that the hearing date and hour have not changed. Refer to Docket No. PAS-L-349-14. John Paff
 
Mount Arlington releases seven sets of executive session minutes
On February 4, 2014, the Mount Arlington Borough (Morris County) Council approved seven sets of nonpublic (closed or executive) minutes dating back to January 15, 2013. For those who are interested, I have placed those minutes on-line here, as the Borough does not put executive session minutes on its own website here.
 
Cumberland regional
jackson@crhsd.org Please accept this e-mail/fax as my request for government records pursuant to the Open Public Records Act and the common law right of access. Please respond to this request and send all responsive documents to me at paff@pobox.com. Thank you. Background: The Board recently sent me three sets of redacted executive session minutes, which I have placed on-line here for your ready reference. This supplemental OPRA and common law request pertains only to the highlighted paragraph in the October 13, 2013 minutes that deals with Mr. Mitchell and an undisclosed person answering questions regarding school documents and district procedures." I don't see any reason for the name of the other person (i.e. the person other than Mr. Mitchell) to have been redacted from these minutes. Records Requested: Another copy of the October 13, 2013 executive minutes, but with the above referenced, redacted name disclosed or with a better explanation of why it is being redacted.
 
Police Investigation sought for homeless man who allegedly died in Burlington County Jail
February 4, 2014 Steven E. Martin , Director of Public Safety Mount Holly Police 23 Washington Street Mount Holly, NJ 08060 Via e-mail only to smartin@mountholly.info Dear Director Martin: I found a letter on-line (click here) from an inmate at the Burlington County Jail, which I understand is located within your jurisdiction. As you can see, the letter writer, Inmate Sean C. Turzanski, states that a 74-year-old homeless man named Robert Taylor died while in custody. According to Turzanski's letter, Taylor, an alcoholic, was thrown naked, except for a suicide prevention vest, onto the cell's concrete floor and allowed to urinate and defecate on himself. According to Turzanski's letter, Taylor remained in the same position on the jail cell's floor and did not take any meals for five days. The letter states that Taylor was found dead on December 30, 2013. "They opened his cell to find him dead. 5 days, 15 meals, no water and still lying on the concrete floor naked where he was initially placed." I have no idea whether Turzanski's statements are accurate. But, the seriousness of the allegations, together with the fact that Turzanski has identified himself (and is available to be interviewed), warrants an investigation. Thank you for your attention to this matter. Please contact me if you have any questions. Very truly yours, John Paff P.O. Box 5424 Somerset, NJ 08875 Voice: 732-873-1251 Fax: 908-325-0129 e-mail: paff@pobox.com
 
Fieldsboro Councilwoman fined for ethics violation
In a November 21, 2012 letter, the New Jersey Local Finance Board fined a Fieldsboro Borough (Burlington County) Council member $100 for violating the New Jersey Local Government Ethics Law. In the letter, which is on-line here, the Board found that Councilwoman Amy Telford violated the ethics law by "serving in two incompatible offices by simultaneously serving as a member of the Borough Council and accepting the salary as the Planning Board Secretary in the Borough of Fieldsboro." In addition to the fine, the Local Finance Board required Telford to "relinquish one of those positions immediately."
 
Hammonton Mayor Cleared of Ethics Charges
In a December 9, 2013 letter, the New Jersey Local Finance Board cleared Hammonton Mayor Steven DiDonato of violating the Local Government Ethics Law. According to the letter, which is on-line here, DiDonato was investigated for speaking "in opposition at a Zoning Board meeting to an application seeking a use variance on a building that [his] brother allegedly had an open offer to purchase." The ethics board found that DiDonato's "remarks occurred during the public comment period of the May 26, 2011 Zoning Board meeting and that [he] took no official action as Mayor when you spoke before the Zoning Board, regarding [his] concerns about the intended use of the building and therefore did not act in [his] official capacity on a matter where [he] had a direct or indirect financial or personal involvement that might reasonably be expected to impair [his] objectivity or independence of judgment."
 
Bayonne pays $10,000 to settle DPW workers' racial discrimination suit.
On or about November 14, 2013, the City of Bayonne (Hudson County) agreed to pay a total of $10,000 to four Bayonne Department of Public Works employees who sued the City for racial discrimination. In their suit, Lorenzo Alyon, Christian Booker, Donald Jacobson, Keith Moore, Kyron Turner, Randy Williams and Christopher Wright claimed that they were hired as "seasonal employees" but had worked for more than 90 days which automatically entitled them to "permanent employee" status. They claimed that "Caucasian 'seasonal' employees were transferred to permanent employment status" while they "as well as other similarly situated persons of protected racial classes, were held in permanent 'seasonal' classification." They also claimed to have endured racial slurs and other discriminatory treatment. Of the seven defendants, only Donald Jacobson, Keith Moore, Kyron Turner, and Christopher Wright entered into the settlement agreement. Also named in the suit were Bayonne Mayor Joseph Doria and Business Administrator Terrance Malloy. The case is captioned Alyon et al v. Bayonne, Federal Case No. 2:10-cv-01750 and the plaintiffs' attorneys were Karen DeSoto of Bayonne and Brian F. Curley of Morristown. 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 plaintiffs' allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $10,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Bayonne or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Bayonne or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay the plaintiffs $10,000 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.
 
Somerset Freeholders questioned on closed meeting practice
January 31, 2014 Hon. Patrick Scaglione, Director, and members of the Somerset County Board of Chosen Freeholders (via e-mail only to Quick@co.somerset.nj.us) Dear Director Scaglione and Board members: In response to my Open Public Records Act (OPRA) request, I obtained the minutes of five of the Board's recent nonpublic (executive or closed) meetings. For your ready reference, I have placed those minutes on-line here. Several of the matter discussed do not appears to fall within any of the N.J.S.A. 10:4-12(b) exceptions. As you are aware, the Open Public Meetings Act requires all Board discussion to be held at a public meeting unless one or more of the N.J.S.A. 10:4-12(b) exceptions, construed strictly against closure, apply. Following is a list of some of the topics that I believe could have been discussed with the public in attendance. For each, I ask that you either agree that the Board ought to have discussed the topic in public or provide a justification as to why the topic was discussed in private. Police Academy (10/22/13) Green Brook Flood Control (11/26/13) Solar Renewable Energy Credit Market (12/10/13) 2014 Somerset Patriots Fireworks schedule (12/10/13) Transportation Services (12/10/13) Hiring process for for Sheriff's Officers (12/10/13) (Note: N.J.S.A. 10:4-12(b)(8) allows private discussions regarding specific employees. This appears to be a discussion about cost concerns associated with hiring delays.) E-cigarette smoking policy (01/14/14). Thank you very much for your attention to this matter. I look forward to your response. Very truly yours,
 
OPRA Case: Paff v. Borough of Cliffside Park (Bergen)

 
Peth Amboy OPRA request
A January 15, 2014 Certification my Mildred Ramos (on-line at the link below), explains that the minutes of the Perth Amboy Redevelopment Agency's September 6, 2011 cannot be produced because a thief stole the laptop that contained those minutes and that the laptop was "wiped clean" by the thief. Records Request: I would like a copy of the police incident report related to this theft as well as the CDR or other form of complaint that was filed against the thief.
 
Spotswood school board asked to improve its executive session minutes
January 29, 2014 Donna Faulkenberry, President and members of the Spotswood Board of Education 105 Summerhill Road Spotswood, NJ 08884 (via e-mail only to Board Secretary Mark Resnick at mresnick@spotswood.k12.nj.us) Dear President Faulkenberry: While I appreciate the fact that the Board posts its nonpublic (i.e. closed or executive session) minutes on its web site (most public bodies do not), I think that the minutes themselves fall far short of the "reasonably comprehensible" standard required by N.J.S.A. 10:4-14. As an example, please see the Board's April 23, 2013 nonpublic meeting minutes here. First, they are not even labeled "Minutes" but rather as a "Resolution for Executive Session." Second, they contain some boilerplate language followed by the only substantive portion which reads, in its entirety, "The Board discussed a contractual matter." Do you think that the "reasonably comprehensible" language in N.J.S.A. 10:4-14 requires, at a minimum, the identities of the parties to the contract under discussion? Third, the minutes do not disclose the "time and place" of the meeting or "the members present," as required by the same statute. Would you please seek the advice of David Rubin, who I believe is the Board's attorney, and discuss the adequacy of these minutes at either your February 4th or February 18th meeting? I would very much like to receive a response from the Board regarding this matter. Very truly yours, John Paff, Chairman New Jersey Libertarian Party's Open Government Advocacy Project P.O. Box 5424 Somerset, NJ 08875 Voice: 732-873-1251 Fax: 908-325-0129 e-mail: paff@pobox.com
 
South Jersey Mayor gives statement that results in harassment charge against his uncle.
On October 8, 2013, Judson Moore, Jr., who was then campaigning for a seat on the three-member Commercial Township (Cumberland County) Committee (and who presently serves as the Township's Mayor), gave a taped statement to the New Jersey State Police that led to Moore's uncle, Benjamin Moore, being charged with harassment. Harassment, which is prohibited by N.J.S.A. 2C:33-4 (a copy of the harassment statute is on-line here), makes it a petty disorderly persons offense to, with a purpose to harass, communicate with another "anonymously or at extremely inconvenient hours, or in offensively coarse language, or any other manner likely to cause annoyance or alarm." The harassment statute also prohibits "striking, kicking, shoving, or other offensive touching" and "engag[ing] in any other course of alarming conduct or of repeatedly committed acts with purpose to alarm or seriously annoy such other person." Conviction of a petty disorderly persons offense subjects an offender to a fine of up to $500 and/or imprisonment of up to 30 days. According to the police report (which, along with the summons, is on-line here), Benjamin Moore, age 75, admitted to sending an envelope to Franklin Township (Gloucester County) Mayor Marge Pfrommer which contained newspaper clippings, vouchers and other records that were critical of Judson Moore, who then served as Franklin Township's Chief Financial Officer and Administrator. The envelope was given to State Police by Franklin Police Chief Michael Rock who asked that it be investigated "as a harassment complaint." After learning about the summons, I submitted an Open Public Record Act (OPRA) request to Franklin Township for a copy of the entire contents of the envelope. Due to the size of the resulting file, I have broken it up into two segments, and have placed them on-line here and here. In my personal opinion, nothing contained in the envelope is especially bothersome. According to the police report, the most document that appeared to both Judson Moore the most "was a specific photo of a bank that was closed down in Commercial Township." The photo, which I have separately placed on-line here, shows a sign that says "Thanks Mayor and Judd More for Closing the Bank." While the New Jersey Supreme Court has held that single anonymous communication does not have to constitute a serious annoyance, but only a regular annoyance, to constitute an offense, the court also observed that "some people may attempt to use the process as a sword rather than as a shield." Is this a case where Mayor Judson Moore is truly a victim or one in which Benjamin Moore is being retaliated against for criticizing a political figure? I believe that posting the entire contents of the envelope on-line will help members of the public draw their own conclusions as to the legitimacy of harassment charge against Moore. The case, which bears Summons No. 0805-SC-009246, has been transferred out of Franklin Township to the Woolwich Joint Municipal Court at 120 Village Green Dr, Woolwich, New Jersey and will be heard on Tuesday, February 11, 2014 at 3 p.m. Moore is being represented by Brock D. Russell of Millville. Anyone wishing to attend should call Court Administrator Angela Kalnas at 856-467-1555 ext: 2100 the morning of the hearing to make sure that it hasn't been postponed.
 
Firemen's Association may keep "John Doe's" Relief Payment Confidential
Not every New Jersey court decision is published in the law books. The vast majority of them are considered "unpublished opinions" and "shall not constitute precedent or be binding upon any court." See Court Rule 1:36-3. Even though they're not binding, these unpublished decisions can be persuasive to other courts. One potentially useful unpublished decision was authored by Union County Superior Court Judge Lisa F. Chrystal on January 15, 2014 in the case of In the Matter of the New Jersey State Firemen's Association To Provide Relief Applications Under The Open Public Records Act, Docket No. UNN-L-2932-13. That decision and order are on-line here. This is an unusual case because the records custodian, the New Jersey State Firemen's Association, filed the lawsuit in response to a request it received. Typically, it is the requestor that files the lawsuit. The requestor, Jeff Carter of Franklin Township, Somerset County, asked for financial records of "John Doe," who is "life member of a volunteer fire company located in Fire District No. 1" in Franklin Township who allegedly "was caught viewing and printing pornographic images . . . on the Fire District's computers" while Doe served as Chairman of the Board of Fire Commissioners. Carter certified that he made his request so that he could "publicize that John Doe was receiving hardship benefits for hardship caused by his own actions." Judge Chrystal found that under both the Open Public Records Act (OPRA) and the common law right of access, John Doe's interest in privacy outweighed the public's interest in disclosure. She found that "it is likely that disclosure would impede agency function because it would discourage indigent firemen and their families from applying for much needed aid."
 
Falsification of Police Report by Wildwood Crest Police?
Falsification of Police Report by Wildwood Crest Police? Count 53 of former Wildwood Crest Police Officer Thomas J. Hunt's lawsuit against the Borough, Federal Case no. 1:12-cv-06887, (on-line here) states: "In or about May 2010, Hunt sent to the Cape May Prosecutor?s Office a complaint and materials to review in connection with the falsification of an accident report by [Sergeant Michael] Hawthorne for the son of the Borough?s Solicitor." After reading this allegation, I submitted an Open Public Records Act request to the Wildwood Crest Borough Clerk for: 1. A copy of the motor vehicle accident report for the accident involving the Borough Solicitor's son mentioned in Count 53 of Thomas J. Hunt's suit against the Borough. 2. A copy of the "complaint and materials" that were sent to the Prosecutor's office as alleged in Count 53 of Thomas J. Hunt's suit against the Borough. In response, I got a police report (on-line here) and was informed that I would have to contact the Cape May County Prosecutor for the "complaint and materials." The police report is for an accident that took place on June 23, 2001--more than eleven years prior to the filing of Hunt's federal complaint. The owner of "Vehicle 1" is Doreen C. Holton, who I have been told is the former name of Wildwood Crest Solicitor Doreen Y. Corino. Doreen's car was driven by John W. Holton, presumably Doreen's son, who was 18 years old at the time of the accident. The police report was written by Sergeant Michael Hawthorne. Nothing in the description of the accident appears remarkable. It appears that John W. Holton struck another car in the rear while travelling at a slow speed and causing very minor damage. Do any readers know of the circumstances that cause former Wildwood Crest Police Officer Thomas J. Hunt to claim that the accident report was falsified? John Paff, Chairman New Jersey Libertarian Party's Open Government Advocacy Project P.O. Box 5424 Somerset, NJ 08875 Voice: 732-873-1251 Fax: 908-325-0129 e-mail: paff@pobox.com
 
Wildwood Crest mayor asks prosecutor to assign monitor for PD

 
RE: Request for policy governing official use of e-mail
January 23, 2014 Charles Webster, Public Information Officer Monmouth County Prosecutor's Office 132 Jerseyville Ave Freehold NJ 07728 via e-mail to cwebster@co.monmouth.nj.us and prosecutor@prosecutor.co.monmouth.nj.us Dear Mr. Webster: I write on behalf of the New Jersey Libertarian Party's Open Government Advocacy Project. I write specifically to you, as Public Information Officer, as you are the only person on the prosecutor's web site who lists his e-mail address publicly. I ask that you please forward this e-mail to the appropriate person in the Prosecutor's Office. The Open Government Advocacy Project respectfully requests that the Monmouth County Prosecutor's office issue guidelines to help local and county officials use e-mail communication in a manner that does not violate the Open Public Meetings Act (OPMA). Other prosecutors in New Jersey, such those from Burlington and Gloucester Counties, have issued guidelines, details of which are available at the blog link here. The matter that caused me to write to you today is a December 18, 2013 e-mail, on-line here, by Eatontown Borough Councilman Dennis J. Connelly to a quorum of elected officials regarding appointment of a municipal court judge. You will note that Council President Anthony Talerico, Jr. objected to the e-mail on the basis that it violated the OPMA. And, you will note that the e-mail to which Mr. Connelly responded, sent by Councilwoman Janice Kroposky on December 18, 2013, 11:34 a.m., was also sent to a quorum of the Borough Council. While Eatontown's OPMA violation may have been inadvertent, I think that it illustrates the importance of having a set of policies governing use of e-mail by public officials. Accordingly, we urge you to adopt a policy similar to those adopted in Gloucester and Burlington Counties. Thank you for your attention to this matter. Very truly yours, John Paff, Chairman New Jersey Libertarian Party's Open Government Advocacy Project P.O. Box 5424 Somerset, NJ 08875 Voice: 732-873-1251 Fax: 908-325-0129 e-mail: paff@pobox.com http://njopengovt.blogspot.com/2011/09/gloucester-prosecutor-issues-guidelines.html
 
Swedesboro Council improves executive session resolutions
Back on May 17, 2012, I complained to the Swedesboro Borough Council (Gloucester County) about the manner in which they resolved to exclude the public from their meetings (i.e. go into closed or executive session). In my letter of complaint, on-line here, I expressed that the resolutions that the Council passed, which said nothing more than "matters involving pending litigation, collective bargaining agreements, matters involving lease or acquisition of real property or investment of public funds, protecting public safety, and/or personnel" would be privately discussed, did not give the public any real sense of the topic that would be discussed. I never heard back from Swedesboro, so in early January 2014, I requested the Borough Council's executive session resolutions and minutes from 2013 to see if it improved its procedure. The response I recently received shows that the Council, although not as precisely as I'd like, has made their executive session resolutions more detailed. Also, citizens may be interested in the minutes of the executive sessions at the above link, because they reveal issues such as lawsuits involving the Borough, employee discipline for insubordination and suspension of a liquor license.
 
Is a volunteer rescue squad subject to OPRA?
The question of whether a volunteer rescue squad is subject to the Open Public Records Act (OPRA) will be decided by Burlington County Assignment Judge Ronald E. Bookbinder in the case of Brooks v. Tabernacle Rescue Squad, Inc., Docket No. BUR-L-2629-13. Brooks' complaint and letter brief, filed by Clinton attorney Walter M. Luers, are on-line here. Plaintiff Fran Brooks, a resident of Tabernacle Township, Burlington County, submitted an OPRA request to the squad in September 2013 seeking "reports for drivers of all ambulances and Rescue Truck for the period of January 1, 2013 through July 31, 2013.? Her request was denied on the grounds that the rescue squad is not a public agency within the meaning of OPRA. Brooks argues that the rescue squad is subject to OPRA because Tabernacle Township, in 2010, floated a four-million-dollar bond to construct a new facility for Squad. Brooks also notes that Tabernacle's Township Attorney has billed the Township for legal services provided to the rescue squad and that the Township pays $70,000 per year to the rescue squad, accounting for 60% of the Rescue Squad?s overall revenue. Brooks also argues that the squad performs a public function and is thus an ?instrumentality? of the Township. The case will likely be heard in February or March 2014.
 
OPMA suit filed against Montvale school board
I recently filed an Open Public Meetings Act (OPMA) complaint against the Montvale Board of Education (Bergen County). The verified complaint in the case, which is captioned Paff v. Montvale Board of Education, Docket No. BER-L-184-14, is on-line here and the exhibits to the complaint are on-line here. The reason for my lawsuit is the Montvale Board's practice, which I first discovered in March 2012, of passing a single, blanket resolution at its January reorganization meeting that purports to authorize all of the nonpublic (i.e. closed or executive) meetings held during the ensuing year. I contend that the OPMA requires public bodies to pass a separate resolution prior to each nonpublic meeting that provides the public with an idea of what topics will be privately discussed. I complained to the Board about this practice in 2012 but Montvale continues its practice to this day. Accordingly, I need to file a lawsuit to get the Board to respect the public's rights under the OPMA.
 
Dover mayor cleared of ethics charges
In his December 13, 2013 letter, New Jersey Local Finance Board Chairman Thomas H. Neff cleared Dover Town (Morris County) Mayor James P. Dodd of ethics charges for owning a business that repaired vehicles for the Borough of Victory Gardens despite Dodd having signed a Shared Services Agreement between Dover and Victory Gardens. Neff's letter in the case, Complaint No. LFB-11-096, is on-line here. Invoices and purchases orders evidencing that Dodd's business, J.D. Automotive & Truck, performed repair services for Victory Garden are on-line here. Neff's letter noted that neither J.D. Automotive nor Dodd solicited the repair work from Victory Gardens and that the work "occurred randomly" and was "not significant enough to . . . impair [Dodd's] objectivity or independence of judgment." However, Neff advised, "any future repair work by J.D. Automotive on vehicles belonging to the Borough of Victory Gardens be bid in accordance with procurement rules and regulations, regardless of bid threshold requirements."
 
OPRA lawsuit against the Governor's Office
On January 13, 2014, Clinton attorney Walter M. Luers filed an Open Public Records Act lawsuit on my behalf against the New Jersey Governor's Office. The complaint, letter brief and other papers filed in Paff v. Office of the Governor, Docket No. MER-L-66-14 are on-line here. At issue are the expenses incurred by Governor Christie and his staff during an April 2013 trip to Dallas, Texas for the dedication of the George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum. The Governor's office, citing a "reasonable expectation of privacy and security rise exemptions," withheld eight pages of "travel invoices" and two pages of "hotel invoices" and redacted portions of a "Corporate Card Reconciliation Summary," a "Corporate Purchasing Cardmember Report," and a "travel voucher." The Governor's office did not identify what type of information was withheld, making it impossible to determine whether the redactions were lawful. When I wrote to the Governor's office to specifically ask for an explanation of the withheld material, I was ignored.
 
Local Finance Board issues Notice of Violation four ethics cases.
The Local Finance Board, which oversees complaints against New Jersey local government officials for violating the Local Goverment Ethics Law, does not put its meeting minutes on-line. And, when I do receive the Board's minutes through an Open Public Records Act (OPRA) request, the minutes refer to disposed cases only by case number, thus requiring an additional OPRA request in order to get any information about the substance of the case or the parties to it. Thus there is a substantial delay, as well as a substantial matter of work, in being able to publicly report on ethics matters. I recently OPRA'd the Notices of Violation in four ethics cases and have posted them on-line here. I am posting these records because the identities of the public officials involved are of public interest. I will summarize the cases below: Case No. C12-037: Raymond J. McCarthy, Bloomfield Township Mayor, fined $250 for using municipal resources during business hours to advance his own personal charity. Case No. C12-099: Robert Zimmerman, Fire Commissioner in Fire District #2 in Middle Township, for simultaneously serving as Fire Commissioner and as president of a fire department within the District. He was forced to resign one of those positions. Case No. C12-004: Robert J. Vanderslice, Salem County Freeholder, fined $100 for seconding a motion and voting in favor of a resolution appointing Donald Masten as Special Counsel to the County when a professional relationship existed between Vanderslice and Masten. Case No. C10-011: Ravinda S. Bhalla, Hoboken City Council member, fined $100 for voting in favor of a resolution providing for the continued legal services of Paul Conden, Esq., when Bhalla and Condon had a shared lease agreement. Each of these four officials may have exercised their right to have an administrative hearing and the results of that hearing may change the outcome.
 
Local Finance Board dismisses five ethics cases.
The Local Finance Board, which oversees complaints against New Jersey local government officials for violating the Local Goverment Ethics Law, does not put its meeting minutes on-line. And, when I do receive the Board's minutes through an Open Public Records Act (OPRA) request, the minutes refer to disposed cases only by case number, thus requiring an additional OPRA request in order to get any information about the substance of the case or the parties to it. Thus there is a substantial delay, as well as a substantial matter of work, in being able to publicly report on ethics matters. I recently OPRA'd the dismissal letters in five ethics cases and have posted them on-line here. Even though the matters were dismissed, the reasoning for the dismissals and the identities of the public officials involved are still of public interest. I will summarize the cases below: Case No. C11-083: John Coombs, Sr., Upper Pittsgrove Township Land Use Board Chairman, cleared violating the LGEL by acting in his official capacity on matters relating to applicant Atlantic Green Power while having a private business relationship with Edward Stella, the Vice President of Project Developement for Atlantic Green Power. Case No. C12-091: Joy-Michele Tomczak, Keyport Borough Council member, cleared violating the LGEL by participating in matters related to the appointment of a new Chief of Police despite her brother-in-law having been arrested by one of the candidates for that position. Case No. C08-021: Joel N. Goldman, Longport Zoning and Planning Board member, cleared violating the LGEL by failing to list his residence, which he owned, on his financial disclosure statement. Case No. C12-092: Matthew Doherty, Belmar Mayor, cleared violating the LGEL for "using his official position to tarnish the reputation of a colleague and provide ammunition to potential future political opponents of that member of Council." Case No. C12-095: Michael DuPont, Belmar Borough Attorney, cleared violating the LGEL for "using his official position to tarnish the reputation of a colleague and provide ammunition to potential future political opponents of that member of Council."
 
Former Estell Manor Mayor agrees to pay $100 to resolve ethics matter.
In February 2013, former Estell Manor City (Atlantic County) Mayor Joseph M. Venezia agreed to pay $100 to the State of New Jersey to resolve a complaint that had been filed against him for violating the Local Government Ethics Law. While it is not entirely clear, it appears that Venezia, who possessed a logging permit from the City, voted to introduce an ordinance that would have revoked certain City issued permits if the holder was delinquent in his or her property taxes. According to the settlement, a copy of which is on-line here, Venezia said that he "did not realize any unreasonable benefit from his participation in the vote to introduce" the ordinance but acknowledged "that the appearance of such involvement did exist, and a perception could have been created in which his participation might be expected to impair his objectivity or indepedence of judgment because of his open property tax obligation to the City."
 
Sexual harassment alleged in Neptune police lawsuit
On December 10, 2013, Elena Gonzalez and Christine Savage, both Neptune Township police officers, filed a civil lawsuit against their superior officers, Robert Adams, James Hunt and Michael Emmons. The female officers allege that they were passed over for promotions and training opportunities because of their gender. The lawsuit is on-line here. They also allege being subjected to sexual harassment. Some of the allegations are graphic, e.g. Emmons is accused of "gesturing as if he was masturbating and shooting at officers with his penis saying 'pow, pow pow." See, paragraph 24 of the suit. None of the allegations have been proven and the burden of proof is upon the plaintiffs.
 
Unpublished trial court OPRA opinion
"Unpublished opinions" are not published in the law books and are not ordinarily written about in legal periodicals. Unless somebody puts them on-line and calls attention to them, they are likely not to be located by people who may want to search for them. I think that it's important that court opinions, even if they are not precedential, are easily accessible for future use. Brewer v. Township of Middletown Monmouth County, Docket No. MON-L-2848-13 Hon. Lawrence M. Lawson, A.J.S.C. January 7, 2014 Click here for the opinion. Summary: Township, which provides self-insured group health plan to its employees, must, under common law right of access, disclose the names of employees who are enrolled, the type of coverage elected by each employee (i.e. single, family, etc.) and the annual cost of coverage for each type of election.
 
Bellmawr pays $850 to settle police lawsuit alleging warrantless search of hotel room.
On October 19, 2013, the Borough of Bellmawr (Camden County) agreed to pay $850 to a month-long resident of the Bellmawr Econo Lodge who claimed that police illegally entered his hotel room without a warrant or other legal cause. According to court papers, Bellmawr Police Sergeant Michael Draham was called to by hotel management on January 31, 2011 to investigate a report of two males and a female fighting in the hotel lobby. Prior to Draham's arrival, the two men, Salahuddin F. Smart and a man known as "Cuba" went to Smart's room to continue their discussion. When Draham and another officer arrived, hotel management directed them to Smart's room. The officers entered the room after allegedly telling Smart that they had a right to do so given that they had received a 911 call "of a fight from . . . within the room." Seeing no evidence of a fight in the room, the officers departed. Smart then filed a pro se federal civil rights suit alleging that Draham had unlawfully entered his hotel room. On September 24, 2012, United States District Court Judge Robert B. Kugler dismissed Smart's claim. Kugler held that while the entry into the motel room was brief, it "constituted a constitutional violation." But, Kugler found Draham to be covered by the doctrine of qualified immunity because it wasn't ?clear to any reasonable officer that his conduct was unlawful in the situation he confronted.? Kugler found that officers cannot "breezily dismiss" allegations of domestic violence and "automatically accept the explanations of a resident after receiving a 911 call." He found that under the circumstances, Draham's brief entry into Smart's room was justified. Smart appealed and a three-judge panel of the Third Circuit Court of Appeals reversed. The judges held that "Draham has presented no evidence supporting his generalized assertion that he was dispatched to the motel to investigate a potential incident of domestic violence. Because there is nothing in the record to suggest that the 911 call had anything to do with domestic violence, we cannot uphold the District Court?s conclusion that Draham could have reasonably believed that a warrantless search of Smart?s room based upon a possible domestic violence exception was justified." After the reversal, the Borough and Smart agreed to settle the case for $850. Also named in the suit was Bellmawr Police Chief William Walsh. The case is captioned Smart v. Bellmawr, Federal Case No. 1:11-cv-00996 and Smart had no attorney 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 Smart's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $850 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Bellmawr or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Bellmawr or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Smart $850 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. ABOUT ME AND WHY I'M POSTING THIS. I chair the New Jersey Libertarian Party's Open Government Advocacy Project which seeks to increase governmental transparency and accountability, particularly at a local level. For more information on the Libertarian Party, go to http://www.njlp.org. As part of my work, I routinely check civil court cases where at least one of the parties is a government agency or official. Most often, these settlement agreements are never revealed to the public. I post them on the Libertarian Party's blog at http://njcivilsettlements.blogspot.com and other public forums because I believe that civil settlements, regardless of amount, may be of interest to citizens and taxpayers. John Paff Somerset, New Jersey
 
Highland Park IA complaint
Police Accountability Project of the New Jersey Libertarian Party P.O. Box 5424 Somerset, NJ 08875 January 6, 2014 Internal Affairs Unit Highland Park Police Department 222 S. Fifth Ave. Highland Park, NJ 08904 (Via webform submission) Dear Sir or Madam: I chair the New Jersey Libertarian Party's Police Accountability Project and ask that you accept this letter as our Internal Affairs complaint. We would like your agency to investigate whether Lieutenant Gary Panichella and other officers and personnel employed by your agency acted in accordance with department policy and the law regarding a September 18, 2008 incident involving Jerome Shaw and Ada Knowles. According to the Appellate Division's January 3, 2014 decision in State v. Shaw and Knowles, Docket No. A-0971-11T1 and A-1318-11T1 (on-line here), Lieutenant Panichella conceded that he had "only had a 'hunch' that something was wrong," subjected Shaw to a Terry stop. The court also found that "the warrantless seizure of [a black shoulder] bag, and the ensuing inventory search of its contents at the station house, was unconstitutional." If your officers, despite having received adequate training and direction regarding when and how to conduct warrantless searches elected to ignore their training, we ask that you discipline them. Otherwise, we ask that your department review and supplement your training requirements in this area of the law. Thank you for your attention to this matter. Very truly yours, John Paff, Chairman New Jersey Libertarian Party Police Accountability Project P.O. Box 5424 Somerset, NJ 08875-5424 Phone: 732-873-1251 - Fax: 908-325-0129 Email: paff@pobox.com
 
Lawsuit challenges redactions to public meeting minutes.
While I frequently encounter instances where government bodies redact nonpublic (i.e. executive or closed) meeting minutes, it is very rare for a public body to redact the minutes of meetings that were held in public. It seems clear that a governmental body that discusses something in public cannot thereafter excise those discussions from the meeting minutes. In a December 30, 2013 lawsuit filed by Walter M. Luers, Esq. of Clinton (Paff v. Division of Local Government Services, Docket No. MER-L-000006-14), available on-line here, I am challenging the Local Finance Board's decision to make substantial redactions to its public session minutes. The matter has been assigned to Mercer County Assignment Judge Mary C. Jacobson and will probably heard within the next two months.
 
Burlington judge rules that DWI videotape is disclosable under OPRA
Not every New Jersey court decision is published in the law books. The vast majority of them are considered "unpublished opinions" and "shall not constitute precedent or be binding upon any court." See Court Rule 1:36-3. Even though they're not binding, these unpublished decisions can be persuasive to other courts. One potentially useful unpublished decision was authored by Burlington County Superior Court Judge Ronald E. Bookbinder on February 15, 2011 in the case of Stephen Monson and Virginia Monson v. Township of Mansfield. That decision, along with the summary judgment order and order to pay counsel fees, is on-line here. The Plaintiffs submitted an Open Public Records Act (OPRA) request for the video recording of a motor vehicle stop and drunk driving arrest of Anita DiMattia that took place in Mansfield Township on May 22, 2010. According to the court's opinion, DiMattia was an elected public official at the time of her drunk driving arrest. Mansfield Township Clerk Linda Remus denied the request and the Monsons sued. Judge Bookbinder first disallowed the Burlington County Prosecutor's Office from participating in the case as an amicus curiae (friend of the court). Judge Bookbinder found that not only did the Prosecutor's Office not file a motion to be allowed into the case, but that "there is no evidence before the Court that the Burlington County Prosecutor's Office will assist in the resolution of the instant case." Second, Judge Bookbinder found that the State's Records Retention and Disposition Schedule required the Mansfield Police Department to retain the video recording. Therefore, the recording was required by law to be made or maintained, thus removing it from OPRA's criminal investigatory exception. Third, Judge Bookbinder found that DiMattia had no reasonable expectation of privacy in the video. A few months later, Judge Bookbinder ordered the Township to pay the Monson's attorney $5,990 for his costs and fees. The Monsons were represented by Thomas Cannavo, Esq. and Mansfield Township was represented by Michael Magee, Esq. When Cain learned that the Press has asked for the recording, he sued Hamilton Township in an attempt to block the recording's release. He argued that the recording was a "criminal investigatory record" and exempt from disclosure. Judge Higbee, however, found that since DWI is not a "crime," the "criminal investigatory record" exception did not apply. Rather, Judge Higbee found that the only relevant OPRA exception was Hamilton Township's obligation to safeguard personal information to which a citizen has a reasonable expectation of privacy. This privacy exception required the court to balance the public's need for disclosure against Cain's need for privacy. Judge Higbee found that since Cain was an elected official, Township voters have a legitimate interest in his conduct and his compliance with traffic laws. She found that the public's interest in disclosure exceeded Cain's interest in privacy and thus released the recording. Cain appealed the ruling but, according to media reports, the Appellate Division declined to reverse it. A similar ruling was later handed down by Atlantic County Superior Court Judge Carol E. Higbee on March 3, 2011. See my blog entry on that case here. http://njopengovt.blogspot.com/2011/08/atlantic-judge-rules-that-dwi-videotape.html
 

 

Older issues:

 

2013
Ethics Complaint Against Mayor Fyfe
December 29, 2013 Patricia Parkin McNamara Local Finance Board 101 S Broad St ? PO Box 803 Trenton, NJ 08625-0803 (via e-mail only to Patricia.McNamara@dca.state.nj.us) Dear Ms. McNamara: I intend this letter to be my complaint against Roger J. Fyfe, Mayor of Montvale Borough in Bergen County. In accordance with N.J.A.C. 5:35-1.1(b), following are the required elements of the complaint: 1. State the point of the Local Government Ethics Law alleged to be violated. N.J.S.A. 40A:9-22.5(c) and (d) 2. State the name(s) and title(s) of the parties involved in the action and against whom the complaint is filed. John Paff and the New Jersey Libertarian Party Roger J. Fyfe 3. Set forth in detail the pertinent facts surrounding the alleged violative action. According to a December 27, 2013 article in The Record ("Judge strikes down Montvale DPW shared-services pact with River Vale," by Rebecca D. O'Brien, Staff Writer), a copy of which is on-line here, Superior Court Judge Lisa Perez Friscia found that Fyfe "breached conflict of interest laws by failing to disclose his brother-in-law?s involvement in the new DPW, and for not recusing himself during the discussions." 4. Indicate whether the complaint concerns the complainant in any way and what, if any, relationship the complainant has to the subject of the complaint. Complainant has no interest in or relationship to this complaint greater than any other citizen or organization who wishes for all government officers and employees to comply fully with the Local Government Ethics Law. 5. Indicate any other action previously taken in an attempt to resolve the issue and indicate whether the issue is the subject of pending litigation elsewhere. Save for the litigation mentioned in the article, no known other action has been taken previously in an attempt to resolve this issue and this issue is not the subject of any pending litigation. Thank you for your attention to this matter. I ask that you please acknowledge your receipt of this complaint within 30 days. Sincerely, http://www.state.nj.us/dca/divisions/dlgs/programs/ethics_docs/lgethics.pdf
 
Bergen Judge rules that school board must disclose agenda attachments prior to meeting.
On December 24, 2013, Bergen County Superior Court Assignment Judge Peter E. Doyne ruled that the Midland Park Board of Education, which posts its public meeting agendas on-line prior to each meeting, must also post the attachments and appendices referenced in the agenda to the extent that those attachments are not shielded by some recognized privilege. Judge Doyne's 18-page ruling is on-line here. Doyne wrote: "The failure of the MPBOE to provide attachments and supplemental documents renders the agendas virtually meaningless. Once the defendant posts the agenda, it is the Board's responsibility to ensure it is meaningful. The defendant cannot provide adequate notice without including the attachments to the agenda. The attachments in this case are not simply supplemental; they are an integral element necessary to understand the agenda." An example of Board's agenda that Judge Doyne felt was "virtually meaningless" without the attachments and appendices is on-line here. While Judge Doyne's ruling is not binding on other courts, other judges may consider it persuasive and adopt its reasoning in other suits brought in other counties. Readers are encouraged to bring Judge Doyne's opinion to the attention of their own governing bodies and school boards and encourage them to abide by it and consider litigation if they refuse.
 
Keansburg pays $5,000 to settle police false arrest suit
On March 28, 2013, the Borough of Keansburg (Monmouth County) agreed to pay $5,000 to a local woman and her minor son who sued members of the Keansburg Police Department for allegedly detaining them without probable cause and subjecting them to "coercive, psychological interrogation tactics." In their suit, Colleen Davis and her then nine-year old son said that their vehicle was stopped on December 14, 2007 and taken into custody by Patrol Officers Jason Lopez, Francis Wood, Joseph Pezzano, Joseph Kane, Nicolas Angerami and Michael Pigott. Davis claimed that the officers arrested her without probable cause and with their service weapons drawn. She alleged that the officers verbally abused, threatened and physically assaulted her in front of her son and threatened both her and her son with having her son taken away by the Division of Youth and Family Services. Ultimately, she claimed, she was "brow-beat" into giving a statement concerning a crime allegedly committed by her boyfriend, Donald Neri. She was charged with Disorderly Conduct and was ultimately found not guilty of that charge. She further claimed that the Keansburg Police continued to her harass her after the December 14, 2007 which forced her to relocate to Port Monmouth, New Jersey. Also named in the suit was Keansburg Police Chief Raymond O'Hare. The case is captioned Davis v. Keansburg, Federal Case No. 3:09-cv-06277 and Davis's attorney was Robert F. Varady of Union. Case documents are on-line here. None of Davis' allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $5,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Keansburg or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Keansburg or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Davis $5,000 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. ABOUT ME AND WHY I'M POSTING THIS. I chair the New Jersey Libertarian Party's Open Government Advocacy Project which seeks to increase governmental transparency and accountability, particularly at a local level. For more information on the Libertarian Party, go to http://www.njlp.org. As part of my work, I routinely check civil court cases where at least one of the parties is a government agency or official. Most often, these settlement agreements are never revealed to the public. I post them on the Libertarian Party's blog at http://njcivilsettlements.blogspot.com and other public forums because I believe that civil settlements, regardless of amount, may be of interest to citizens and taxpayers. John Paff Somerset, New Jersey
 
Hayek

 
Greenwich questioned on adequacy of special meeting's notice
December 18, 2013 Hon. William C. Reinhart, Mayor, and members of the Greenwich Township Committee P.O. Box 64 Greenwich, NJ 08323 (via e-mail only to garrisonL99@aol.com) Dear Mayor Reinhart and Committee members: I write on behalf of the New Jersey Libertarian Party's Open Government Advocacy Project regarding the manner in which the Township Committee advertises its meetings to the public. I note that the minutes of the September 25, 2013 special meeting (on-line here) state: Deputy Mayor Port called the meeting to order stating, ?Adequate notice of this meeting was provided in compliance with the Open Public Meeting Act by notifying the News of South Jersey on September 13, 2013." But, N.J.S.A. 10:4-8(d) states: ?Adequate notice? means written advance notice of at least 48 hours, giving the time, date, location and, to the extent known, the agenda of any regular, special or rescheduled meeting, which notice shall accurately state whether formal action may or may not be taken and which shall be (1) prominently posted in at least one public place reserved for such or similar announcements, (2) mailed, telephoned, telegrammed, or hand delivered to at least two newspapers which newspapers shall be designated by the public body to receive such notices because they have the greatest likelihood of informing the public within the area of jurisdiction of the public body of such meetings, one of which shall be the official newspaper . . ." And, N.J.S.A. 10:4-10 states: At the commencement of every meeting of a public body the person presiding shall announce publicly, and shall cause to be entered in the minutes of the meeting, an accurate statement to the effect. . . that adequate notice of the meeting has been provided, specifying the time, place, and manner in which such notice was provided . . ." http://ogtf.lpcnj.org/OPMA.htm The Open Public Meetings Act requires more than just notifying one newspaper in advance of the meeting. As shown above, it requires notification of two newspapers and posting in at least one public place. And, the minutes are required to "specif[y] . . . time, place, and manner in which such notice was provided . . ." From the information I have, I cannot tell whether a) proper notice was not given of this special meeting or b) whether proper notice was given but that the minutes do not accurately reflect how notice was given. Yet, it seems apparent that either N.J.S.A. 10:4-8(d) or N.J.S.A. 10:4-10 was violated. I ask that you please have Mr. Carr and Ms. Garrison look into this matter and advise me of the outcome. Very truly yours, John Paff, Chairman New Jersey Libertarian Party's Open Government Advocacy Project P.O. Box 5424 Somerset, NJ 08875 Voice: 732-873-1251 Fax: 908-325-0129 e-mail: paff@pobox.com cc. John Carr (via e-mail to jgccresseandcarr@gmail.com)
 
NcVicar Complaint
Sergeant Thomas D. McVicar, Jersey City PD
 
December 13, 2013 Gerald A. Buccafusco, TCA Hudson County Superior Court Administration Building 595 Newark Avenue Jersey City, NJ 07306 (via Fax only to 201-795-6603) Dear Trial Court Administrator Buccafusco: I just read the Appellate Division's decision in State v. R.W.H. (on-line here) that arose out of a Hudson County Family Part case bearing Docket No. FO-09-423-09. As noted by the Appellate Division, the conviction of and two-month jail sentence imposed against the defendant, "who had just been awarded custody of his three children . . . amounted to a prejudicial abuse of discretion." I was astonished by the cavalier manner in which the trial judge conducted himself and would like to know the trial judge's name so that I can identify him in my blog. I recognize the Appellate Division's unfortunate policy of never identifying reversed judges in their opinions (while frequently identifying judges whose decisions are affirmed), but I believe that the public has a right to know the names of judges who conduct themselves in such a poor fashion. Enclosed is a Judiciary Request form that references this letter. Please consider this request under the common law right of access in addition to the right of access conferred by R.1:38. Records Requested: Any record, such a judgment of conviction, order for incarceration, which shows the identify of the judge who presided over the proceedings that resulted in R.W.H.'s August 5, 2009 conviction. I understand that many Family Court records are confidential, so I just need one document, even if it has everything on it redacted except the caption of the case and the judge's name. Very truly yours,
 
OPRA Case: Paff v. City of Camden (Camden)
12/18 9 a.m. Camden County Courthouse, 101 South Fifth Street, Camden, New Jersey (Judge Lee Solomon) Issue: Whether overtime requests/slips submitted by Camden police officers who were on duty at the Susquehanna Center on July 28, 2012 for the Jason Aldean Concert and the corresponding approval or rejection of these request/slips are disclosable under OPRA or the common law right of access. Documents at: This hearing date and hour is subject to change. If you plan to attend, please call the court offices at 856-379-2234 the day prior to confirm that the hearing date and hour have not changed. Refer to Docket No. CAM-L-4167-13. John Paff
 
Letter to Cape May Prosecutor
December 11, 2013 Robert L. Taylor, Prosecutor Cape May County Prosecutor?s Office Via e-mail only to prosecutor@cmcpros.net RE: Question on Wildwood Crest's compliance with the Open Public Meetings Act Dear Prosecutor Taylor: I write on behalf of the New Jersey Libertarian Party's Open Government Advocacy Project seeking an investigation of whether the City of Wildwood Crest's notice of the special meetings of its Board of Commissioners complies with the "adequate notice" provisions of N.J.S.A. 10:4-8(d). I write to you because you have previously sent admonishments to public bodies that have violated the Meetings Act. (See, e.g. "Cape May County prosecutor says Lower Township is using emails to violate Sunshine Law," June 21, 2011 by Richard Degener of the Press of Atlantic City.) http://www.pressofatlanticcity.com/communities/lower_capemay/cape-may-county-prosecutor-says-lower-township-is-using-emails/article_e62613d0-9c63-11e0-9b90-001cc4c002e0.html N.J.S.A. 10:4-8(d) requires public bodies, among other things, to give notice of their public meetings by: mailed, telephoned, telegrammed, or hand delivered to at least two newspapers which newspapers shall be designated by the public body to receive such notices because they have the greatest likelihood of informing the public within the area of jurisdiction of the public body of such meetings, one of which shall be the official newspaper . . . N.J.S.A. 10:4-8 At a link here I have placed Wildwood Crest's November 7, 2013 Notice of two special meetings to be held on Tuesday, November 12, 2013 at 1 p.m. and Wednesday, November 13, at 1 p.m. According to the appended Certificate of Mailing, the Notice was both mailed and faxed to three newspapers. One of those papers is the Press of Atlantic City, which publishes daily, and the other two, the Gazette Leader and Cape May County Herald, publish weekly. The appended "Fax Call Report" indicates that each of the newspapers received its fax of the notice shortly after 5 p.m. on Thursday, November 7, 2013. While actual publication of the notice by the newspapers is not required, public bodies must take the newspapers' publication schedule into account when sending notices of public meetings. "When a public body sends meeting notices to newspapers for publication and, to the actual or readily ascertainable knowledge of that body, those newspapers cannot publish the notice at least 48 hours in advance of the meeting, there is no compliance with the Open Public Meetings Act." Worts v. Upper Township, 176 N.J.Super. 78 (Ch.1980). Although Worts is not binding precedent, the case has been cited by the Appellate Division with apparent approval. See Township of Bernards v. State, Dept. Of Community Affairs, 233 N.J.Super. 1, 26, (App.Div.1989), certif. denied, 118 N.J. 194 (1989), and certif. denied, 118 N.J. 195 (1989). See also, Lakewood Citizens for Integrity in Government, Inc. v. Lakewood Tp. Committee 306 N.J.Super. 500 (Law 1997). If we follow the rule pronounced in Worts, in order for Wildwood Crest's notice of its November 12, 2013 and November 13, 2013 meeting to be effective, it must have been received by at least two qualifying newspapers such that the newspapers could have published notice of the meeting at least 48 hours prior to the meetings taking place. The Herald publishes each Wednesday and the deadline for submitting legal advertisements is at noon on the prior Thursday. (See the Herald's publication policy on-line here). As noted above, Wildwood Crest's notice was faxed several hours after the Herald's Thursday noon publication deadline, so the the earliest that the Herald could have published the notice consistent with its publication schedule would have been on Wednesday, November 20th, which is well after the November 12th and November 13th meetings. Even if Wildwood Crest's fax been received by the Herald prior to noon on November 7th, the notice would not have been published until November 13th, which would not have given Crest citizens 48 hours advance notice of either meeting. Catamaran Media, which publishes several weekly newspapers including the Wildwood Leader which publishes each Thursday, has its publication deadline policy on-line here. In order for an announcement to be published in "Zone A" which includes the Leader, it has to be received by the newspaper by no later than 2 p.m. the prior Tuesday. Thus, Wildwood Crest's notice, having been faxed on Thursday, November 7th, could not have been published by the Leader until Thursday, November 14th, which is after both of the meetings sought to be noticed. Indeed, the Leader, in a November 14, 2013 article (on-line here), expressly noted that the Crest's delivery of the meeting notice was "past the Leader's deadline for print." The only newspaper notified by Wildwood Crest which was capable of publishing a timely notice of the November 12th and November 13th special meetings was the Press of Atlantic City, which publishes daily. But, the Press is only one newspaper and N.J.S.A. 10:4-8 expressly requires that timely notice be given to "at least two newspapers." Accordingly, Wildwood Crest's notice of the November 12th and November 13th special meetings was deficient. Would you please look into this matter and let me know your thoughts? John Paff, Chairman New Jersey Libertarian Party's Open Government Advocacy Project P.O. Box 5424 Somerset, NJ 08875 Voice: 732-873-1251 Fax: 908-325-0129 e-mail: paff@pobox.com cc. Wildwood Crest Mayor and Board of Commissioners via e-mail only to jholzmer@wildwoodcrest.org
 
Official moves out of state and avoids an ethics infraction
On December 2, 2013, the Local Finance Board (LFB) dismissed an ethics complaint against a former member of the Winslow Township (Camden County) Board of Health because the official moved to Georgia and did not respond to the LFB's letter sent to what the Post Office reports as his forwarding address. In its dismissal letter to Daniel Wilkinson (Complaint No. LFB-11-053), on-line here, the LFB found that Wilkinson, who had resigned from the Board of Health on January 12, 2012, "failed to file a 2011 Annual Financial Disclosure Statement . . . in accordance with the requirements of the Local Government Ethics Law." While the LFB found that Wilkinson's resignation "did not in and of itself absolve [Wilkinson] of the duty to file the financial disclosure statement for 2011," it ultimately closed the complaint because he "no longer resides in the State and attempts to contact [him] in both New Jersey and Georgia were unsuccessful." It is not clear from the LFB's determination letter whether the Georgia address that the Post Office listed as Wilkinson's forwarding address was invalid or whether Wilkinson received the LFB's correspondence at his Georgia address but simply neglected to respond. Apparently, local government officials who violate the ethics law may be able to escape liability by moving and not responding the LFB's letters sent to the forwarding address furnished by the Post Office.
 
Howell pays $50,000 to settle female officer's gender discrimination suit.
On July 18, 2013, the Township of Howell (Monmouth County) agreed to pay $50,000 to a former Township police officer who sued that male officers in the department discriminated against her because of her gender. In her suit, Minelli Torres, who began her career with Howell in 2002, said that she has been "subjected to discriminatory behavior based on her female gender by Lieutenant Andrew Kudrick" since soon after she was hired. She claims that Kudrick photocopied her paycheck and after she asked that future paychecks be put in sealed envelopes "the pattern of discriminatory and illegal behavior" began. She claimed that after being involved in a motor vehicle accident and learning that she was pregnant, she was ordered to patrol Route 9 because she allegedly "was not pulling enough cars over." She claimed that this reassignment made her feel "embarrassed and humiliated in front of her co-workers." She verbally brought her concerns to Local PBA President Corporal Guy Arancio° who reported them to police superior officers. She later told Arancio that she didn't wish to pursue the matter but she was later contacted by Captain Jeff Mayfield who demanded that she give a written statement regarding the alleged harassment by Kudrick. She claimed that she then was served with disciplinary charges "for insubordination and untruthfulness surrounding her allegations of harassment directed at Lieutenant Kudrick." As part of the settlement, Torres agreed to resign from the Howell Police Department effective June 9, 2010. The case is captioned Torres v. Howell, Monmouth County Superior Court Docket No. MON-L-1664-09 and Torres's attorney was Frank M. Crivelli of Hamilton. 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 Torres's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $50,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Howell or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Howell or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Torres $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. ABOUT ME AND WHY I'M POSTING THIS. I chair the New Jersey Libertarian Party's Open Government Advocacy Project which seeks to increase governmental transparency and accountability, particularly at a local level. For more information on the Libertarian Party, go to http://www.njlp.org. As part of my work, I routinely check civil court cases where at least one of the parties is a government agency or official. Most often, these settlement agreements are never revealed to the public. I post them on the Libertarian Party's blog at http://njcivilsettlements.blogspot.com and other public forums because I believe that civil settlements, regardless of amount, may be of interest to citizens and taxpayers. John Paff Somerset, New Jersey
 
Letter to Deerfield Township
December 11, 2013 Hon. Frank R. Spatola, Jr., Mayor and members of the Deerfield Township Committee 736 Landis Avenue Rosenhayn, New Jersey (via e-mail only to kseifrit@comcast.net) Dear Mayor Spatola and Committee members: It was my pleasure to address the Committee during the public portion of its December 4, 2013 public meeting. I hope that my comments and suggestions on how Deerfield Township could go above and beyond in its Open Public Meetings Act compliance were taken to heart. In order to aid you in implementing my suggestions, I have attached here and here, respectively, MS Word and PDF versions of my recommended changes to § 5-10 of the Township Code which regulates conduct of Committee meetings. As you can see, my suggested language strengthens the Committee's commitment to the principles embodied within the Meetings Act and, if adopted, would make Deerfield a model for other local government agencies to emulate. I ask that you please review this matter at your December 18, 2013 meeting. And, I would appreciate it if you would let me know how the Committee decides to act on this matter. Thank you for your attention to this matter. Very truly yours, John Paff, Chairman New Jersey Libertarian Party's Open Government Advocacy Project P.O. Box 5424 Somerset, NJ 08875 Voice: 732-873-1251 Fax: 908-325-0129 e-mail: paff@pobox.com
 
OPRA to Bernards Township
December 6, 2013 Denise Szabo, Clerk Township of Bernards 1 Collyer Lane Basking Ridge, NJ 07920-1441 via e-mail to dszabo@bernards.org RE: OPRA Request Dear Ms. Szabo: Please consider this my request for government records under OPRA and the common law right of access. Yesterday, December 5, 2013, U.S. District Judge Michael A. Shipp entered an order dismissing Albert and Francis Ascolese's lawsuit against Bernards Township Police because it was settled. In their civil complaint, the Ascoleses contended that Bernards Police Detectives Timothy King and Michael Sweeny, along with Police Officers Kevin Little and Scott Ward "targeted and subjected [them] to harassment . . . for selective enforcement on numerous occassions." It appears that Albert is Francis' father and that Albert was called into headquarters after Francis had been arrested for trespassing on August 18, 2010. According to Albert, the police told Albert that they wanted Frank to sign a confession to the trespassing charge and when he asserted his son's Fifth Amended rights against self incrimination, the police retaliated by charging him with burglary, which is a more serious charge. Albert claimed that the police, to further retailiate against him, arrested him for witness tampering on September 10, 2010. Francis and Albert both claim that all the charges against them were dropped. The father and son further allege that the police kept harassing them by detaining Francis on Aptil 4, 2011. I think that knowing the amount of the settlement is of interest because it will allow the public to make an educated guess as to the merits of the Ascoleses' lawsuit. Would you please send me: a. The settlement agreement that resolved this lawsuit that shows, among other things, the amount of the settlement? b. The police incident relating to the charges against Albert that issued on or about September 10, 2010? Thank you very much for your attention to this matter. Very truly yours,
 
West Deptford
December 6, 2013 Todd J. Gelfand Barker Scott & Gelfand 1939 Marlton Pike E Cherry Hill, NJ 08003-4506 via e-mail to tgelfand@barkerlawfirm.net RE: Ainsley v. West Deptford Docket or Case No. GLO-L-1422-12 Dear Mr. Gelfand: On-line here is a December 6, 2013 letter from the West Deptford Clerk indicating that she could not provide me with the settlement agreement pertaining to the captioned matter because "[n]o settlement has been reached." On-line here are screen shots from the Superior Court's ACMS System showing that the case "settled" in mediation on June 28, 2013. Since you were West Deptford's counsel on the case, I ask that you please check your records to see if there is a document that satisfies my request for this settlement agreement. Thank you very much. cc. Michelle Hack, Deputy Clerk mhack@westdeptford.com
 
Court: Some Police Internal Affairs records may be disclosable
On-line here is a link to a November 26, 2013 West Virginia Supreme Court opinion that discusses police internal affairs records and holds that sometimes, the public right to access them is greater than the police officer's or government's interest in confidentiality. A newspaper article regarding the decision is on-line here. Perhaps it's time to challenge New Jersey's policy of never disclosing IA matters, even in closed cases, to the public.
 
Wildwood Crest questioned on meeting minutes
November 29, 2013 Mayor Carl Groon, and members of the Wildwood Crest Borough Commission via e-mail to jholzmer@wildwoodcrest.org Dear Mayor Groon and Commissioners: In response to a recent Open Public Records Act request, I received redacted minutes from the Board's November 18, 2013 nonpublic (i.e. executive or closed session). I have placed these minutes on-line here. I invite your attention to the sentence within the minutes that states that "[d]iscussion was also had regarding the hiring of a special investigator." As you know, this special investigator was hired to investigate a police internal affairs matter. The rumors circulating throughout the Borough are that the investigation relates to a police employee who has earned the rank of lieutenant or higher. Regardless of the truth of these rumors, this is a matter of great public interest and it's very important that there is sufficient information available so that Borough voters and taxpayers, at least at some point in the future, can understand the nature of the investigation and draw their own conclusions as to whether the Borough's elected and appointed officials acted reasonably. N.J.S.A. 10:4-14 requires meeting minutes to be ?reasonably comprehensible.? Do you think that this terse statement about an investigation in the minutes, without more, reasonably captures the sense of the discussion that took place during the closed meeting? The purpose of closed meeting minutes is not merely to inform the public of what occurred during the private session, but also to create a record for the Board members themselves. Do you think that a Board member who is newly elected in, say, 2015 could be able, by referring solely to the November 18, 2013 closed session minutes, to figure out exactly the context of the Board's discussion about the special investigator? Don't you think that this new Board member would ask himself or herself "Who was being investigated?" and "What are the circumstances surrounding the investigation?" Better practice would be to have Clerk Holzmer record more verbose minutes and then redact them, as necessary, before publicly disclosing them. For example, instead of stating what Clerk Holzmer wrote in the November 18, 2013 minutes, the minute entry might hypothetically read Mayor Groon informed the Board that the Cape May County Prosecutor had declined to do an investigation of Police Captain John Doe for misusing police property and requested that the Borough do its own investigation. Mayor Groon said that despite the result in West Wildwood's lawsuit with employee William Null in 2008, he recommended that Fallon Associates be retained to conduct the investigation. Of course, the Borough could probably redact "Captain John Doe" and perhaps other details from the minutes before releasing them to the public but at least the information would exist and would possibly, some day, be disclosable to the public. And, as stated above, the Commissioners would be able to comprehend the minutes without having to reference outside material. Recording more verbose minutes is not only good policy, but?at least regarding personnel matters-- is required by law. In 1991, the New Jersey Supreme Court held that ?minutes are intended to recite and disclose any official decision or action taken by a public body, and necessarily must contain sufficient facts and information to permit the public to understand and appraise the reasonableness of the public body?s determination.? South Jersey Publishing Co., Inc. v. New Jersey Expressway Auth., 124 N.J. 478, 493 (1991). Please discuss the issues raised in this letter at your next meeting and let me know what, if any, changes the Board is willing to make to the manner in which it records minutes of its closed sessions. Thank you very much for your attention to this matter. I look forward to hearing from you. John Paff, Chairman New Jersey Libertarian Party's Open Government Advocacy Project P.O. Box 5424 Somerset, NJ 08875 Voice: 732-873-1251 Fax: 908-325-0129 e-mail: paff@pobox.com
 
Wildwood Crest authorizes $9,500 for "special outside investigator."
Something interesting is going on with the Wildwood Crest Police Department. I've been submitting Open Public Records Act (OPRA) requests to try to find out what's going on, and this is what I've found out so far. On October 24, 2013, the Wildwood Crest Board of Commissioners passed Resolutions 1131-13 and 1132-13, which, respectively, a) hired Joseph Beisel as a "special outside investigator for purposes of conducting an internal affairs investigation concerning employees administrative proceedings," and b) hired William G. Blaney, Esq. to perform some unspecified, but apparently related, services regarding the same investigation. (Copy of page from October 24, 2013 meeting minutes, on-line here). Yet, according to Borough Clerk Janelle M. Holzmer's November 26, 2013 responsive e-mail "no contract was entered into for Mr. Beisel." (Your responsive e-mail is on-line here.) On November 18, 2013, the Commissioners passed Resolution 1144-13 which authorized James Fallon to act as a "special outside investigator for purposes of conducting an internal affairs investigation concerning employees administrative proceedings," apparently replacing Mr. Beisel. (Copy of the resolution and contract with Fallon are on-line here.) The Board's decision to hire Fallon was made after the Board came out of closed (i.e. private) session and as the only item of business at the November 18, 2013 Board meeting. The resolution that authorized the Board's November 18, 2013 closed session, at the link above, states that the reason for the private meeting was to discuss "long-term administrative strategic plan." Sounds fishy. Anyone who has any information regarding what is really going on here may write to me at paff@pobox.com. While I will maintain confidentiality, all are welcome to sign up for a free Hushmail account that will virtually assure anonymity. https://www.hushmail.com/
 
Letter to Wildwood Crest Clerk
November 29, 2013 Janelle M. Holzmer, Clerk Borough of Wildwood Crest via e-mail only to jholzmer@wildwoodcrest.org Dear Ms. Holzmer: I am a bit confused by your November 26, 2013 response to my records request. Part of my confusion stems from the fact that the set of minutes that I've placed on-line here (20131118Open) do not set forth the date of the meeting in the first paragraph. (All that is said is that the meeting "was held in the Municipal Court Room at 1:00 p.m." but no date is given.) I'm pretty sure from your November 26, 2013 e-mail that this meeting was held on November 18, 2013, but I think it would be better practice (and comport better with N.J.S.A. 10:4-14) if the minutes contained the date of the meeting in the firt paragraph. Beyond that, I am confused by the second paragraph of the minutes which claims that the Open Public Meetings Act was complied with "by posting notice on the bulletin board in the Borough Hall and by mailing same to the Gazette-Leader, the Herald and The Press on November 28, 2012." Resolution No. 890-12, as published in the Cape May Couty Herald Times on December 12, 2012, does not contain any reference to a November 18, 2013 meeting. Furthermore, item 10 of the Commissioners' November 25, 2013 meeting agenda show that November 18, 2013 meeting was a "special meeting." Accordingly, I believe that the second paragraph of the November 18, 2013 minutes are in error in that they don't accurately set forth the manner in which the public was given notice of that meeting. Would you please ask the Board of Commissioners, at its next meeting, to resolve to amend the November 18, 2013 meeting minutes so that they comport with the Open Public Meetings Act? Thank you very much. John Paff, Chairman New Jersey Libertarian Party's Open Government Advocacy Project P.O. Box 5424 Somerset, NJ 08875 Voice: 732-873-1251 Fax: 908-325-0129 e-mail: paff@pobox.com
 
Loss on "private prison" OPRA lawsuit
in an unpublished November 21, 2013 decision, a two-judge Appellate Division panel affirmed Essex County Judge Rachel Davidson's October 12, 2012 dismissal of my OPRA complaint against Community Education Centers, Inc., a private corporation that provides prison services to Essex County through an agreement with an intermediary non-profit corporation. The Appellate Division's written decision is on-line here and background information on the case is on-line here. My basic argument is that running prisons is a traditional function of government and that a government's decision to contract its prisons to a private vendor should not deprive citizens of access to the records that would be attainable if the government operates the prisons directly. Attorney Richard Gutman of Montclair will be asking the Supreme Court to hear my appeal in this case.
 
Roselle Park Loitering
November 19, 2013 Mayor Joseph Accardi Hon. Joseph Accardi, Mayor and members of the Roselle Park Borough Council 110 E Westfield Ave Roselle Park, NJ 07204 (via E-mail only to dcali@rosellepark.net ) RE: Roselle Park Code 3-10 Sleeping or Habitation Dear Mayor Accardi and Members of the Borough Council: As you know, the Borough Council recently amended the captioned code provision to meet the objections raised in my December 2010 correspondence, which is on-line here. The only difference I can detect between the new version and the old is that the new deletes the definition of "loitering" from § 3-10.1. Yet, § 3-10.2 still contains a loitering prohibition, as pointed out in my December 6, 2010 follow-up letter. Both versions of the ordinance are on-line here. Would you please have your attorney redraft a version of the ordinance that restricts itself only to sleeping and habitation and leaves loitering unambiguously out of its scope? Thank you very much for your attention to this matter. John Paff, Chairman New Jersey Libertarian Party's Preempted Ordinance Repeal Project
 
OPRA Case: Schmidt v. Haddonfield Board of Education (Camden)
12/20 9 a.m. Camden County Courthouse, 101 South Fifth Street, Camden, New Jersey (Judge to be Determined) Issue: School board allegedly furnished only partial records to requestor's July 1, 2013 request and did not respond at all to his August 6, 2013 request. Documents at: This hearing date and hour is subject to change. If you plan to attend, please call the court offices at 856-379-2234 the day prior to confirm that the hearing date and hour have not changed. Refer to Docket No. CAM-L-3988-13. John Paff
 
Cape May Judge rules in Middle Township's favor in OPRA case
On November 14, 2013, Cape May County Superior Court Judge Nelson C. Johnson dismissed a lawsuit filed by a Wildwood private detective alleging that Middle Township Clerk Kimberly Krauss violated his rights under the Open Public Records Act (OPRA) and the common law right of access. In his complaint (Wilson v. Middle Township, et al, Docket No. CPM-L-291-13), filed on June 24, 2013, private detective Albert F. Wilson, represented by Christopher Gillin-Schwartz, Esq., of Barry, Corrado & Grassi, P.C. of Wildwood, challenged Krauss' April 29, 2013 letter of denial, which included a table that identified six e-mails by date, sender, recipient and subject line, and claimed that all six e-mails were entirely exempt from disclosure due to the attorney-client privilege. In his brief, Wilson argued that Krauss' table did "not provide descriptions sufficient to justify the claim of privilege" and that "the existence of attorney client privilege . . . cannot be demonstrated simply by including the prosecutor and solicitor in the list of e-mail recipients." Krauss and Middle Township, represented by William J. Kaufmann, Esq. of Cafiero & Balliette of Wildwood, conceded that the Township had, on July 8, 2013, released two of the previously withheld e-mails to Wilson. As to the four remaining e-mail, they argued that the table Krauss provided to Wilson was sufficient. Kaufmann analogized the four e-mails to the parties to the e-mail being "physically all together in a room at the same time and [saying] to each other the exact same things that were said in the e-mails." He argued that the discussion, which "concerned an on-going municipal court prosecution, the strategy being employed by the Municipal Prosecutor and whether or not a meeting with the defendant and its attorney should occur" would have been covered by the privilege. Since e-mail is a "virtual conference room" he argued that the e-mails should have the same protections afforded to an in-person conversation. Judge Johnson placed his findings of fact and conclusions of law on the record in open court on October 31, 2013. Anyone interested in hearing Judge Johnson's findings and conclusions may order a compact disc from the court offices. His written order, prepared by Kaufmann, shows that he dismissed Wilson's complaint "without attorney's fees" and ordered that Wilson pay the out of pocket court costs (not including attorney fees) incurred by the Township and Krauss. Documents from the case are on-line here.
 
Hoboken pays $99,000 to settle police officer's racial discrimination case.
On May 21, 2013, the City of Hoboken (Hudson County) agreed to pay $99,000 to a police officer who sued members of the Hoboken Police Department for racial discrimination and ethnic hostility. The officer also agreed to retire from the Department "effective May 1, 2014 or on the twenty fifth (25th) anniversary of his employment for retirement pension purposes, whichever date is later." In his suit, William James said that African-American officers such as him were routinely passed over for promotion. He claimed that the Hoboken Police Department uses "an arbitrary process of 'off the books' promotions" which gives the police administration "unfettered discretion to place cronies, friends or favorites in 'acting' positions of higher rank." Beyond promotional issues, James also claimed that he "saw images of Hoboken Police Personnel wearing what are obviously Ku Klux Klan hoods made out of table napkins." Individually named in the suit were former Mayor David Roberts, Former Police Chief Carmen V. LaBruno and former Public Safety Director William Bergen. Neither Roberts, LaBruno nor Bergen signed off on the settlement, but James' complaint was dismissed against them as part of the settlement. The case is captioned James v. Hoboken, Docket No. HUD-L-1961-10 and James's attorney was Robert M. Anderson of Allenhurst. Case documents are on-line here. None of James's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $99,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Hoboken or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Hoboken or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay James $99,000 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. ABOUT ME AND WHY I'M POSTING THIS. I chair the New Jersey Libertarian Party's Open Government Advocacy Project which seeks to increase governmental transparency and accountability, particularly at a local level. For more information on the Libertarian Party, go to http://www.njlp.org. As part of my work, I routinely check civil court cases where at least one of the parties is a government agency or official. Most often, these settlement agreements are never revealed to the public. I post them on the Libertarian Party's blog at http://njcivilsettlements.blogspot.com and other public forums because I believe that civil settlements, regardless of amount, may be of interest to citizens and taxpayers. John Paff Somerset, New Jersey
 
Stafford Police Sergeant alleges bias and retaliation.
On March 13, 2013, a sergeant with the Stafford Township (Ocean County) Police Department sued the Department, former Mayor James McMenamin, Township Administrator James Moran, Police Chief Joseph Giberson, III and Police Lieutenant Thomas J. Dellane for retaliating against him because he was not politically aligned with McMenamin and Giberson. In his suit, a copy of which is on-line here (Linck v. Stafford, Docket No. OCN-L-734-13), Sergeant John L. Linck, said that he was politically aligned and allies with former Police Chiefs Thomas B. Conroy, who retired in 2010, and Larry D. Parker who retired in 2005. He said that McMenamin, who previously was a Stafford police lieutenant, is politically aligned with Chief Giberson and that McMenamin and Giberson "were on the politically opposite sides of the fence" from Parker and Conroy. Linck claims that after Conroy's retirement, he was transferred from his position as an administrative sergeant to working the road on the midnight shift, despite there being two sergeants with less seniority who worked the day shift. He further alleges that Giberson and Dellane refused to allow him to take a make-up of the "Chief's test" component of a three part exam in which he and six other officers were competing for promotion to lieutenant. Linck claims that on the day of the "Chief's test," he was bedridden with bronchitis and influenza and that the refusal to allow a make-up was unreasonable given the fact that another officer, Michael Korpon, was allowed to take a make-up when he was ill in 2008. Linck also claims that he was improperly given a lower evaluation than Sergeant James Vaughn even though he had scored ranked number one in productivity during 2012 while Vaughn scored last in productivity. He alleges that the unfair way in which the test was scored, along with Giberson's refusal to let him take a make-up test, caused him to score seventh out of the seven candidates vying for the promotion. He further claims that Giberson refused to evaluate his performance during the three years prior to the promotional test, causing him getting a lower score than he ought to have received.
 
Comments Regrding Local Government Ethics Law enfocement rules
November 15, 2013 Patricia Parkin McNamara, Executive Secretary Local Finance Board Department of Community Affairs P.O. Box 803 Trenton, New Jersey 08625-0803 Rule Proposal PRN 2013-149 Readoption of N.J.A.C. 5:35 - Local Government Ethics Law Dear Ms. McNamara: I wish to provide my written comments and recommendations regarding the captioned proposal. For the reader's ready reference, the proposal is on-line here. I. Relax N.J.A.C. 5:35-1.2 so that public can get more timely information about ethics complaint filings. This rule currently provides that all ethics complaints and even identifying information about complaints be kept "confidential and not subject to public disclosure during the course of the preliminary investigation or investigation to determine whether a violation of the Local Government Ethics Law has occurred . . ." This would all be well and good if the Local Finance Board's staff expeditiously adjudicated complaints. But, the reality is that complaints sometimes languish in the investigation stage for many years. For example, on-line here are two pages from rosters of the Board's complaint list from, respectively, July 20, 2012 and July 26, 2013. I invite your attention to the complaints numbered 06-011 and 06-041. Complaint 2006-011 was redacted by the LFB from the 2012 roster and excluded from the 2013 roster. This means that as of July 2013--more than seven years after 2006-011's filing--the public was still not permitted to know against whom the complaint was filed or even what agency with which the accused was associated. Complaint 2006-011 was redacted from the LFB's 2012 roster but was disclosed on its 2013 roster, presumably because the matter was adjudicated or otherwise resolved between mid-2012 and mid-2013. Upon resolution of the matter--some six to seven years after the complaint's filing--Upper Freehold Township citizens could finally inform themselves that Township Committeeman William Miscoski was accused of an ethics violation by Stephen Edelstein. At that point, any citizen could submit an Open Public Records Act request for the complaint and the LFB's disposition. But, would not this information be much more useful to voters in, say, 2006 or 2007 rather than finally becoming available five or six years after Miscoski departed from public office? (The January 3, 2008 meeting agenda of the Upper Freehold Township Committee indicates that Miscoski's service as an elected official ended on December 31, 2007.) From reviewing N.J.S.A. 40A:9-22, I find nothing that statutorily compels this level of confidentiality. Thus, it appears that the decision to afford confidentiality to complaints and information about complaints during the investigative phase is within the discretion of the Board and is subject to the rulemaking process. I assert that there is no sound policy reason for this level of confidentiality to be conferred upon allegations of misconduct by Local Government Officers, especially those who are elected. After all, if I or any other ordinary citizen was charged, say, with a shoplifting offense, that allegation could be spread out in the newspapers and on Internet blogs immediately. Why should public officials, who have much less of an expectation of privacy than an ordinary citizens, have charges alleging their ethical impropriety shielded from the citizens and voters they serve? Even lawyers, who are arguably the most jealous proponents of keeping their profession's charges of misconduct out of the public eye, recognize that allegations against them should be made public after the ethics system has "determined that there is a reasonable prospect of a finding of ethical misconduct by clear and convincing evidence." See R.1:20-4(a). Why should not a similar test be applied to Local Government Ethics matters? Accordingly, I recommend that N.J.A.C. 5:35-1.2 be amended so that substantial information about an ethics complaint be publicly disclosed after a finding of probable cause, or when a finding similar to that required in attorney disciplinary matters in accordance with R.1:20-4(a), is made. II. Amend N.J.A.C. 5:35-1.2 to get the Local Finance Board on into the Internet age. This is 2013 and on-line databases are not recent inventions. Given this, why in the world should I or any other citizen have to file OPRA requests for rosters of open and closed LFB ethics complaints or documents filed in those complaints that have become public? Even the New Jersey Superior Court, as challenged as it is technologically, has an on-line database (called the Automated Case Management System) that is capable, albeit awkwardly, of giving citizens some access to Superior Court, Civil Chancery and Law case information. Even better is the federal court's PACER system, which allows case documents to be downloaded for an affordable price. So, what's the problem with the Local Finance Board? The Board has an Internet site and undoubtedly has access to Internet techs on the State payroll. Why can't the LFB launch an interactive, on-line database that allows citizens to query for information on pending and closed ethics matters, with hyperlinks to filed case documents? Accordingly, I recommend that N.J.A.C. 5:35-1.2 be amended to establish a deadline within which the LFB promises to launch such an interactive, on-line database. Very truly yours,
 
Hudson Sheriff pays $180,000 to employee's whistleblower and discrimination suit
On August 2, 2013, the County of Hudson, on behalf of the Hudson County Sheriff's Department agreed to pay $180,000 to 56-year-old female Sheriff's Officer who has been employed by the Department since 1985. In her suit, Rosemary Frank said that her superiors harassed, retaliated and discriminated against her due to her settling a separate lawsuit in the mid-1990's in which she claimed that he was sexually harassed in the workplace. She claimed that after she was prevented from becoming a sergeant, she was told by a lieutenant that "she would never be promoted because of her previous lawsuit." Frank also claimed that despite having seniority, she was forced to take the night shift by Lieutenant Gary Reibesell who allegedly threatened her with a transfer if she refused to take the shift. She made several other allegations of discriminatory treatment at the hands of Reibesell "which resulted in her hospitalization due to the stress of the situation." She also said that a Sergeant Webber, while leading a hostile work environment training seminar encouraged an officer to read a passage aloud from the manual "in a manner that mocked gay people." The case is captioned Frank v. Hudson, Docket No. HUD-L-539-10 and Frank's attorney was Charles J. Sciarra of Clifton. Case documents are on-line here. None of Frank's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $180,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Hudson or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Hudson or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Frank $180,000 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. ABOUT ME AND WHY I'M POSTING THIS. I chair the New Jersey Libertarian Party's Open Government Advocacy Project which seeks to increase governmental transparency and accountability, particularly at a local level. For more information on the Libertarian Party, go to http://www.njlp.org. As part of my work, I routinely check civil court cases where at least one of the parties is a government agency or official. Most often, these settlement agreements are never revealed to the public. I post them on the Libertarian Party's blog at http://njcivilsettlements.blogspot.com and other public forums because I believe that civil settlements, regardless of amount, may be of interest to citizens and taxpayers. John Paff Somerset, New Jersey
 
State pays $6,000 to settle police improper detention/assault suit
On June 14, 2013, the State of New Jersey agreed to pay $6,000 to a Newark man who sued members of the New Jersey State Police for allegedly assaulting him, macing him and arresting him without probable cause. In his suit, Salah Williams said that on January 29, 2008, he was walking near his carpet store in Newark when he was detained without cause by Troopers Gerald Dellagicoma and David Valente. He claimed that the Troopers "proceeded to physically assault [him] and maced him for no reason at all." He also claimed that in order to cover up their improper acts, the Troopers, along with Supervising Trooper Dennis White, "conspired together and filed false criminal charges against" him which were ultimately dismissed. The case is captioned Williams v. State, Federal Case No. 2:10-cv-03478 and Williams's attorney was Randy P. Davenport of Newark. Case documents are on-line here. None of Williams's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $6,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by State or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that State or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Williams $6,000 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. ABOUT ME AND WHY I'M POSTING THIS. I chair the New Jersey Libertarian Party's Open Government Advocacy Project which seeks to increase governmental transparency and accountability, particularly at a local level. For more information on the Libertarian Party, go to http://www.njlp.org. As part of my work, I routinely check civil court cases where at least one of the parties is a government agency or official. Most often, these settlement agreements are never revealed to the public. I post them on the Libertarian Party's blog at http://njcivilsettlements.blogspot.com and other public forums because I believe that civil settlements, regardless of amount, may be of interest to citizens and taxpayers. John Paff Somerset, New Jersey
 
Buena pays $250,000 to settle police officer's discrimination/harassment suit
On October 22, 2013, the Borough of Buena (Atlantic County) agreed to pay $250,000 to a Hispanic police officer who claimed that officials in the Buena police department harassed and created a hostile work environment for him. In his suit, Ronald Bonilla, who was hired as a patrol officer in 2009, said that it was the policy of the Buena Police Department to target Hispanic drivers. Bonilla claimed that he was the only Hispanic in an otherwise completely Caucasian department. He claimed that before becoming his direct superior officer, Sergeant Stacey Steudle told him that "she is not a big ticket writer, but if I need to keep my stats up I will find a Mexican and write him ten tickets." (In December 2009, Steudle settled her own whistleblower lawsuit against the Borough for $375,000--click here.) http://njcivilsettlements.blogspot.com/2012/09/buena-pays-375000-to-settle-police.html Bonilla claimed that the police management, including Chief David P. Sherma, had "a discriminatory bias against minorities." When Bonilla complained to Sherma about the racial profiling, Bonilla said that he became the target of mistreatment and harassment by the other officers. Specifically, he claims that he was not backed up by other officers, was falsely charged with not backing up other officers and that Steudle would repeatedly belittle him and cover up a Puerto Rican flag that he had put on his locker. When he was performing desk duty, he was harassed by a picture of "a dog scooping up a pile of dog waste" and la bled "our new employee" that was placed directly in front of his desk. The case is captioned Bonilla v. Buena, Federal Case No. 1:11-cv-05412 and Bonilla's attorney was Adam J. Kleinfeldt of Newark. Case documents are on-line here. None of Bonilla's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $250,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Buena or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Buena or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Bonilla $250,000 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.
 
Allowing for repeated extensions can undermine the power of OPRA
RE: OPRA Request No. W80276 November 8, 2013 Colleen M. Kelly, Records Custodian Division of Local Government Services P.O. Box 803 Trenton, NJ 08625-0803 Phone: 609-292-0827 Fax: 609-633-6243 E-Mail: ckelly@dca.state.nj.us Dear Ms. Kelly: As you know, I submitted a records request on September 27, 2013 for the pages from the Local Finance Board's meeting minutes for all meetings after January 9, 2013. You will recall that I asked for just the pages of the minutes that dealt with the Local Government Ethics Law. In my request, I had remarked that these minutes were "very concise and informative." Indeed, they consisted of only two pages. (Please see a copy of those minutes on-line here.) On October 7, 2013, you sent me an e-mail explaining that the Division had "asked the Attorney General's Office for a legal opinion regarding the records . . . to ensure that [the Division does] not release information that will subject the Division or an impacted municipality to liability in violations of protections related to matters that are privileged." I was confused by this response, since only nine meetings had occurred between January 9, 2013 and the date of my request. Even though I questioned the need for an extension, I acquiesced. On October 29, 2013, you sent me another similar e-mail seeking another extension until November 26, 2013. In your e-mail you state that you need the extension because "the Division cannot control the timeframe on a response to our request for review by the Attorney General's Office." With all due respect, I don't think that the public's right to access public records should depend on the level of priority the Attorney General's office assigns to your request for a legal opinion from his office. Further, N.J.S.A. 47:1A-5(g) doesn't allow the Division to unilaterally impose an extension on a requestor. Rather, the Division may deny me access only after "attempting to reach a reasonable solution with the requestor that accommodates the interests of the requestor and the agency." In essence, I don't think it's reasonable for me to have to wait more than two months to receive approximately 20 pages of meeting minutes. I ask that you please reconsider your position in this matter and ask to hear from you by no later than Friday, November 15, 2013. Very truly yours,
 
OPRA Case: Wolosky v. Sparta Township (Sussex)
OPRA Case: Wolosky v. Sparta Township (Sussex) 12/06 9 a.m. Morris County Courthouse, Washington & Court Streets Morristown. (Assignment Judge Thomas L. Weisenbeck) Issue: Clerk denied access to police reports that mention former Township Manager. Documents at: This hearing date and hour is subject to change. If you plan to attend, please call the judge's chambers at 973-656-3929 the day prior to confirm that the hearing date and hour have not changed. Refer to Docket No. SSX-L-536-13.
 
OPRA Case: New Jersey Herald v. Sparta Township (Sussex)
12/06 9 a.m. Morris County Courthouse, Washington & Court Streets Morristown. (Assignment Judge Thomas L. Weisenbeck) Issue: Clerk denied access to police reports that mention former Township Manager. Documents at: This hearing date and hour is subject to change. If you plan to attend, please call the judge's chambers at 973-656-3929 the day prior to confirm that the hearing date and hour have not changed. Refer to Docket No. SSX-L-547-13. John Paff
 
Sparta whistleblower accuses bosses of allowing contaminated drinking water
In his May 2013 lawsuit, Mark Nelson, a Pumping Station Operator for Sparta Township, alleges that he was retaliated against by his supervisor Michael Sportelli, Municipal Utilities Director Philip Spaldi and Township Manager David Troast for blowing the whistle about turning off lead and copper treatment mechanisms at the Township's Newstar and Buttonwood Pump Houses that Nelson believed "resulted in an increased likelihood of contaminated water being present in the Township's water supply to its residents." The lawsuit containing the allegations is on-line here.
 
Ewing Police Sergeant, previously indicted, allowed to retire.
The July 8, 2010 Times of Trenton reported that Ewing Police Sergeant Edward DeBoskey was indicted for official misconduct and theft by deception for allegedly loafing at a private home instead of supervising street patrols. http://www.nj.com/news/times/regional/index.ssf?/base/news-20/1278567949178330.xml Today, through an Open Public Records Act request, I was able to determine that on September 24, 2012, DeBoskey and Ewing agreed that DeBoskey would be allowed to retire after being allowed to receive the one month credit he needed to acquire his 20 years of service. The settlement agreement is on-line here. According to DataUniverse, DeBoskey, whose final salary was $109,505 is receiving an annual pension of $54,752.64.
 
Ewing OPRA

 
Paff v. Galloway

 
Buena PBA contracts

 
State v. McCoy, Docket No. A-2229-12T4
According to the Appellate Division decision in State v. McCoy, Docket No. A-2229-12T4 (on-line here), the Troopers apparently coerced Ms. Ziegler into involuntarily consenting to a search of her car. This caused both the trial and appellate courts to to suppress the drugs later found in the vehicle.
 
Ocean Gate pays $23,000 to settle police false arrest/excessive force suit
On September 4, 2013, the Borough of Ocean Gate (Ocean County) agreed to pay $23,000 to a local man who sued members of the Ocean Gate Police Department for allegedly arresting him without probable cause and applying handcuffs too tightly. In his suit, Sean Hosey said he had a graduation ceremony for his son at his home on June 25, 2010. Since fireworks were ignited, police officers Kevin Frizziola, Andrew Welsh and George Kempker were dispatched. He claimed that the officers were "specifically rude" toward 15-year old daughter and wife Dorothy Hosey, who joined him as co-plaintiff in the suit. When he "got out of his to calm his wife down" Hosey claimed that he was arrested without justification by the officers. He claimed that the officers "applied inordinate pressure" in handcuffing him and refused to loosen the cuffs despite his complaints. Also named in the suit were Ocean Gate Police Chief Reese J. Fisher. The case is captioned Hosey v. Ocean Gate, Federal Case No. 3:12-cv-03731 and Hosey'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 Hosey's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $23,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Ocean Gate or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Ocean Gate or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Hosey $23,000 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.
 
Asbury Park pays $25,000 to settle police illegal search suit
On February 15, 2008, the City of Asbury Park (Monmouth County) agreed to pay $25,000 to three local residents who sued members of the Asbury Park Police Department for allegedly searching their home without a warrant. In their suit, Sterling Shaw, Ivory Shaw and Tammy Thompson said that on April 12, 2005 Asbury Park Police Officers David DeSane, Brian Townsend, Daniel Kowsaluk, Gregory Kochman, Marvin Terry and J. Campos entered their home without a warrant and conducted a search. They claim that "the search was conducted in a threatening and abusive manner, during which defendants, made lewd sexual threats and verbally assaulted and abused" them. They further claim that the police found nothing incriminating and that no charges were filed as a result of the search. Also named in the suit was Asbury Park City Manager Terence J. Reidy. The case is captioned the Shaws and Thompson v. Asbury Park, Federal Case No. 3:06-6-00509 and the Shaws' and Thompson's attorney was John D. Feeley of South Orange. 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 Shaws' and Thompson's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $25,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Asbury Park or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Asbury Park or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay the Shaws and Thompson $25,000 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. ABOUT ME AND WHY I'M POSTING THIS. I chair the New Jersey Libertarian Party's Open Government Advocacy Project which seeks to increase governmental transparency and accountability, particularly at a local level. For more information on the Libertarian Party, go to http://www.njlp.org. As part of my work, I routinely check civil court cases where at least one of the parties is a government agency or official. Most often, these settlement agreements are never revealed to the public. I post them on the Libertarian Party's blog at http://njcivilsettlements.blogspot.com and other public forums because I believe that civil settlements, regardless of amount, may be of interest to citizens and taxpayers. John Paff Somerset, New Jersey
 
Unpublished trial court OPRA opinion
"Unpublished opinions" are not published in the law books and are not ordinarily written about in legal periodicals. Unless somebody puts them on-line and calls attention to them, they are likely not to be located by people who may want to search for them. I think that it's important that court opinions, even if they are not precedential, are easily accessible for future use. Ganzweig v. Township of Lakewood Ocean County, Docket No. OCN-L-2392-13 Hon. Vincent J. Grasso, A.J.S.C. September 27, 2013 Click here for the opinion. Summary: Records that later form the basis of a police internal affairs investigation do not become retroactively exempt from OPRA's disclosure requirement, declining to follow Blaustein v. Lakewood Police Department, Government Records Council Complaint No. 2011-102 (June 26, 2012)
 
Cape May County Volunteer Fire Department President and Fire Board Commissioner appeals from conflict of interest finding.
On June 26, 2013, Robert Zimmerman, President of the Rio Grande Volunteer Fire Department in Cape May County as well as an elected Fire Commissioner, appealed from a "Notice of Violation" issued to him on May 23, 2013 by the New Jersey Local Finance Board (LFB). The LFB issued the Notice of Violation after finding that Zimmerman violated the Local Government Ethics Law The LFB cited Zimmerman for "simultaneously serving as Commissioner of Fire District #2 and President of the Rio Grande Fire Company in the same fire district" which the LFB held was "an incompatibility of office" that "might reasonably be expected to impair his objectivity or independence of judgment." In its decision, the Board determined not to fine Zimmerman for this violation as long as he resigned one office or the other within 30 days. In his appeal, Zimmerman said only that he feels that his situation is "unique due to the fact that I am only one vote on a Board of 5 members to decide what gets done and what does not get done, and also that our money is not commingled." The matter, which has been transferred to the Office of Administrative Law as a contested case, is on-line here.
 
Parsippany-Troy Hills pays $10,000 to settle patrolman's suit filed in 2003
On July 24, 2013, the Township of Parsippany-Troy Hills (Morris County) agreed to pay $10,000 to a former police officer who sued the Parsippany-Troy Hills Police Department for allegedly wrongfully terminating and creating a hostile work environment for him. In his suit, Michael Jasiecki described the Department as "a large but closely-knit law enforcement agency and loyalty to the Chief [Michael Filippello] and his allies is demanded if an officer wishes to progress up the promotional ladder." Jasiecki's lawsuit, which is available at the link below, contains too many details to summarize here. Suffice it to say that Jasiecki believed that he was victimized because he did not show properly loyalty during a criminal investigation into former Mayor Frank Priore. Also named in the suit were Parsippany-Troy Hills Mayor Marceil Lettsa and Police Captain Anthony DeZenzo. The case is captioned Jasiecki v. Parsippany-Troy Hills, Federal Case No. 3:03-cv-03865-PGS-DEA and Jasiecki's attorney was Gina Mendola Longarzo of Florham Park. 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 Jasiecki's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $10,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Parsippany-Troy Hills or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Parsippany-Troy Hills or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Jasiecki $10,000 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.
 
Paff v. Bayonne

 
Millville pays $20,000 to settle police false arrest/excessive force suit
On June 24, 2013, the City of Millville (Cumberland County) agreed to pay $20,000 to a local woman who sued members of the Millville Police Department for allegedly beating her and arresting her without probable cause. In her suit, Charnette Holmes said that on July 3, 2008, she was at her home when she heard her niece and another woman having a loud argument outside. She said that she intervened in the argument and succeeded in getting her niece to go into the house and for the other woman to leave the premises. Brian Cushner and another officer arrived at the scene while the other woman, who Holmes felt was the person who had caused the incident, was leaving in a car. She said that she said "excuse me" to Cushner and when Cushner ignored her she approached him "and touched his arm." Cushner allegedly said "don't f---ing touch me, don't touch a police officer" and Holmes said that she tried to explain that he was letting the perpetrator get away. According to Holmes, Cushner then placed her under arrest, handcuffed her and sprayed mace in her face while both hands were behind her back. When she acted defensively to the mace, Cushner allegedly "slammed her to the ground with great force." He and other officers allegedly later said "you people are gonna learn." She alleges that she spent the night in jail and was then treated for injuries to her ear and eye. The case is captioned Holmes v. Millville, Federal Case No. 1:10-cv-5384 and Holmes's attorney was Louis Charles Shapiro of Vineland. Case documents are on-line here. None of Holmes's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $20,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Millville or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Millville or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Holmes $20,000 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.
 
Exception to 4th Amendment: Inevitable Discovery Doctrine
Even if a police search is illegal, the fruits of the search can still be used as evidence against the defendant in accordance with the "inevitable discovery doctrine." According to this doctrine, "the State must show that had the illegality not occurred, it would have pursued established investigatory procedures that would have inevitably resulted in the discovery of the controverted evidence, wholly apart from its unlawful acquisition." For a discussion of this doctrine, see today's (September 25, 2013) Appellate Division decision in State v. Salladino, which arose out of a Lower Township (Cape May County) police detective Michael P. Majane's illegal search that discovered a bottle of illegal pills. That decision is on-line here.
 
Firemen's Association v. Jeffrey Carter v. John Doe (Elizabeth)

 
Unpublished trial court OPRA opinion
"Unpublished opinions" are not published in the law books and are not ordinarily written about in legal periodicals. Unless somebody puts them on-line and calls attention to them, they are likely not to be located by people who may want to search for them. I think that it's important that court opinions, even if they are not precedential, are easily accessible for future use. Burke v. Borough of Mantoloking Ocean County, Docket No. OCN-L-1642-13 Hon. Vincent J. Grasso, A.J.S.C. September 17, 2013 Click here for the opinion. An OPRA request worded as follows is sufficiently specific to require fulfillment. "Correspondence and communications between officials or employees of Mantoloking and officials or employees of the State of New Jersey between October 28, 2012 and the present regarding closing and opening roads in the Borough of Mantoloking."
 
Schmidt v. Haddon

 
Fire District seeks 45-day statute of limitations on GRC actions
In a August 29, 2013 letter to the Government Records Council (GRC), Dominic P. DiYanni of Seaside Heights, who is the attorney for the Franklin Township Fire District No. 1 Board of Fire Commissioners (Somerset County), requested the GRC to grant of stay of Interim Orders in ten (10) cases. DiYanni is asking the GRC to rule one way or the other whether denial of access complaints brought in the GRC are subject to the same 45-day statute of limitations as similar actions brought in Superior Court. DiYanni suggests that if the GRC holds that the 45-day statute does not apply, he will appeal the determination to the Superior Court, Appellate Division. DiYanni argues that it is illogical to have a 45-day limitations period for the Superior Court while no limitations period applies to actions brought before the GRC. "[R]equestors should not be able to circumvent the 45 day statute of limitations in filing in one of the two venues provided for under the Open Public Records Act by simply waiting as long as they wish to file their matter with the Government Records Council," DiYanni wrote. DiYanni's letter is on-line here. The records requestor in the case is Jeff Carter who is represented by John A. Bermingham, Jr. of Camden. (Disclosure: The author, John Paff, serves as a volunteer firefighter in Fire District No. 1 and receives financial compensation from the Fire District in the form of clothing allowances, fire fighting training mileage and meal reimbursements and other amenities.)
 
Bound Brook Deddy papers
These are some of the court documents referened in the Courier News' August 26, 2013 story "Bound Brook BOE business administrator gets year of paid leave after settlement of 18-month legal battle against district District on hook for nearly $140,000."
 
Seaside Heights pays $25,000 to settle police assault suit
On July 1, 2013, the Borough of Seaside Heights (Ocean County) agreed to pay $25,000 to a Toms River man who sued members of the Seaside Heights Police Department for assaulting him. In his suit, Garyvens Joseph said that on September 19, 2010, he was at a boardwalk amusement park eating ice cream with his son and waiting for his fiance when a woman accused him of "looking at her friend." After denying that he was looking at her friend, he claimed he walked away and put his son on an amusement ride. Afterwards, Patrolmen Joseph Provaznik and Matthew Meyler allegedly approached him and asked him to leave the park. When he told the officers that he could not leave the park while his son was still on the ride, the two officers allegedly assaulted him, called him a f***ing n***er and arrested him for disorderly conduct and resisting arrest. Also named in the suit were Seaside Heights Police Chief Thomas Boyd, Detective Stephen Korman, Lieutenant Jon Lombardi and Sergeant James Hans. The case is captioned Joseph v. Seaside Heights, Federal Case No. 3:11-cv-01599 Joseph'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 Joseph's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $25,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Seaside Heights or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Seaside Heights or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Joseph $25,000 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.
 
Seaside Heights pays $20,000 to settle police assault suit
On July 1, 2013, the Borough of Seaside Heights (Ocean County) agreed to pay $20,000 to a Toms River man who sued members of the Seaside Heights Police Department for assaulting him. In his suit, James Monahan said that on January 7, 2012, he was arrested at the Bamboo Bar and then taken to the Seaside Heights Police Department where he assaulted with excessive force and without justification Patrolmen Ryan Dunne and Brian McLaughlin. Also named in the suit were Seaside Heights Police Chief Thomas Boyd, Detective Stephen Korman and Sergeants James Hans and Richard Roemmele. The case is captioned Monahan v. Seaside Heights, Federal Case No. 3:12-cv-04699 Monahan'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 Monahan's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $20,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Seaside Heights or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Seaside Heights or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Monahan $20,000 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.
 
Seaside Heights pays $25,000 to settle police assault suit
On July 15, 2013, the Borough of Seaside Heights (Ocean County) agreed to pay $25,000 to a Bronx, New York who sued members of the Seaside Heights Police Department for assaulting him. In his suit, Edward Clark said that on May 29, 2011, he was assaulted with excessive force and without justification at the Seaside Heights Police Department by Sergeant Richard Roemmele and Patrolman William Isetts. Also named in the suit were Seaside Heights Police Chief Thomas Boyd, Detective Stephen Korman and Sergeant James Hans. The case is captioned Clark v. Seaside Heights, 3:12-cv-03760 Clark'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 Clark's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $25,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Seaside Heights or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Seaside Heights or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Clark $25,000 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.
 
Seaside Heights pays $25,000 to settle police excessive force suit
On July 2, 2013, the Borough of Seaside Heights (Ocean County) agreed to pay $25,000 to a Howell woman who sued members of the Seaside Heights Police Department for assaulting her, taunting her and spraying her with OC spray. In her suit, Sabrina Jarmolinski said that on August 14, 2011, she was sitting on a boardwalk bench with four friends when she encountered Patrolman Justin Heffernan. She claims that Heffernan cursed and screamed at her and her friends, telling them that they have to "f***ing leave" or that they would be "f***ing arrested." When Jarmolinski informed Heffernan that she was a Criminal Justice major and wanted to know why Heffernan was cursing at her and her friends, Heffernan allegedly grabbed her by the neck, threw her down and put his knee into her back. Jarmolinski claimed that Heffernan then sprayed her with OC spray while she was on the ground and in handcuffs and whispered in her ear "How does that feel, Criminal Justice major?" Also named in the suit were Seaside Heights Police Chief Thomas Boyd, Detective Stephen Korman and Sergeants James Hans and Richard Roemmele and Patrolman John Roth. The case is captioned Jarmolinski v. Seaside Heights, 3:12-cv-05529 and Jarmolinski'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 Jarmolinski's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $25,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Seaside Heights or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Seaside Heights or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Jarmolinski $25,000 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.
 
Seaside Heights pays $25,000 to settle police excessive force suit
On April 18, 2013, the Borough of Seaside Heights (Ocean County) agreed to pay $25,000 to a Bayville man who sued members of the Seaside Heights Police Department for assaulting and applying excessive force upon him. In his suit, Dennis Clay said that on July 18, 2009, he was walking to his car when "assaulted" by Seaside Heights Sergeant Richard Roemmele and Patrolmen Joseph Regan, John Clarizio, Richard Sasso and [no first name given] Bellavance. While being transported in a police van, Clay claims that the driver purposefully applied the brakes causing "his body to hit the interior of the vehicle." Also named in the suit were Seaside Heights Police Chief Thomas Boyd, Detective Stephen Korman and Sergeant James Hans. The case is captioned Clay v. Seaside Heights, 3:11-cv-00924 and Clay'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 Clay's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $25,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Seaside Heights or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Seaside Heights or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Clay $25,000 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.
 
Union City pays $80,000 to settle police assault case
On October 10, 2012, the City of Union City (Hudson County) agreed to pay $80,000 to a man who sued members of the Union City Police Department for allegedly assaulting him after taking him into custody for violating the City's curfew ordinance. In his suit, Diego Diaz, through his mother, Maria Lopez, said that at 3:43 a.m. on February 6, 2010, while he was 15 years old, he was taken into custody by Union City Police for violating the municipal juvenile curfew ordinance. He claimed that while in custody, he "engaged in a verbal altercation with Officer Corey Corbo which resulted in Corbo assaulting him. He also claimed that Officer David Chasmer assisted Corbo in the assault. The case is captioned Diaz v. Union City, Federal Case No. 11-2365 and Diaz's attorney was Nathaniel M. Davis of Newark. Case documents are on-line here. The settlement agreement contains a confidentiality clause, which prevents the parties to the suit from publicly disclosing the settlement terms. Fortunately, however, these confidentiality clauses do not trump the public's right to obtain copies of settlement agreements that arise out of lawsuits in which a government agency or official is a defendant. None of Diaz's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $80,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Union City or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Union City or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Diaz $80,000 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. ABOUT ME AND WHY I'M POSTING THIS. I chair the New Jersey Libertarian Party's Open Government Advocacy Project which seeks to increase governmental transparency and accountability, particularly at a local level. For more information on the Libertarian Party, go to http://www.njlp.org. As part of my work, I routinely check civil court cases where at least one of the parties is a government agency or official. Most often, these settlement agreements are never revealed to the public. I post them on the Libertarian Party's blog at http://njcivilsettlements.blogspot.com and other public forums because I believe that civil settlements, regardless of amount, may be of interest to citizens and taxpayers. John Paff Somerset, New Jersey
 
Greystone Hospital pays $425,000 to settle patient's claim that she was violently assaulted by another patient.
On July 16, 2013, the State of New Jersey, on behalf of Greystone Park Psychiatric Hospital, agreed to pay $425,000 to a Lake Hopatcong woman who claimed that she was brutally assaulted during her involuntary commitment there. In her suit, Desiree Torrusio, who was formerly known as Desiree Lines, said that on December 18, 2008, a court declared her a danger to herself and others and committed her to Greystone. She alleges that in January 2009, she was placed in a a unit with Horace White, who had a "history of violent criminal activity, including armed robbery, aggravated assault of a police officer, and possession of a weapon for unlawful purposes." According to the suit, White was a Krol patient, i.e. one who was acquitted of criminal offenses by reason of insanity and deemed a danger to themselves or others. His propensity toward violence was allegedly well known to Greystone's staff and Torrusio claimed that White, who is African-American, used to walk up and down the hallway screaming that he was "going to kill all white people" and that "all white women are bitches who should be raped and killed." Prior to the assault, Torrusio claimed that she told hospital staff that she was afraid of White and that she and fellow patients submitted a petition seeking to have White transferred. Despite these efforts, hospital staff allegedly told Torrusio to "stay away from White" but they did put White under closer supervision. On February 5, 2009, White was supposed to be under "one-to-one arm's length monitoring" by staff member Linda Wright who, according to the suit, had previously been suspended for five days without pay "for abandoning a one-to-one monitoring assignment in 2008." Wright allegedly left White unmonitored in the cafeteria while she took a personal call on her cell phone. During Wright's absence, White, who is 100 pounds heavier and foot taller than Torrusio, allegedly started an incident with her that resulted in him punching her in the face and head "causing multiple fractures and other severe damage to the right side of her face and to her right eye." Torrusio claimed that she was hospitalized for four days and underwent a six hours trauma surgery. After her release from the hospital, Torrusio said that she was, over her objections, placed back in the same unit as White. There, she was allegedly taunted and harassed by the other patients and White reportedly threatened "Keep it up and I'll get the other eye." She claimed that her injuries caused her to undergo four reconstructive and rehabilitative surgeries on her eye and face. Linda Wright was named in the suit along with Greystone Executive Officer Janet Monroe, Clinical Psychologist Denise Paulson and Olufunmila Ojediran, the Section Chief who directly supervised Wright. The case is captioned Torrusio v. Monroe, et al, Federal Case No. 2:11-cv-00452 and Torrusio's attorneys were Paul G. Hunczak, Todd M. Hooker and Douglas C. Gray of Newton. Case documents are on-line here. None of Torrusio's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $425,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Greystone or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Greystone or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Torrusio $425,000 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.
 
OPRA Loss in Appellate Division
Today, August 27, 2013, the Appellate Division of the New Jersey Superior Court, in an unpublished decision, affirmed a trial court's ruling that the Atlantic City Alliance, Inc. (ACA) was not a "public agency" that is subject to the Open Public Records Act (OPRA). The case is captioned Paff v. Atlantic City Alliance, Inc. and Walter M. Luers of Clinton was my attorney. The opinion is on-line here. In 2011, legislation was passed that sought to revive Atlantic City's tourism and gaming industries. A special "Atlantic City Tourism District" was established to be managed by the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority (CRDA). The legislation authorized, but did not require, the "majority of the casino licensees . . . whose investors have invested a minimum of $1 billion in Atlantic City" to form a private, non-profit corporation to "undertake a full scale, broad-based, five-year, marketing program" to promote Atlantic City tourism and gaming. This private corporation, if the casinos elected to establish it, would join in a "public-private partnership" with the CRDA. The partnership, funded by $30 million contributed by the casino members, would work together to promote tourism. Five casinos opted to create ACA, which is the private, non-profit corporation that the legislation anticipated. My view is and was that if the government establishes a legal framework that calls for the creation of a nominally private corporation that ends up doing tasks that would have been performed by a public agency had the private entity not been created, that private corporation, despite its "private" label, is a "public agency" under OPRA. Otherwise, governments could avoid public scrutiny simply be contracting its functions out to private parties. My case against the ACA is one of several cases which have helped establish a better understanding of where the line is drawn between public agencies and private corporations. Today's opinion compares and contrasts the ACA with other nominally private corporations with which the courts have previously held were clothed with state power to a degree sufficient to invoke OPRA. Today's decision, albeit a loss, has value because it helps clarify how deeply the government can entangle itself with private corporations before its entanglement triggers OPRA.
 
Denville pays $400,000 to settle police fatal shooting suit
On June 10, 2013, the Township of Denville (Morris County) agreed to pay $400,000 to the estate of a 21-year-old man who was fatally shot in 2008 by Township police. In its suit, the Estate of Reuben W. Martinez, II claimed that Martinez was pulled over for speeding by Patrolmen Richard Byrne and Daniel Fernandez on June 26, 2008. Byrne allegedly jumped into the passanger seat of Martinez's car with his weapon drawn after Martinez refused to obey verbal commands. At the same time, Fernandez allegedly grabbed Martinez's head through the driver window and "bashed it repeatedly on the door frame." This caused Martinez to put the car in gear and drive away while Byrne was still in the car. According to the lawsuit, "[u]ltimately Officer Byrne shot plaintiff's decedent Martinez multiple times after Martinez failed to stop the car." Also named in the suit were Denville Police Chief Christopher Wagner. The case is captioned Miles v. Denville, Federal Case No. 2:10-cv-0310 and Martinez's attorney was Shelley L. Stangler of Springfield. 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 Martinez's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $400,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Denville or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Denville or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Martinez $400,000 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.
 
Union City pays $25,000 to settle police false arrest suit
On October 30, 2012, the City of Union City (Hudson County) agreed to pay $25,000 to a local man who sued members of the Union City Police Department for arresting him for drunk driving despite there being no evidence that he was driving. In his suit, Estaban Castro said that on November 9, 2009, after having an argument with his girlfriend, he went outside to sit in his car "to defuse the situation." He alleged that after having slept in his car for two and a half hours, he was awoken by Union City Police who arrested him for drunk driving despite Castro's explanation that he had not driven the car. Castro's suit alleged that the Union City Police are not adequately trained to conduct drunk driving investigations, and that this lack of training resulted in his false arrest. The case is captioned Castro v. Union City, Federal Case No. 2:09-cv-06176 and Castro's attorney was Louis A. Zayas of Newark. Case documents are on-line here. The settlement agreement contains a confidentiality clause, which prevents the parties to the suit from publicly disclosing the settlement terms. Fortunately, however, these confidentiality clauses do not trump the public's right to obtain copies of settlement agreements that arise out of lawsuits in which a government agency or official is a defendant. None of Castro's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $25,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Union City or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Union City or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Castro $25,000 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.
 
Gloucester Township pays $167,765.38 to settle police false arrest/excessive force suit
On July 12, 2013, the Township of Gloucester (Camden County) agreed to pay $167,765.38 to two roommates sued members of the Gloucester Police Department for allegedly entering their home without a warrant, falsely charging and beating them. In their suit, Marc Pizzo and Jamie Slimm said that on October 17, 2010, Slimm had called the Gloucester Township Police Department's non-emergency number to make an inquiry "regarding Pizzo including but not limited to the status of a past citation." This call allegedly caused Sergeant Mark Benton and Police Officers Dwayne Pietzsch and Paul Bertini to respond. Upon arrival, the officers allegedly demanded entry and broke down the front door after Slimm had told them that they were not need and while she was on the telephone with an attorney. Slimm alleges that the police officers ordered her to lie on the floor where they "used unnecessary force against her" and charged her with "false and unsustainable criminal charges." Pizzo claims that the officers "repeatedly and aggressively struck [him] with their legs and arms" and carried him out of the home handcuffed "while he could barely walk and was going in and out of consciousness." Of the settlement amount, Slimm received $10,000 and Pizzo received $62,234.62 with the remainder going to their attorney. The cases are captioned Pizzo v. Gloucester and Slimm v. Gloucester, Federal Case Nos. 1:11-cv-00673 and 1:11-cv-06207 and Pizzo and Slimm's attorney was Ari R. Karpf of Bensalem, PA. 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 Pizzo's or Slimm's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $167,765.38 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Gloucester or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Gloucester or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Pizzo and Slimm $167,765.38 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. ABOUT ME AND WHY I'M POSTING THIS. I chair the New Jersey Libertarian Party's Open Government Advocacy Project which seeks to increase governmental transparency and accountability, particularly at a local level. For more information on the Libertarian Party, go to http://www.njlp.org. As part of my work, I routinely check civil court cases where at least one of the parties is a government agency or official. Most often, these settlement agreements are never revealed to the public. I post them on the Libertarian Party's blog at http://njcivilsettlements.blogspot.com and other public forums because I believe that civil settlements, regardless of amount, may be of interest to citizens and taxpayers. John Paff Somerset, New Jersey
 
Lawsuit seeks access to police "extra-duty" salary.
When you see a police car protecting a construction site on a public roadway, the taxpayers are probably not paying that officer's salary. Instead, the construction or utility company pays the police agency for the officer's salary and for use of the police car and the agency in turn pays the salary over to the officer. This is known as "extra-duty" and can be a lucrative source of income for local police officers. I requested to know the amount of "extra-duty" pay a particular Ewing Township (Mercer County) police officer received during 2012, but the Township denied my request. The Township's position is that "payment for voluntary, off-duty work paid by a third party does not involve the expenditure of public funds" and is not a public record. With the help of attorney Richard Gutman of Montclair, I filed suit. I contend that "extra-duty" work is different than "off-duty" work. An example of "off-duty" work is a police officer who has a part-time job working, in civilian clothes, as a bouncer in a nightclub. Clearly, the public would have no right to know the officer's income from the nightclub. But, payments made through the Township's payroll system to police officers who provide uniformed, law enforcement services to third parties should be considered a "payroll record" as defined by N.J.S.A. 47:1A-10 of the Open Public Records Act (OPRA). This is especially true because unlike "off-duty" work, "extra-duty" work is is covered by the Township's worker's compensation benefits, State accidental disability and death benefits. The brief and certification filed in Paff v. Township of Ewing, Docket No. MER-L-1758-13, are on-line here.
 
North Bergen in-house lawyer with questionable work responsibilities identified.
On page 21 of his report, June 25, 2013 report on "Legal Fees Paid by New Jersey Local Governments," Comptroller A. Matthew Boxer wrote: http://www.nj.gov/comptroller/news/docs/report_local_government_legal_fees.pdf When we initially asked the [North Bergen] Township Attorney and the Township Administrator about the job duties of the remaining in-house attorney (the ?In-House Attorney?), we were informed that he was paid a salary of $18,807 in FY 2011. They stated that they were unsure if he was North Bergen?s Alcohol Beverage Control Board Attorney or its Tenant Advocate. Following our interviews and a follow-up document request, North Bergen advised us that they commenced an internal review to determine whether he was actually performing any job duties for North Bergen. Immediately after North Bergen commenced its review and requested information from the In-House Attorney regarding his job duties, he submitted a letter resigning from his position. North Bergen subsequently asserted to us that he had received a salary for unknown job duties without the consent of any Township officials. As a result, North Bergen advised us that it would be referring the matter to the Hudson County Prosecutor?s Office to determine whether any criminal violations had been committed by the In-House Attorney. Yet, the Comptroller's report did not name the In-House Attorney and I could not find any media or other reports that named him or her. So, I submitted an OPRA request for the In-House Attorney's letter of resignation. The North Bergen custodian of records returned the letter, click here, which identifies the In-House Attorney as Eric J. Bal of 1435 46th Street, North Bergen. In the letter, he identifies himself as North Bergen's Housing Attorney.
 
In RE Karim Arzadi
Six month suspension recommmended
 
New Jersey reprimands Cherry Hill psychologist and fines him $500.
On February 14, 2013, the New Jersey Board of Psychological Examiners reprimanded Ronald Gruen, Ed.D., of Cherry Hill, for "making a written submission to a court [which] constituted a violation of confidentiality . . . without the knowledge and consent" of a former patient, identified only by the initials "S.S." Gruen accepted the reprimand and agreed to pay a $500 civil penalty in lieu of having formal charges filed against him.
 
Unpublished trial court OPRA opinion
"Unpublished opinions" are not published in the law books and are not ordinarily written about in legal periodicals. Unless somebody puts them on-line and calls attention to them, they are likely not to be located by people who may want to search for them. I think that it's important that court opinions, even if they are not precedential, are easily accessible for future use. Mark's Advanced Towing v. City of Bayonne Hudson County, Docket No. HUD-L-864-10 Hon. Bernadette N. DeCastro, J.S.C. October 22, 2010 Click here for the opinion. It was unreasonable for the City to deny as overbroad a request for "any and all applications for towing license for the City of Bayonne including renewals for license year 2010."
 
Bayonne pays $16,000 to settle police false arrest/excessive force suit
On July 30, 2012, the City of Bayonne (Hudson County) agreed to pay $16,000 to a couple who sued a Bayonne Police Detective for allegedly beating the husband and arresting him without probable cause. In their suit, Stan and Barbara Kabrt said that on December 17, 2008, Barbara was involved in an automobile accident with the wife of Hoboken Police Detective David Macri. According to the complaint, Macri's wife summoned Macri to the accident scene at which time Detective Macri "became agitated" and arrested Stan "for a disorderly persons offense and resisting arrest." Macri allegedly "slammed [Stan's] head into the police vehicle." The couple claims that Stan, who "is partially disabled on the left side of his body" suffered injury and was found not guilty on all charges. The case is captioned Kabrt v. Bayonne, Federal Case No. 2:11-cv-02849 and the Kabrts' attorney was Karen F. DeSoto of Pluckamin. Case documents are on-line here. None of the Kabrts' allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $16,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Bayonne or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Bayonne or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay the Kabrts $16,000 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. ABOUT ME AND WHY I'M POSTING THIS. I chair the New Jersey Libertarian Party's Open Government Advocacy Project which seeks to increase governmental transparency and accountability, particularly at a local level. For more information on the Libertarian Party, go to http://www.njlp.org. As part of my work, I routinely check civil court cases where at least one of the parties is a government agency or official. Most often, these settlement agreements are never revealed to the public. I post them on the Libertarian Party's blog at http://njcivilsettlements.blogspot.com and other public forums because I believe that civil settlements, regardless of amount, may be of interest to citizens and taxpayers. John Paff Somerset, New Jersey
 
Florence Township Fire District No. 1
August 8, 2013 Robert F. Gaskill 40 E Main Street Moorestown, NJ 08057-3310 via e-mail to rgaskill@gaskill-law.com RE: Florence Township Fire District No. 1 Dear Mr. Gaskill: I've reviewed some of your client's executive session meeting resolutions and minutes, which I've placed on-line here. I ask that you please review the following four questions with your client and let me know if you are willing to make any changes in the Fire District's closed session practice. 1. Do you believe that minutes, such as those kept of the May 28, 2013 meeting stating only that "Discussed issue of employee punctuality - Directive to Battalion Chief Mullen to implement same" are "reasonably comprehensible" as required by N.J.S.A. 10:4-14? 2. Do you believe that the general "issue of employee punctuality," apart from discussing any particular employees who may have been late, qualifies for private discussion under N.J.S.A. 10:4-12(b) or do you feel that the particular employees' lateness should have been discussed privately while the general issue of punctuality should have been discussed publicly? 3. Should the Board's closed session minutes recite the time and place of the meeting and the members in attendance? 4. Do you believe that the motions that authorize the Board's closed sessions conform to N.J.S.A. 10:4-13(b)? Thank you. cc. Barb Mayer, Board Secretary bmayer@ftfd40.org
 
IA Complaint against Jersey City
Police Accountability Project of the New Jersey Libertarian Party P.O. Box 5424 Somerset, NJ 08875 August 6, 2013 Lieutenant Mark Miller Jersey City Police Department, IA Unit 1 Journal Square Plaza ? 4th Floor Jersey City, NJ 07306 (Via Fax to 201-547-5512) Dear Lieutenant Miller: I chair the New Jersey Libertarian Party's Police Accountability Project and ask that you accept this letter as our Internal Affairs complaint. We would like your agency to investigate whether various Jersey City officers and other personnel employed by your agency acted in accordance with department policy and the law regarding a search of an apartment on April 2, 2011. According to Judge Joseph V. Isabella's July 24, 2012 opinion, which was affirmed by the Appellate Division decision in State v. Mitchell and Hoffman, Docket No. A-0224-12T2 (on-line here), the officers apparently searched an apartment before a search warrant was issued. This caused the Judge Isabella to suppress the handgun and drugs found in the apartment because the warrantless search was unconstitutional. If your officers, despite having received adequate training and direction regarding when and how to conduct warrantless searches elected to ignore their training, we ask that you discipline them. Otherwise, we ask that your department review and supplement your training requirements in this area of the law. Thank you for your attention to this matter. Very truly yours, John Paff, Chairman New Jersey Libertarian Party Police Accountability Project P.O. Box 5424 Somerset, NJ 08875-5424 Phone: 732-873-1251 - Fax: 908-325-0129 Email: paff@pobox.com
 
Hillsborough pot bust reversed by Appellate Division
Interesting case involving a Hillsborough Police warrantless entry into a home under the "community caretaking function" which ended up in marijuana being located and a woman being arrested and convicted for possession with intent to distribute. The conviction was reversed because a NJ Supreme Court decision, which was issued after the trial of the Hillsborough woman who was arrested, heightened the standard that police have to follow before making a warrantless entry into a home. Today's Appellate Division decision is on-line here.
 
Paterson pays $200,000 to settle police false arrest/excessive force suit
On July 9, 2013, the City of Paterson (Passaic County) agreed to pay $200,000 to a locla woman who sued members of the Paterson Police Department for allegedly beating her and arresting her without probable cause. In her suit, Linette Vazquez said that in the early morning hoiurs of March 15, 2011 she and three friends were at the Egg Platter Diner when Paterson Police Officers Andre Jackson, Michael Avila and Michael Mezey were sitting in the next booth. She claims that even though she did nothing to provoke them, the officers "began slurring sexually explicit, degrading, and sexist epithets" as well as "profane, abusive, and threatening language" toward her. According to the lawsuit, Officer Juan C. Rodriguez came to the diner and threatened to arrest Vazquez without reason. She claims that she was ultimately arrested "without probable cause" and, which at the police station, "was repeatedly struck, beaten and choked" by Officer Avila. Also named in the suit were Paterson Police Chief James F. Wittig and Sergeant A. Grovato. The case is captioned Vazquez v. Paterson, Federal Case No. 13-433 (WJH) and Vazquez's attorney was Nancy E. Lucianna of Fort Lee. Case documents are on-line here. None of Vazquez's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $200,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Paterson or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Paterson or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Vazquez $200,000 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. Ther is the problem when cases settle before trial--it is impossible to know the truth of what really happened.
 
Cumberland pays $650,000 to settle inmate beating death suit
On July 11, 2013, the County of Cumberland agreed to pay $650,000 to the estate and heirs of a Vineland man who the heirs claim was beaten to death in the Cumberland County Jail on January 1, 2008. In its suit, the Estate of Steven Charles Bell said that on December 31, 2007 Bell was arrested after an "apparent domestic altercation." According to the complaint, he was "alive and healthy" when admitted to the jail but was found "unconcious and unresponsive" in his cell at about 2:30 p.m. on Saturday, January 1, 2008. The estate claims that he "had severe head injuries consistent with being viciously and brutally beaten." The estate claims that prison officials "unreasonably delayed in calling 911" and that when paramedics finally arrived, Bell "was near death." He died in a hospital on January 10, 2008. According to the suit, the Medical Examiner determined his death to be a homicide. Also named in the suit was CFG Health Systems, LLC, jail warden Glenn Saunders and jail official Kenneth Lamcken. The case is captioned Bell v. Cumberland County, Federal Case No. 1:09-cv-0648 and the estate's attorney was Nancy J. Winkler of Cherry Hill. Case documents are on-line here. None of the estate's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $650,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Cumberland or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Cumberland or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay the estate $650,000 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.
 
Gloucester County high school teacher resigns. Traumatic brain injury allegedly caused his misconduct with female students.
By letter of June 27, 2013, a Williamstown High School Special Needs teacher resigned in exchange for his employer, the Monroe Township School District, agreeing to withdraw tenure charges against him and to provide him with a "generic letter of recommendation." According to filed documents, the teacher had been suspended from his position, with pay, since March 6, 2013. In his resignation letter, teacher John C. Coulton, who reportedly earned $83,620 in 2012 and was enrolled in the pension plan in 1992, said that he had consulted with a lawyer and tendered his resignation to avoid tenure charges being presented at a Monroe Township Board of Education meeting scheduled for the evening of June 27, 2013. The tenure charge statement report charged Coulton with six questionable incidents involving female students. In the first charge, Coulton allegedly asked a student in March 2009 if she would like "to go to dinner with him with candle light and soft music in the background." This incident resulted in a meeting with board officials who told Coulton that "his conduct is not appropriate behavior." In the second charge, Coulton allegedly asked a female student in 2012 why she wasn't in the football field house "giving head" to the players and coaches. Coulton explained that he actually told the student to "give them heck." The third charges involved a March 5, 2013 incident in which Coulton allegedly texted profanity to female student repeatedly because she had forgotten his birthday. The student reported to school officials that Coulton "gave her gifts such as gift cards, brought her snacks, sent her text messages early in the morning and late at night, invited her to his home, and questioned her about having a boyfriend." In the fourth charge, Coulton allegedly texted a female student since she was a freshman. Coulton allegedly asked her to "dog sit at his house" and after she ignored him he allegedly told her that "he would pay her and she could use his pool." The fifth count charged Coulton with "always text[ing] the girls on the basketball team" and the sixth count charged Coulton with giving one girl two $50 gift cards and another a cell phone. In his response to the charges, Coulton, through Mount Laurel attorney Keith Waldman, said that he was a "valued employee . . . for ten years" and that the charges were "completely undermined by the fact that the Board and its administrators chose to do nothing with the allegation for four years." He attributed the later incidents to a December 7, 2012 on the job injury that caused a "very serious concussion" when he was assaulted by a parent at a school function held at the Rowan Football Field." He claimed that a "well-documented symptom of traumatic brain injury and post-concussion syndrome is loss of inhibitions." In his response, he threatened to bring a lawsuit under the Americans with Disabilities Act against the school district for refusing to accommodate his disability. The resignation letter, tenure charges and Coulton's defense are all on-line here.
 
Lavallette pays $7,500 to settle police false arrest suit
On June 7, 2012, the Borough of Lavallette (Ocean County) agreed to pay $7,500 to a Chester husband and wife who sued members of the Lavallette Police Department for allegedly arresting the husband without probable cause. In their suit, Michael and Ann Cotalo said that Michael was "accosted" by Lavallette Police Sergeant Jon Andrews and Officer Russell Charles on July 25, 2009. He claims that the officers arrested him without probable cause. The apparent charge against Cotalo was under the Borough's "Loud and Unusual Noise" ordinance, which Cotalo claimed was unconstitutional. The couple also alleged that Andrews and Charles seized a juvenile who was staying with them without probable cause. The case is captioned Cotalo v. Lavallette, Federal Case No. 11-cv-3449 and Cotalo's attorney was Craig V. O'Connor of Morristown. Case documents are on-line here. None of the Cotalos' allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $7,500 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Lavallette or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Lavallette or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay the Cotalos $7,500 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. ABOUT ME AND WHY I'M POSTING THIS. I chair the New Jersey Libertarian Party's Open Government Advocacy Project which seeks to increase governmental transparency and accountability, particularly at a local level. For more information on the Libertarian Party, go to http://www.njlp.org. As part of my work, I routinely check civil court cases where at least one of the parties is a government agency or official. Most often, these settlement agreements are never revealed to the public. I post them on the Libertarian Party's blog at http://njcivilsettlements.blogspot.com and other public forums because I believe that civil settlements, regardless of amount, may be of interest to citizens and taxpayers. John Paff Somerset, New Jersey
 
Egg Harbor to provide Hughes report on Officer Lancaster
On August 1, 2013, the Hon. Julio L. Mendez, A.J.S.C. issued a Case Management Order setting forth the procedure under which Egg Harbor Township with disclose a report of an incident involving Officer Jeffrey Lancaster being "asleep behind the wheel."
 
Kelley v. Rockaway
"During argument on September 23, 2011, [Rockaway Township's] attorney conceded that of the twenty-four closed session meetings that occurred between January 1, 2009 and May 17, 2011, the Township had prepared minutes for only three of the meetings.
 
Lavallette Police disciplinary appeal scheduled for 08/06/13 settlement conference
I have learned that on August 6, 2013, an Administrative Law Judge will conduct a confidential settlement conference regarding a police discipline matter captioned In the Matter of Jon Andrews, OAL Docket No. 08542-2013 or Civil Service 2013-3466). Andrews, a Lavallette Police sergeant has appealed a 20 day suspension for "conduct unbecoming a public employee" and "other sufficient cause" that was imposed by way of a Final Notice of Disciplinary Action issued on May 31, 2013. According to the police, Andrews was "suspended without pay" by way of a written notice issued by Police Chief Colin Grant on August 22, 2012. The notice accused Andrews of being "involved in sending and receiving text messages and pictures of a lewd, lascivious and/or inappropriate nature during working hours to a fellow member of the Lavallette Police Department with remarks as to another Department member." He was also charged with claiming three hours of overtime for attending a court session that he did not in fact attend. Despite the "without pay" provision of Chief Grant's notice, the Borough Council, at a September 5, 2012 special meeting, "voted to extend the paid medical leave of Sgt. John Andrews until a disciplinary hearing can be held by the police department." (See, Ocean Star, September 7, 2012 "Council Votes to Extend Officer's Paid Medical Leave.") Andrews' appeal and Grant's August 22, 2012 notice are on-line here. Andrews is being represented by Anthony Pope, Esq. of Newark. The Borough is being represented by Eric Bernstein, Esq. of Warren.
 
Wildwood Ethics Dismissal
In response to a records request, I received a June 3, 2013 "Notice of Dismissal" from the Local Finance Board addressed to a Wildwood resident who had filed an ethics complaint against several City officials. While it is nothing earth-shattering, I thought that the letter might be of public interest, especially to Wildwood residents, so I put in on-line here: John Paff, Chairman New Jersey Libertarian Party's Open Government Advocacy Project P.O. Box 5424 Somerset, NJ 08875 Voice: 732-873-1251 Fax: 908-325-0129 e-mail: paff@pobox.com
 
Tie vote dismisses ethics charge against South Harrison Deputy Mayor
On April 9, 2013, the Local Finance Board (LFB) notified South Harrison Township (Gloucester County) Deputy Mayor Robert Diaz that he had narrowly escaped penalties for violating the Local Government Ethics Law (LGEL). In his letter, LFB chairman Thomas H. Neff advised Diaz that the LFB considered whether Diaz violated the LGEL when he spoke on behalf of Unity Service Ambulance Association, where he served as a Captain, during a Township Committee meeting. Such conduct, according to Neff, would violate a provision of the LGEL that prohibits public officials from representing anyone but the local government in any cause or proceeding before any agency of that local government. Neff said that a motion to penalize Diaz failed by a vote of 2 to 2. The April 9, 2013 dismissal letter is on-line here.
 
Pleasantville pays $45,000 to settle police false arrest suit
On March 22, 2013, the City of Pleasantville (Atlantic County) agreed to pay $45,000 to a Vineland man who sued members of the Pleasantville Police Department for allegedly arresting him without probable cause and continuing to prosecute him even after they knew he wasn't guilty. In his suit, Tyrone Mozelle said that on August 4, 2010, he was visiting his elderly parents when someone had entered a neighboring apartment and stole $70. He claims that even though a surveillance video "clearly undermines" any accusation that he was the thief, Pleasantville police arrested him for 3rd Degree Burglary and held him under $25,000 bail. Unable to post bail, Mozelle claimed that he was held in jail for six months. He stated that even though the police knew better, they "intentionally made misstatements in their reports" and "persisted in the prosecution" of him. According to the lawsuit, the court ultimately dismissed all charges against him. Named in the suit were Pleasantville Police Chief Duane N. Comeaux, Mayor Jesse L. Tweedle, Sr., Detective Steven V. Sample and Patrolmen Charlie L. Ellis, Michael Gazo and Norman Dennis. The case is captioned Mozelle v. Pleasantville, Federal Case No. 12-cv-01700 and Mozelle's attorney was Reza Mazaheri 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 Mozelle's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $45,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Pleasantville or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Pleasantville or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Mozelle $45,000 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. ABOUT ME AND WHY I'M POSTING THIS. I chair the New Jersey Libertarian Party's Open Government Advocacy Project which seeks to increase governmental transparency and accountability, particularly at a local level. For more information on the Libertarian Party, go to http://www.njlp.org. As part of my work, I routinely check civil court cases where at least one of the parties is a government agency or official. Most often, these settlement agreements are never revealed to the public. I post them on the Libertarian Party's blog at http://njcivilsettlements.blogspot.com and other public forums because I believe that civil settlements, regardless of amount, may be of interest to citizens and taxpayers. John Paff Somerset, New Jersey
 
Voorhees meeting minutes glossed over a few details
The Voorhees Township Committee's February 11, 2008 Closed Session minutes innocuously state: A discussion ensued regarding whether the Township should continue to pursue the Medi-Build site or explore the purchase of other sites. [Deputy Mayor Mario] DiNatale and [Committeeman Harry] Platt disagreed on the manner in which Medi-Build was being pursued. Mr. DiNatale also expressed disappointment that Medi-Build had received a copy of the appraisal of their site. At this point, Mr. DiNatale left the meeting. A police "investigation report" authored the same day by Voorhees Police Chief Keith Hummel, however, provides a bit more context and detail. According to Hummel's report, DiNatale and Platt were in a heated argument when DiNatale said "let's take this outside and settle it." Hummel then states that "Deputy Mayor DiNatale then placed his hands on Committeeman Platt's throat as if he was attempting to choke him." Hummel then "escorted Deputy Mayor DiNatale from the conference room," took him to police headquarters and processed him. No charges were filed against DiNatale and the Camden County Prosecutor's Office declined to pursue indictable charges. The minutes and Hummel's report are on-line here.
 
Unpublished trial court OPRA opinion
"Unpublished opinions" are not published in the law books and are not ordinarily written about in legal periodicals. Unless somebody puts them on-line and calls attention to them, they are likely not to be located by people who may want to search for them. I think that it's important that court opinions, even if they are not precedential, are easily accessible for future use. Grossman v. Office of the County Prosecutor Ocean County, Docket No. OCN-L-533-13 Hon. Vincent J. Graso, A.J.S.C. July 26, 2013 Click here for the opinion. Analyzes requestor's right, under both OPRA and the common law, to disclosure of county prosecutor's records relating to the investigation and prosecution of a closed criminal case.
 
Plainfield and Fanwood pay $103,000 to settle civil rights suit filed by former Plainfield judge.
In early 2012, the City of Plainfield and Borough of Fanwood (Union County) agreed to pay $103,000 to a former municipal court judge who claimed her civil rights were violated. Plainfield paid $100,000 and Fanwood paid $3,000. In her suit, Paulette Brown said that on November 12, 2006, she was arrested by police in Fanwood for a warrant that was erroneously issued on June 6, 2001 by the Plainfield Municipal Court. Brown claims that the warrant arose out of a criminal trespass matter that had been dismissed on September 22, 1997. She further claims that she was never notified that the warrant had issued. Even though she claimed that the warrant was invalid, the arresting office, named Santiago, allegedly "pulled [her] from her vehicle and transported her to the Fanwood police station where she was photographed and processed." She further claims to have been held at the station for several hours and that Plainfield gave her a difficult time recalling the warrant even though court personnel had admitted that the warrant was invalid. The case is captioned Brown v. Plainfield, Union County Superior Court Docket No. UNN-L-3943-08 and Brown's attorney was Michael A. Armstrong of Willingboro. Case documents are on-line here. Fanwood'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. None of Brown's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $103,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Plainfield, Fanwood or any of their officials. All that is known for sure is that Plainfield and Fanwood, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Brown $103,000 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. ABOUT ME AND WHY I'M POSTING THIS. I chair the New Jersey Libertarian Party's Open Government Advocacy Project which seeks to increase governmental transparency and accountability, particularly at a local level. For more information on the Libertarian Party, go to http://www.njlp.org. As part of my work, I routinely check civil court cases where at least one of the parties is a government agency or official. Most often, these settlement agreements are never revealed to the public. I post them on the Libertarian Party's blog at http://njcivilsettlements.blogspot.com and other public forums because I believe that civil settlements, regardless of amount, may be of interest to citizens and taxpayers. John Paff Somerset, New Jersey
 
Township Clerk's rental property managed by Township Attorney's company
Today, I received a Landlord Registration Statement showing that a Fairfield Township (Cumberland County) rental property owned by Roo Roo Rentals, LLC, a corporation owned by Lawrence Township (Cumberland County) Clerk Ruth Dawson and her husband John Dawson, is being managed by TES Real Estates, LLC, which is a company owned by Lawrence Township Attorney Thomas E. Seeley. While it does not violate any law or ethical proscription that I know of for a municipal clerk to hire the municipal attorney's company to manage her rental property, I felt that this financial connection between Dawson and Seeley would nonetheless be of interest to Lawrence residents. Also interesting are the circumstances surrounding me obtaining the Landlord Registration Statement on the Roo Roo property. I had originally submitted an OPRA request for the certificate to Fairfield in January 2013. I was informed by Fairfield Township Zoning Officer Bob Hulitt that he wasn't aware of the requirement for Landlord's to file registration statements and that there was no statement on file for Roo Roo's property at 9 Collett Drive. I found this odd since a) the legal requirement for landlords to file registration statements has been in existence since June 25, 1974 and b) Dawson, as municipal clerk, is responsible for receiving and filing the certificates as part of her duties as municipal clerk. (N.J.S.A. 46:8-28 states that the registration statements shall be "file[d] with the clerk of the municipality, or with such other municipal official as is designated by the clerk, in which the residential property is situated.") I refiled my OPRA request for the Landlord Registration Statement on July 3, 2013 and received it today--July 22, 2013. The Statement is dated July 19, 2013, meaning that Dawson did not file it until after I had submitted my second OPRA request for it. The Landlord Registration Statement, Financial Disclosure Statements for both Seeley and Dawson as well as other relevant documents are on-line here.
 
Ocean City pays $60,000 to settle police dog bite case.
On April 19, 2013, the City of Ocean City (Cape May County) agreed to pay $60,000 to a local man who sued members of the Ocean City Police Department for allegedly having a police dog unnecessarily bite him in the groin. In his suit, Jeffrey Moyer said that on September 3, 2009, Sergeant John Mazzuca and Officer John Vogt brought their police canine, Deuce, to his home on a reported disturbance. Moyer claimed that even though he had no weapons and was not acting in a violent or threatening manner, Deuce was turned loose on him and bit him in the groin causing "severe injury." The case is captioned Moyer v. Ocean City, Cape May Superior Court Docket No. L-773-10 and Moyer's attorney was Joseph C. Grassi of Wildwood. 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 Moyer's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $60,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Ocean City or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Ocean City or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Moyer $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. ABOUT ME AND WHY I'M POSTING THIS. I chair the New Jersey Libertarian Party's Open Government Advocacy Project which seeks to increase governmental transparency and accountability, particularly at a local level. For more information on the Libertarian Party, go to http://www.njlp.org. As part of my work, I routinely check civil court cases where at least one of the parties is a government agency or official. Most often, these settlement agreements are never revealed to the public. I post them on the Libertarian Party's blog at http://njcivilsettlements.blogspot.com and other public forums because I believe that civil settlements, regardless of amount, may be of interest to citizens and taxpayers. John Paff Somerset, New Jersey
 
School Ethics Act
In Fisher v. Hamilton, Docket No. A-4441-11T3, the Appellate Division analyzed the following provision of the School Ethics Act which is nearly identical to language found in the Local Government Ethics Law. "No school official shall use or attempt to use his official position to secure unwarranted privileges, advantages or employment for himself, members of his immediate family or others." The court reversed the Commission of Education's dismissal of an ethics complaint against a school board member who engaged in private contact with a candidate for school superintendent. It returned the matter to the Commissioner for further proceedings.
 
North Bergen school board pays $7,500 to settle wrongful discharge suit
North Bergen school board pays $7,500 to settle wrongful discharge suit On November 23, 2011, the Board of Education of North Bergen (Hudson County) agreed to pay $7,500 to a local man who sued the school board for firing him and his girlfriend in order to retaliate against his mother In his suit, Jeffrey Saavedra said he and his girlfriend, Jessica Rivera, were both fired from their jobs because school board officials, specifically Robert M. Kornberg, Katherine Somick and City Councilman Edward Somick, sought to retailiate against his mother, Ivonne Saavedra for complaining about alleged legal violations committed by the school district. The settlement is with Jeffrey only, even though Ivonne is named as a plaintiff in the suit. Ivonne was dismissed from this suit and has her own suit under Federal Case No. 2:12-cv-06080. The case is captioned Saavedra v. North Bergen, Hudson County Superior Court Docket No. L-6014-09 and Saavedra's attorney was Maurice W. McLaughlin of Totowa. Case documents are on-line here. None of Saavedra's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $7,500 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by North Bergen or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that North Bergen or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Saavedra $7,500 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. ABOUT ME AND WHY I'M POSTING THIS. I chair the New Jersey Libertarian Party's Open Government Advocacy Project which seeks to increase governmental transparency and accountability, particularly at a local level. For more information on the Libertarian Party, go to http://www.njlp.org. As part of my work, I routinely check civil court cases where at least one of the parties is a government agency or official. Most often, these settlement agreements are never revealed to the public. I post them on the Libertarian Party's blog at http://njcivilsettlements.blogspot.com and other public forums because I believe that civil settlements, regardless of amount, may be of interest to citizens and taxpayers. John Paff Somerset, New Jersey
 
Burclo

 
Voorhees pays $60,000 to settle police false arrest/malicious prosecution suit
On June 15, 2011, the Township of Voorhees (Camden County) agreed to pay $60,000 to a local man who sued members of the Voorhees Police Department for allegedly arresting him without probable cause because he "needed an education." In his suit, Michael Sebastian, Jr. said that on June 12, 2007, the day after he was arrested for contempt of court after having been found guilty of a traffic violation, needed police assistance regarding an attempted burglary at his home. The officers who responded, Carlos Garcia-Lazar and Anthony Rusterucci, questioned him as to what he would do if he found an intruder in his home. After responding that he would use all necessary force, including deadly force, the officers allegedly told him that use of force wouldn't be appropriate if the intruder was a police officer serving a warrant. Sebastian said that he explained to the officers that he did not mean that he would use force against an officer, rather that he understood the question to be limited to illegal, unidentified intruders. According to the complaint, the two officers consulted with Lieutenant Francis Bialeki and Sergeant Robert Woolston who caused a warrant to be issued charging Sebastian with "making a terroristic threat to kill a township official." Thereafter, about a dozen police officers came to Sebastian's home, arrested him and took him to the police station where he was allegedly denied access to an attorney and detained and questioned for five hours. Sebastian claimed that Officer Richard Monahan told him that that the arrest was precipitated by his actions in the municipal court the previous day. Monahan alleges that the Camden County Prosecutor's Office declined to indict him for the terroristic threats charge and that the matter was returned to municipal court for disposition. The municipal court ultimately dismissed the charges after police officers failed to appear to testify on the State's behalf. Also named in the suit were Voorhees Police Officers Daniel Starks and Lance Klein. The case is captioned Sebastian v. Voorhees, Federal Case No. 1:08-cv-06097 and Sebastian's attorney was William H. Buckman of Moorestown. Case documents are on-line here. None of Sebastian's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $60,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Voorhees or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Voorhees or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Sebastian $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. ABOUT ME AND WHY I'M POSTING THIS. I chair the New Jersey Libertarian Party's Open Government Advocacy Project which seeks to increase governmental transparency and accountability, particularly at a local level. For more information on the Libertarian Party, go to http://www.njlp.org. As part of my work, I routinely check civil court cases where at least one of the parties is a government agency or official. Most often, these settlement agreements are never revealed to the public. I post them on the Libertarian Party's blog at http://njcivilsettlements.blogspot.com and other public forums because I believe that civil settlements, regardless of amount, may be of interest to citizens and taxpayers. John Paff Somerset, New Jersey
 
Letter to Winslow Board of Education
July 15, 2013 Patricia Davis, President and Members of the Winslow Township Board of Education 40 Cooper Folly Rd Atco, NJ 08804 mccoyty@winslow-schools.com Dear President Davis and Board Members I serve as chairman of the New Jersey Libertarian Party's Open Government Advocacy Project. I invite the Board's attention to areas of noncompliance with the Open Public Meetings Act (OPMA) and request that the Board discuss these issues at its July 24, 2013 meeting. http://ogtf.lpcnj.org/OPMA.htm The Board's nonpublic (i.e. closed or executive) meeting resolutions and minutes from three meetings in late 2011 are on-line here. The resolutions are not precise enough to comply with N.J.S.A. 10:4-13 and the minutes reflect that matters were discussed privately that should have been discussed publicly. As for the resolutions, they describe the matters to be discussed in private session very generally, using terms such as "student hearings," "personnel matters," and "legal matters." (The minutes from a more recent meeting, held on June 12, 2013 (on-line here) indicate that the same general terms are currently used.) http://www.winslow-schools.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/06/June-12-2013-Regular-Mtg.pdf The resolutions "should contain as much information as is consistent with full public knowledge without doing any harm to the public interest." See, McGovern v. Rutgers, 418 N.J.Super. 458, 470 (App. Div. 2011) reversed on other grounds 211 N.J. 94 (2012). For example, why could not the Board have publicly disclosed, in its November 9, 2011 resolution, that a "property dispute between the Winslow Township Board of Education and the Township of Winslow" was going to be discussed instead of telling the public that merely "legal matters" would be discussed? I have uploaded here and here Word and PDF versions of form of closed session resolution that I ask the Board to use going forward. As for the minutes, most of the items under "Board Policy Matters" should have been discussed in public. For example, the "policy regarding the structure of Board Committees and the number of members required to be present to conduct a meeting" which was privately discussed on November 9, 2011 does not appear to meet any of the exceptions enumerated in N.J.S.A. 10:4-12(b). These exceptions must be strictly construed against excluding the public from a meeting. Hartz Mountain Industries, Inc. v. New Jersey Sports & Exposition Authority, 369 N.J.Super. 175, 186 (App. Div. 2004), certification denied 182 N.J. 147 (2004). Would you please contact me, or have Solicitor Long contact me, regarding these issues after your July 24, 2013 meeting? Very truly yours, cc. Howard C. Long, Jr., Board Solicitor hlong@wlwklaw.net
 
Letter to Fort Lee BOE attorney
July 12, 2013 Dennis McKeever, Esq. Lindabury McCormick Estabrook & Cooper,PC 53 Cardinal Dr Westfield, NJ 07090-1020 dmckeever@lindabury.com RE: Fort Lee Board of Education, Private Session Minute Policy Dear Mr. McKeever: I chair the New Jersey Libertarian Party's Open Government Advocacy Project which seeks to ensure governmental accountability and transparency. I write to you because public records indicate that you are counsel for the Fort Lee Board of Education. The results of a recent Open Public Records Act request causes me to conclude that the Board's practice regarding recording and maintaining its nonpublic (closed or executive) meeting minutes violates N.J.S.A. 10:4-14. I have uploaded relevant records to the Internet here. http://ogtf.lpcnj.org/OPRA.htm http://ogtf.lpcnj.org/OPMA.htm As you will note, the Board went into nonpublic session between 7:02 p.m. and 7:58 p.m. on March 26, 2012. Yet, when I asked for the minutes reflecting what had occurred during that fifty-six minute interval, Interim School Business Administrator/Board Secretary Robert Brown informed me that minutes for that interval "do not exist." Executive session minutes from June 10, 2013, June 20, 2013 and June 26, 2013 suggest that the Board also did not record minutes of the nonpublic intervals that took place during those meetings. This evidence causes me to conclude that the Board is not complying with Attorney General Formal Opinion No. 1-1998 ("[T]he Open Public Meetings Act specifically requires that the public body "maintain 'reasonably comprehensible minutes' of all meetings including executive sessions...." Thus, the law unambiguously requires minutes of closed or executive sessions to be made and maintained.") http://www.cranbury.info/viewtopic.php?p=4717&sid=82df8fe098818f0623caa762e63be74f Would you please raise this issue at the July 15, 2013 Board meeting? Please be advised that if necessary, I will not hesitate to file a lawsuit against the Board for declaratory and injunctive relief pursuant to N.J.S.A. 10:4-16. Hopefully, I will receive prompt assurance from your office or Mr. Brown that the Board will, going forward, fully comply with the Open Public Meetings Act by keeping reasonably comprehensible minutes of all its meetings, including those not open to the public. Thank you for your attention to this matter. Very truly yours, cc. Robert Brown, Interim School Business Administrator/Board Secretary (via e-mail to rbrown@flboe.com)
 
Galloway Executive Session

 
Fairfield pays $72,500 to settle racial harassment lawsuit
On October 29, 2010, the Township of Fairfield (Cumberland County) agreed to pay $72,500 to a African-American man who sued Fairfield Township for allegedly wrongfully discharging him from Township employment. In his suit, Wayne Thomas Byrd, who had been employed by the Township since 2004, said that he had been consistently harassed, belittled and called racial slurs by co-worker William Ridgeway who Byrd claimed to be "very well politically connected and . . . good friends with the [then] business administrator of the township, one Richard DeVillasanta." Byrd said that he suffered a heart attack in May 2007 and returned to work on September 8, 2008, after a long period of recovery. When he returned to work, he claimed he was only on the job for an hour and a half before being told to leave. Being told to leave, according to the complaint, "effectuated a discharge for all practical purposes." Byrd claims that he repeatedly complained about Ridgeway to Nathan Dunn, his supervisor, and then mayor Marion Kennedy, Jr., but they would only "talk to Ridgeway" which would cause him to "soften his harassment for a short period of time." The case is captioned Byrd v. Fairfield, Cumberland County Superior Court Docket No. CUM-L-1027-08 and Byrd's attorney was Kevin M. Costello of Cherry Hill. 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 Byrd's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $72,500 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Fairfield or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Fairfield or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Byrd $72,500 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. ABOUT ME AND WHY I'M POSTING THIS. I chair the New Jersey Libertarian Party's Open Government Advocacy Project which seeks to increase governmental transparency and accountability, particularly at a local level. For more information on the Libertarian Party, go to http://www.njlp.org. As part of my work, I routinely check civil court cases where at least one of the parties is a government agency or official. Most often, these settlement agreements are never revealed to the public. I post them on the Libertarian Party's blog at http://njcivilsettlements.blogspot.com and other public forums because I believe that civil settlements, regardless of amount, may be of interest to citizens and taxpayers. John Paff Somerset, New Jersey
 
7-2002 LFB Roster

 
NJ Department of Human Services pays $10,000 to settle whistleblower suit
On January 31, 2012, the New Jersey Department of Human Services agreed to pay $10,000 to a Millville woman who sued the Vineland Developmental Center for allegedly retaliating against her after she reported "patient abuse and neglect." In her suit, Yolanda Howard said that during 2009, she reported various rule infractions to her supervisors. Her reporting, she claims, resulted in "a barrage of retaliatory and harassing actions [including] a brief period of unemployment from March 6, 2009 through April 11, 2009." The case is captioned Howard v. State of New Jersey, Cumberland County Superior Court Docket No. CUM-L-256-10 and Howard's attorney was Alan J. Cohen of Northfield. Case documents are on-line here. None of Howard's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $10,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Human Services or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Human Services or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Howard $10,000 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. ABOUT ME AND WHY I'M POSTING THIS. I chair the New Jersey Libertarian Party's Open Government Advocacy Project which seeks to increase governmental transparency and accountability, particularly at a local level. For more information on the Libertarian Party, go to http://www.njlp.org. As part of my work, I routinely check civil court cases where at least one of the parties is a government agency or official. Most often, these settlement agreements are never revealed to the public. I post them on the Libertarian Party's blog at http://njcivilsettlements.blogspot.com and other public forums because I believe that civil settlements, regardless of amount, may be of interest to citizens and taxpayers. John Paff Somerset, New Jersey
 
High Bridge pays $81,250 to settle police excessive force suit

 
NJ State Police pay $42,000 to settle false arrest lawsuit
On April 30, 2013, the State of New Jersey agreed to pay $42,000 to two brothers who sued two State Troopers for falsely arresting them and depriving one of them of his prescription medication. In their suit, Kevin and Robert Menke of Mohrsville, Pennsylvania said that on June 13, 2008 they were at a convenience store in Brigantine with their vehicle parked next to an unmarked SUV occupied by State Troopers Michael Baker and Michael Stonnell, who were both in civilian clothing. While Kevin was in the store, Robert, who was sitting in the car, was allegedly accused by the Troopers of "looking" at Baker. The brothers allege that when Kevin came out of the store, the argument was still going on with neither brother knowing that Baker and Stonnell were police officers. As the brothers were attempting to exit the parking lot in their vehicle, Baker and Stonnell allegedly continued to harass them and questioned them about whether they were selling drugs. At this point, the brothers got out of their vehicle and approached the SUV. When Kevin asked Baker and Stonnell whether they were police officers, Baker allegedly showed his handgun to him. Upon seeing the gun, and still not realizing that the men were police officers, Robert called 911 on his cell phone. While placing the call, Robert claims that Stonnell pointed his gun at him and arrested him. The Troopers allegedly confiscated Kevin's medication and wouldn't return it to him despite being told that he needed to take it to stay well. Kevin allegedly told the Troopers that they could call his physician who would confirm that it was critical for him to take his medication. According to the complaint, the Troopers would not call the physician resulting in Kevin becoming ill and being taken to the hospital. At this point, the Troopers finally contacted the physician who confirmed that the medication was necessary to prevent Kevin from experiencing serious discomfort. Baker and Stonnell charged the brothers with disorderly conduct and unlawful possession of a controlled dangerous substance. All charges were dropped except that Kevin pled guilty to a municipal ordinance violation. Also named in the suit was the City of Brigantine which was later dismissed from the suit. The case is captioned Kevin and Robert Menke v. Michael Baker et al, Federal Case No. 1:10-cv-02585 and the Menkes' attorney was Anthony M. Anastasio of Lawrenceville. Case documents are on-line here. None of Menkes' allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $42,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by State of New Jersey or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that State of New Jersey or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay the brothers $42,000 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. ABOUT ME AND WHY I'M POSTING THIS. I chair the New Jersey Libertarian Party's Open Government Advocacy Project which seeks to increase governmental transparency and accountability, particularly at a local level. For more information on the Libertarian Party, go to http://www.njlp.org. As part of my work, I routinely check civil court cases where at least one of the parties is a government agency or official. Most often, these settlement agreements are never revealed to the public. I post them on the Libertarian Party's blog at http://njcivilsettlements.blogspot.com and other public forums because I believe that civil settlements, regardless of amount, may be of interest to citizens and taxpayers. John Paff Somerset, New Jersey
 
Linda S. Baum v. Middletown Public Library Board of Trustees, et al

 
Hirsch decision

 
Mears v. Paulsboro

 
Unpublished trial court OPRA opinion
"Unpublished opinions" are not published in the law books and are not ordinarily written about in legal periodicals. Unless somebody puts them on-line and calls attention to them, they are likely not to be located by people who may want to search for them. I think that it's important that court opinions, even if they are not precedential, are easily accessible for future use. Betsy Cross v. Township of Wall et al Monmouth County, Docket No. MON-L-1041-13 Hon. Lawrence M. Lawson, A.J.S.C. June 21, 2013 Click here for the opinion. Judge Lawson held that it was improper for the custodian to redact the entire account number from bank statements that were disclosed in response to an Open Public Records Act (OPRA) request. While the court recognized the substantial risk of disclosing the entire bank account number, it agreed with Plaintiff that the last four digits of the account numbers could be disclosed, consistent with R.1:38-7(b), so that a requestor who is looking at several bank statements can differentiate one account from another.
 
Unpublished trial court OPRA opinion
"Unpublished opinions" are not published in the law books and are not ordinarily written about in legal periodicals. Unless somebody puts them on-line and calls attention to them, they are likely not to be located by people who may want to search for them. I think that it's important that court opinions, even if they are not precedential, are easily accessible for future use. Thomas Foregger v. Township of Berkeley Heights, et al Union County, Docket No. UNN-L-4121-12 Hon. Regina Caufield, J.S.C. June 14, 2013 Click here for the opinion. Judge Caufield held that a forensic audit report created by Certified Public Accountant that Berkeley Heights "directly utilized" to prosecute removal and tenure proceedings against the Township's former Chief Financial Officer was subject to disclosure under both the Open Public Records Act and the common law right of access, provided that the names of individual employees interviewed were redacted.
 
State fines Burlington County municipal lawyer $500 for financial disclosure violation.
By letter of June 25, 2013, the Local Finance Board levied a $500 fine against a municipal attorney who omitted sources of income from his financial disclosure filings. Nicholas J. Costa, who serves as Municipal Attorney for Wrightstown Borough as well as Municipal Prosecutor for several other area towns, must either pay the $500 fine within ten days or appeal the decision within thirty days. According to the "Notice of Violation" authored by Thomas H. Neff, Chair of the Local Finance Board, Costa earned more than $2,000 from each Florence and Mount Laurel Townships during 2010 but failed to disclose those income sources on his Financial Disclosure Statement. Filing of Financial Disclosure Statements is required by the New Jersey Local Government Ethics Law. The Board's investigation was prompted by a March 19, 2012 ethics complaint filed John Paff, Chairman of the New Jersey Libertarian Party's Open Government Advocacy Project. The Projects seeks to make government agencies and officials more transparent and accountable to the public. The Board's Notice of Violation and the Party's complaint are on-line here.
 
Court dismisses lawsuit by arrestee who lied about conviction status on OPRA form.
Today, June 21, 2013, the Appellate Division of the Superior Court affirmed a lower court's dismissal of Michael Taffaro's false arrest lawsuit against the Borough of Ridgefield and Borough Mayor Anthony A. Suarez. The court's opinion is on-line here. According to the opinion, Taffaro, who claimed to have written a letter to Borough residents critical of Suarez during Suarez's mayoral campaign, had been convicted of fourth degree contempt, a conviction that was later reversed by the New Jersey Supreme Court. But, before the Supreme Court's reversal of the conviction, Taffaro had submitted an Open Public Records Act (OPRA) request form to the Borough Clerk that contained the standard language regarding the requestor's conviction status. On the form, Taffaro certified that he had not been convicted, even though the Supreme Court had yet to reverse his conviction. According to Taffaro, Ridgefield police filed a complaint against him on August 6, 2007 for making a false written statement, which resulted in his August 16, 2007 arrest, a strip search and detention at the Bergen County Jail. In response to Taffaro's civil suit, lower courts found that since the police had probable cause to arrest him, his false arrest claim must be dismissed. Today's Appellate Division ruling affirmed that dismissal.
 
Howell pays $125,000 to hostile work environment/wrongful discharge suit
On June 4, 2013, the Township of Howell (Monmouth County) agreed to pay $125,000 to a Waretown woman who sued members of the Howell Police Department for harassing her, creating a hostile work environment and constructively discharging her. In addition, Howell settled the woman's workers compensation claim for $25,000. In her suit, Mary Lenahan, a 13-year Howell employee who served as a police dispatcher, said that fellow dispatcher Christine Jakowski would undermine and make derogatory comments about Lenahan's competence. Lenahan also accused Jakowski of making a racial comment and would "place several guns on her desk" for no other reason than to harass Lenahan. She further alleges that her complaints resulted in a "bad faith investigation" and Jakowski retaliated against her. The case is captioned Lenahan v. Howell Police Department, Superior Court Docket No. MON-L-3456-11and Lenahan's attorney was Gary S. Shapiro of Englishtown. Case documents are on-line here. None of Lenahan's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $125,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Howell or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Howell or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Lenahan $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. ABOUT ME AND WHY I'M POSTING THIS. I chair the New Jersey Libertarian Party's Open Government Advocacy Project which seeks to increase governmental transparency and accountability, particularly at a local level. For more information on the Libertarian Party, go to http://www.njlp.org. As part of my work, I routinely check civil court cases where at least one of the parties is a government agency or official. Most often, these settlement agreements are never revealed to the public. I post them on the Libertarian Party's blog at http://njcivilsettlements.blogspot.com and other public forums because I believe that civil settlements, regardless of amount, may be of interest to citizens and taxpayers. John Paff Somerset, New Jersey
 
Glassboro Downgrading
June 17, 2013 Sean F. Dalton, Prosecutor County of Gloucester via e-mail only to sdalton@co.gloucester.nj.us RE: Glassboro Municipal Court Dear Prosecutor Dalton: Back on April 21, 2012, I complained about the West Deptford Municipal Court Prosecutor improperly pleading down statutory offenses to violations of a preempted and invalid ordinance. You responded on April 30, 2012 by promising to reach out to that municipality's prosecutor regarding this downgrading practice. My complaint and your response are on-line here and here. On-line here are three summons/complaints where the Glassboro Municipal Prosecutor similarly pled down statutory violations to violations of Glassboro Code § 354-24. That code section reads: Other riotous or immoral conduct A. Other riotous conduct, indecent conduct, breaches of the peace, vagrancy and prostitution not hereinbefore mentioned are hereby prohibited within the limits of said Borough. B. Violations and penalties. Any person violating any of the provisions of this section shall, upon conviction, be punished by one or more of the following: This code provision is clearly preempted and is probably also unconstitutional. Like you did with West Deptford, would you please reach out to the Glassboro Prosecutor? Thank you for your attention to this matter. Very truly yours, John Paff, Chairman New Jersey Libertarian Party's Preempted Ordinance Repeal Project P.O. Box 5424 Somerset, NJ 08875-5424 Voice: 732-873-1251 cc. Michael Curwin, Esq., mcurwin@co.gloucester.nj.us John J. Armano, Jr., Esq. john.armano@trimbleandarmano.com
 
Letter to Manville - seeking repeal of invalid ordinance
June 17, 2013 Hon. Angelo Corradino, Mayor and members of the Manville Borough Council 325 North Main Street Manville, NJ 08835 (via e-mail only to ggarwacke@manvillenj.org) RE: Ordinance #396 Dear Mayor Corradino and Council members: The object of this letter is to get the Borough Council the finally repeal the captioned ordinance, which is on-line here, seeks to prohibit all manner of "vice, immorality, drunkenness and disorderly conduct." I have checked the "New Ordinances" page on your web site and it appears that Ord #396 has yet to be deleted. http://www.manvillenj.org/page.asp?prmName=newordinances On-line here is former Borough Attorney C. Douglas Reina's June 16, 2003 letter in which he opines that "there is no question but that [Ord. #396] has been preempted by the provisions of Title 2C of the New Jersey Statutes." In the same letter, Mr. Reina promises that Ord. #396 will not be included within the upcoming ordinance codification. It appears now--10 years later--that neither the repeal nor the codification ever occurred. On-line here is an August 5, 2011 letter from the Somerset County Prosecutor's Office warning Manville Municipal Prosecutor Matthew C. Dorsi that he might face an "ethical complaint and/or a supercession by this office" if he was again caught improperly downgrading statutory charges to Ord. #396 violations. Given that a) the Borough's own attorney has deemed Ord. #396 invalid and b) that the County Prosecutor won't let your local prosecutor downgrade statutory charges to it, do you agree with me that it's high time that Manville repealed this relic from the books? I ask that you please discuss this during the June 24, 2013 Council meeting. Very truly yours, John Paff, Chairman New Jersey Libertarian Party's Preempted Ordinance Repeal Project P.O. Box 5424 Somerset, NJ 08875-5424 Voice: 732-873-1251
 
Pot defendant gets his watch back
For readers who aren't familiar with asset forfeiture matters, I have uploaded a forfeiture complaint and its settlement from the case of State v. One Breitling Watch/Four Thousand Ninety Five Dollars ($4,095.00), Docket No. MID-L-6295-09 here. According to the complaint, two men were arrested in Woodbridge on May 12, 2009 for possession of fifty-two pounds of marijuana. When the men were searched, police seized $4,095 and a Breitling watch found in the men's possession. On April 18, 2013, the parties settled the forfeiture action with the prosecutor keeping the cash but returning the watch to its owner in "as in condition." Readers will note that the complaint is styled as a "civil action" and that the cash and the watch, as opposed to the men themselves, are named as defendants. Incredibly, New Jersey law (as well as federal law and the laws in most states) allow the government to "resort to a legal fiction" and sue the property itself "as though it were conscious instead of inanimate and insentient.? (See State of New Jersey v. One 1990 Honda Accord, 302 N.J. Super. 225, 229 (App. Div. 1997) affirmed 154 N.J. 373 (1998). Resorting to this legal fiction allows the state many advantages. Among them are a) the state only needs to satisfy a civil rather than a criminal burden of proof (preponderance of the evidence v. beyond a reasonable doubt) and b) "the fact that a prosecution involving seized property terminates without a conviction does not preclude forfeiture proceedings against the property." N.J.S.A. 2C:64-4(b). Yes, even if you're found not guilty of all crimes, the state still has a shot at forfeiting your stuff. The state theorizes that a not guilty finding doesn't mean that you didn't do it, only that the prosecution wasn't able to prove a crime beyond a reasonable doubt. An aquittal, of course, should not prevent the state from seeking title to your property under the lower, civil burden of proof. Got that? To sweeten the deal even more, the police--in this case the Woodbridge Police--get a cut of the forfeited cash and property. N.J.S.A. 2C:64-6 authorizes county prosecutors to "divide the forfeited property, any proceeds resulting from the forfeiture or any money seized" with local police departments "in proportion to the [local police department's] contribution to the surveillance, investigation, arrest or prosecution resulting in the forfeiture." So, in essence, the police have a vested interest in pursuing drug, gambing and other cases where lots of cash is likely to be found. Not much profit, unfortunately, in solving burglaries, rapes and other crimes where there is an identifiable victim. http://www.breitling.com/en/
 
OPRA hearing tomorrow in Belvidere
On Friday, June 14, 2013 at 9:30 a.m., Warren County Superior Court Judge Amy O'Connor will hear argument in the case of Paff v. Warren County Prosecutor, Docket No. WRN-L-34-13. My complaint, certification and brief in this case, filed by the Law Office of Walter M. Luers, is on-line here. At issue is an investigation of an incident, shortly after Hurricane Sandy, in which an employee of the Warren County Jail used a county-owned generator for his or her own personal use. The County Prosecutor, who declined to seek criminal charges against the employee, provided me with some investigative documents that from which the employee's name was redacted. I believe that the public is entitled to know the employee's identity. The public is invited to attend and observe tomorrow's hearing. It will be held at the Courthouse, 413 2nd Street, Belvidere.
 
Tenure Charges

 
Warren County pays $90,000 to settle whistleblower suit
On April 29, 2013, the County of Warren agreed to pay $90,000 to a Department of Human Services employee who claimed that she was retaliated against because she reported misconduct to County officials. In her suit, Barbara Kahler, an employee of the Department's Division of Temporary Assistance and Social Services ("TASS") alleged various improprieties against TASS, including TASS Director Lorraine Scheibener and Sharon Ciavarella, Kahler's direct supervisor. Among the allegations is that an unnamed supervisor asked Kahler to "bring a narcotic medication to work for [that] supervisor." When Kahler reported this incident to Scheibener, Scheibener allegedly told her to "pretend the incident never happened as the supervisor could lose her job." Kahler also alleges that she was told by Ciavarella to backdate several food stamp benefits applications. She claims that after she rebuffed Ciavarella's demand, she received an "increased workload" and was otherwise retaliated against. Kahler also alleges that she reported to both Ciavarella and Scheibener that "various co-workers were arriving to work late, leaving work early, taking long lunches and otherwise not performing their assigned tasks during prescribed work hours." According to the lawsuit, Ciavarella and Scheibener told Kahler's co-workers about her reports, causing them to "create a hostile work environment." Also named in the suit was assistant supervisor Jill Campana. As part of the settlement, the County agreed to amend Kahler's resignation from "not in good standing" to "in good standing." The case is captioned Kahler v. County of Warren, Superior Court Docket No. WRN-L-419-11 and Kahler's attorney was John McDonnell of Washington. Case documents are on-line here. None of Kahler's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $90,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Warren or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Warren or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Kahler $90,000 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. ABOUT ME AND WHY I'M POSTING THIS. I chair the New Jersey Libertarian Party's Open Government Advocacy Project which seeks to increase governmental transparency and accountability, particularly at a local level. For more information on the Libertarian Party, go to http://www.njlp.org. As part of my work, I routinely check civil court cases where at least one of the parties is a government agency or official. Most often, these settlement agreements are never revealed to the public. I post them on the Libertarian Party's blog at http://njcivilsettlements.blogspot.com and other public forums because I believe that civil settlements, regardless of amount, may be of interest to citizens and taxpayers. John Paff Somerset, New Jersey
 
Nestor JC

 
Newark IA Rios Rivera

 
Suppression motion reversal and remand

 
Secretary of State OPMA Guidelines
Published in 1992, the Department of State's "Guidelines on the Open Public Meetings Law" still contains relevant information that ca be used to persuade and educate public bodies. For example, page 15 confirms that public meeting minutes must be disclosed when they are prepared, not when they are approved by the public body.
 
Ethics Complaint against Lawrence and Commercial Township officials
April 22, 2013 Thomas H. Neff, Chair Local Finance Board 101 S Broad St ? PO Box 803 Trenton, NJ 08625-0803 (via e-mail only to thomas.neff@dca.state.nj.us) Dear Mr. Neff: I intend this letter to be my complaint against a total of six (6) Local Government Officers in the Townships of Lawrence and Commercial in Cumberland County. In accordance with N.J.A.C. 5:35-1.1(b), following are the required elements of the complaint: 1. State the point of the Local Government Ethics Law alleged to be violated. N.J.S.A. 40A:9-22.5(c) states that "no local government officer or employee shall use or attempt to use his official position to secure unwarranted privileges or advantages for himself or others" 2. State the name(s) and title(s) of the parties involved in the action and against whom the complaint is filed. Complainant John Paff and the New Jersey Libertarian Party The following six individuals who served on the Commercial Township and Lawrence Township Committees in 2008: George W. Garrison (Commercial) Fletcher Jamison (Commercial) William Riggin (Commercial) Thomas Sheppard (Lawrence) Elmer Bowman (Lawrence) Joseph Miletta (Lawrence) 3. Set forth in detail the pertinent facts surrounding the alleged violative action. By way of background, P.L. 2007, c. 29, which became effective on January 1, 2008, was reform legislation "designed to ensure the system serves career public employees rather than political appointees" and to "cut out the entrenched core of abuse that has been corrupting our pension and benefits systems from within." (See Governor Corzine's press release, on-line here, issued when he signed the legislation into law). One of the components of the new law, N.J.S.A. 43:15A-7.2, excluded professional services contractors, such as municipal lawyers, architects and engineers from enrolling in the state's PERS pension system. Yet, according to an August 23, 2010 letter (on-line here) from the New Jersey Division of Pension and Benefits, both Commercial and Lawrence Townships maintained special job titles (Lawrence Township used "Property Administrator" and Commercial Township used "Property Manager" and "Tax Lien Manager") and awarded those position in 2008 to Thomas E. Seeley, Esq., who served (and still serves) as Township Attorney for Townships. The Division found that both Townships had engaged in a thinly veiled attempt to circumvent the newly enacted pension reforms. Indeed, the Division's letter, in reference to Lawrence Township, stated that "the Division concludes that the position of 'Property Administrator' is a position designed to disguise your true relationship, thereby facilitating your continued membership in the PERS." According to the minutes of the Commercial Township Committee's August 21, 2008 public meeting (the relevant pages are on-line here), Township Administrator Judson Moore candidly admitted that the "Property Manager" position was being awarded to Mr. Seeley in direct response to the legislation to ensure that Mr. Seeley remained enrolled in the pension system." ("Mr. Moore said part of it is due to new ordinance mandated by the state Determining Positions Eligible for the Defined Contribution Retirement Program. This is a new form of pension plan for certain municipal employees. Solicitors cannot be paid 'other expenses' and a salary, it either has to be by salary or by other expenses. What this does is take his salary and other expenses figures which were already allocated in the budget and placing it under one category, which is his salary for pension purposes." In sum, we assert that these elected officials acted with an intent to provide Mr. Seeley with an unwarranted financial benefit by creating a subterfuge designed to circumvent the pension reform legislation. Accordingly, we believe that these officials should be penalized. 4. Indicate whether the complaint concerns the complainant in any way and what, if any, relationship the complainant has to the subject of the complaint. Complainant has no interest in or relationship to this complaint greater than any other citizen or organization who wishes for all government officers and employees to comply fully with the Local Government Ethics Law. 5. Indicate any other action previously taken in an attempt to resolve the issue and indicate whether the issue is the subject of pending litigation elsewhere. No other action has been taken previously in an attempt to resolve this issue and this issue is not the subject of any pending litigation. Thank you for your attention to this matter. I ask that you please acknowledge your receipt of this complaint within 30 days. Sincerely, John Paff, Chairman New Jersey Libertarian Party's Open Government Advocacy Project P.O. Box 5424 Somerset, NJ 08875 Voice: 732-873-1251 Fax: 908-325-0129 e-mail: paff@pobox.com
 
Dover pays $75,000 to settle suit for negligence in police chase that resulted in death of 23-year-old motorcyclist
On March 2, 2012, the Town of Dover (Morris County) agreed to pay $75,000 to the mother of a twenty-three year old man who was killed in a motor vehicle collision when he was allegedly fleeting police. In her suit, Kara Seitz, mother of the late Alan J. Seitz, said that on August 14, 2007, her son, who was operating a motorcyle, was leading police from various municipalities on a high speed chase. She claims that Dover Police Officer Michael Pier, after hearing about the chase on his radio, disregarded a stop sign and "drove his motor vehicle directly in front of [Seitz's] motorcyle causing the death of [Seitz]." Also named in the suit was Dover Police Chief Harold Valentine. The case is captioned Seitz v. Dover Police Officer Michael Pier et al, New Jersey Superior Court, Docket No. MRS-L-2441-09 and Seitz's attorney was George T. Daggett of Sparta. Case documents are on-line here. None of Seitz's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $75,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Dover or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Dover or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Seitz $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. ABOUT ME AND WHY I'M POSTING THIS. I chair the New Jersey Libertarian Party's Open Government Advocacy Project which seeks to increase governmental transparency and accountability, particularly at a local level. For more information on the Libertarian Party, go to http://www.njlp.org. As part of my work, I routinely check civil court cases where at least one of the parties is a government agency or official. Most often, these settlement agreements are never revealed to the public. I post them on the Libertarian Party's blog at http://njcivilsettlements.blogspot.com and other public forums because I believe that civil settlements, regardless of amount, may be of interest to citizens and taxpayers. John Paff Somerset, New Jersey
 
Dover pays $185,000 to settle police false arrest/excessive force suit
On September 28, 2011, the Town of Dover (Morris County) agreed to pay $185,000 to a man who sued members of the Dover Police Department for allegedly beating him and arresting him without probable cause. In his suit, Steven Echevarria said that on April 11, 2008 he was arrested without probable cause by Officers Joe Camacho and Paul Wilkes. He claimed that after his arrest, Office Camacho removed him from his cell "took him to a back area within the police department where he unlawfully and physically assaulted" Echevarria "inflicting serious personal injuries upon him." The case is captioned Echevarria v. Camacho, New Jersey Superior Court, Morris County, Docket No. MRS-L-1806-09 and Echevarria's attorney was Joel I. Rachmiel of Springfield. Case documents are on-line here. None of Echevarria's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $185,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Dover or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Dover or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Echevarria $185,000 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. ABOUT ME AND WHY I'M POSTING THIS. I chair the New Jersey Libertarian Party's Open Government Advocacy Project which seeks to increase governmental transparency and accountability, particularly at a local level. For more information on the Libertarian Party, go to http://www.njlp.org. As part of my work, I routinely check civil court cases where at least one of the parties is a government agency or official. Most often, these settlement agreements are never revealed to the public. I post them on the Libertarian Party's blog at http://njcivilsettlements.blogspot.com and other public forums because I believe that civil settlements, regardless of amount, may be of interest to citizens and taxpayers. John Paff Somerset, New Jersey
 
IA Complaint against Newark Police officer
Police Accountability Project of the New Jersey Libertarian Party P.O. Box 5424 Somerset, NJ 08875 April 17, 2013 Lt. Antonio M. Domingues, Internal Affairs Unit Newark Police Department 247 16th Avenue Newark, NJ 07103 (via e-mail to dominguesa@ci.newark.nj.us) Dear Lt. Domingues: I chair the New Jersey Libertarian Party's Police Accountability Project and ask that you accept this e-mail as our Internal Affairs complaint. We would like your agency to investigate whether Officer Vernon Bradbury and other personnel employed by your agency acted in accordance with department policy and the law regarding a motor vehicle stop and arrest on May 13, 2011. According to the Appellate Division's decision in State v. Long, Docket No. A-1857-12T3 (on-line here), Bradbury testified that when he pulled over Nelson Long for speeding, drugs "fell to the ground" when Long exited the vehicle. Bradbury said that an ensuing pat-down turned up more drugs in Long's sweatpants pocket. At a court hearing, the Hon. Verna G. Leath, J.S.C., said that Bradbury's testimony "simply does not make sense." She found that the motor vehicle stop was "more than pre-textual" and that "in fact there was no motor vehicle traffic violation at all that would have justified a stop." She further found that Bradbury's claim that the drugs fell to the ground "was not credible." Accordingly, she suppressed all the drugs found as having been unlawfully obtained, i.e. "fruit of the poisonous tree." Judge Leath, in essence, found that Officer Bradbury fabricated his justification to stop Long's vehicle. And, she strongly suggested that Bradbury lied about the drugs falling to the ground and that he instead found the drugs only after an illegal search. We know nothing more about this incident than that which is reported in the Appellate Division's decision. We file this complaint solely on the strength of Judge Leath's finding that Bradbury did not testify truthfully. The Internal Affairs unit, however, can obtain the evidence, including Bradbury's testimony, upon which Judge Leath made her determination. Further, you can interview Bradbury, Long and any other witnesses to discern what really occurred. Accordingly, we call on you to conduct a full investigation of this matter. Thank you for your attention to this matter.
 
Stafford IA closing letter

 
Massell and Thompson

 
Irvingon pays $15,000 to settle police warrantless entry suit
On January 13, 2010, the Township of Irvingon (Essex County) agreed to pay $15,000 to a Clinton Avenue couple who sued the Irvingon Police Department because an officer entered the wife's bedroom without a warrant while she was "undressing and in a state of nakedness." In their suit, Sandra Holmes-Stuckey and her husband Hazel Stuckey, Jr. said that on July 10, 2009, Officer Rashaan D. Sampson (also spelled "Samson") illegally entered her bedroon and observed her in a state of undress. Sandra sued for a violation of her constitutional rights and Hazel sued because he was "deprived of his wife's services and consortium." The case is captioned Holmes-Stuckey v. Irvingon, Federal Case No. 2:11-cv-00018 and Holmes-Stuckey's attorney was Otto J. Scerbo 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 Holmes-Stuckey's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $15,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Irvingon or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Irvingon or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Holmes-Stuckey and her husband $15,000 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.
 
Do public contracts need to include a maximum amount?
April 9, 2013 Thomas H. Neff, Chair Local Finance Board 101 S Broad St ? PO Box 803 Trenton, NJ 08625-0803 Tom.Neff@dca.state.nj.us RE: Contracts lacking a "not to exceed" amount. Dear Mr. Neff: A colleague of mine, by way of an Open Public Records Act (OPRA) request, obtained copies of the Pollution Control Financing Authority of Warren County's contract for legal services with Governor Florio's present law firm, Florio, Perrucci, Steinhardt & Felder, LLC. Copies of the contract and the December 19, 2012 resolution that awarded it are on-line here. The contract calls for the Florio law firm to bill the Authority at $150 per hour. But, neither the contract nor the authorizing resolution places any "not to exceed" limitation on the amount that can be paid out under the contract during the annual term. Does the Local Public Contracts Law permit public bodies to enter into contracts with no predetermined maximum amount? Please advise. John Paff, Chairman New Jersey Libertarian Party's Open Government Advocacy Project P.O. Box 5424 Somerset, NJ 08875 Voice: 732-873-1251 Fax: 908-325-0129 e-mail: paff@pobox.com
 
IA Complaint against Paterson officers determined "unfounded"
On May 27, 2011, the New Jersey Libertarian Party's Police Accountability Project filed an Internal Affairs (IA) complaint against Detectives Carlos Charon and Florence Ackerman of the Paterson (Passaic County) Police Department. By way of a two-sentence letter dated March 29, 2013 (on-line here) Detective Sergeant Manuel Hernandez "concluded that the allegation was not sustained." According to the Attorney General's Internal Affairs Guidelines, this means that "the investigation and a review of all information failed to disclose sufficient evidence to clearly prove or disprove the allegation." I have written back to Detective Sergeant Hernandez asking him to provide me with a more substantive and detailed response. My letter is on-line here. The matter arose out of the Appellate Division's May 26, 2011 decision in State v. Anyoli R. Gonzalez, Docket No. A-0962-07T1, which is on-line here. The decision indicates that Defendant Gonzalez, during his interview with Charon and Ackerman unequivocally requested an attorney. Yet, Charon and Ackerman, "essentially changed the subject by asking whether he wanted to continue with his statement." This line of follow-up questioning, according to the court, improperly "placed the burden on [Gonzalez] to reassert his right to counsel." The court ultimately court suppressed Gonzalez's videotaped interview because of the Detectives' improper questioning. Further, Charon changed Gonzalez's unequivocal request for lawyer, which was in Spanish, to a request for a lawyer "later." Thus, it appears that Charon, perhaps intentionally, attempted to alter the record of what was said to mislead the court.
 
How much is the PCFA's Director's annual salary?
How much is the PCFA's Director's annual salary? April 9, 2013 Robert Davenport, Chairman and members of the Board of the Pollution Control Financing Authority of Warren County P.O. Box 587 Oxford, NJ 07863 via e-mail only to jwilliams@pcfawc.com Dear Chairman Davenport and Board members: As you can see from the subject line of this e-mail, I am interested in learning the answer to what should be a fairly straightforward question: How much does James J. Williams get paid as the Authority's Director of Operations? A colleague of mine has been working on obtaining an answer since February. First, she submitted an Open Public Records Act (OPRA) request for the contract between Williams and the Authority. She received a February 22, 2013 letter from the Authority advising that the Authority has no such contract. http://ogtf.lpcnj.org/OPRA.htm Next, she submitted an OPRA request for "any resolutions or writings that set forth the basis for [Williams'] compensation." In response, she received twenty pages of records consisting of the Authority's regular and executive meeting minutes. I have put those twenty pages on-line here for your ready reference and my analysis of them follows: The April 9, 2008 executive session minutes indicate that Williams was awarded a "salary approval of $96,000." No regular meeting minutes regarding this salary were provided. Page 2 of the March 11, 2009 regular meeting minutes indicate that "2009 Salaries . . . will be discussed in Executive Session." Page 3 of those minutes indicate that Williams' salary was indeed discussed behind closed doors and that the following motion was unanimously approved in public: "Mr. Williams' salary was motioned for approval by Mr. Accetturo, seconded by Mr. Yanoff." Note, however, that the amount of his salary was not set forth in the motion. The only reference to salaries in the April 28, 2010 regular meeting minutes is Mr. Yanoff's successful motion, on page 3, "to approve pay increases of 2% across the board." This informs the public that Williams, among others, received in 2010 102% of what he had been paid in 2009. This information, of course, is of little utility since actual amount Williams was paid in 2009 remains undisclosed. Page 5 of the February 23, 2011 regular meeting minutes indicates that Williams received "what basically works out to be a 5% increase . . . for exemplary job performance." Again, however, the base amount to which this percentage increase applies was not disclosed. The February 23, 2011 executive meeting minutes reveal nothing more than that "job titles and salaries" were the sole discussion item during that one hour and three minute closed door meeting. But, fortunately, DataUniverse shows that Williams' 2011 salary was $106,968. http://www.app.com/apps/pbcs.dll/section?Category=DATA Since they don't mention Williams' salary, it's not clear why the June 27, 2012 regular meeting minutes were provided. The only reference to salaries is Mr. Mach's motion, on page 3, to approve a 1.5% increase for all non-salaried employees. Since Williams is evidently on salary, this motion apparently does not apply to him. It's more than a bit distressing that the Authority doesn't have records that plainly set out important facts such as the salaries of top officials. Needed are public meeting minutes that contain resolutions such as "Resolved, that the salary of Director of Operations James J. Williams shall be $120,000 for the 2013 calendar year." Such would enable interested members of the public to easily obtain information about the Authority's operations. Do you agree with me that plainer, clearer resolutions would be in the public's interest? If so, will you agree to discuss this e-mail with the Board at its April 22, 2013 meeting? If you do elect to discuss this e-mail at the meeting, I would also ask that you discuss the Board's apparent policy of discussing and deciding Mr. Williams' salary during executive session. While I understand why the Board may want to privately and candidly discuss Mr. Williams' performance outside of his presence, I note that both the April 9, 2008 and February 23, 2011 executive session minutes show that Mr. Williams attended these closed-door meetings. Thus, the only people who were kept in the dark about Mr. Williams' salary were citizens and taxpayers--those for whom the Open Public Meetings Act was designed to inform. http://ogtf.lpcnj.org/OPMA.htm A dose of transparency would, in my view, be especially good medicine for the PCFA given the controversy that has surrounded it lately. See, e.g. "Warren County Pollution Control Financing Authority investigation labeled 'whitewash' by whistleblower," Express-Times, August 5, 2012 and "Warren County landfill looks to recoup $116,565 stolen by clerk," Express-Times, March 28, 2012. http://www.lehighvalleylive.com/warren-county/express-times/index.ssf/2012/08/pollution_control_financing_au_12.html http://www.lehighvalleylive.com/warren-county/express-times/index.ssf/2012/03/post_47.html Although OPRA doesn't require the Authority to create records that do not exist, would you extend the courtesy of creating and sending me a record that lists Mr. Williams' annual compensation (i.e., the amount reported on his W-2 form) for each year beginning in 2008 and ending with what is projected for 2013? Thank you for your attention to this matter. I look forward to hearing from you. Very truly yours, John Paff, Chairman New Jersey Libertarian Party's Open Government Advocacy Project P.O. Box 5424 Somerset, NJ 08875 Voice: 732-873-1251 Fax: 908-325-0129 e-mail: paff@pobox.com
 
Why was Ronald C. Aron, who serves as both an Oaklyn Borough Councilman and a Haddon Township Police Officer, busted from sergeant to patrol officer?
According to his Financial Disclosure Statement, Oaklyn Borough (Camden County) Councilman Ronald C. Aron also serves as a Police Sergeant in nearby Haddon Township. A lawsuit and settlement agreement that I received by way of an Open Public Records Act (OPRA) request shows that a March 23, 2010 administrative hearing found that Aron had violated police department regulations. Aron challenged the discipline in an April 5, 2010 lawsuit (Aron v. Township of Haddon, Docket No. CAM-L-1759-10) and then appealed to the Appellate Division of the Superior Court (Aron v. Township of Haddon, Docket No. A-4407-10T4). In November 2012, Aron settled his lawsuit and appeal with the Township and agreed to: a) plead guilty to "conduct detrimental to the good order of the police department," b) accept a 10 day unpaid, disciplinary suspension, c) forfeit 80 hours of accrued sick time and d) accept a "one year demotion from the rank of sergeant to patrol officer." Haddon officials have been mum on the nature of the conduct that landed Aron in disciplinary hot water. I am attempting to learn those details because I think that Oaklyn voters need to know should Aron decide to run for reelection. But, Haddon officials will likely hold to their position that the privacy interests of a disciplined police officer who also serves an elected official outweigh the public's right to know. John Paff, Chairman New Jersey Libertarian Party's Police Accountability Project Somerset, New Jersey
 
Atlantic City Councilman

 
Tinton Falls Internal Affairs Complaint
Police Accountability Project of the New Jersey Libertarian Party P.O. Box 5424 Somerset, NJ 08875 March 19, 2013 Hon. Gary Baldwin, Council President Borough of Tinton Falls 556 Tinton Ave Tinton Falls, NJ, 07724 gbaldwin@tintonfalls.com RE: Police Internal Affairs Complaint Dear Council President Baldwin: Introduction: I chair the New Jersey Libertarian Party's Police Accountability Project and intend this e-mail to be our Internal Affairs Complaint against "Officer Schuler" (presumably Officer Joseph M. Schuler) of the Tinton Falls Police Department. I realize that I am supposed to file such complaints with the Tinton Falls Police Department's Internal Affairs Unit, but the police department's Internet site provides no information on internal affairs complaints nor does it identify the internal affairs contact person. Accordingly, I am sending my complaint to you. Would you please a) forward this e-mail to the proper person within the police department and b) encourage the police department to give the public, through its web site, at least basic information about its internal affairs unit or function? In its Internal Affairs Policy & Procedures Manual, the New Jersey Division of Criminal Justice (DCJ) cites the importance of the internal affairs function, referring to it as "an important means of protecting the constitutional rights and civil liberties of the citizens of this State." (p. 3) Given the DCJ's stated view, I think that you will agree that internal affairs deserves at least a mention on the Borough's web site. http://www.nj.gov/lps/dcj/agguide/internalaffairs2000v1_2.pdf Nature of Complaint: According to the Appellate Division's decision in State v. Idivine Clark, Docket No. A-3977-10T4 (on-line here), motorist Idivine Clark was stopped for driving without a seatbelt and detained for a while because police smelled an odor of raw marijuana coming from Clark's car. After Clark refused to consent to a search of the vehicle, the vehicle was impounded until a search warrant was obtained approximately two days later. Although Clark was not arrested on the day of the stop, Officer Schuler conducted a warrantless search and seized $866 in cash he found on Clarks's person. In deciding Clark's motion to suppress the $866, Judge Daniel M. Waldman and a two-judge Appellate panel both found no justification for Schuler's search of Clark and seizure of the cash. The only possible justification I can find for Schuler's warrantless search is if he patted Clark down to ensure his own personal safety, felt a bulge or protrusion and mistakenly believed it was a weapon. But, it doesn't seem likely that $866 in cash, especially if it was in large denominations, would create enough of a bulge to warrant any further search. Accordingly, we would like for the internal affairs unit to investigate the factual circumstances upon which Schuler based his decision to search and determine if it was reasonable. If you find that Schuler's search was unreasonable and that he, despite having received adequate training and direction regarding warrantless searches, elected to ignore his training, we ask that you discipline him. Otherwise, we ask that your department review and, if necessary, supplement your training requirements in this area of the law. Thank you for your attention to this matter. Very truly yours, John Paff, Chairman New Jersey Libertarian Party Police Accountability Project P.O. Box 5424 Somerset, NJ 08875-5424 Phone: 732-873-1251 - Fax: 908-325-0129 Email: paff@pobox.com
 
Jackson pays $95,000 to settle police excessive force suit
On March 8, 2013, the Township of Jackson (Ocean County) agreed to pay $95,000 to a local man who sued members of the Jackson Police Department for allegedly assaulting and using excessive force against him. In his suit, Anthony Ball said that on January 27, 2010 he pulled into a WaWa gas station because his car was critically low on fuel. While moving the traffic cones that blocked his way to the pump, Officer Jeremy Felder ordered him to drive a different path that did not require him to move the traffic cones. Ball allegedly "explained that his car would run out of gas if he had to drive to the other store entrance." Upon hearing this, Felder, along with Officers Arthur Salisbury and Kevin Chesney allegedly pushed Ball "onto the concrete parking lot and assaulted him without justification and with excessive force." Ball also claimed that the officers misrepresented the facts in order to bring false criminal charges against him. Also named in the suit was Jackson Police Chief Matthew D. Kunz. The case is captioned Ball v. Jackson, Federal Case No. 3:10-cv-04254 and Ball's attorney was Thomas J. Mallon of Freehold. Case documents are on-line here. None of Ball's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $95,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Jackson or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Jackson or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Ball $95,000 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. ABOUT ME AND WHY I'M POSTING THIS. I chair the New Jersey Libertarian Party's Open Government Advocacy Project which seeks to increase governmental transparency and accountability, particularly at a local level. For more information on the Libertarian Party, go to http://www.njlp.org. As part of my work, I routinely check civil court cases where at least one of the parties is a government agency or official. Most often, these settlement agreements are never revealed to the public. I post them on the Libertarian Party's blog at http://njcivilsettlements.blogspot.com and other public forums because I believe that civil settlements, regardless of amount, may be of interest to citizens and taxpayers. John Paff Somerset, New Jersey
 
Paterson pays $25,000 to settle police excessive force suit filed by take-out restaurant owner and son.

 
Camden County Ethics Board

 
Jersey City IA

 
Vineland Internal Affairs
Police Accountability Project of the New Jersey Libertarian Party P.O. Box 5424 Somerset, NJ 08875 March 19, 2013 Sergeant Leonard Wolf, Internal Affairs Unit Vineland City Police Department 111 N. Sixth Street Vineland, NJ 08360 (via e-mail to lwolf@vinelandcity.org) Dear Sergeant Wolf: I chair the New Jersey Libertarian Party's Police Accountability Project and ask that you accept this letter as our Internal Affairs complaint. We would like your agency to investigate whether Officer Louis J. Plantania and other personnel employed by your agency acted in accordance with department policy and the law regarding a warrantless search of a motor vehicle on May 25, 2011. According to the Appellate Division's decision in State v. Perry Wilcox, Docket No. A-4578-11T4 (on-line here), Plantania located a handgun while he was inside a suspect's car without having first obtained a warrant. The trial court suppressed the gun as the fruit of an invalid search and the Appellate Division affirmed. If Plantania, despite having received adequate training and direction regarding warrantless searches, elected to ignore his training, we ask that you discipline him. Otherwise, we ask that your department review and supplement your training requirements in this area of the law. Thank you for your attention to this matter. Very truly yours, John Paff, Chairman New Jersey Libertarian Party Police Accountability Project P.O. Box 5424 Somerset, NJ 08875-5424 Phone: 732-873-1251 - Fax: 908-325-0129 Email: paff@pobox.com
 
Readington Ordinance

 
Mangold IA complaint

 
Internal Affairs Complaint against Howell Township (Monmouth County)
March 16, 2013 Captain Andrew Kudrick, Jr. Office of Internal Affairs Howell Township Police Department 300 Old Tavern Road Howell, N.J. 07731. Via E-mail to akudrick@howellpolice.org Dear Captain Kudrick: I chair the New Jersey Libertarian Party's Police Accountability Project and seek an Internal Affairs investigation into the circumstances surrounding a March 22, 2011 arrest of Larry Basko arrest on West Third Street. The primary Howell officer involved was Michael Pavlick. The facts regarding the arrest are contained in the Appellate Division's March 15, 2013 decision in State v. Basko, which is on-line here. A trial judge found that Pavlick's discovery of illegal drugs in Basko's van during a warrantless search could not be used as evidence against Basko. Even though Basko had consented to the search of his van, the trial judge found that Basko's consent was coerced by Pavlick. According to the decision, Basko initially refused to consent to the search but changed his mind after Pavlick threatened to "call a drug detector dog over" and that if the dog alerted to the presence of contraband, the police would impound the van and apply for a search warrant. We note that the tactic used by Pavlick--threatening to call in police dogs unless a motorist consents to a search--was referenced in the case of State v. Carty, 170 N.J. 632, 645 (2002). In that case, New Jersey Supreme Court quoted the United States Supreme Court's statement--particularly apt here--that ??Consent? that is the product of official intimidation or harassment is not consent at all. Citizens do not forfeit their constitutional rights when they are coerced to comply with a request that they would prefer to refuse.? Florida v. Bostick, 501 U.S. 429, 438, 111 S.Ct. 2382, 2388, 115 L.Ed.2d 389 (1991). As part of your investigation of matter, we ask that you determine whether or not Officer Pavlick, through his training, was taught to refrain from using coercive tactics to secure "consent" to warrantless searches. If he was so taught, we ask you to impose discipline upon him. Otherwise, we ask that you update your training to address this issue. Thank you for your attention to this matter. Very truly yours, John Paff
 
Seaside Heights pays $75,000 to settle police excessive force suit
On December 20, 2012, the Borough of Seaside Heights (Ocean County) agreed to pay $75,000 to a Somerset County man who sued members of the Seaside Heights Police Department for allegedly beating him. In his suit, Michael B. Lavelle of Branchburg said that May 16, 2009, he was walking back to a Seaside Heights house that he had rented for prom weekend. He said that he mistakenly tried to enter another house, apparently believing that it was the one he had rented. He alleged that Seaside Police Officers Shawn Heckler, Daniel Bloomquist, Kathleen Erdman, Lance DiFabio and Michael McCurdy "utilized excessive force in arresting [him] . . . causing a facial fracture, lacerations and abrasions." At the time the suit was filed, trespass, disorderly conduct and resisting arrest charges were pending against Lavelle. Also named in the suit were Seaside Heights Police Chief Thomas Boyd, Detective Stephen Korman and Sergeants James Hans and Terrence Farley. The case is captioned Lavelle v. Seaside Heights, Federal Case No. 3:09-cv-03016 and Lavelle'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 Lavelle's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $75,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Seaside Heights or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Seaside Heights or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Lavelle $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. ABOUT ME AND WHY I'M POSTING THIS. I chair the New Jersey Libertarian Party's Open Government Advocacy Project which seeks to increase governmental transparency and accountability, particularly at a local level. For more information on the Libertarian Party, go to http://www.njlp.org. As part of my work, I routinely check civil court cases where at least one of the parties is a government agency or official. Most often, these settlement agreements are never revealed to the public. I post them on the Libertarian Party's blog at http://njcivilsettlements.blogspot.com and other public forums because I believe that civil settlements, regardless of amount, may be of interest to citizens and taxpayers. John Paff Somerset, New Jersey
 
ACD decision

 
Renna v. Union County, Docket No. L-1431-12 (August 6, 2012)

 
Lavallette Legal Invoices On-Line
As a courtesy to the public, I have uploaded the 2012 legal services bills submitted to the Borough of Lavallette (Ocean County) by Borough Attorney Eric M. Bernstein to the Internet. Give the large file size, I have uploaded two files, which you find here and here. John Paff, Chairman New Jersey Libertarian Party's Open Government Advocacy Project P.O. Box 5424 Somerset, NJ 08875 Voice: 732-873-1251 Fax: 908-325-0129 e-mail: paff@pobox.com
 
New Jersey pays $162,500 to settle Public Defender's malpractice claim
On January 25, 2013, the State of New Jersey agreed to pay $162,500 to a man who sued the Cape May County Office of Public Defender for legal malpractice. In his peition to file a late Tort Claim notice, John Rogers he was wrongfully convicted in 1999 for drug trafficking and spent 6 years in state prison. In 2007, the Appellate Division held that the public defender who represented him court, Erica Smith, provided him with ineffective legal counsel. After the Appellate Division reversed his conviction and remanded the matter for a new trial, Rogers claimed that the trial court dismissed all charges against him. The Appellate Division's October 23, 2007 decision, which details the ineffective lawyering that Rogers received, is on-line here. The case is captioned Rogers Cape May County Office of the Public Defender, et al, Docket No. CPM-L-480-09 and Rogers' attorney was Joseph C. Grassi of Wildwood. Case documents are on-line here. None of Rogers's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The $162,500 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by New Jersey, Erica Smith or any other official. All that is known for sure is that New Jersey, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Rogers $162,500 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. ABOUT ME AND WHY I'M POSTING THIS. I chair the New Jersey Libertarian Party's Open Government Advocacy Project which seeks to increase governmental transparency and accountability, particularly at a local level. For more information on the Libertarian Party, go to http://www.njlp.org. As part of my work, I routinely check civil court cases where at least one of the parties is a government agency or official. Most often, these settlement agreements are never revealed to the public. I post them on the Libertarian Party's blog at http://njcivilsettlements.blogspot.com and other public forums because I believe that civil settlements, regardless of amount, may be of interest to citizens and taxpayers. John Paff Somerset, New Jersey
 
Walp faces two petty disorderly persons charges
On February 21, 2013, Deborah Nelson filed disorderly conduct and harassment charges against Douglas Walp in the Franklin Township Municipal Court. The complaints, which are numbed 1808-S-2013-000104 and 1808-S-2013-000105, are on-line here. The text of the statutes that Walp allegedly violated is on-line here. The charges arise out of the same conduct that Nelson recently alleged against Walp in her civil complaint--i.e that he threatened to "put a bullet in her head and burn [the building in which she worked] down." According to Franklin Township Court Adminstrator Damaris Santiago, the matters will not be heard in Franklin Township but will be transferred to another area municipal court.
 
Lawrence pays $25,250.61 to settle police officer's New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (LAD) suit
On May 23, 2012, the Township of Lawrence (Mercer County) agreed to pay $25,250.61 to former Township police officer who claimed that the police department refused to promote him to police sergeant due to him being African-American. In his suit, John Glenn, who has served as a Lawrence Township office for 17 years, alleged that had he been promoted, he would have been the first African-American or other minority to attain the rank of sergeant or above. According to Glenn's complaint, Lawrence Township's police force of 67 had, as of 2005, only 7 African-American officers. As part of the settlement, the Township also agreed to cooperate in helping Glenn obtain a disability pension and retiree medical benefits from the Police and Firemen's Retirement System (PFRS). The case is captioned Glenn v. Lawrence Township Police Department, Federal Case No. 3:10-cv-03121 and Glenn's attorney was Daniel S. Sweetser of Lawrenceville. 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 Glenn's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $25,250.61 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Lawrence or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Lawrence or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Glenn $25,250.61 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. ABOUT ME AND WHY I'M POSTING THIS. I chair the New Jersey Libertarian Party's Open Government Advocacy Project which seeks to increase governmental transparency and accountability, particularly at a local level. For more information on the Libertarian Party, go to http://www.njlp.org. As part of my work, I routinely check civil court cases where at least one of the parties is a government agency or official. Most often, these settlement agreements are never revealed to the public. I post them on the Libertarian Party's blog at http://njcivilsettlements.blogspot.com and other public forums because I believe that civil settlements, regardless of amount, may be of interest to citizens and taxpayers. John Paff Somerset, New Jersey
 
Edison v. Firefighters Union
"Rainone said he didn?t file a required separate motion regarding Rule 11 because he wanted to save the township money." Yet, if you read page 8 of Judge Martini's January 31, 2013 opinion (see link below), it's pretty clear that the judge would have sanctioned the firefighters union by making it pay Edison's legal fees, had Rainone's office filed a proper motion. But, as Judge Martini noted, Edison's request for sanctions, filed by Rainone's office, "did not comply with any of the procedural requirements set forth in Rule 11(c)(2). For example, Defendants did not file a motion for sanctions separately from their motion to dismiss, and did not provide Plaintiffs with 21 days to withdraw the challenged claims." To me, it doesn't look like Rainone didn't file a sanction motion because he wanted to save Edison taxpayers money. Rather, it looks like Rainone's office did file a flawed application for attorneys fees that was denied because of Rainone's office's negligence in preparing it. In my opinion, Edison, could, if it had the political will, successfully sue Rainone's law firm for legal malpractice for negligently dropping the ball on the Rule 11 attorney fee application.
 
Pohatcong pays $15,000 to settle New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (LAD) suit
On November 26, 2012, the Township of Pohatcong (Warren County) agreed to pay $15,000 to a former Pohatcong Municipal Court employee who said he was harassed because he was diagnosed with Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder ("ADHD"). In his suit, Christopher Pugliese said that his boss, Court Administrator Cyndi Lehr, despite knowing of his ADHD diagnosis, "undertook a program of harassment against" him. According to the complaint, Lehr, in May or June 2010, "began to become snippy, short and condescending against" Pugliese. He claims that Lehr "would make a habit of 'chatting' and performing other non-work related activities" near his work station which, due to his ADHD, "proved a significant distraction" to him. When Pugliese complained, Lehr allegedly "laugh[ed] at [him] in a condescending way and simply continue the conduct." According to the complaint, Lehr, in August 2010, told Pugliese "I hope you don't start using this ADHD bullshit as some kind of excuse. If I would have known it was going to be this big a deal, 1 never would have hired you." Thereafter, according to the complaint, Lehr began to refer to Pugliese as her "dumbass deputy." Ultimately, Pugliese said that the Township Council, as Lehr's "cat's paw," refused to renew his contract thus ending his employment on or about July 19, 2011. The case is captioned Pugliese v. Pohatcong, Warren County Superior Court Docket No. WRN-L-386-11 and Pugliese's attorney was Kevin M. Costello of Mount Laurel. 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 Pugliese's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $15,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Pohatcong or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Pohatcong or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Pugliese $15,000 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. ABOUT ME AND WHY I'M POSTING THIS. I chair the New Jersey Libertarian Party's Open Government Advocacy Project which seeks to increase governmental transparency and accountability, particularly at a local level. For more information on the Libertarian Party, go to http://www.njlp.org. As part of my work, I routinely check civil court cases where at least one of the parties is a government agency or official. Most often, these settlement agreements are never revealed to the public. I post them on the Libertarian Party's blog at http://njcivilsettlements.blogspot.com and other public forums because I believe that civil settlements, regardless of amount, may be of interest to citizens and taxpayers. John Paff Somerset, New Jersey
 
Did Pohatcong Police retaliate against Sergeant Francesco "Frank" Pagano because Pagano reported Police Lieutenant Dean McBride for sexually assaulted two police officers?
From reading trial transcripts, it is clear that Pohatcong Township [Warren County] Police Sergeant Francesco "Frank" Pagano accused Lieutenant Dean McBride of "sexually touch[ing" two officers at headquarters. See the following excerpt from the March 13, 2012 trial transcripts in Pagano v. Township of Pohatcong, Docket No. WRN-L-63-11, pp. 143, 146 and 147. Attorney: Who do you believe was retaliating against you? Pagano: Lieutenant [Dean] McBride. Attorney: Why? Pagano: In the beginning of 2007, I was approached by two officers from my shift. They stated to me that while at headquarters they were sexually touched by Lieutenant McBride. I filed a report with the chief which he was away at the time down -- (Objection made and overruled) Pagano: I wanted to report it right away to Chief [Paul] Hager but he was away. So I waited until he came back. Since I wasn't -- I had to report it and the next level would be Lieutenant McBride. Above him was the chief. So I waited for the chief to come back from his class. In the meantime, a whole bunch of investigations started against me from that day on. And, it is also clear from those transcripts that Pagano believes that the reason for the retaliation, which culminated in criminal charges--of which he was ultimately exonerated--being brought against him, was his complaint against McBride. Questions remain. Among them: 1. Are Pagano's allegations against McBride true? 2. If so, why is McBride still employed by the Pohatcong Police? 3. If not, why wasn't Pagano charged with perjury (or at least sued civilly) for lying under oath about McBride? See, also, a related story here about the recently disclosed settlement agreement in which Pagano received $255,000 from Pohatcong Township.
 
Pohatcong Township, two weeks prior to OPRA lawsuit hearing, discloses its 2010 settlement agreement with former Police Sergeant.
On February 1, 2013, the Township of Pohatcong (Warren County) publicly released, for the first time, a copy of a December 2, 2010 settlement agreement the Township entered into with former Township Police Sergeant Francesco "Frank" Pagano. The settlement was one of the subjects of an Open Public Records Act (OPRA) lawsuit that Somerset County resident Blanca Carroll filed against the Township in 2012 (Carroll v. Pohatcong, Docket No. WRN-L-412-12). Carroll's case is scheduled to be heard before Superior Court Judge Amy O'Connor in Belvidere on Friday, February 15, 2013. The settlement agreement, which is on-line here, reveals that Pagano was paid a total of $255,000--with $215,000 representing back pay and the remaining $40,000 "representing settlement of threatened litigation." In exchange, Pagano tendered a letter of resignation, which the Township agreed was a resignation "in good standing." In addition, the settlement agreement required the Township Police to "withdraw and dismiss all charges set forth in the Notice of Charges dated July 30, 2008 and November 8, 2010" as well as "any uncharged allegations of violations of rules and regulations presently under investigation or contemplated." Finally, and importantly, the settlement agreement specifically allowed Pagano to pursue additional financial claims against the Township "for attorney's fees related to his defense of the criminal indictment." Indeed, Pagano has pursued those attorney fees by way of a 2011 civil suit (Docket No. WRN-L-63-11) that was covered by a January 24, 2013 Express-Times article entitled "Testimony against ex-cop denied. Trial Over Legal Fees resumes for Frank Pagano, former Pohatcong Township police sergeant," by Andrew George. According to earlier Express-Times articles, Pagano was tried to a jury in September 2010 on charges of official misconduct, perjury and falsifying public records. The prosecution contended that Pagano lied about the circumstances surrounding his search of a vehicle during a January 2007 traffic stop. Pagano's criminal defense attorney, Jeff Garrigan, was reported to have said that the decision to prosecute Pagano was "a conspiracy by high-ranking Pohatcong Township police officers was the reason his client made inaccurate statements under oath." (Express-Times, September 16, 2010, "Report, video at odds in stop Defense Alleges Conspiracy against Pohatcong Twp. police Sgt. Frank Pagano as trial opens." by Sarah M. Wojcik.) The "conspiracy" appears to be connected to Pagano's sworn statements indicting that he had received reports from two officers that Pohatcong Lieutenant Dean McBride had "sexually touched" them at police headquarters. He claimed that the retaliation began after he submitted those reports to Pohatcong Police Chief Paul Hager. See a separate story on this matter here. After a five day trial, the jury cleared Pagano of all charges on September 28, 2010. The settlement agreement contains a confidentiality provision. According to ¶ 10 the agreement, had Pagano breached confidentiality, he could be forced to repay $255,000 to the Township. Under ¶ 8, however, Pagano is apparently able to now "comment on the contents of [the] agreement]" since it has, by virtue of Carroll's suit, "become part of the public domain through a lawful request for its production."
 
LFB dismissed ethics complaint against badge-flashing Voorhees Deputy Mayor.
On January 22, 2013, Thomas H. Neff, chairman of the New Jersey Local Finance Board (LFB) notified me that my ethics complaint against Voorhees Township (Camden County) Deputy Mayor Mario DiNatale was dismissed by a 3 to 1 vote. (The LFB has six members, but only four were present at the January 9, 2013 meeting where the vote was taken.) http://www.state.nj.us/dca/divisions/dlgs/programs/lfb_docs/13agendas/agenda_01_09_2013.pdf http://www.voorheesnj.com/committee-members.php I had complained to the LFB on January 17, 2012 after reading a January 11, 2012 Courier Post article entitled "Abuse of badges may cost them badges" by Jeremy Rosen. The article reported that Berlin Township (Camden County) police officer Wayne Bonfiglio had stopped Deputy Mayor DiNatale on January 5, 2012 for having a rejected red inspection sticker and improperly tinted windows on his vehicle. http://www.app.com/article/BZ/20120112/NEWS99/301120013/Abuse-badges-may-cost-them-badges http://www.berlintwp.com/policedepartment.html According to a January 5, 2012 e-mail that Bonfiglio had sent to Voorhees Police Chief Keith Hummel, when the officer approached DiNatale's car, DiNatale held a police badge out the driver's side window. Bonfiglio, who "could not believe that a police officer would openly display his badge on a car stop in front of so may witnesses" asked DiNatale if he was a police officer. According to Bonfiglio, DiNatale "simply replied, 'Voorhees Township Police.'" Bonfiglio, who knew all the Voorhees police but didn't recognized DiNatale, challenged DiNatale's claim that he was a police officer. At that point, DiNatale explained that he was the Voorhees Deputy Mayor and had received a a police badge because served in a "liaison role" as the Township Committee's public safety director. According to Bonfiglio, he didn't issue DiNatale any summonses "out of respect for [Chief Hummel]. Rather, he told DiNatale to remove the tint from this windows and get his vehicle inspected. After reading the article, I concluded that DiNatale's actions constructed a violation of N.J.S.A. 40A:9-22.5(c), which states: "No local government officer or employee shall use or attempt to use his official position to secure unwarranted privileges or advantages for himself or others." I felt, and still feel, that flashing a police badge to get yourself out of a ticket falls squarely into the category of using one's official position to secure an unwarranted privilege or advantage. Yet, the LFB decided to give DiNatale a pass because he sent an e-mail to Berlin Township Police Chief Joseph Jackson on January 16, 2012 (after the article was published in the Courier Post) "requesting that the appropriate tickets be issued to [him]." DiNatale's magnanimous gesture (i.e. deigning to accept a traffic summons, just like us common folk), in the LFB's eyes, warranted mercy. After receiving the LFB's dismissal letter, I submitted an OPRA request to Berlin Township for the correspondence back and forth between DiNatale and Berlin Police Chief Jackson, as well as copies of the traffic tickets that were ultimately issued to DiNatale. In response, I was given a copy of DiNatale's e-mail to Jackson and was told that no summonses against DiNatale were on file. I conclude from this that while DiNatale may have asked to be ticketed, he didn't actually receive any tickets. So, the way I understand the LFB's view of the ethics law, if a public official is caught trying to use his official position to beat a traffic ticket, he or she will be excused from an ethics complaint as long as he or she, after being caught, contritely asks for the ticket to be issues. It matters not, however, whether any tickets are actually issued against the public official. Rather, it's the thought that counts. My ethics complaint, Neff's dismissal letter, the Courier Post article, my OPRA request to Berlin and Berlin's response are all on-line here.
 

 
Sen. Loretta Weinberg to speak in New Brunswick on Feb. 6.
State Senator Loretta Weinberg, sponsor of legislation that will improve OPRA and OPMA, will be one of panelist in a discussion on "How has technology affected open government and where will it go from here." The panel discussion, which is free and is open to the public (light food will be served) will be held on Wednesday, February 6, 2013, 6:30 p.m., in the 4th Floor lecture hall at Rutgers University's Alexander Library, 169 College Ave, New Brunswick. For more information, click here.
 
A win, a loss and an adjournment in Belvidere yesterday
On Friday, February 1, 2013, Warren County Superior Court Judge Amy O'Connor ruled on two Open Public Records Act (OPRA) cases. http://ogtf.lpcnj.org/OPRA.htm The plaintiff in both cases was represented by Walter M. Luers of Clinton. http://www.luerslaw.com/ Carroll v. Warren County Community College Foundation Docket no. WRN-L-385-12 At issue: Whether the Warren County Community College Foundation (WCCCF) is a government agency subject to OPRA. The WCCCF is a non-profit agency that is closely associated with the Warren County Community College (WCCC) and secures grants and donations to fund scholarships for WCCC students. Result: Judge O'Connor found that the WCCCF is a "public agency" as defined by OPRA. The chief reason for her ruling was that WCCC, under the WCCCF's bylaws, retains the right to approve or reject nominees to the WCCCF's board of trustees. This fact, along with others, caused Judge O'Connor to rule that "the Foundation, in essence, is an instrumentality of the College." Among the records the plaintiff requested were the minutes of the Foundation's Board of Trustee meetings. The WCCCF's attorney, Suzanne M. Marasco, said that although she had not seen the requested minutes, she felt that it was unfair for them to be publicly released because the WCCCF Board, at the time of those meetings, was operating under the assumption that the minutes would never be made public. Luers countered that the minutes should be treated like executive session minutes, i.e. they were presumed to be publicly disclosable, but that certain portions may need to be redacted to protect legitimate confidentiality and privacy concerns. O'Connor directed both attorneys to submit briefs on whether or not the minutes should be disclosed. http://www.hillwallack.com/web-content/attorneys/attorney_bios_marasco.html Carroll v. Phillipsburg Town Docket no. WRN-L-397-12 At issue: Plaintiff requested a machine readable computer file of the town's 2012 payroll report. The town offered to provide plaintiff, at no cost, with its report in PDF format, which, unlike a report provided in Excel, CSV or a delimited text file, is not easily searchable, sortable or capable of being filtered. According to the town, its third-party payroll administrator, ADP, assesses the town a $150 fee to produce the report in the requested machine readable format--which would need to be paid by the plaintiff in order to get the report in the format she desired. Result: PDF is a "meaningful medium" in accordance with N.J.S.A. 47:1A-5(d) and satisfied plaintiff's request, even though Plaintiff would have to retype the data contained in the report in order to create her own machine readable and manipulable file. Given this holding, the issue of whether the $150 fee was excessive was not reached. Carroll v. Pohatcong Township Docket no. WRN-L-413-12 At issue: In a sworn statement, Francesco Pagano, a former Township police officer testified that a police lieutenant "sexually assault[ed] two officers at work." Is the report and other records related to this alleged assault subject to disclosure under OPRA or the common law? Also, is the written agreement that Pagano and Pohatcong entered into at the time of his separation from employment disclosable as a public record? Result: Hearing postponed until February 15, 2013.
 
Deptford EMT sues for sexual harassment and retaliation
On December 26, 2012, Dawn Law, an Emergency Medical Technician employed by Deptford Township (Gloucester County) sued the Township under the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (Law v. Township of Deptford, Docket No. GLO-L-1890-12, a copy of which is on-line here.) Law, who has worked as a Deptford EMT since 2000, claimed that EMT Deputy Chief David Snyder sent her a text message on October 2, 2012 "propositioning her to engage in a sexual relationship." Law claimed that the invitation was "unanticipated, unwelcomed and unappreciated." Snyder then allegedly tried to meet with Law for a matter not related to work. Thereafter, Law claimed she was afraid that she might be forced to work shifts alone with Snyder. After reporting Snyder's advances to Chief Tom Newman, Snyder was allegedly given a choice between resigning immediately or being suspended pending an investigation. Then, a few days later, Law was ordered to meet with Deptford Township Solicitor Doug Long. According to the complaint, Long told Law that "he had conducted a preliminary investigation and decided that the relationship between plaintiff and Mr. Snyder was consensual." Long allegedly then gave Law a choice between resigning and receiving a check for unpaid sick and vacation time or to "fight Mr. Long and be suspended for 30 days and then terminated." Law claims that neither she nor her partner, Paul Reyes, were intereviewed during Long's alleged investigation. After declining Long's offer to resign, Law claims that she was suspended from duty from October 25, 2012 to November 19, 2012. Law, who is represented by Kevin Costello, Esq. of Mount Laurel, claims entitlement to damages and attorney fees. Law's allegations are only that--allegations. Nothing has been proven and no negative inferences should be drawn against Law, Snyder, Long or anyone else.
 
Francis v. Camden Board of Education, CAM-L-207-13
Francis v. Camden Board of Education, CAM-L-207-13
 
Absecon Police Officer April Kolakowski: Repeat victim or a troublemaker?
According to a December 28, 2012 Press of Atlantic City article ("Police Officer sues Absecon, alleges procedural violation," by Derek Harper), Absecon Police Officer April M. Kolakowski filed suit against the City of Absecon seeking to overturn disciplinary penalties imposed upon her. Kolakowski's lawsuit, which was filed by Attorney John C. Eastlack of Cherry Hill, is captioned Kolakowski v.; City of Absecon, Docket No. ATL-L-7953-12 and is available on-line here. According to her suit, Kolakowski (formerly April Van Daley) started with the Absecon Police Department in 2003 as a dispatcher and became a patrol officer in 2008. She alleges that disciplinary charges were filed against her on September 29, 2009 but that she wasn't afforded a hearing until June 1, 2012. Kolakowski's lawsuit does not mention the nature of the charges against her or the discipline imposed. The Press article, however, states that the disciplinary charges arose out an "encounter" Kolakowski had with Absecon Emergency Services Chief Rich Hudson after a tenant at a local motel allegedly received inadequate medical care. This is the third time Kolakowski has employed the courts to resolve disputes. The 2001 Lawsuit: In 2001, she filed a lawsuit against Somers Point Police Chief Orville F. Mathis and others alleging sexual harassment and retaliation. (Van Daley v. Richard Cohen Associates, et al, Docket No. ATL-L-1262-01) In this suit, Kolakowski, who was hired in March 1999, alleged that since she was the first and only female officer at the time, male police officials conspired to have her removed from the department. They accomplished this, she said, through humiliation, the filing of bogus disciplinary charges and requiring her to undergo a "fitness for duty psychological evaluation." She claimed that the evaluation was not genuine but a pretext to allow officials to documented fabrications that would support their quest to have her fired. Kolakowski said that senior police officers John Divel and Salvatore Armenia, "abused the [supervisory] authority" they had over her "so as to discriminate against [her]." For example, Divel, her squad supervisor, allegedly demonstrated a "sexist attitude" toward her, "deliberately humiliat[ed] [her] on the radio" and required her to follow rules to which no male officer was required to follow. Armenia, she claimed, told her "that if she had to utilize the restroom facilities while on duty, she must expressly ask permission to do so and could do so only in the police department." Her suit further alleged that Chief Mathis ordered her to go to the "fitness for duty psychological evaluation" which was conducted by Richard Cohen, Ph.D. During those sessions, Cohen allegedly asked Kolakowski about "intimate sexual details of her life," including whether she ever "made out" with Divel. She claimed that Mathis "hand-picked" Cohen as the evaluator because he knew "that he would willingly shape his opinion or testimony so as to provide the maximum harm to [Kolakowski's] position." Kolakowski's suit, which was filed by Cherry Hill attorney Clifford L. Van Syoc, settled on September 23, 2013 for $180,000. The lawsuit and settlement agreement are on-line here. (Mathis, who was born in 1942, retired in 2007 and is collecting an $87,349 annual pension. Divel, who was born in 1959, retired in 2011 and is collecting a $62,314 annual pension. Armenia became chief in 2007 after Mathis retired. He since retired effective December 31, 2011. In 2011 he collected an annual salary of $142,948.) The 2005 Lawsuit: On October 4, 2005, Kolakowski filed a lawsuit against the City of Absecon alleging that the City, despite promises to the contrary, refused to give her a position as a police officer because of the earlier lawsuit she filed against Somers Point. (This lawsuit was captioned Van Daley v. City of Absecon, et al, Docket No. ATL-L-6532-05.) In the 2005 suit, Kolakowski alleged that Absecon hired her as a police dispatcher in August of 2003 after she had "resigned in good standing" from the Somers Point Police Department. After a year as working as a dispatcher, she applied for an opening as a full time Absecon Police Officer. She alleges that Police Chief Charles J. Smith told her that she was "just edged out" by another candidate. Yet, Smith, according to the lawsuit, refused to show Kolakowski the list of the candidates' rankings. Thereafter, she applied for another police officer position. This time, she alleged that she was promised the position. But, she alleged, Sergeant David Risley and "Henchy" (presumably Officer Robert Henchy), after speaking with a Somers Point officer, determined that Kolakowski was a "troublemaker" and that it would be "a mistake" to hire her. Ultimately, Joyce H. Lee, an Asian female, was hired instead of Kolakowski even though she was allegedly not qualified for the position. Kolakowski's suit settled on March 5, 2008. Kolakowski received $40,000 for "emotional distress" and her attorney, Clifford L. Van Syoc, received $55,000. Kolakowski was also allowed to become a Probationary Police Officer and was given a one-month paid leave of absence "as an expression of good faith" so that she could be "fully prepared for the Police Academy." The lawsuit and settlement agreement are on-line here. (Chief Smith retired at age 53 in 2008, and at the time of this retirement, he was given a 18.9 increase in his pay and his pension, which brought his salary to $104,698 and his pension to $51,342. He was also given a check for $281,874 for unused sick, vacation and personal time. David Risley, who made $92,592 in 2011, became Absecon's police chief in March 2012 after former chief Joseph J. Cowan abruptly retired on February 1, 2012 at age 48. Before his retirement, Cowan made $128,700 in 2011. Robert Henchy retired in 2011, at age 48, at a final salary of $93,676. He will receive an annual pension of $60,889. Joyce Lee was promoted to sergeant in April 2012, and made $81,543 in 2011.)
 
Parking Authority v. Frischkorn

 
Wrightstown Mayor, wife again cleared of ethics charge.
On July 10, 2012, I blogged about the New Jersey Local Finance Board (LFB) clearing Wrightstown (Burlington County) Mayor Thomas Harper and his wife Mary Karen Harper of violating the Local Government Ethic Law (LGEL). I had filed a complaint against the Harpers because they, while members of Local Land Use Board, both testified on April 14, 2009 in support of a land use application that a) was pending before the same land use board upon which they served, and b) concerned a property that was adjacent to their residence. I argued that even through they recused themselves from the land use hearing, it was still inappropriate for them to testify in support of their neighbor's application in their capacity as private citizens. http://njopengovt.blogspot.com/2012/07/wrightstown-mayor-wife-cleared-of.html On July 24, 2012, two weeks after the LFB dismissed my complaint, the New Jersey Libertarian Party and I filed another complaint against the Harpers based on the same set of facts, plus one more: That Mrs. Harper had received, the year prior to her testimony, in excess of $2,000 from one of the "partner and clients" of the applicant. I felt that Mrs. Harper testifying in support of an applicant after having recently having been on the applicant's "partner's or client's" payroll constituted a clear violation of the LGEL. The LFB, however, disagreed. In his January 18, 2013 letter, LFB Chairman Thomas H. Neff held that public officials are "not prohibited from representing themselves in negotiations or proceedings concerning their own interests" and that such "[s]elf-representation is permitted under the [LGEL] regardless of whether Mrs. Harper is an employee of a company that is allegedly a 'partner and client' of the applicant." Accordingly, the LFB dismissed the complaint as "having no reasonable factual basis for violation of the Local Government Ethics Law." The Libertarian Party's complaint and the Local Finance Board's dismissal letter are on-line here. We hope that publication of this matter will help local government officers better determine the contours of the Local Government Ethics Law. John Paff, Chairman New Jersey Libertarian Party's Open Government Advocacy Project
 
Bibi Stewart Garvin aka Bibi Taylor Separation from Town of Dover

 
North Plainfield pays $5,000 in a no-injury, police misconduct case.
I recently read a July 19, 2011 decision by United State District Court Judge Freda L. Wolfson in Maria Broadnax's civil lawsuit against the Borough of South Plainfield and patrol officer Ryan Mote. At issue was the legality of Mote sticking his fingers in the pocket of Broadnax's jeans during a December 11, 2008 traffic stop for driving a car with tinted windows on Route 22. Broadnax had claimed that Mote violated her Fourth Amendment rights by momentarily sticking his fingers, up to his knuckles, in the pocket of her tight bluejeans before she withdrew from the officer causing his fingers to slip back out. In October 2011, a few months after North Plainfield lost its motion for summary judgment, it settled the case by paying Broadnax and her lawyer $5,000. The opinion and settlement are on-line here. In deciding the summary judgment motion, the court drew a distinction between an officer patting down the exterior of someone's clothing and actually sticking his hand in the person's pocket. Exterior pat-downs, which are less intrusive, are sometimes needed to ensure that the officer is not confronting an armed person. But, as Judge Wolfson observed, "it is unlikely that an officer could reasonably suspect that a weapon was hidden in a pocket in a pair of tight jeans." Thus, Mote's failure to first ascertain, either visually or by way of an exterior pat-down, a bulge or protrusion in Broadnax's pocket that suggested the presence of a weapon, transformed the entry of his fingers into Broadnax's pocket to a Fourth Amendment violation. I suspect that North Plainfield settled not because it was worried that Broadnax would be able to prove extensive damages--all she apparently suffered was the indignity of having her Fourth Amendment rights violated. My suspicion is that North Plainfield made a business decision to settle in order to avoid the high legal costs that a trial of this matter would have incurred. If Ms. Broadnax's constitutional rights were violated, I can't blame her for seeking vindication from the courts. After all, that's exactly what courts are supposed to do. The problem, both in this case and more generally, is that the costs of litigation almost always force police departments to settle lawsuits regardless of the legal merits of the plaintiffs' claims or the seriousness of injuries suffered. This signals to some attorneys that they don't really need to "win" cases in order to make money. Rather, they need only to have enough contested facts in the record to survive the police department's summary judgment or dismissal motion. Thereafter, the high cost of trial pretty much always drives the case to settlement which results in both the plaintiffs and the lawyers receiving a sum, perhaps a small one, from the police. As undesirable as this is, the alternatives (e.g. "losers pay" statutes, restricting access to the courts, etc.) would be worse. Yet, there ought to be better and more efficient ways to adjudicate the claims of citizens who claim that the police violated their rights.
 
Union City pays $106,500 to settle police beatdown suit
On February 24, 2012, the City of Union City (Hudson County) agreed to pay $106,500 to a local man who sued members of the Union City Police Department for allegedly beating him. In his suit, Jean Peguero said that on May 23, 2009, he was walking his dog when approached by Union City Police Officers Alex Ruperto, Jose Castillo and Damien DiFazio and Sergeants Dominick DePinto and John Dowling. According to the complaint, the officers had fifteen minutes earlier told a friend that they were looking for Peguero and "were going to punch [him] in the face when they saw [him]." After surrounding Peguero, the officers reportedly told him to tie his dog to a fence and then assaulted him. According to the lawsuit, Ruperto punched Peguero in the mouth, "knocking his head back where it struck a concrete column." DePinto and DiFazio then reportedly continued the beating Peguero while he was on the ground. Also named in the suit were Union City Police Chief Charles Everett and Sergeant M. Mico. The case is captioned Peguero v. Union City, Federal Case No. 2:10-cv-01768 and Peguero'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 or even the fact that the settlement exists. 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 Peguero's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $106,500 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Union City or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Union City or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Peguero $106,500 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. ABOUT ME AND WHY I'M POSTING THIS. I chair the New Jersey Libertarian Party's Open Government Advocacy Project which seeks to increase governmental transparency and accountability, particularly at a local level. For more information on the Libertarian Party, go to http://www.njlp.org. As part of my work, I routinely check civil court cases where at least one of the parties is a government agency or official. Most often, these settlement agreements are never revealed to the public. I post them on the Libertarian Party's blog at http://njcivilsettlements.blogspot.com and other public forums because I believe that civil settlements, regardless of amount, may be of interest to citizens and taxpayers. John Paff Somerset, New Jersey
 
Bibi Taylor Separation from City of Plainfield

 
Warren Prosecutor: My "generalized interest" insufficient to identify officers who took county owned generators.
I had recently requested records from the Warren County Prosecutor that would identify the Warren County jail officers who took county-owned generators for their personal use in the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy. Today, I received a polite brush-off from Assistant Prosecutor Tara J. Kirkendall. My records request and Kirkendall's response are on-line here. Kirkendall disclosed that her office's Major Crimes Unit initiated an investigation into this matter on November 19, 2012 and opened up Investigation Case Number IN12-096. Kirkendall was also good enough to identify thirteen documents within the file that she said could not be released, mainly because they are claimed to be covered by the Open Public Records Act's (OPRA) "criminal investigatory record" exception. She did, however, disclose two documents--an "Investigative Closeout Review" and Prosecutor Richard T. Burke's December 21, 2012 letter informing Sheriff David Gallant that there was "insufficient evidence to continue [his] investigation at this time." The accused officer's name, however, was redacted from both records. As to my right to documents under the common law right of access, Assistant Prosecutor Kirkendall advised me: As you are aware, under the common law, the right to examine documents rests upon a showing of some personal or particular interest in the material sought, balanced against the public's interest in the confidentiality of the material. You indicate that you are a "citizen keenly interested in openness and transparency in all parts of New Jersey" and you believe that the individuals involved should be "publicly identified". As no criminal charges were filed and the matter was handled as an internal affairs/personnel matter, the public's interest in the confidentiality of the material is not outweighed by your generalized interest in the documents under the common law. I am considering litigating this matter.
 
Repealed Loitering Ordinances - NJLP Preempted Ordinance Repeal Project
The New Jersey Libertarian Party's Preempted Ordinance Repeal Project ("the Project") seeks to get New Jersey municipalities to repeal loitering ordinances that should have been--but were not--repealed when the New Jersey Code of Criminal Justice was enacted in 1979. The Project has successfully had loitering ordinances repealed in a number of municipalities. This report details the issue and the Project's results.
 

 
2012
Vote on Marijuana Decriminalization Bill

 
Somers Point
Tina Lalena, Municipal Division Manager Atlantic County Superior Court 4997 Unami Blvd Mays Landing, NJ 08330 (via e-mail only to tina.lalena@judiciary.state.nj.us) Dear Ms. Lalena: From researching records of the Somers Point Municipal Court, I have discovered that the court, on April 17, 2012, accepted a guilty plea to a violation of of a municipal code provision that repealed in 1991. On-line here is the summons/complaint issued in State v. Showell, 2011-SC-5252. Following the summons/complaint is a "request of approve plea agreement" form. The summons/complaint and the plea agreement form indicate that Showell, who was charged with pled guilty to Ordinance "3 of 1973" for "causing annoyance and alarm by loitering in the area of Route 52 and Route 559 while highly intoxicated." She was assessed a $106 fine and $33 in court costs. On-line here is "Ordinance 3 of 1973" which I received from Somers Point Municipal Clerk Carol Degrassi. On-line here is "Ordinance 6 of 1991" which was a major codification of the Somers Point City Code. On-line here is part of an e-mail thread with Clerk Degrassi in which she states that Ordinance "3 of 1973" "does not appear in the current code book," and "it appears that Ordinance No. 3 of 1973 was repealed when the City adopted the recodification in 1991." Thus, it appears that Showell was, in 2012, assessed a total of $139 for violating a code provision that had been repealed more than twenty years earlier. On-line here are the first three pages of the Somers Point Municipal Court's Local Offense List. As you can see, it contains several ordinances that were passed prior to the 1991 codification (e.g. "Ord 11 of 1960" prohibiting "false ID."). By virtue of their inclusion on the Local Offense List, any of these code provisions could be enforced, similar to the manner that "3 of 1973" was enforced against Showell. I believe that the following three things need to happen, and I ask for your assistance: 1. Remove "3 of 1973" from the Local Offense List and inform the Somers Point Police Department to immediately stop enforcing it. 2. Have the Somers Point City Attorney review each of the entries on the City's Local Offense List and remove all of those which are no longer in force. 3. Refund Showell the $106 that she paid for violating a repealed code section. Thank you for your attention to this matter. cc. Mayor and Council, City of Somers Point (via e-mail to the City Clerk at CDegrassi@spgov.org)
 
Improper Downgrading in Tenafly Municipal Court
December 27, 2012 Annmarie Cozzi, Esq. Senior Assistant Prosecutor via e-mail only to ACozzi@BCPO.NET RE: Improper Downgrading in Tenafly Municipal Court Dear Ms. Cozzi: On March 9, 2010, you were kind enough to respond to my February 23, 2010 letter complaining that the Bogota municipal prosecutor was downgrading statutory charges to municipal code violations in a manner prohibited by the Attorney General's November 18, 1998 Directive. For your ready reference, I have placed both my letter and your response on-line here and here. A similar problem is present in the Tenafly Municipal Court, as shown by the four pages related to State v. David Li, which are on-line here. The first page shows that Li was, sometime prior to June 20, 2012 (probably June 12, 2012) charged under Complaint-Summons No. 0261-S-2012-00067 with being under the influence of a controlled dangerous substance (N.J.S.A. 2C:35-10B) and defiant trespassing (N.J.S.A. 2C:18-3B(2)), both of which are statutory offenses. The second page shows that the CDS violation was, on August 15, 2012, resolved by way of a Conditional Discharge application while the defiant trespass charge was amended, at the prosecutor's request, to a violation of Tenafly Code Sec. 3-14.1. The third and fourth pages are both sides of Summons-Complaint No. 0261-SC-005585, which was issued to Mr. Li on August 15, 2012--the same day that his plea agreement was negotiated. That summons shows that Mr. Li was charged with violating Tenafly Code Sec. 3-14.1 on June 12, 2012 and assessed fines and costs of $139. Tenafly Code Sec. 3-14.1 states: http://clerkshq.com/default.ashx?clientsite=Tenafly-nj Breach of Peace: No person shall conduct himself/herself upon the street or in private places within the Borough in a manner contrary to the provisions of Title 2A of the New Jersey Code of Criminal Justice. (Ord. No. 937 § 2; New) The thrust of the code provision, which was apparently written prior to the codification of the Criminal Code in Title 2C, is to make any violation of the State's penal code also a violation of Tenafly's municipal code. Taken to its extreme, Tenafly's code section purports to make murder, which is prohibited by N.J.S.A 2C:11-3, to also constitute a municipal code violation. I cannot imagine a more blatant example of a preempted local code provision than one which attempts to shoehorn New Jersey's entire penal code within a single ordinance prohibition. I hope that you will agree, without further elaboration by me, that Sec. 3-14.1 is clearly preempted and that downgrading statutory provisions to it violates the Attorney General's directive. So that you don't think that Li is an isolated example, I've placed on-line here showing the Tenafly Municipal Court's similar treatment of State v. Orero. Would you please let me know if you will tell Tenafly's prosecutor to stop violating the Attorney General's directive? Thank you. cc. Mayor and Council, Borough of Tenafly via e-mail to the Borough Clerk at laportela@tenafly.net Hon. Roy F. McGeady, P.J.M.C., Bergen County Municipal Court Presiding Judge via e-mail to Roy.Mcgeady@judiciary.state.nj.us Hon. Allen M. Bell, J.M.C., Tenafly Municipal Court via e-mail to abell@jacobsandbell.com Mark Fierro, Esq. Municipal Prosecutor via e-mail to mfierro@fierrolawnj.com
 
Local Prosecutor and Public Defender Financial Filing Requirements
By statute (N.J.S.A. 2B:25-4 and 2B:24-3), every New Jersey municipal court must have at least one municipal prosecutor and at least one municipal public defender. Since these positions are common to almost every municipality in the state, one would think that question of whether the holders of these offices are "local government officers" who are required by the New Jersey Local Government Ethics Law (LGEL) to file an annual "Financial Disclosure Statement" has long ago been settled. Unfortunately, there is still confusion regarding the prosecutors' and public defenders' filing requirements, which is distressing since the LGEL became effective on May 21, 1999--over twenty years ago. Simply put, I don't think that it's unreasonable to expect most towns to be on the same page as to what the law requires after that law has been in existence for over twenty years. But, if you submit an Open Public Records Act (OPRA) request, as I did with Morris Township (Morris County), seeking the Financial Disclosure Statements filed by the prosecutors and public defenders, don't be surprised if you are told, as I was, that the prosecutor and defender are exempt from the filing requirement because the Attorney General, in 1991, deemed them to be "court personnel" who are not required to file. But, the Attorney General Opinion Letter that these towns invariably rely upon, AO-91-0096, contains a very important footnote on page 6 stating that "a municipal court prosecutor and a municipal court public defender are not considered part of the judicial branch of government." In other words, while municipal court judges and administrators are exempted by the Opinion Letter from the filing requirement, prosecutors and defenders are not. When I first realized, in 2008, that the majority of municipal governments had not read AO-91-0096 correctly, I wrote to the Local Finance Board within the Division of Local Government Services and suggested that "there shouldn't be such uncertainty over this rather straightforward issue" and invited the Board to "clearly decide the question and to publicly disseminate its decision so that municipal clerks and prosecutors around New Jersey can be properly guided." My August 21, 2008 letter to the Board, which is available here, has never received a response. Accordingly, more than four years later, I am still slugging it out--one municipality at a time--over the issue of whether prosecutors and public defenders are required to file. I frequently find cases like Morris Township, where the officials genuinely are confused by the ambiguity in the law and, after reading my correspondence, decided that I was right and required their prosecutor and public defender to make their financial filings. And, I don't mean to impugn Morris Township officials by this posting as they were simply abiding by the vague and incomplete information that the state gave them and are probably as frustrated as I am over state agencies' inability or unwillingness to clarify the policies that the agencies expect the municipalities to enforce. My letter to Morris Township and the Township's response are on-line here. What does concerns me, however, is that it shouldn't be so difficult for a citizen who recognizes a general problem with the execution of a statute to get the agency in charge of that statute to resolve the problem. All the Local Finance Board would need to do is issue a simple bulletin (or Local Finance Notice) to each municipality in the state (the Board issues such notices regularly) advising them of the ambiguity and instructing the municipal ties on how to deal with it. And, while the filing or non-filing of a Financial Disclosure Statement by municipal prosecutors and defenders may not be the biggest problem confronting New Jersey, it does underscore a problem that plagues government agencies in New Jersey and beyond--a total lack of expectation for anything resembling excellence, or even competence, within many of the institutions that churn out the reams of the sometimes conflicting, and often vague, regulations that the rest of us are required to live under. I am sending a copy of this posting to the Local Finance Board, in hopes that they will deem it appropriate to issue the Local Finance Notice that would clarify this matter. In the meantime, I'll keep proceeding as I have--one town at a time.
 
Seaside Heights pays $10,000 to settle police excessive force suit
On December 17, 2012, the Borough of Seaside Heights (Ocean County) agreed to pay $10,000 to a Brick Township man who sued members of the Seaside Heights Police Department for allegedly beating him. In his suit, Jason Billingham said that on March 20, 2010, he was waiting for his girlfriend outside of Club Karma when he was "without justification . . . punched, maced and beaten with police batons by" Seaside Police Officers Christopher Linnell, Joseph Fastige, Edward Pasieka and Christopher Diaz. Also named in the suit were Seaside Heights Police Chief Thomas Boyd, Sergeant James Hans and Detective Stephen Korman. The case is captioned Billingham v. Seaside Heights, Federal Case No. 3:11-cv-00920 and Billingham'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 Billingham's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $10,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Seaside Heights or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Seaside Heights or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Billingham $10,000 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. ABOUT ME AND WHY I'M POSTING THIS. I chair the New Jersey Libertarian Party's Open Government Advocacy Project which seeks to increase governmental transparency and accountability, particularly at a local level. For more information on the Libertarian Party, go to http://www.njlp.org. As part of my work, I routinely check civil court cases where at least one of the parties is a government agency or official. Most often, these settlement agreements are never revealed to the public. I post them on the Libertarian Party's blog at http://njcivilsettlements.blogspot.com and other public forums because I believe that civil settlements, regardless of amount, may be of interest to citizens and taxpayers. John Paff Somerset, New Jersey
 
Neptune pays $15,000 to settle police excessive force suit
On August 20, 2012, the Township of Neptune (Monmouth County) agreed to pay $15,000 to a local man who sued members of the Neptune Police Department for allegedly applying excessive force against him. In his suit, John Williams said that on May 9, 2011, he was home recuperating from a broken leg when Neptune police officers Marques Jamar Alston and Kristopher Daly knocked at his door. According to the lawsuit, Alston told Williams twice to "get up" and threw Williams' walker against a wall, breaking it. Alston allegedly pulled Williams out of his chair, threw him to the floor and arrested him. Alston reportedly stepped on Williams' laptop computer, breaking it, and also broke Williams' eyeglasses. According to the complaint, the impetus for the officers' visit to Williams' home was some harassing phone calls that Williams allegedly made to Jersey Shore Medical Center. Daly was named in the suit only because he failed to intervene when Alston alledgedly assaulted Williams. Also named in the suit was Neptune Police Chief Robert H. Adams. The case is captioned Williams v. Neptune, Federal Case No. 3:11-cv-07405 and Williams'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 Williams' allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $15,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Neptune or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Neptune or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Williams $15,000 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. ABOUT ME AND WHY I'M POSTING THIS. I chair the New Jersey Libertarian Party's Open Government Advocacy Project which seeks to increase governmental transparency and accountability, particularly at a local level. For more information on the Libertarian Party, go to http://www.njlp.org. As part of my work, I routinely check civil court cases where at least one of the parties is a government agency or official. Most often, these settlement agreements are never revealed to the public. I post them on the Libertarian Party's blog at http://njcivilsettlements.blogspot.com and other public forums because I believe that civil settlements, regardless of amount, may be of interest to citizens and taxpayers. John Paff Somerset, New Jersey
 
Letter to Mr.Neff
December 23, 2012 Thomas Neff, Director Division of Local Government Services (via e-mail only) Dear Mr. Neff: As you are aware, N.J.S.A. 40A:11-5(a) requires local governments, each time they award a no-bid contract for professional services, to place a notice of the award in the local newspaper. The statute specifies that the notice shall contain "the nature, duration, service and amount of the contract." (Emphasis added). Unfortunately, many municipalities do not report "the amount" of the no-bid contracts they award and instead only advise the public, through the local paper, that the no-bid contracts, which would disclose the amount, are available for inspection at the government's office. An example of this is found in the January 13, 2011 public notice published in the Gloucester County Times by the Township of Deptford (on-line here). As you can see, the notice recites a number of no-bid contracts awarded to professionals, but does not disclose the "amount" of any of them. Since the statute requires the "amount" of each no-bid contract to be published, your office, without more, should be willing to enforce that requirement against entities, such as Deptford, that violate the rule. But, I would like to explain the practical difficulties that I--as well as others--face when this requirement is not obeyed. One of the professionals to which Deptford awarded a contract is Michael J. Silvanio, Esq., who was appointed on January 3, 2011 as Deptford's "conflict prosecutor." Yet, Silvanio, on October 14, 2010, contributed $500 to Deptford Township Democratic Executive Committee (see the Election Law Enforcement Commission report, on-line here). If Silvanio was awarded the contract under a "non fair and open process" (i.e. one without competitive proposals being received), then it would be legal for him to have made this contribution only if the amount of the awarded contract did not exceed $17,500. Thus, in order for me or others to know whether or not the so-called "Pay-to-Play" laws have been violated, we need to know "the amount" of each no-bid contract that is awarded. Since Deptford has not abided by the statutory requirement, anyone who wants to determine whether or not the law has been violated needs to submit an OPRA request to Deptford in order to learn the amount of Silviano's contract--something that we should be able to learn simply by reading the newspaper. Would the Division distribute a Local Finance Notice, or otherwise remind local governments of the statutory requirement to include "the amount" of each professional services contract they award within the legal notice published in the local newspaper? If not, would the Division at least remind Deptford of this responsibility? Thank you for your attention to this matter. I look forward to hearing from you. Sincerely, John Paff, Chairman New Jersey Libertarian Party's Open Government Advocacy Project Phone: 732-873-1251 E-mail: paff@pobox.com cc. Hon. Paul Medany, Mayor and members of the Deptford Township Council (via e-mail to dzawadski@deptford-nj.org) 40A:11-5. Exceptions
 
Glassboro Conflict Public Defender2

 
Glassboro Conflict Public Defender

 
NJ Motor Vehicle Crash data on-line
At last night's New Jersey Foundation for Open Government (NJFOG) meeting, I learned that New Jersey keeps a comprehensive database of motor vehicle accident data on the Internet here. http://www.state.nj.us/transportation/refdata/accident/ I'm posting this because some others might find it useful to know, for instance, how many school bus accidents occurred in a given county or town within a given year. I played with the data for a while to see if it might help me isolate accidents in which government vehicles were involved. Just for fun, I decided to see how many car accidents took place in Neptune Township (Monmouth County) during 2011 in which at least one of the vehicles was a police car. I found ten such accidents and have listed them in the PDF file I've placed on-line here. If I wanted to, I could now OPRA each of the accident reports to learn more about what exactly occurred in these accidents. I didn't need any special software to do this, I used a text editor, a text sorting program, both of which I got for free off the Internet, and Excel (which I already have) to format the PDF file. Without getting into too much detail, here are the basic steps I took: 1. Went to the above listed site and downloaded the "raw data" from Monmouth County in 2011. I downloaded two files, "Accident" and "Vehicle." 2. Using the "Vehicle Table" and "Accident Table" on the same site, I learned the various column positions within each file at which certain data fields began. 3. Also at the site, I looked up "County and Municipal Codes" and learned that Neptune Township's code is 1334. 4. I sorted the "Vehicle" file on columns 4-7. Then I opened up the "Vehicle" file in my text editor and deleted all the accidents that happened somewhere other than 1334 (Neptune Twp). This gave me a more manageable file to work with that contained only vehicles involved in accidents in Neptune Township. 5. I sorted the resulting file on columns 130-131, which is the two digit code for "Special Function Vehicles." This allowed me to filter for police cars ("02"), fire/rescue ("04"), ambulances ("05"), school buses ("09"), etc. 6. I then boiled the file down to just 10 entries in which police cars were involved. I then searched the "Accident" file for each of the unique "Police report number" from those 10 entries to get more information for the attached table. If I wanted, I could have searched the "Driver" file in the same manner and gotten other information, such as the drivers' dates of birth, whether summonses were issued, etc. There are probably better ways to do this, but this is what I can do with my limited computer skills.
 
Mt. Olive Retirement

 
Your tax dollars at work in Mount Olive Township
A big fish slipped through former Morris County Prosecutor Robert A. Bianchi's fingers today when the Appellate Division affirmed a lower court's dismissal of drug charges against 22-year old Joshua Chafee. The Appellate Division agreed with both a municipal and Superior Court judges' rulings that the duration of a police officer's May 26, 2011 "investigatory stop" of Chafee outside a Mount Olive convenience store was not justified. According to the appellate decision, Mount Olive Township Police Officer Joseph Abrusci, who is certified as a "drug recognition expert," saw Chafee enter the convenience store on May 26, 2011 and was immediately taken by "how red Chafee's eyes were." He also noted that Chafee "had a very nervous appearance" and moved around the store in a way that indicated that he "didn't want to have direct contact with" Abrusci. Abrusci noted however, that nothing in Chafee's speech or movement suggested that he was impaired by alcohol or drugs. Abrusci watched Chafee purchase rolling papers, walk across the parking lot and start his car. At that point, Abrusci approached the window of Chafee's car and demanded identification. Although Chafee was "very defensive," he gave Abrusci his ID which confirmed that he was old enough to legally buy the rolling papers. Abrusci then conducted three field sobriety tests and, according to Abrusci, Chafee's performance was "consistent with marijuana use." He arrested Chafee and, after a pat-down search revealed nothing illegal on his person, charged him with driving while intoxicated, reckless driving, failure to notify DMV of an address change and "being under the influence of marijuana." In municipal court, Chafee filed a motion to suppress, arguing that the officer's only plausible suspicion--that Chafee might not have been old enough to buy rolling papers--was dispelled when he was able to prove he was 22-years old. Thereafter, Chafee argued, the officer had no articulable rationale for continuing to detain him. The lower court judge, after listening to an audio tape of Chafee's interaction with Abrusci, found that Chafee's "speech was clear, and that it was not slurred and it was not slow." The judge found that Abrusci was acting on nothing more than a "subjective hunch" and and granted Chafee's motion to suppress. Bianchi's office twice appealed, and the Appellate Division affirmed the lower courts' decisions and found that "the officer's continued detention of defendant was based merely on his 'hunch' that he had used marijuana sometime prior to entering the store." Consider the public resources that were spent on this case: a prosecution in municipal court, an appeal to Superior Court and a further appeal to the Appellate Division. Also consider that Chafee, who apparently had done nothing more than have "red eyes" and an aversion to interacting with police officers, had to hire a lawyer, Edward J. Bilinkas, to defend him throughout this entire ordeal. The Appellate Division's decision is on-line here.
 
Somers Point Loitering

 
Neptune Township Dismisses Internal Affairs Complaint against Officer
By way of a December 5, 2012 letter, Lieutenant Michael J. Emmons of the Neptune Township Police Department dismissed an internal affairs complaint against Neptune Police Officer Leslie Borges. The complaint, which was filed on October 16, 2012 by the New Jersey Libertarian Party's Police Accountability Project, was based on an October 16, 2012 written decision issued Appellate Division of the New Jersey Superior Court. In that case, the court suppressed evidence that Borges and other officers seized when they arrested a local man, James M. Height, for third-degree possession of Xanax. Regarding Borges' warrantless search of Height's apartment, the court held that ?there was no objectively reasonable basis for [him] to enter the apartment under the community caretaking exception to the warrant requirement.? Yet, in his response to the Project's internal affairs Complaint, Lieutenant Emmons drew the opposite conclusion and stated that Borges and his fellow officers "were acting in good faith under the community caretaking doctrine in a very well documented, high crime, known drug distribution area." Apparently, a police officer who lacks an "objectively reasonable" basis for conducting a warrantless search will not be disciplined provided that he was "acting in good faith" while conducting the illegal search. The internal affairs complaint, dismissal letter and Appellate Division opinion are on-line here. The New Jersey Libertarian Party has reported on Officer Borges before, when he allegedly observed, but did not intervene in, an alleged case of excessive force being used against a Brick Township man. Neptune Township ultimately paid a $65,000 settlement to settle that matter. Details and case documents are on-line here. http://njcivilsettlements.blogspot.com/2010/06/neptune-township-pays-65000-to-settle.html
 
Unpublished trial court OPRA opinion
"Unpublished opinions" are not published in the law books and are not ordinarily written about in legal periodicals. Unless somebody puts them on-line and calls attention to them, they are likely not to be located by people who may want to search for them. I think that it's important that court opinions, even if they are not precedential, are easily accessible for future use. Rivera v. Bergen County Prosecutor's office Bergen County, Docket No. BER-L-4310-12 Hon. Peter E. Doyne, A.J.S.C. December 11, 2012 Click here for the opinion. Judge Doyne's opinion clearly and comprehensively explains the law regarding attorney fee awards to successful Open Public Records Act (OPRA) plaintiffs. Among the issues discussed are: a) paying a lawyer's full hourly rate for work that can be done by a secretary or paralegal, b) paying a lawyer's hourly rate for travelling back and forth to the courthouse, c) paying a lawyer for the time it takes to prepare the lawyer's fee application, d) reducing a lawyer's fee when he or she is less than 100% successful and e) paying a lawyer a "contingency fee enhancement" in addition to his or her regular hourly rate multiplied by the number of hours worked.
 
State: Parsippany Mayor's letter, on Township letterhead, asking judge for "leniency" was within ethical bounds.
In a November 21, 2012 letter, Local Finance Board Chairman Thomas H. Neff reported that Board cleared Parsippany Mayor James Barberio of ethical wrongdoing for writing a Superior Court judge a letter on Township letterhead asking for leniency for a friend's 26-year old son who was facing drug charges. In his letter, Neff noted that "Mayors have no direct statutory involvement with the selection of Superior Court judges or county prosecutors." Neff further stated that "elected officials do not, upon taking office, give up their right to support friends and neighbors that other community members may provide." After finding that Mayor's letter did not violate the Local Government Ethics Law, the Board "voted to dismiss the complaint as having no factual basis." The ethics matter was initiated by a January 19, 2012 complaint by John Paff, Chairman of the New Jersey Libertarian Party's Open Government Advocacy Project. Paff's complaint was based on two articles (here and here) that he had read in the Parsippany Patch. According to the articles, Barberio wrote to Superior Court Judge David H. Ironson on behalf of Daniel Moses, the son of Barberio's friend, who was facing sentencing after pleading guilty to conspiracy to distribute eight pounds of marijuana. According to the articles, the letter, which was written on Township letterhead, said "I hope the court will be as lenient as possible when sentencing Daniel ..." A member of the public criticized Barberio for using Township letterhead because the leniency request "does not represent the citizens of Parsippany." Also, according to the articles, an unnamed Morris County assistant prosecutor stated that the letter was inappropriate because the Parsippany-Troy Hills Police Department was involved in the investigation and prosecution of Moses. According to the articles, Township attorney John Inglesino wrote that questioning the appropriateness of the letter revealed a lack of knowledge regarding how the legal system works. Justin Marchetta, an associate in Inglesino's law firm, is quoted as saying that Mayor Barberio's letter was "legal, ethical and appropriate." The complaint and the Local Finance Board's determination are on-line here.
 
Manville

 
Court invalidates action taken at Development Board's special meeting
In a October 26, 2012 decision, Hunterdon County Superior Court Judge Peter A. Buchsbaum voided the findings and resolutions the Hunterdon County Agriculture Development Board made at its August 9, 2012 meeting. Buchsbaum faulted the Board's meeting notice which did not: a) inform the public "whether formal action may or may not be taken" and b) did not include the agenda of the meeting "to the extent known." Both of these requirements are set forth in N.J.S.A. 10:4-8(d). In ruling on the agenda, Buchsbaum found that the Board's "agenda is not merely deficient -? it is nonexistent." The opinion in this case, Bailey v. Hunterdon County Agriculture Development Bd., 2012 WL 5830158, Docket No. HNT-L-354-12, is on-line here. Unfortunately, Buchsbaum did not award the pro se plaintiff, Marie Bailey, her costs resulting in her being reimbursed the $250 or so that she paid in filing fees to bring this action. In so ruling, Buchsbaum held that "[u]nlike the Open Public Records Act, OPMA provides no provision for attorney?s fees. Compare N.J.S.A. 47:1A-6. Plaintiff cites to no rule which provides any basis for said reimbursement." With all due respect, I believe that the judge erred. I have been awarded costs in many of my pro se OPMA lawsuits under the authority of Gallo v. Salesian Soc., Inc., 290 N.J. Super. 616, 660 (App. Div. 1996) in which the Appellate Division stated: R 4:42-8(a) provides: ?Unless otherwise provided by law, these rules or court order, costs shall be allowed as of course to the prevailing party.? The judge here expressly found that plaintiff was a prevailing party. He should have awarded her costs ?as of course? under the rule.
 
OPMA suit filed in Hunterdon County
On November 8, 2012, a Pittstown woman, working without an attorney, filed an Open Public Meetings Act (OPMA) lawsuit against the Franklin Township (Hunterdon County) Land Use Board. A copy of the lawsuit, captioned Bailey v. Franklin Township Land Use Board, Docket No. HNT-L-617-12, is on-line here. http://ogtf.lpcnj.org/OPMA.htm In her suit, Marie Bailey alleges that the Board notified only one newspaper, instead of the two required by N.J.S.A. 10:4-8(d), of an upcoming special meeting. She also alleges that the Board violated the OPMA by not providing her with draft minutes of the special meetings when she requested them over a month after the meeting took place. The matter has been assigned to Hon. Peter A. Buchsbaum and there are currently no proceedings scheduled.
 
North Jersey Media Group Inc. v. Borough of Paramus, No. BER-L-2818-11 (Law Div. June 15, 2011)

 
Long Branch pays $80,000 to settle police excessive force suit
On September 14, 2012, the City of Long Branch (Monmouth County) agreed to pay $80,000 to two local residents who sued members of the Long Branch Police Department for allegedly beating them. In their suit, Michael Ribot and Cindy Tomaini said that on September 9, 2007, while they were at home, Long Branch Police Officers Ramon L. Camacho, Sam Yoo, Marshall Brown and Joseph Kennedy "knocked [them] to the ground, kicked, punched, beaten, and spayed [them] with mace." No further details are provided in the complaint. The case is captioned Ribot and Tomaini v. Camaco, et al, Monmouth County Superior Court, Docket No. MON-L-4356-09 and Ribot's and Tomaini's attorney was Frank S. Gaudio of Red Bank. 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 Ribot's and Tomaini's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $80,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Long Branch or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Long Branch or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Ribot and Tomaini $80,000 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. ABOUT ME AND WHY I'M POSTING THIS. I chair the New Jersey Libertarian Party's Open Government Advocacy Project which seeks to increase governmental transparency and accountability, particularly at a local level. For more information on the Libertarian Party, go to http://www.njlp.org. As part of my work, I routinely check civil court cases where at least one of the parties is a government agency or official. Most often, these settlement agreements are never revealed to the public. I post them on the Libertarian Party's blog at http://njcivilsettlements.blogspot.com and other public forums because I believe that civil settlements, regardless of amount, may be of interest to citizens and taxpayers. John Paff Somerset, New Jersey
 
Municipal Court Transfers and dead-ending in the prosecutors office

 
Carroll v. Franklin Fire District 2
Fire District found to have violated Meetings Act, ordered to pay attorney fees On November 15, 2012, a Superior Court judge declared that the Franklin Township (Somerset County) Fire District No. 2 Board of Commissioners violated the Open Public Meetings Act (OPMA) by failing to prepare public work-session meeting minutes from April 13, 2011 through August 2, 2012. In Carroll v. Fire District No. 2, Docket No. SOM-L-1274-12, Assignment Judge Yolanda Ciccone declared that the Board's failure to prepare or produce these minutes violated the OPMA, but declined to order the Board to comply with the OPMA going forward. Ciccone also ordered the Fire District to give the plaintiff audio tapes it had on file for six of the meetings for which minutes were not produced, and held that the plaintiff was the "prevailing party" under the Open Public Records Act (OPRA) and ordered the Fire District to pay her court costs and attorney fees. A copy of Ciccone's order is on-line here. John Paff, Chairman New Jersey Libertarian Party's Open Government Advocacy Project Somerset, New Jersey paff@pobox.com
 
Paff v. Atlantic County Alliance

 
Karim Arzadi

 
Lawnside IA policy

 
What to do if a public body disobeys a court order?
As regular readers know, I sue public bodies for violating the Open Public Meetings Act (OPMA) and sometimes obtain a court order, either by settlement or the judge's adjudication, requiring the public body, going forward, to take better minutes, produce its meeting minutes more promptly or otherwise improve its OPMA compliance. But, what can a citizen-plaintiff do when a public body subject to such an order elects to disobey it? In February of 2008, I obtained a court order requiring the Lawnside Borough Council (Camden County), among other things, to record "reasonably comprehensive" executive session minutes that "contain an account and identification of matter discussed and action taken." I filed my suit because the Council's executive minutes were so terse and vague that they were useless. Background and case documents on my suit are available here. http://ogtf.lpcnj.org/Lawnside.html In December 2011, after learning that the Lawnside Council, despite the court order, was still recording vague and terse executive minutes, I wrote to the Borough Attorney, Morris Smith, and advised him that if the Council didn't make its minutes compliant with the court's 2008 order, I would take enforcement action against it. Unfortunately, the Lawnside Council's May 30, 2012 and June 6, 2012 minutes were still noncompliant, so attorney Walter M. Luers, on by behalf, filed a "Motion to Enforce Litigants' Rights" against the Borough. That motion and supporting documents are on-line here. The court rule that provides for such motions, fortunately, permits the court to make Lawnside pay my costs and attorney fees for filing and prosecuting this motion. While the award of costs and fees is within the court's discretion, I hope that the court does order the town to pay since that will encourage me and other OPMA plaintiffs to seek the court's assistance to ensure that the court's orders are followed. If, however, the court declines to make the town pay my costs, that will burden successful OPMA plaintiffs with the costs of enforcement, thus allowing public bodies to more easily ignore court orders. Unless Lawnside and I come to a mutually acceptable agreement, the hearing on my motion will be heard in Camden on Friday, December 21, 2012. The hearing, of course, is open to the public, but those who wish to attend are cautioned to telephone the court at 856- 379-2234 the day before the hearing to make sure that it hasn't been postponed or cancelled. Refer to Paff v. Lawnside, Docket No. CAM-L-7027-06.
 
Essex County pays $45,000 of a $280,000 settlement to settle police/security guard false arrest/excessive force suit
On September 4, 2012, the County of Essex agreed to pay $45,000 to a Germantown, Maryland couple who sued a Sheriff officer, a Newark Police officer for allegedly beating them and arresting them without probable cause. In their suit, Morgann Schultz and Lya Barbosa, who are husband and wife, said that they attended a New Year's Eve party at the Robert Treat Hotel at 50 Park Place in Newark on December 31, 2008. They claimed that they had booked a room at the hotel so that "they could celebrate the coming of the New Year responsibly and safely." The couple claimed that at about 3:30 a.m., they were in a hotel elevator with several friends "singing and chanting in Portuguese, dancing and blowing noise makers," when Ronald Rumsby and Bazeek Burgess (also referred to as Bazyt Bergus), who were employed, respectively, as an Essex County Sheriff's officer and a Newark Police officer, and who also worked as hotel security, entered the elevator. According to the complaint, both Rumsby and Burgess were wearing civilian clothes that bore no indication of their status as hotel security or law enforcement officers. As the elevator began to move, Burgess asked the crowd in the elevator to quiet down. In response, Schultz "responded by tooting a noise maker that he obtained from the hotel party. Schultz admits that his response was "a juvenile act and a bit obnoxious." The couple alleged that Rumsby said "Give me that f***ing thing," as he tried to forcible take the noise maker from Schultz. In response, Schultz demanded to see a "f***ing badge." At this point, the complaint alleges, Burgess and Rumsby "began to assault" Schultz and, when Barbosa stepped in to help, Rumsby "grabbed [her] forcefully about the arms and threw her out of the elevator." Rumsby then allegedly "pulled out a gun [and] pistol whipped Plaintiff Morgann Schultz about the head and face." The two officers allegedly pushed Schultz back into the elevator and struck him "with their fists, knees and feet." Schultz claimed to receive "six facial bone fractures, including two nasal bone fractures and various right eye orbital fracture." He also claims to have suffered a concussion, breathing difficulties and blurred vision in his right eye." Barbosa claimed to receive bruises on her head, arms and body. The couple alleged that Rumsby and Burgess filed "false criminal complaints" against them, which were later dismissed, but which required Schultz to spend 4 days in jail. The case is captioned Schultz and Barbosa v. Ronald Rumsby et al, Federal Case No. 2:10-cv-6570 and Schultz's and Barbosa's attorney was Raoul Bustillo of Jersey City. Case documents are on-line here. In addition to the $45,000 paid by Essex County, the other defendants (e.g. the Robert Treat Hotel) paid the couple $235,000. 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 Schultz and Barbosa's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $110,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Essex or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Essex or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Schultz and Barbosa $110,000 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. ABOUT ME AND WHY I'M POSTING THIS. I chair the New Jersey Libertarian Party's Open Government Advocacy Project which seeks to increase governmental transparency and accountability, particularly at a local level. For more information on the Libertarian Party, go to http://www.njlp.org. As part of my work, I routinely check civil court cases where at least one of the parties is a government agency or official. Most often, these settlement agreements are never revealed to the public. I post them on the Libertarian Party's blog at http://njcivilsettlements.blogspot.com and other public forums because I believe that civil settlements, regardless of amount, may be of interest to citizens and taxpayers. John Paff Somerset, New Jersey
 
Pleasantville pays $20,146.77 to settle retaliation suit brought former police officer.
Pleasantville pays $20,146.77 to settle retaliation suit brought former police officer. On September 14, 2012, the City of Pleasantville (Atlantic County) agreed to pay $20,146.77 to a former city police officer who sued members of the Pleasantville Police Department for allegedly retaliating against him with false disciplinary charges for not supporting a mayoral candidate. In his suit, Charles Oglesby said Police Chief Duane Comeaux, Captain Jose Ruiz, Sergeant Danny Adcock, Mayor Ralph Peterson, City Council President Jesse Tweedle and City Administrator Marvin Hopkins brought false disciplinary charges against him because he refused Ruiz's demand to get the Masons and the local PBA, with which Oglesby was affiliated, to give their "support . . . for the Mayoral Candidate Len Green." Yet, according to an April 27, 2010 article in the Press of Atlantic City, Oglesby pleaded guilty to stealing money from a suspect and falsifying police reports to cover up the crime. The case is captioned Oglesby v. Pleasantville, Atlantic County Superior Court Docket No. ATL-L-1015-10 and Oglesby's attorney was David R. Castellani of Northfield. 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 Oglesby's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $20,146.77 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Pleasantville or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Pleasantville or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Oglesby $20,146.77 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. ABOUT ME AND WHY I'M POSTING THIS. I chair the New Jersey Libertarian Party's Open Government Advocacy Project which seeks to increase governmental transparency and accountability, particularly at a local level. For more information on the Libertarian Party, go to http://www.njlp.org. As part of my work, I routinely check civil court cases where at least one of the parties is a government agency or official. Most often, these settlement agreements are never revealed to the public. I post them on the Libertarian Party's blog at http://njcivilsettlements.blogspot.com and other public forums because I believe that civil settlements, regardless of amount, may be of interest to citizens and taxpayers. John Paff Somerset, New Jersey
 
Willingboro pays $25,000 to settle police false arrest/excessive force suit
On September 12, 2012, the Township of Willingboro (Burlington County) agreed to pay $25,000 to a local man who sued a Willingboro police officer for allegedly beating him and arresting him without probable cause. In his suit, Jullian D. Booker (also referred to as Jullian F. Booker) said that on April 2, 2009 he was riding in a car driven by Sylvester Williams when it was pulled over by Willingboro Police Officer Sean Malone. He said that Malone, accompanied by a police dog, pointed a gun at Booker's head and screamed "Get the f**k out of the car." After pulling Booker out of the car, Malone allegedly threw Booker onto the concrete pavement, punched him several times in the head and screamed "if you f**king move I'll have my f**king dog bite your f**king face off." He claims that Malone's punches caused his lip, which was between the concrete and his teeth, to receive a massive gash. He claims that he was charged with resisting arrest and eluding an officer but that both charges were later dismissed. The case is captioned Booker v. Willingboro, Federal Case No. 1:10-cv-04886 and Booker's attorney was Robert H. Bembry, III of Philadelphia. Case documents are on-line here. None of Booker's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $25,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Willingboro or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Willingboro or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Booker $25,000 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. ABOUT ME AND WHY I'M POSTING THIS. I chair the New Jersey Libertarian Party's Open Government Advocacy Project which seeks to increase governmental transparency and accountability, particularly at a local level. For more information on the Libertarian Party, go to http://www.njlp.org. As part of my work, I routinely check civil court cases where at least one of the parties is a government agency or official. Most often, these settlement agreements are never revealed to the public. I post them on the Libertarian Party's blog at http://njcivilsettlements.blogspot.com and other public forums because I believe that civil settlements, regardless of amount, may be of interest to citizens and taxpayers. John Paff Somerset, New Jersey
 
Greenwich pays $123,000 to settle minor's sexual assault claim against fire chief
On October 8, 2012, the Township of Greenwich (Cumberland County) and the Greenwich Township Fire Department agreed to pay $123,000 to a local couple and daughter who claimed that the daughter was sexually assaulted and otherwise mistreated by officials of the local volunteer fire department and that neither the fire department nor the Township took corrective action. In their two lawsuits, John and Patricia Newton, parents of Jordan Newton, said that in September 2007, when Jordan was nearly sixteen years old, Fire Chief Wade MacFarland asked them whether Jordan would be interested in becoming a volunteer firefighter. According to the lawsuit, MacFarland said that Jordan was needed to complete and file various fire reports with the State and that he and other officials at the department would be her guardians. Jordan, who had been home schooled and "had not been exposed . . . to many social settings involving a number of adults," reported to the department and started completing the reports under MacFarland's direction. Jordan claimed that she began meeting with MacFarland on a number of occasions when she and MacFarland were the only ones present. After her seventeenth birthday, Jordan became certified as an EMT and started responding to fire calls under the command of EMS Unit Captain Laurie Larue MacFarland, who was then Wade MacFarland's wife. According to the lawsuits, at about the same time, Wade MacFarland called Jordan to the firehouse and subjected her to "flirting and increased attention . . . including, among other things, back rubs being administered . . . when others were not present." Chief MacFarland, who was in his early to mid thirties, allegedly also promised Jordan that he would marry her and "she would be groomed by him to become the first and youngest female fire chief in the State of New Jersey." Wade MacFarland allegedly "soon engaged himself in a sexual relationship with [Jordan] while she was a minor and while he served in a direct supervisory capacity to her as the Chief of the Defendant Greenwich Fire Department." Jordan's parents learned about the alleged relationship in November 2010 and immediately demanded that the fire department investigate. Fire Captain Matthew Elwell, who knew about the alleged relationship, reportly encouraged other fire officers to "look the other way." After not getting anywhere with the fire department, Jordan's parents sought help from the Greenwich Township Committee but were allegedly "rebuffed in their request." Also named in the suits were Mayor Theodore Keifer; William Reinhart, who served on the Township Committee as well as president of the fire department; Charles Reinhart and Misty Reinhart who, respectively, served as deputy chief and as an active member in the fire department. The settled cases are captioned Newton v. Greenwich Township, Federal Case No. 1:12-cv-00238 and Newton v. MacFarland, Federal Case No. 1:12-cv-00237. In addition to the $123,000 pay out, the settlement agreement also requires the fire department to amend its bylaws to require a) that a junior firefighter must be at least 18 years old and b) prevent departmental disciplinary matters from being decided by relatives of the accused. Further, the agreement requires the department to adopt a sexual harassment policy and confirms that both Wade MacFarland and Charles Reinhart, by unanimous votes, were dismissed from the fire department on June 30, 2011. Finally, the settlement agreement prevents MacFarland from ever holding a position with the Township or the fire department and prevents Reinhart from holding such a position unless "the full record of this matter" as well as "the findings of Hearing Officer, J. Fred Coldren, in the matter of City of Bridgeton v. Charles Reinhart" are taken into consideration. A third lawsuit, filed by Jordan Newton against Charles Reinhart and bearing Superior Court Docket No. CUM-L-1060-11, is not being dismissed as part of the settlement. According to a December 1, 2011 article in the News of Cumberland County, this lawsuit alleged that Charles Reinhart ?forced [Jordan], against her will, to engage in sexual intercourse with him and forced her to perform fellatio upon him.? In her suit, Jordan claimed that this incident took place at Reinhart's home where Jordan ?had been house sitting and dog sitting for Defendant Charles Reinhart and his wife when they would take trips.? According to the article, Reinhart encouraged Jordan to take a nap in the master bedroom and then sexually assaulted her approximately one hour after she fell asleep fully clothed. She further alleged that Reinhart later asked her to meet him at the parking lot of the Bridgeton Hospital but that Reinhart attempted to sexually assault her again after she entered his vehicle. Newton's attorney was John P. Morris of Bridgeton. 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 Newton family's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $123,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Greenwich or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Greenwich or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay the Newton family $123,000 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. ABOUT ME AND WHY I'M POSTING THIS. I chair the New Jersey Libertarian Party's Open Government Advocacy Project which seeks to increase governmental transparency and accountability, particularly at a local level. For more information on the Libertarian Party, go to http://www.njlp.org. As part of my work, I routinely check civil court cases where at least one of the parties is a government agency or official. Most often, these settlement agreements are never revealed to the public. I post them on the Libertarian Party's blog at http://njcivilsettlements.blogspot.com and other public forums because I believe that civil settlements, regardless of amount, may be of interest to citizens and taxpayers. John Paff Somerset, New Jersey
 
Sergeant Brian Ficarra
October 19, 2012 Internal Affairs Unit Attn: Lieutenant Scott Wheeler Hackettstown Police Department 215 West Stiger St. Hackettstown, N.J. 07840 (via e-mail only to hpd27@hackettstownpd.net) RE: Sergeant Brian Ficarra Dear Lieutenant Wheeler: I chair the New Jersey Libertarian Party's Police Accountability Project and ask that you accept this letter as an Internal Affairs complaint. We would like your agency to investigate whether Sergeant Brian Ficarra and other personnel employed by your agency acted in accordance with department policy and the law regarding their October 26, 2008 arrest of Richard Sabatino. According to the Appellate Division's decision in State v. Richard Sabatino, Docket No. A-0565-09T4), Sergeant (then Patrolman) Ficarra stopped a vehicle driven by Mr. Sabatino's friend, who picked up a stumbling and apparently intoxicated Mr. Sabatino, to take him home. He then arrested Mr. Sabatino for "disorderly conduct, being under the influence," took him to local hospital where he searched him and found two bags of suspected heroin. The Appellate Division found that Ficcara did not have probable cause to arrest Sabatino and that the bags of heroin needed to be "suppressed as the fruit of the poisonous tree." The court also found that Ficcara was not authorized to arrest Sabatino for not wearing a seat belt or for jaywalking. Particularly disturbing is Ficcara's excuse for not issuing Sabatino summonses for jaywalking and not wearing a seatbelt, as opposed to arresting him. According the the opinion, Ficcara testified that he didn't have a summons book with him. As noted in a footnote at page 16 of the opinion, Ficcara "could have taken defendant's address and identifying information and mailed a summons after [he] retrieved a summons form." Ficcara's improper conduct resulted in the Appellate Division suppressing the fruits of his search and will almost certainly lead to Sabatino's acquittal and possibly expose the Hackettstown to a civil suit. In addition to determining whether rules or laws may have been violated, we ask that you determine if there were training and policy failures within your agency as they relate to this incident. Please acknowledge your receipt of this complaint, investigate and notify us of the outcome. Sincerely, John Paff, Chairman New Jersey Libertarian Party Police Accountability Project P.O. Box 5424 Somerset, NJ 08875-5424 Phone: 732-873-1251 - Fax: 908-325-0129 Email: paff@pobox.com cc: Chief James A. Macaulay (via e-mail only to hpd29@hackettstownpd.net
 
Bober Pension Leter to Sen. Smith--response

 
Belmar pays $7,500 to settle police excessive force suit
On October 10, 2012, the Borough of Belmar (Monmouth County) agreed to pay $7,500 to a Bradley Beach man who sued members of the Belmar Police Department for allegedly beating and choking him. In his suit, Jason Bernardinello said that on July 25, 2009, when he was 19 years old, he and some friends were riding their bicycles on Ocean Avenue at about 10 p.m. He said that Special Officer whose name was stated in the lawsuit as "Sean Bowers" (but who is presumably Shawn Bowens or perhaps Sean Bowens) grabbed one of his friends' bicycles, tackled the friend from behind, "slammed [him] violently" and handcuffed him. Thereafter, while Bernardinello was allegedly having a "civil discussion" with another office, Bowens reportedly screamed "Get the f**k out of here" to him. Bernardinello claimed that when he tried to "respectfully and calmly respond," Bowens grabbed his throat and started choking him and shoved his head into a light pole. He claims that four other officers jumped on him and "pummeled him while he lay, defenseless on the ground, punching him in the face and the groin while bystanders pleaded with the special cops to stop the beating." Bernardinello further claims that he was detained at police headquarters for two hours and the officer on desk duty, who "was highly intoxicated," refused to let his parents see him. The case is captioned Bernardinello v. Belmar, Federal Case No. 3:11-cv-0413 and Bernardinello's attorney was Dan A. Druz of Belmar. 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 Bernardinello's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $7,500 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Belmar or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Belmar or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Bernardinello $7,500 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. ABOUT ME AND WHY I'M POSTING THIS. I chair the New Jersey Libertarian Party's Open Government Advocacy Project which seeks to increase governmental transparency and accountability, particularly at a local level. For more information on the Libertarian Party, go to http://www.njlp.org. As part of my work, I routinely check civil court cases where at least one of the parties is a government agency or official. Most often, these settlement agreements are never revealed to the public. I post them on the Libertarian Party's blog at http://njcivilsettlements.blogspot.com and other public forums because I believe that civil settlements, regardless of amount, may be of interest to citizens and taxpayers. John Paff Somerset, New Jersey
 
Winslow Board of Education pays $32,400 to settle IDEA attorney fee claim.
On September 12, 2012, the Winslow Township (Camden County) Board of Education agreed to pay $32,400 to a not-for-profit law firm that successfully represented a 12-year0old disabled student in an action under the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). In his suit, the twelve year old Sicklerville student, identified only by his initials "P.B.," who had been diagnosed with "Autism Spectrum Disorder with features closely aligned to Asperger's Syndrome" wanted to continue to attend Yale Academy, in Cherry Hill, while the school district wanted him to attend its own in-district class for disabled students. After several hearings before the New Jersey Office of Administrative Law, including a due process trial that spanned six days, Administrative Law Judge Patricia M. Kerins concluded "that Winslow has failed to provide P.B. with a free appropriate public education . . . [and the school board's] program is not individualized to P.B.'s unique needs and is not designed to provide him with meaningful educational benefit." Thereafter, the law firm representing P.B. sued the Winslow school board for $31,935 it said that it earned in attorney fees for representing P.B. in the litigation. Specifically, the firm claimed $150 per hour for 212.9 hours spent on the case. After further litigation, the law firms fees rose to $36,000, but the firm agreed, in order to settle the case, to take 90% of that amount, which is $32,400. The case is captioned P.B. v. Winslow Township Board of Education, Federal Case No. 1:12-cv-01225 and P.B.'s attorneys were Sean M. Benoit and W. Emmett Dwyer of Disability Rights New Jersey of Trenton. Case documents are on-line here. None of P.B.'s allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $32,400 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Winslow or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Winslow or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay P.B. $32,400 than take the matter to trial. ABOUT ME AND WHY I'M POSTING THIS. I chair the New Jersey Libertarian Party's Open Government Advocacy Project which seeks to increase governmental transparency and accountability, particularly at a local level. For more information on the Libertarian Party, go to http://www.njlp.org. As part of my work, I routinely check civil court cases where at least one of the parties is a government agency or official. Most often, these settlement agreements are never revealed to the public. I post them on the Libertarian Party's blog at http://njcivilsettlements.blogspot.com and other public forums because I believe that civil settlements, regardless of amount, may be of interest to citizens and taxpayers. John Paff Somerset, New Jersey
 
Internal Affairs Complaint - Neptune Police
October 16, 2012 Internal Affairs Unit Neptune Township Police Department 25 Neptune Blvd. Neptune, NJ 07753 (via e-mail only to radams@neptunetownship.org) RE: Patrolman Leslie Borges Dear Sir or Madam: I chair the New Jersey Libertarian Party's Police Accountability Project and ask that you accept this letter as an Internal Affairs complaint. We would like your agency to investigate whether Patrolman Leslie Borges and other personnel employed by your agency acted in accordance with department policy and the law regarding their January 19, 2010 warrantless entry into James M. Height?s residence. According to the Appellate Division's decision in State v. James M. Height, Docket No. A-0024-11T2), Patrolman Borges entered a residence, without a warrant and with his service revolver drawn, when ?there was no objectively reasonable basis for [him] to enter the apartment under the community caretaking exception to the warrant requirement.? His illegal entry into the apartment resulted in the Appellate Division suppressing the fruits of his search and will almost certainly result in Height?s acquittal and possibly expose the Township of Neptune to a civil suit. In addition to determining whether rules or laws may have been violated, we ask that you determine if there were training and policy failures within your agency as they relate to this incident. Please acknowledge your receipt of this complaint, investigate and notify us of the outcome. Sincerely, John Paff, Chairman New Jersey Libertarian Party Police Accountability Project P.O. Box 5424 Somerset, NJ 08875-5424 Phone: 732-873-1251 - Fax: 908-325-0129 Email: paff@pobox.com
 
Sourth Orange Loitering

 
South Orange Ordinance
Robin R. Kline, Village Clerk via e-mail only to rkline@southorange.org Dear Ms. Kline: When we spoke on the telephone a week or so ago, we discussed the Village's present plan to recodify its ordinances and, in the process, weed out those which are preempted or otherwise unenforceable. Since then, I have made a records request to the South Orange Municipal Court and have received, among other records that I have yet to review carefully, Summons No. 0719-SC-030336, which I've placed on-line here. As you can see, this summons charged Anthony I. Watson from Newark, an 18-year old man, with making "offensive remarks" contrary to Village Ord. 113-8. Watson was either found guilty or pled guilty and was assessed $108 in fines and costs. For the reasons set forth below, I believe that Ord. 113-8 is preempted by state law. If I am right, the police should stop enforcing this code provision immediately, without waiting for the recodification process to be completed. In order to determine whether or not I am right, I ask that the Mayor ask Village Counsel Steven Rother to make a legal determination as to the provision's validity. Ord. 113-8 states: Offensive remarks or gestures. A. No person in or on a vehicle on the streets or other public or quasi-public places shall make offensive, obscene or lewd remarks or gestures to any person on the public streets, sidewalks or other public or quasi-public open places. B. No person on the public streets, sidewalks or other public or quasi-public places shall make any offensive, obscene or lewd remarks or gestures to any person. Yet, the same type of conduct is regulated by N.J.S.A. 2C:33-2(b), a section within New Jersey's Disorderly Conduct code. This statutory provision states: Offensive language. A person is guilty of a petty disorderly persons offense if, in a public place, and with purpose to offend the sensibilities of a hearer or in reckless disregard of the probability of so doing, he addresses unreasonably loud and offensively coarse or abusive language, given the circumstances of the person present and the setting of the utterance, to any person present. Instructive is the Appellate Division's published opinion in State v. Paserchia, 356 N.J. Super. 461 (App. Div. 2003). Carl Paserchia, after drinking in a bar, was cursing and yelling while staggering down a West Orange public sidewalk. He got into an argument with some police officers and told them to "go f--k yourself." He was arrested and charged with a West Orange ordinance that stated: No person shall disturb, by any violent, abusive, loud or threatening language, or disorderly or indecent behavior of any kind, any lawful congregation or assembly of any kind or description in any place or building within the Township. After being convicted in both the municipal court and Superior Court, Law Division, Paserchia appealed. The Appellate Division found that Chapter 33 of the State Criminal Code "reveals a policy to comprehensively address street behavior and other conduct in public places which may disturb citizens and disrupt peaceful society." Id. at 466. The court went on to find that the state's Disorderly Conduct statute "is equally applicable to the conduct sought to be prohibited by the West Orange ordinance. Indeed, other than arguing that the ordinance does not require purposeful activity by the defendant, the municipality does not explain how the statute does not address municipal concerns regarding unruly behavior in public places." Ibid. Further, the court noted that West Orange's ordinance contained a "lesser standard of culpability . . . due to the omission of purposeful conduct as required by [the Disorderly Conduct statute]." Citing its earlier decision in State v. Felder, 329 N.J.Super. 471, 475 (App. Div. 2000), the Court found that the inconsistency between the ordinance's and the statute's culpability standards "only underscores the point that the Code and the local ordinance deal with the same criminal conduct in a different manner, and consequently the ordinance is preempted." Similar to West Orange's code, South Orange's Ord. 113-8 does not require purposeful conduct by the actor and, unlike the statute, it does not require the reviewing court to consider "the circumstances of the person present and the setting of the utterance." Further, South Orange does not appear to have any "unique local concerns" that warrant special, more stringent street conduct regulations than the Disorderly Conduct statute provides. Please let me know Mr. Rother's determination in this matter. Also, if the Village finds that Ord. 113-8 is preempted, will the Municipal Court reimburse Defendant Watson his fine and costs? Very truly yours,
 
Wayne pays $220,000 to settle zoning and discrimination lawsuit
On August 23, 2012, the Township of Wayne (Passaic County) agreed to pay $220,000 to a local car wash/quick lube center and its owner. In its lawsuit, the car wash, Wayne Auto Spa, which advertises itself as being "environmentally responsible" (http://www.wayneautospa.com/) claimed that the Township "unlawfully targeted [its] efforts to install a wind powered electric system on its premises. The Auto Spa's owner, Robert Burke of Morristown, alleged that Wayne officials subjected him to "invidious discrimination" because of "his outspoken advocacy for the wind energy system." Burke alleged that he was the campaign manager for William Brennan, who challenged Council incumbent and Planning Board member Paul Margiotta in an election. He claimed that his support of Brennan resulted in the Council and Planning Board taking action to "impede, frustrate and prohibit the Wayne Auto Spa application for approval of a proposed wind energy system." Burke claimed that Joseph Connolly of Wayne, who is a retired Bergen County Sheriff's Officer, opposed his wind energy proposal and threatened him. Specifically, Burke claimed that Connolly e-mailed him that "I will come back and see you about this. I expect you to get the point this time around." Burke also claimed that Connolly came to the Auto Spa, flashed his Sheriff's badge and told him "I will kick your ass" unless he stopped pursuing his wind energy application. The threats, he claimed, were not investigated by the Wayne Police Department or the Passaic County Prosecuor's Office despite his repeated requests. Burke further claimed that the Wayne Police Department "began stopping patrons of Wayne Auto Spa who were making or attempting to make left turns," which Burke said are legal, into his business. This, according to Burke, was the police department's attempt to imtimidate and harass his customers. During an October 20, 2011, "sealed settlment conference" before U.S. District Court Magistrate Judge Joseph A. Dickson, Burke and Wayne Auto Spa agreed to a) accept $220,000 as a settlement amount, b) not disclose the amount of the settlement to anyone, c) not disparage Wayne or its officials and d) to not file any more Open Public Records Act (OPRA) requests regarding any matters relating to his lawsuit. The settlement was made contigent upon the failure of a legal challenge to Burke's application to the Planning Board for permission to install his wind turbine system. The transcript from the October 20, 2011 conference, together with a transcript of another conference held on October 24, 2011, are on-line here. Fortunately, however, confidentiality provisions, such as the one agreed to in this case, 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. The case is captioned Burke v. Wayne, Federal Case No. 11-cv-1066 and Burke's attorney was, at least initially, R. William Potter of Princeton. Case lawsuit are on-line here and the settlement agreement is here. The resolution under which the Township Council accepted the settlement is on-line here. None of Burke's or Wayne Auto Spa's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $220,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Wayne or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Wayne or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Burke and Wayne Auto Spa $220,000 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. ABOUT ME AND WHY I'M POSTING THIS. I chair the New Jersey Libertarian Party's Open Government Advocacy Project which seeks to increase governmental transparency and accountability, particularly at a local level. For more information on the Libertarian Party, go to http://www.njlp.org. As part of my work, I routinely check civil court cases where at least one of the parties is a government agency or official. Most often, these settlement agreements are never revealed to the public. I post them on the Libertarian Party's blog at http://njcivilsettlements.blogspot.com and other public forums because I believe that civil settlements, regardless of amount, may be of interest to citizens and taxpayers. John Paff Somerset, New Jersey
 
Mello v. Washington, GLO-L-1403-12

 
State v. Mahedy disposition

 
Hackensack pays $67,500 to settle police officer's retaliation lawsuit
On May 15, 2012, the City of Hackensack (Bergen County) agreed to pay $67,500 to a Hackensack police officer, who also served in the New Jersey National Guard, who claimed that he was retaliated against for not supporting candidates favored by Police Chief C. Kenneth Zisa and for claiming benefits under the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA). In his suit, Alexander Lopez-Arenas accused Chief Zisa of "using his office of Chief of Police . . . to extort monies from police officers to support his candidacies" as well as the candidacies of others, favored by Zisa, who ran for public office or for positions within the local Policemen's Benevolent Association. He claimed that police officers "who did not financially support Zisa's [preferred] candidates . . . were retaliated against." Lopez-Arenas said that from the time he was hired in 2003, Sergeant Anthony Trezza told him "that if he wanted things to work out for him on the job that it was in his best interest to contribute to Chief Zisa's electoral campaigns. In effect if he wanted to proceed up the ranks he needed to contribute." He also claims that while on duty, he and other officers were "compelled to travel around the City . . . removing campaign signs of Zisa opponents and replacing them with those supportive of Defendant Zisa." He claimed that in 2004 and again in 2008, he was called up to serve in active duty in Cuba and Iraq. Yet, when he returned and tried to claim his benefits he was due under the USERRA, he was allegedly demoted to "a walking post." When he complained to Lieutenant John Heinemann, he was allegedly told that he shouldn't "push the issue." He also claimed that he used to date a female Hackensack police officer and that this officer, after a breakup, started dating Deputy Chief Frank Zisa, who is Chief Zisa's brother. Lopez-Arenas said that Frank Zisa ordered him to stay away from his girlfriend and that Lopez-Arenas "understood that even the slightest breach of this order would result in retaliation in the workplace." Also named in the suit were Trezza, Heinemann and Frank Zisa. The case is captioned Lopez-Arenas v. Hackensack, Federal Case No. 2:10-cv-02668 and Lopez-Arenas's attorney was Robert B. Woodruff of Morristown. Case documents are on-line here. None of Lopez-Arenas's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $67,500 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Hackensack or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Hackensack or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Lopez-Arenas $67,500 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. ABOUT ME AND WHY I'M POSTING THIS. I chair the New Jersey Libertarian Party's Open Government Advocacy Project which seeks to increase governmental transparency and accountability, particularly at a local level. For more information on the Libertarian Party, go to http://www.njlp.org. As part of my work, I routinely check civil court cases where at least one of the parties is a government agency or official. Most often, these settlement agreements are never revealed to the public. I post them on the Libertarian Party's blog at http://njcivilsettlements.blogspot.com and other public forums because I believe that civil settlements, regardless of amount, may be of interest to citizens and taxpayers. John Paff Somerset, New Jersey
 
More on Edison BOE matter

 
Letter to Edison School Board regarding Redactions
Judith M. Cox Edison Board of Education via e-mail only to judith.cox@edison.k12.nj.us Dear Ms. Cox: As you are aware, I recently submitted a request for records under the Open Public Records Act (OPRA) and the common law right of access for the assault and battery lawsuit against the Edison Township Board of Education bearing Docket No. MID-L-1637-11. This morning, you responded to my request with a redacted version of the civil complaint, which I've placed on-line here. I see that you have redacted the plaintiffs' names and addresses, apparently because you felt that the minor's identity should be kept confidential. Yet, when I queried the Superior Court's computerized index of civil lawsuits, I quickly learned that the plaintiffs in the matter are Bingyang Ji and Shuxing Ji. I have uploaded a screen shot from the database here. I challenge the Board's redactions, essentially because they suppress information that the plaintiffs in the lawsuit have already elected to disclose. Had the plaintiffs wished to remain anonymous, they could have, if permitted by the rules of court, used pseudonyms in their filings instead of their real names. Since the plaintiffs themselves have chosen (or, perhaps, were required by court rules) to identify themselves in their lawsuit, what possible interest could the Edison Board of Education have in redacting their identities when responding to my OPRA request? I consider the Board's redactions a violation of OPRA. Unless I receive an unredacted version of the civil complaint by Friday, October 12, 2012, I will consider litigating the matter. Sincerely,
 
Northern Valley Board of Education
To: Northern Valley Board of Education Cc: Business Administrator October 8, 2012 Dear President Chan and Board Members: In response to my recent request for the school board's June 2012 Executive Session minutes, I received a faxed response which I've placed on-line here. These minutes are deficient in several respects, and I ask that you review them with the Board attorney to see if your minutes-keeping, as well as the resolutions that the board uses to go into executive session comply with N.J.S.A 10:4-13 and 14, as construed by the courts. Of particular concern is the Board's discussion, at its June 11, 2012, 8:40 p.m. closed meeting concerning "the OPRA request process and the need to review each request." This appears to be a general discussion and not tied to any particular item of pending or anticipated litigation. Thus, this discussion does not appear to be covered by any of the N.J.S.A. 10:4-12(b) exceptions, thus making it improper for discussion outside of the public's view. Please note that citizens, such as myself, are permitted to sue public bodies for injunctive relief when there is a pattern of non-compliance with the Meetings Act. Please be on notice that unless you conform your procedure, this violation may constitute the first documented instance of a pattern upon which future litigation may be based. Very truly yours,
 
Thomas E. Seeley's 2010 letter from the PERS pension system
Of possible interest to Cumberland County residents, particularly those in Greenwich, Lawrence and Commercial, is the August 23, 2010 letter from Division of Pensions and Benefits that I recently received in response to an Open Public Records Act (OPRA) request. That correspondence is on-line here. It shows that Lawrence Township, after it was required to by statute, stopped reporting Mr. Seeley's salary as Township Solicitor to the Division of Pensions and Benefits on December 31, 2007. Yet, the letter goes on to say that Lawrence then appointed Mr. Seeley as "Property Administrator" and began, in 2008, reporting Mr. Seeley's salary as "Property Administrator" to the Division of Pensions and Benefits. The Division found that "that the position of 'Property Administrator' is a position designed to disguise [Seeley's] true relationship, thereby facilitating [his] continued membership in the PERS" pension system. Accordingly, the Division ruled that Mr. Seeley was "not eligible to continue enrollment on the basis of this position engagement by Lawrence Township for the years 2008 and following." The letter shows that Mr. Seeley received similar treatment in Commercial Township, where he was also paid, starting in 2008, as a "Property Manager." The Division similar ruled that Mr. Seeley, as "Property Manager" wasn't eligible to participate in the PERS pension for the years of 2008 and following. Further, the Division disqualified $33,000 that Mr. Seeley had received for acting as Commercial's "Tax Lien Manager" in 2007 from his pension calculation.
 
Renna v. Union County, Docket No. L-1431-12 (August 6, 2012)

 
The Port Authority is not subject to OPRA
Today, October 4, 2012, the Appellate Division ruled that the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey is not subject to the Open Public Records Act (OPRA). In its ten-page opinion, available here, the court found that since the Authority was created jointly by both New York and New Jersey, it is not subject to the statutory law of only one state. This decision, of course, is not good for open government. The Port Authority recently denied me access to the settlement agreement arising out of Hannah Shostack v. Port Authority, Federal Case No. 2:11-cv-00177. Shostack, who used to work for the Authority, was fired "without notice or cause" on August 11, 2010. While the Port Authority told her that her position was being eliminated, Shostack claimed in her lawsuit, which is available on-line here, that the real reason she was fired was because "she is not affiliated with the Republican Party and/or the administration of Republican Governor Chris Christie." In her lawsuit, Shostack alleged that her supervisor "Chris Russell informed her that the decision to discharge her came straight from Governor Christie's office and there was nothing he could do to save her job." Her suit claims that at about the same time she was fired, several other employees who were not affiliated with the Republican Party were also fired. New Jersey Courts have held that disclosure of lawsuit settlement agreements serves the public interest. Burnett v. County of Gloucester, 415 N.J. Super. 506, 517 (App. Div. 2010) ("We find the public interest in settlements to be a significant one, since such settlements may provide valuable information regarding the conduct of governmental officials and the condition of government property.") Yet, the Port Authority's records custodian, Daniel D. Duffy, in his September 5, 2012 denial letter, claimed that the settlement agreement was "exempt from disclosure pursuant to Exemption (3) of the [Port Authority's Freedom of Information] Code" which exempts sensitive records that "are compiled for public safety, law enforcement or official investigatory (internal or external) purposes." This is clearly erroneous, but according to the Authority's FOIA code, Duffy's decisions are "final." http://www.panynj.gov/corporate-information/pdf/foi-code.pdf Knowing the amount of money that Shostack received in her lawsuit settlement for is especially important because she alleges, in essence, that the Port Authority is filled with political patronage jobs that the sitting governor can award to his supporters and cronies. If Shostack received, say, a $500,000 settlement, the public could reasonably discern that there was some truth to her allegations. If she received, however, $10,000, the public could reasonably disregard her claims as nothing more than sour grapes. Unfortunately, the Port Authority doesn't want the public to know the settlement information and New Jersey courts, in today's ruling, have upheld the Port Authority's ability keep the public in the dark.
 
Borough places OPRA requestor in the cross-hairs.
On October 1, 2012, the Borough of Pine Hill (Camden County) asked a federal judge to allow it to seek civil damages from an Open Public Records Act (OPRA) requestor who obtained records that led to an invasion of privacy lawsuit currently pending against the Borough. The documents relating to this matter are on-line here. According to the court filings, in October 2011, Gloucester City resident John Schmidt submitted an OPRA request to the Borough of Pine Hill seeking documents relating to a wrongful termination lawsuit filed against the Borough by a Borough employee. While Schmidt's request was for motions and briefs filed in the lawsuit, Pine Hill provided him with some documents that were not within the scope of his request that contained "confidential and private information" which the employee claims was "intentionally released [by the Borough] to embarrass and cast [the employee] and his family in a poor light." The records the Borough disclosed to Schmidt allegedly contained the employee's children's social security numbers, information suggesting that the employee's wife abused prescription medication and that acts of domestic violence occurred at the employee's residence. In its October 1, 2012 filing, the Borough contends that its release of this confidential information to Schmidt was "inadvertent" and that Schmidt "intentionally disclosed and transmitted that information to others, including a newspaper reporter." Accordingly, the Borough wants to bring Schmidt in as a defendant in the lawsuit so that he is forced to contribute to any monetary damages that the Borough may be required to pay as a result of the employee's family invasion of privacy lawsuit. In other words, Pine Hill is seeking to make Schmidt financially liable for allegedly redistributing of information that the Borough itself had no right to disclose. Pine Hill's bid to bring Schmidt into the lawsuit will be determined at a November 5, 2012 court hearing.
 
Bober Pension Leter to Sen. Smith

 
Unpublished Trial Court Decision

 
NJDEP pays $22,500 to settle employment discrimination suit
On August 22, 2012, the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) agreed to pay $22,500 to a Lambertville woman who claimed that NJDEP officials discriminated against her based on her gender and displayed hostility toward her. In her suit, Martha Goodwin said NJDEP Bureau Chief, Robert Soboleski, and Section Chief, Donald Kakas, created a hostile work environment for her from 2006 through 2009. She alleged "a general pattern of adverse actions and undermining female employees." She claimed that employee Thomas Gryzmski, who allegedly "had a reputation of causing havoc wherever he worked in the NJDEP" did not like have a female supervisor and would begin "loud soliloquies" and "loud tirades" in front of others but that Soboleski and Kakas "never told him to stop." The alleged hostility culminated on February 24, 2009 when Soboleski allegedly told a co-worker about Goodwin that "that f***ing c**t is dead meat. Her days are numbered." She alleged that the conduct to which she was subject caused her to suffer depression and that her attempts to be reassigned to another bureau were not honored. The case is captioned Goodwin v. NJDEP, Federal Case No. 11-cv-4236 and Goodwin represented herself in the lawsuit. Case documents are on-line here. None of Goodwin's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $22,500 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by NJDEP or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that NJDEP or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Goodwin $22,500 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.
 
Buena Borough Administrator calls it quits
After only two months on the job, Buena Borough Administrator E. James Dubois has called it quits. In his September 27, 2012 resignation letter he cites an "atmosphere of distrust" and "stress [that] has begun to affect me personally," among the reasons for his resignation.
 
Paff v. Lawrence (Mercer)

 
Tasiopoulos v. Greenwich

 
Greenwich pays $25,000 to settle police whistleblower case
On September 23, 2011, the Township of Greenwich (Warren County) agreed to pay $25,000 to a former Township police officer who sued the Greenwich Police Chief for allegedly retaliating against him and creating a hostile work environment. In his suit, Christopher T. Tasiopoulos said that Chief Richard J. Guzzo retaliated against him after he reported that Lieutenant Arthur J. Morrow "had made intentional and fraudulent misrepresentations" in official police department documents concerning Tasiopoulos and his fellow officers. Tasiopoulos claims that prior to reporting Morrow he "received excellent performance evaluations." After reporting Morrow, however, he claims that he was removed from his position as a K-9 handler, was denied overtime hours and was subjected to "several petty and unfounded Internal Affairs investigations" against him. He also claims that he was ordered to not speak with the Mayor or Township Committee members, which violated his right to free speech. The case is captioned Tasiopoulos v. Township of Greenwich, Warren County Superior Court Docket No. WRN-L-109-09 and Tasiopoulos's attorney was John F. McDonnell of Washington. 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 Tasiopoulos's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $25,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Greenwich or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Greenwich or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Tasiopoulos $25,000 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. ABOUT ME AND WHY I'M POSTING THIS. I chair the New Jersey Libertarian Party's Open Government Advocacy Project which seeks to increase governmental transparency and accountability, particularly at a local level. For more information on the Libertarian Party, go to http://www.njlp.org. As part of my work, I routinely check civil court cases where at least one of the parties is a government agency or official. Most often, these settlement agreements are never revealed to the public. I post them on the Libertarian Party's blog at http://njcivilsettlements.blogspot.com and other public forums because I believe that civil settlements, regardless of amount, may be of interest to citizens and taxpayers. John Paff Somerset, New Jersey
 
Manville Borough: Did Richard Armstrong break the law?
After the Borough Council's September 10, 2012 meeting, I observed a heated discussion between two meeting attendees regarding whether the Borough Administration and the Manville Police Department acted appropriately by not charging Recreation Director Richard Armstrong with a municipal ordinance or statutory offense for consuming alcohol on school grounds during a May 19, 2012 softball tournament. The relevant police report is on-line at http://ogtf.lpcnj.org/2012/2012243uf//ManvilleReport.pdf One of the gentlemen was distressed that Mayor Corradino had expressed during the meeting that Armstrong's suspension from employment, which caused him to lose about a $1,000 in pay, was sufficient punishment. The attendee felt that Armstrong, in addition to the administrative suspension, ought to have also faced criminal consequences. The other gentlemen said that the Manville Police Chief had stated at a previous meeting that Armstrong's conduct did not violate any laws or ordinances. Thus, he argued, the police could not have charged Armstrong with an offense even if they wanted to. After the meeting, I submitted two Open Public Records Act (OPRA) requests to Manville Borough seeking to find out whether Armstrong's alleged misconduct, i.e. being intoxicated in public "to the point of being passed out" * "with a beer in his hand" violated the law. Today, I received responses to my OPRA requests and have placed them on-line here. From reading the responses, I conclude that: 1. Section 2 of Manville Borough Ord. No. 396 makes it unlawful for a person to "consume intoxicating beverages on any public street, sidewalk, thoroughfare or within the confines of any park or playground within the limits of the Borough of Manville without a permit to do so from the proper municipal authorities of the Borough." Since Armstrong's alleged drinking arguably took place in a "park or playground," it would appear that his alleged activity violated the ordinance. Section 43 of the same ordinance subjects violators to a fine of up to $200 and/or up to ninety days in the county jail. 2. On August 25, 2012 at 8:48 p.m., two local men were charged by Manville police officer Nickolas Franzoso with "consumption of alcohol in public." The men, however, were not charged under Section 2 of Borough Ord. No. 396. Rather they were charged under another ordinance that prohibits consumption of alcohol in non-licensed public places where live entertainment is offered. Regardless, it appears that Manville police have recently enforced alcohol consumption violations against others. If anyone feels that Mr. Armstrong has not already been punished severely enough may wish to consider filing a citizen complaint against him in the Manville Municipal Court in accordance with New Jersey Court Rule 7:2-2(a)(1). My reading of Caldwell Terrace Apartments, Inc. v. Borough of Caldwell Tp., 224 N.J. Super. 588, 596 (App. Div. 1988) leads me to believe that such a complaint can be filed up to a year after the violation. John Paff, Chairman New Jersey Libertarian Party's Open Government Advocacy Project P.O. Box 5424 Somerset, NJ 08875 Voice: 732-873-1251 Fax: 908-325-0129 e-mail: paff@pobox.com
 
Buena pays $375,000 to settle police officer's whistleblower suit
On December 15, 2009, the Borough of Buena (Atlantic County) agreed to pay $375,000 to a borough police officer who alleged that she was harassed and subjected to a hostile work environment after she had reported that a police sergeant was stealing taxpayer dollars by falsifying time sheets. In her suit, Stacy L. Steudle said that in 2007, she became aware that Buena Police Sergeant Lawrence Petrillo "was falsifying time records by indicating that he had worked on days and/or during times when he had not worked." She claims that after she reported the matter to Chief Douglas E. Adams, Adams communicated to Petrillo that "we have a rat." Steudle further alleges that Petrillo told her that Chief Adams had said that he was was "pissed" at her for starting "drama in the department." Thereafter, she claims that she was retaliated against and treated differently than other officers. The case is captioned Steudle v. Buena, Atlantic County Superior Court, Docket No. L-833-08 and Steudle's attorney was Eileen Oakes Muskett of Atlantic City. Case documents are on-line here. None of Steudle'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 Buena or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Buena or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Steudle $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. ABOUT ME AND WHY I'M POSTING THIS. I chair the New Jersey Libertarian Party's Open Government Advocacy Project which seeks to increase governmental transparency and accountability, particularly at a local level. For more information on the Libertarian Party, go to http://www.njlp.org. As part of my work, I routinely check civil court cases where at least one of the parties is a government agency or official. Most often, these settlement agreements are never revealed to the public. I post them on the Libertarian Party's blog at http://njcivilsettlements.blogspot.com and other public forums because I believe that civil settlements, regardless of amount, may be of interest to citizens and taxpayers. John Paff Somerset, New Jersey
 
Bellville Lawsuit

 
Nutley 2011 Salaries in Excel file

 
Illegal Dumping in Borough Dumpster: Police report on-line
Post 783 alleged that the Borough Administration "illegally" dumped trash in a Borough owed dumpster. After reading that post, we submitted an Open Public Records Act (OPRA) request to Wallington for the police report related to the alleged incident. As a public service, we have placed a redacted version of the police report on-line here: Note that the redactions, which we applied (because the Borough Clerk did not) are a) the name of the juvenile who was allegedly a passenger in the vehicle that was used to haul the dumped material and b) the license plate number of the vehicle. We note that the person charged, Matt Kruk, Jr. of 244 Mount Pleasant Avenue, bears the same last name as Thomas Kruk, who is, according to DataUniverse.com, a Wallington police officer who earned $109.536 in 2011 and Jennifer Kruk, an employee of the Wallington Board of Education who earned $50,158 in 2011. Also noteworthy is Roman Kruk, who apparently serves on the Borough Council. Are these people related to defendant Matt Kruk? Is there any evidence, one way or the other, showing whether Borough Administrator Witold Baginski permitted Kruk to dump private garbage in a Borough dumpster? Is there any evidence of the source of the garbage? John Paff, Chairman New Jersey Libertarian Party's Open Government Advocacy Project Somerset, New Jersey paff@pobox.com
 
Dunellen Towing

 
Atlantic City pays $2,500 to settle police assault suit
On May 16, 2012, the City of Atlantic City (Atlantic County) agreed to pay $2,500 to a local man who sued members of the Atlantic City Police Department for allegedly assaulting him. In his suit,Benjamin Demby said that on April 23, 2009, he was at 1401 Memorial Drive, Atlantic City when he was assaulted by Officer Brent Dooley and/or Brian Hambrecht. The lawsuit is very vague and gives no other information about the alleged assault. The case is captioned Demby v. Atlantic City, Federal Civil No. 1:11-cv-1881 and Demby's attorney was Jeffrey M. Sheppard of Absecon. Case documents are on-line here. None of Demby's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $2,500 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Atlantic City or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Atlantic City or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Demby $2,500 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.
 
Union County pays $16,070.61 to Plaintiff's lawyer in OPRA case
On September 1, 2012, I posted a blog entry regarding a successful lawsuit by Cranford resident Tina Renna against the County of Union. http://njopengovt.blogspot.com/2012/09/unpublished-trial-couirt-opinion.html At issue was the county's refusal to provide Renna with the home addresses of citizens who voluntarily signed up for a government newsletter. I noted in that entry that the County had appealed the trial judge's order to both the Appellate Division and the Supreme Court. Thereafter, I submitted a request for records relating to how much money, in total, the County paid in legal fees to both its own lawyer and Ms. Renna's lawyer. The county advised me that since its attorney handled the matter "in-house" it paid no legal fees beyond the attorney's regular salary. However, the County did disclose that it paid a total of $16,070.61 in attorney fees and costs to Walter M. Luers, who was Ms. Renna's attorney. The documents the County provided, which are on-line here, show that Mr. Luers was paid $7,064 in costs and fees for winning the case at the trial level, of which he refunded $859.35 after the Appellate Division reversed the trial court's enhancement of his fee. Mr. Luers was then paid $8,317.71 and $1,548.25 for defending Mr. Renna's success in the Appellate Division and the Supreme Court, respectively.
 
Edison pays $27,500 to settle police excessive force and malicious prosecution suit
On July 16, 2012, the Township of Edison (Middlesex County) agreed to pay $27,500 to a man who sued members of the Edison Police Department for allegedly beating him and maliciously prosecuting him. In his suit, Taleb Ahmed said that on September 11, 2007 he "was falsely arrested, violently assaulted and brutally beaten, hit with a weapon, pushed into the ground, and held in jail by" Edison police officers Theodore Hamer, Michael Dotro, Peter Conforte and Sergeant Jason Gerba. He claims that he was charged with obstruction of justice and resisting arrest, but that the Grand Jury returned a "no bill" when the Township sought an indictment against him. The case is captioned Ahmed v. Edison, Federal Case No. 2:08-cv-00066 and Ahmed's attorney was Nicholas Martino of Marlboro. Case documents are on-line here. None of Ahmed's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $27,500 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Edison or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Edison or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Ahmed $27,500 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. ABOUT ME AND WHY I'M POSTING THIS. I chair the New Jersey Libertarian Party's Open Government Advocacy Project which seeks to increase governmental transparency and accountability, particularly at a local level. For more information on the Libertarian Party, go to http://www.njlp.org. As part of my work, I routinely check civil court cases where at least one of the parties is a government agency or official. Most often, these settlement agreements are never revealed to the public. I post them on the Libertarian Party's blog at http://njcivilsettlements.blogspot.com and other public forums because I believe that civil settlements, regardless of amount, may be of interest to citizens and taxpayers. John Paff Somerset, New Jersey
 
Township defends its tax-challenged municipal attorney
On July 18, 2012, I wrote to Mayor Elmer "Skip" Bowman and the Lawrence Township (Cumberland County) Committee about their municipal attorney, Thomas E. Seeley, Esq., having hundreds of thousands of dollars in federal tax liens docketed against him. I made my inquiry after learning that the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) had served notices of levy seizing the money that the Township owed Mr. Seeley for his legal services. I asked the Mayor and Committee three questions: 1. Why the Township was still paying Mr. Seeley's law firm thousands of dollars even though the levy documents apparently demanded that all of Mr. Seeley's income be given to the IRS. 2. Which lawyer (hopefully not Mr. Seeley), if any, advised the Township on how to handle the levy. 3. Why the Township elected to retain a lawyer who has so many legal and tax problems when many other lawyers don't have these problems. On September 10, 2012, I received the Township's response which focused mainly on my third question. The Township stated that it is happy with Mr. Seeley's services and feels that his personal financial issues aren't relevant to his service to the Township. As for my first question, the Township stated only that they felt that they were correctly paying Mr. Seeley and the IRS. And, the Township didn't respond at all to my second question. My correspondence with Lawrence Township is on-line here. The tax levies themselves are on-line here. http://ogtf.lpcnj.org/2012/2012200YP/20120718111734.pdf John Paff, Chairman New Jersey Libertarian Party's Open Government Advocacy Project
 
Seaside Heights pays $62,500 to settle police assault/excessive force suit
On August 9, 2012, the Borough of Seaside Heights (Ocean County) agreed to pay $62,500 to a Manahawkin man who sued members of the Seaside Heights Police Department for allegedly beating him and applying handcuffs too tightly. In his suit, Joseph Alfieri said that on either April 26th or April 27, 2009 he was assaulted by his live-in girlfriend. The girlfriend, who was allegedly arrested by Seaside Heights Officer Elijah Bryant, returned to the residence the next and demanded her car keys. Alfieri alleged that when he told his girlfriend to leave and return the following day, Bryant, along with fellow officers John Clarizio and John Dudas entered the apartment without his consent and proceeded to assault him. Alfieri claims that he was "maced, choked, kicked and [that police applied inordinate pressure in handcuffing [him.]" Also named in the suit were Seaside Heights Police Chief Thomas Boyd, Stephen Korman and James Hans. The case is captioned Alfieri v. Seaside Heights, Federal Case No. 3:11-cv-00919 and Alfieri's attorney was Thomas J. Mallon of Freehold. Case documents are on-line here. None of Alfieri's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $62,500 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Seaside Heights or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Seaside Heights or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Alfieri $62,500 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. ABOUT ME AND WHY I'M POSTING THIS. I chair the New Jersey Libertarian Party's Open Government Advocacy Project which seeks to increase governmental transparency and accountability, particularly at a local level. For more information on the Libertarian Party, go to http://www.njlp.org. As part of my work, I routinely check civil court cases where at least one of the parties is a government agency or official. Most often, these settlement agreements are never revealed to the public. I post them on the Libertarian Party's blog at http://njcivilsettlements.blogspot.com and other public forums because I believe that civil settlements, regardless of amount, may be of interest to citizens and taxpayers. John Paff Somerset, New Jersey
 
Matawan pays $7,500 to settle police false arrest/excessive force suit
On April 9, 2012, the Borough of Matawan (Monmouth County) agreed to pay $7,500 to a Neptune man who sued members of the Matawan Police Department for allegedly beating him and arresting him without probable cause. In his suit, Anthony Gray said that on October 5, 2009, he was walking down the street on crutches when Matawan Police Officer James Alston allegedly "pulled his vehicle up to house in the neighborhood in reckless fashion, nearly sideswiping a young man on a bicycle." Officer Alston, who Gray claims was intoxicated and "was often intoxicated in public during police/citizen encounters" allegedly yelled and cursed at neighbors who asked him why he almost hit the bicyclist. When other officers arrived at the scene, they allegedly ignored Alston's instructions to arrest Gray. Alston then reportedly told Gray that he was under arrest and when Gray asked why, Alston allegedly told him to "shut the f**k up." During the arrest, Alston allegedly flicked a lit cigarette butt down Gray's shirt in order to provoke him. The case is captioned Gray v. Matawan, Federal Case No. 3:11-cv-05508 and Gray's attorney was Thomas J. Mallon of Freehold. Case documents are on-line here. None of Gray's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $7,500 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Matawan or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Matawan or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Gray $7,500 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. ABOUT ME AND WHY I'M POSTING THIS. I chair the New Jersey Libertarian Party's Open Government Advocacy Project which seeks to increase governmental transparency and accountability, particularly at a local level. For more information on the Libertarian Party, go to http://www.njlp.org. As part of my work, I routinely check civil court cases where at least one of the parties is a government agency or official. Most often, these settlement agreements are never revealed to the public. I post them on the Libertarian Party's blog at http://njcivilsettlements.blogspot.com and other public forums because I believe that civil settlements, regardless of amount, may be of interest to citizens and taxpayers. John Paff Somerset, New Jersey
 
Newark pays $300,000 to taxicab company that alleged licensing discrimination
On June 7, 2012, the City of Newark (Essex County) agreed to pay $300,000 to a taxicab company who sued the City and its Taxicab and Limousine Commission for unfairly applying its licensing laws against it. In its suit, Jacob's Limousine Transportation, Inc. said Newark "thwarted and rejected" its efforts to get licenses so that it could lawfully operate taxicabs in the city. Despite the trouble that the city allegedly gave to it, Jacob's Limousine claims that city officials "have allowed numerous other autocab, limousine, and livery services companies to operate in and on Newark's streets and highways without complying with, and in blatant violation of, the requirements of the Newark Code for the operation and licensing of autocab, limousine, and livery services companies to operate in and on Newark's streets and highways." In addition to the $300,000 payment, Newark also agreed to permit Jacob's Limousine to "register, license, and operate up to 150 vehicles" until August 31, 2014. The case is captioned Jacob's Limousine v. Newark, Federal Case No. 09-cv-6331 and Jacob's Limousine's attorney was Jeffrey Kantowitz of Florham Park. Case documents are on-line here. None of Jacob's Limousine's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $300,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Newark or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Newark or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Jacob's Limousine $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. ABOUT ME AND WHY I'M POSTING THIS. I chair the New Jersey Libertarian Party's Open Government Advocacy Project which seeks to increase governmental transparency and accountability, particularly at a local level. For more information on the Libertarian Party, go to http://www.njlp.org. As part of my work, I routinely check civil court cases where at least one of the parties is a government agency or official. Most often, these settlement agreements are never revealed to the public. I post them on the Libertarian Party's blog at http://njcivilsettlements.blogspot.com and other public forums because I believe that civil settlements, regardless of amount, may be of interest to citizens and taxpayers. John Paff Somerset, New Jersey
 
Warren County pays $140,000 to settle trespass and invasion of privacy claim against deputy sheriff.
In November 2011, the County of Warren agreed to pay $140,000 to a Blairstown woman who sued an employee of the Warren County Sheriff's Office for allegedly breaking a lock to enter her home and frightening the minor daughter who was home alone at the time. In her suit, Sylvia Zika said that on January 28, 2008, her minor daughter was home in their secluded, rural house when she observed Anthony DiLauri, who is employed by the Warren County Sheriff's Office, approach the house in an unmarked car. Unknown to the daughter was that DiLauri was at the house in order to serve legal papers. She claims that because she was alone and did not recognize DiLauri, she went into the house through the garage and locked the garage door behind her. Zika alleges that DiLauri, who didn't identify himself as a sheriff's officer, pounded on the door and demanded entry. Fearing for her safety, the daughter called 911 and reported a break in. DiLauri allegedly broke the lock on the door and entered the house and put the legal papers he intended to serve on a table. When Blairstown police responded to the daughter's 911 call, DiLauri allegedly falsely told them that he had "served the paperwork without incident." The recordings of Zika's daughter's 911 calls as well as photographs that Blairstown police took of the broken door were "subsequently lost" or "deleted." The case is captioned Zika v. Warren County, New Jersey Superior Court Docket No. WRN-L-114-9 and Zika's attorney was Walter M. Luers of Clinton. 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 Zika's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $140,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Warren or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Warren or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Zika $140,000 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. ABOUT ME AND WHY I'M POSTING THIS. I chair the New Jersey Libertarian Party's Open Government Advocacy Project which seeks to increase governmental transparency and accountability, particularly at a local level. For more information on the Libertarian Party, go to http://www.njlp.org. As part of my work, I routinely check civil court cases where at least one of the parties is a government agency or official. Most often, these settlement agreements are never revealed to the public. I post them on the Libertarian Party's blog at http://njcivilsettlements.blogspot.com and other public forums because I believe that civil settlements, regardless of amount, may be of interest to citizens and taxpayers. John Paff Somerset, New Jersey
 
Federal court rebuffs Cape May drug arrestee's civil rights lawsuit.
In a May 5, 2010 article, Herald staff writer Joe Hart reported that the Superior Court, Appellate Division ordered a new trial for Craig Young, who was convicted and sentenced to 8 years for peddling cocaine. In reversing Young's conviction, the appeals court faulted officials at of the Cape May County Prosecutor's office for their conduct during the trial. Young's trial was held before Judge Raymond Batten. Detectives Kevin McLaughlin and Paul Skill testified on behalf of the state and Assistant Prosecutor Saverio Carrocia prosecuted the case. Hart's article is at http://www.capemaycountyherald.com/article/court+house/drugs/62087-appeals+court+orders+new+trial+convicted+drug+dealer Today, I located an August 13, 2012 order from federal court Judge Joseph E. Irenas. According to the order, the Cape May Prosecutor decided to not retry Young for the cocaine sale charge, released him from jail on June 11, 2010 and formally withdrew the charges against him on September 24, 2010. Young, and his wife, Natalee Lewis Young, thereafter sued McLaughlin, Skill and Carrocia, along with Prosecutor Robert Taylor, First Assistant J. David Meyer, Chief Assistant Robert Johnson, Sr., and Detectives Eugene Taylor, Lynne Frame, Ken Super and Michael Emmer for civil rights violations. In their suit, the Youngs alleged that McLaughlin and Skill fabricated their testimony and that Defendant Assistant Prosecutor Saverio Carrocia withheld evidence. Judge Irenas, however, dismissed the Youngs' complaint because "officers who testify in criminal trials enjoy absolute immunity for false testimony." Irenas also dismissed the lawsuit because Young could not "establish the absence of probable cause for his arrest or the favorable termination element of his malicious prosecution claim." The mere fact that the prosecutor elected to not retry Young, Irenas found, "does not reflect Young?s innocence of the underlying charge, but rather could be a reasoned exercise of prosecutorial discretion on how to use limited judicial resources." Judge Irenas' decision is on-line here: John Paff, Chairman New Jersey Libertarian Party's Open Government Advocacy Project Somerset, New Jersey http://njlp.org
 
Ocean Board of Social Services pays $50,000 to settle breach of contract case.
On May 2, 2012, the Ocean County Board of Social Services (OCBSS) agreed to pay $50,000 to a vendor who successfully bid on a two year contract to provide local and long-distance telephone service to three PBX phone systems at the OCBSS' Lakewood, Toms River and Manahawkin offices. In its suit, Data Networking Services (DNS), a telecommunications service provider out of Tinton Falls, bid on the OCBBS's publicly advertised request for proposal. According to the suit, Larry Perlberg, who is the lawyer for the OCBSS, was the project manager even though he had "stated he did not understand telecommunications words and their meanings." Accordingly, he hired Robert E. Hammond of Hammond Consulting Group, LLC of Wall Township as a "go between" between Perlberg and DNS. According to the complaint, Hammond, at a design review meeting allegedly rejected DNS' design, which employed fiber optic cabling, as "non traditional" and insisted that DNS amend its design to "match exactly the OCBSS existing voice network technology [which was] over 30 years old." Hammond allegedly required DNS to use "traditional copper circuits" which the suit characterizes as "absurd and wasteful." DNS also alleged that the OCBBS already had some fiber optic cabling in place but prevented DNS from using that cabling by "falsely claim{ing that they] were dedicated to the local computer network." While the specifics in the complaint are technical and difficult to understand, DNS alleges, generally, that OCBSS and Hammond deliberately sabotaged its attempts to fulfill the contract and then breached the contract by replacing DNS with a different vendor. The case is captioned Business Automation Technologies d/b/a Data Network Service v. Ocean County Board of Social Services, et al, Federal Case No. 3:11-cv-6453 and DNS's attorney was Walter M. Luers of Clinton. Case documents are on-line here. As part of the settlement, Hammond also paid DNS $5,000. None of DNS's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $50,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by the OCBSS or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that the OCBSS or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay DNS $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. ABOUT ME AND WHY I'M POSTING THIS. I chair the New Jersey Libertarian Party's Open Government Advocacy Project which seeks to increase governmental transparency and accountability, particularly at a local level. For more information on the Libertarian Party, go to http://www.njlp.org. As part of my work, I routinely check civil court cases where at least one of the parties is a government agency or official. Most often, these settlement agreements are never revealed to the public. I post them on the Libertarian Party's blog at http://njcivilsettlements.blogspot.com and other public forums because I believe that civil settlements, regardless of amount, may be of interest to citizens and taxpayers. John Paff Somerset, New Jersey
 
Renna v. Union County UNN-L-2589-10

 
Manville Recreation Department drinking at softball game

 
JOPRA to Somerville regarding disappeared files

 
New Brunswick and the Middlesex County Prosecutor's Office pay $120,000 to settle excessive force suit
On July 17, 2012, the City of New Brunswick and the Middlesex County Prosecutor's Office (Middlesex County) agreed to pay a total of $120,000 to two local men who sued members of the New Brunswick Police Department and the Middlesex County Prosecutor's Office for allegedly beating them and requiring them to sit for two hours in a cold room while handcuffed and sitting in their underwear. According to the settlement agreement, New Brunswick paid $95,000 and the prosecutor's office paid $25,000. In their suit, Jake Kostman and Kareem Najjar claimed that at about 4:30 a.m. on December 10, 2010, they were sleeping in their apartment when New Brunswick Police Detective Miguel Chang, Detective Drew Weiss, Detective Robert Bogdanski, Police Officer Keith Walcott and Sergeant Scott Gould, while dressed in civilian clothes, unlawfully entered their bedroom and accosted them. According to the suit, Najjar and Kostman were "punched in the head" and "beaten about the face head and body with fists and feet." Kostman further claimed that after he was handcuffed and lying on this stomach, police still stomped and kicked him. Both 19-year-olds were taken the main floor of the building and were alledgedly forced to sit in their underwear on the couch in front of police and others who lived in the house. They alleged that since the front door had been kicked in by police, they had to sit in the cold for two houurs while police refused their requests to clothe themselves. When they were shivering in their underwear, one of the police officers allegedly said "I'm feeling pretty warm, I don't know about you guys." According to Kostman and Najjar, the officers taunted them and the other occupants in the house with the insults such as "faggot" and "fat slob." One tenant of Korean decent was reportedly told that "damn Koreans breed with the damn Japanese and those were the ones that bombed pearl harbor." The police alledgedly searched the men's basement apartment without a warrant, found nothing and neither man was "charged with any crime and both were eventually released." Also named in the suit were Lieutenant Daniel J. Muntone, and Investigator Donald S. Carruth of the Middlesex County Prosecutor's Office, The case is captioned Kostman and Najjar v. New Brunswick and the Middlesex County Prosecutor's Office, Federal Case No. 3:11-cv-00756 and Kostman's and Najjar's attorney was Bryan Konoski of New York. Case documents are on-line here. None of the pair's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $120,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by New Brunswick, Middlesex County or any of their officials. All that is known for sure is that New Brunswick and the Middlesex County Prosecutor's Office or their insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Kostman and Najjar $120,000 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. ABOUT ME AND WHY I'M POSTING THIS. I chair the New Jersey Libertarian Party's Open Government Advocacy Project which seeks to increase governmental transparency and accountability, particularly at a local level. For more information on the Libertarian Party, go to http://www.njlp.org. As part of my work, I routinely check civil court cases where at least one of the parties is a government agency or official. Most often, these settlement agreements are never revealed to the public. I post them on the Libertarian Party's blog at http://njcivilsettlements.blogspot.com and other public forums because I believe that civil settlements, regardless of amount, may be of interest to citizens and taxpayers. John Paff Somerset, New Jersey
 
Little Egg Harbor pays $15,000 to settle police excessive force suit
On June 15, 2012, the Township of Little Egg Harbor (Ocean County) agreed to pay $15,000 to a diabetic heart transplant patient who sued members of the Township's Police Department for allegedly forcefully throwing him on the ground and putting handcuffs on him too tightly. In his suit, Ciro Esposito said that he was in a local Rite Aid Pharmacy on December 28, 2007 to pick up a prescription. A dispute arose between the pharmacist and Esposito and Esposito "insisted that the pharmacist call the police." Officers Eric Nelson and Kevin Hogan, who allegedly knew of Esposito's medical condition, arrived at the scene and allegedly "forcibly grabbed [Esposito] by the arm and roughly escorted him out of the premises" where Esposito claims that the officers "threw him to the ground in an excessively forceful manner, striking his face on the floor." He said that the officers handcuffed him "with such force that his arms and wrists were bruised." Also named in the suit were Little Egg Harbor Police Chief Mark Siino. The case is captioned Esposito v. Little Egg Harbor, Federal Case No. 3:08-cv-03725 and Esposito's attorney was Thomas J. Mallon of Freehold. Case documents are on-line here. None of Esposito's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $15,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Little Egg Harbor or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Little Egg Harbor or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Esposito $15,000 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. ABOUT ME AND WHY I'M POSTING THIS. I chair the New Jersey Libertarian Party's Open Government Advocacy Project which seeks to increase governmental transparency and accountability, particularly at a local level. For more information on the Libertarian Party, go to http://www.njlp.org. As part of my work, I routinely check civil court cases where at least one of the parties is a government agency or official. Most often, these settlement agreements are never revealed to the public. I post them on the Libertarian Party's blog at http://njcivilsettlements.blogspot.com and other public forums because I believe that civil settlements, regardless of amount, may be of interest to citizens and taxpayers. John Paff Somerset, New Jersey
 
Milltown court questioned on varying outcomes for marijuna defendants
August 21, 2012 Hon. Karl R. Meyertons, Judge Milltown Municipal Court 39 Washington Avenue Milltown, NJ 08850-1219 RE: State v. Jamie, S-2011-000332 State v. Kenneth, S-2012-000030 Dear Judge Meyertons: I write both individually and in my capacity as Chairman of the New Jersey Libertarian Party's Preempted Ordinance Repeal Project. I write today to find out if you can help us make sense of why your court treats some marijuana defendants differently than others. Before getting to this question, I need to clarify two issues. First, the Libertarian Party doesn't believe that the conduct for which Jamie and Kenneth were charged--possession of marijuana--ought to be against the law. Indeed, Libertarians oppose this country's failed drug prohibition and believe that re-legalizing the currently banned substances would make our streets safer (FN: See our policy on drug prohibition at http://www.lp.org/issues/crime-and-violence). Second, the New Jersey Libertarian Party has for years been trying to get municipal courts around the state to cease downgrading statutory charges to violations of preempted and/or unconstitutional ordinances. Not only do such downgrades violate a 1998 Attorney General directive, but they also subvert the criminal justice system for the reasons explained in our February 27, 2012 letter to the Middlesex County Prosecutor's Office regarding improper downgrades in the Dunellen Municipal Court (FN: The letter is on-line at http://ogtf.lpcnj.org/2012/2012058iO//DunellenMCLetter.pdf) The bottom line is that many, or perhaps most, municipalities keep one or more preempted ordinances on their books, usually "loitering," "peace and good order" or "disorderly conduct" codes, to which the municipal court prosecutors and judges downgrade statutory offenses in order to entice defendants to plead guilty. As more fully explained in our letter regarding Dunellen, these plea bargains keep the defendants from getting criminal histories or paying into the state's Violent Crimes Compensation or Safe Neighborhood funds. The pleas also benefit the municipalities by providing a lucrative revenue stream and easing the prosecutor's and judge's workloads by decreasing the number of contested matters resulting in trials. For the purpose of such downgrades, Milltown uses Borough Ordinance 983 (FN: I've placed the text of that ordinance on-line here) and, through researching dozens of cases heard by the court in March through May 2012, many statutory charges are pled down to "BO 983" violations(FN: I've uploaded five random cases on-line here that charge statutory offenses ranging from shoplifting to hindering apprehension and all of them were pled down to BO 983 and between $280 and $530 was assessed to each defendant. I have dozens more similar examples and will send them to you if you like). Now, to the question at hand. The Milltown Court, despite the Attorney General's 1998 Directive, pleads statutory charges down to BO 983, presumably to maximize the amount of revenue received and to minimize the number of hours of work for the judge and the prosecutor. And, while we will try complaining to the Middlesex Prosecutor, we don't expect much help given that he wouldn't even acknowledge our February 27, 2012 letter regarding Dunellen. We understand and grudgingly accept that despite the Attorney General's directive and the public policy considerations, Milltown is likely to continue downgrading statutory violations to BO 983 violations. What we don't understand however, is why different marijuana defendants get different outcomes. Specifically, why did Jamie (See pages 1 to 3 of the attached exhibits) who was charged with having "under 50 grams of marijuana folded in a piece of paper" receive a conditional discharge and pay $833 in fines, assessments and costs while Kenneth, who was charged with possession "of over 50 grams of marijuana" get to plead to BO 983 and pay fines and costs of $780? One would think that the defendant who possesses more than 50 grams of marijuana would get a harsher penalty than the one who possessed less than 50 grams. Even though the amounts of money paid are similar, the consequences of a conditional discharge are much more severe than the ordinance violation. First, the Conditional Discharge Statute (FN:I have placed it on-line here), can only be used once by a defendant. So, if Jamie re-offends, she'll face the statutory penalties. Yet, if Kenneth re-offends, he will still be eligible for a conditional discharge. Second, Jamie will be under "supervisory treatment" during her six month probationary term. During that time she may have to submit to multiple random urine tests and other requirements imposed by the program's administrator. Kenneth, however, having paid his $780, is free to go about his business with no further responsibilities. Third, the Conditional Discharge Statute subjects Jamie to a driver license suspension of between six months and two years "unless the court finds compelling circumstances warranting an exception." Kenneth, however, doesn't have to deal with a driver license suspension. Can you give us some sense as to why Kenneth received the plea bargain while Jamie was treated so much more harshly? For the sake of fairness and consistency, if the Milltown Municipal Court is not willing to stop the downgrading process altogether, would at least give every defendant charged with a statutory offense with a BO 983 violation? As it is, it appears that the court has no set policy on how it dispenses plea bargains and that the process is completely arbitrary. Thank you for your attention to this matter. Sincerely, John Paff, Chairman New Jersey Libertarian Party's Preempted Ordinance Repeal Project cc. Mayor and Council Kenneth Jamie
 
Millville pays $12,500 to settle police defamation and "intentional infliction of emotional distress" suit.
On July 25, 2012, the City of Millville (Cumberland County) agreed to pay $12,500 to a city man who sued his neighbor, a Millville police officer, for allegedly defaming him and causing him emotional distress. In his suit, Paul Vidro said that he and police officer Julio Pumarejo were neighbors who were on friendly terms. According to Vidro, Pumarejo's attitude changed when he suspected that someone in the neighborhood had called the City to report junk, unregistered vehicles in front and along side of Pumarejo's home. Pumarejo allegedly said that if he found out who reported him to the city, he would make that person's life "miserable." After an abruptly terminated conversation with Vidro, Pumarejo reportedly believed that Vidro was the person who called in the complaint. But, according to Vidro, a realtor who listed a nearby house actually made the complaint. According to Vidro's complaint, matters became worse after Pumarejo stopped by Vidro's local business and asked for some "under the table" side work while he was on disability from the police department. Vidro claims that Pumarejo "became short" and "non-sociable" after he refused to provide him with "under the table" work. Thereafter, Vidro claimed that his wife, based on information received from Pumarejo, angrily accused him of having a sexual affair with a neighbor. When Vidro spoke to the neighbor's husband, he was allegedly told that Pumarejo had told the husband the same thing and that his statement was causing him marital difficulties. According to Vidro, the neighbor's problems with Pumarejo started after the neighbor called in a noise complaint against Pumarejo. Vidro claimed that Pumarejo's allegation about the extra-marital affair was false and defamatory. A few months later, Vidro reportedly receiving a reckless driving summons in the mail. The complaining witness was Pumarejo. He claimed that Pumarejo fabricated the offense, which allegedly occurred in front of Pumarejo's house, in order to harass him. He alleges that he was found not guilty of the violation and filed an internal affairs complaint that resulted in Pumarejo being disciplined. Also named in the suit were Millville Police Chief Thomas Haas. 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. The case is captioned Vidro v. Millville, Cumberland County Superior Court Docket No. L-564-11 and Vidro's attorney was Louis Charles Shapiro of Vineland. Case documents are on-line here. None of Vidro's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $12,500 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Millville or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Millville or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Vidro $12,500 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. ABOUT ME AND WHY I'M POSTING THIS. I chair the New Jersey Libertarian Party's Open Government Advocacy Project which seeks to increase governmental transparency and accountability, particularly at a local level. For more information on the Libertarian Party, go to http://www.njlp.org. As part of my work, I routinely check civil court cases where at least one of the parties is a government agency or official. Most often, these settlement agreements are never revealed to the public. I post them on the Libertarian Party's blog at http://njcivilsettlements.blogspot.com and other public forums because I believe that civil settlements, regardless of amount, may be of interest to citizens and taxpayers. John Paff Somerset, New Jersey
 
Stratford Letter to Auditor

 
Lawrence pays $104,689.22 to settle police officer's back pay lawsuit
On June 7, 2012, the Township of Lawrence (Mercer County) agreed to pay $104,689.22 to a Township police officer who sued the Township for back pay for the time he was out of work waiting for a favorable disposition of criminal charges brought against him. In his suit, Todd Sparks said that he was suspended without pay on March 16, 2010 after having been charged with third degree theft by deception. The indictment against him was dismissed on April 26, 2011. During his period of suspension, Sparks claims that he is due back salary, vacation days, uniform allowance and other benefits he would have received had he not been suspended. The case is captioned Sparks v. Lawrence, Mercer County Superior Court Docket No. L-1746-11 and Sparks's attorney was Christopher A. Gray of Marlton. Case documents are on-line here. None of Sparks's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $104,689.22 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Lawrence or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Lawrence or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Sparks $104,689.22 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. ABOUT ME AND WHY I'M POSTING THIS. I chair the New Jersey Libertarian Party's Open Government Advocacy Project which seeks to increase governmental transparency and accountability, particularly at a local level. For more information on the Libertarian Party, go to http://www.njlp.org. As part of my work, I routinely check civil court cases where at least one of the parties is a government agency or official. Most often, these settlement agreements are never revealed to the public. I post them on the Libertarian Party's blog at http://njcivilsettlements.blogspot.com and other public forums because I believe that civil settlements, regardless of amount, may be of interest to citizens and taxpayers. John Paff Somerset, New Jersey
 
Gannett v. Raritan

 
Jones v. Deptford

 
Camden Board of Education pays $500,000 to students who were forced to eat on cafeteria floor
On July 30, 2012, the Camden City Board of Education (Camden County) agreed to pay $500,000 to seven Hispanic, fifth graders who were students at the Sumner Elementary School. The seven students claimed that Vice Principal Theresa Brown forced them to "eat lunch on the floor of the cafeteria without trays" as punishment for one student spilling a jug of water. According to the lawsuit, Brown allegedly threatened the children with further punishment if they told anyone about the punishment. Each of the seven students will receive $71,428.57, less their share of their attorney fees to be calculated by the court. On October 23, 2009, the Board settled with Jose L. Rivera, the students' teacher, who claimed that he was retaliated against for bringing public attention to the cafeteria punishment. More on that settlement is available here. http://njcivilsettlements.blogspot.com/2011/02/camden-school-board-pays-75000-to.html The students' case is captioned J.G., et al v. City of Camden Board of Education, Federal Case No. 1:10-cv-01047 and seven students' attorney was Alan B. Schorr of Cherry Hill. Case documents are on-line here. None of students' allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement implies that the $500,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by the Camden Board or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that the Camden Board or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay seven students $500,000 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. ABOUT ME AND WHY I'M POSTING THIS. I chair the New Jersey Libertarian Party's Open Government Advocacy Project which seeks to increase governmental transparency and accountability, particularly at a local level. For more information on the Libertarian Party, go to http://www.njlp.org. As part of my work, I routinely check civil court cases where at least one of the parties is a government agency or official. Most often, these settlement agreements are never revealed to the public. I post them on the Libertarian Party's blog at http://njcivilsettlements.blogspot.com and other public forums because I believe that civil settlements, regardless of amount, may be of interest to citizens and taxpayers. John Paff Somerset, New Jersey
 
Brick pays $275,000 to settle police shooting suit
On July 16, 2012, the Township of Brick (Ocean County) agreed to pay $275,000 to a local man who sued members of the Brick Police Department for allegedly unnecessarily shooting him in the hip. In his suit, Salim Cofi said that on January 8, 2009, he was in a Waterside Garden Apartment when Brick Police Sergeant Terrance Covert shot him in the hip, causing a fractured femur. Cofi claims to have been unarmed at the time. He further claims that after being shot, police handcuffed him and "then conversed among themselves for an extended period of time before transport to the hospital was arranged." Cofi claimed that he was arrested for cocaine possession but ended up taking a guilty plea to a disorderly persons violation, which required only the payment of fines and costs and not jail time or probation. Also named in the suit were Lieutenant Frank Docherty, Sergeant Todd Friedman, Investigators Kristopher Demarco, Michael Pluta, and Kenneth Hess and Patrolman Lawrence Petrola. The case is captioned Cofi v. Brick Township, Federal Case No. 3:2011-cv-00087 and Cofi's attorney was Jeffrey S. Arons of South Orange. Case documents are on-line here. None of Cofi's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $275,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Brick or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Brick or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Cofi $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. ABOUT ME AND WHY I'M POSTING THIS. I chair the New Jersey Libertarian Party's Open Government Advocacy Project which seeks to increase governmental transparency and accountability, particularly at a local level. For more information on the Libertarian Party, go to http://www.njlp.org. As part of my work, I routinely check civil court cases where at least one of the parties is a government agency or official. Most often, these settlement agreements are never revealed to the public. I post them on the Libertarian Party's blog at http://njcivilsettlements.blogspot.com and other public forums because I believe that civil settlements, regardless of amount, may be of interest to citizens and taxpayers. John Paff Somerset, New Jersey
 
Phillipsburg Camera Ordinance Proposed

 
Belleville Library Board Member Given Pass on $300 Ethics Fine
The Local Finance Board conceded today (August 10, 2012) that the Board, in the past (and "under a prior administration"), did not always follow "standard procedures for pursuing fines for penalty enforcement." Accordingly, a $300 fine levied in 2007 against a member of the Bellville (Essex County) Library Board of Trustees was never enforce and, apparently, will not now be enforced. On December 4, 2007, the Local Finance Board (LFB) issued a Notice of Violation against Michael Perrone who, despite being a Local Government Officer, failed or refused to file his Financial Disclosure Statements for 2004 and 2005. The Notice levied a $300 fine against Perrone. On July 24, 2012, I submitted an Open Public Records Act (OPRA) request to the Division of Local Government Services (LGS) within the Department of Community Affairs for records proving that Perrone either paid the fine or the LFB took enforcement action against him. On July 31, 2012, I received a response from LGS records custodian Colleen Kelly informing me that no documents existed that were responsive to my request. On August 2, 2012, I submitted a follow up OPRA request to see whether the fine against Perrone was abated or if some other legitimate reason existed for the state's failure to collect it. On August 10, 2012, I received Kelly's response confirming that the fine was never paid, collected or abated. The response included an explanation from LGS Director Thomas H. Neff which, in essence, conceded that the matter slipped through the cracks. Mr. Neff assured me, however, that his agency has "since rectified" this lapse in enforcement proceedings. Perrone's Notice of Violation and the OPRA requests and responses are on-line here.
 
Ex-wife of Cranford Police Chief still on State Health Benefits Program
I received an inquiry from a member of the public who was concerned that Cranford (Union County) Police Chief Eric Mason's wife was still enrolled in the New Jersey State Employee Health Plan despite having been divorced from Mason for two years. In response to my OPRA request, Division of Pensions and Benefits Assistant Director David J. Pointer, in an August 9, 2012 letter, advised me that since Maryanne Del Negro-Mason's divorce from Chief Mason was "limited" as opposed to "absolute," Maryanne "is still entitled to coverage as a 'dependant' in the State Health Benefits Program." Mr. Pointer's correspondence to me is on-line at John Paff, Chairman New Jersey Libertarian Party's Open Government Advocacy Project
 
Clayton and Elk pay $20,000 to settle police false arrest/excessive force suit
On June 25, 2012, the Borough of Clayton and Township of Elk (Gloucester County) agreed to pay $20,000 to a Clayton man who sued members of the Clayton and Elk Police Departments for allegedly arresting him on fabricated charges and for applying excessive force to him. In his suit, Murray Celestine said that on April 8, 2008, he and his girlfriend, Marlena Hunsinger, who had just had an argument, were sitting on their front porch talking calmly. Clayton Police Officer Michael J. Foley, Jr. then arrived. According to the lawsuit, Celestine and Foley walked out into the back yard where Celestine told Foley that "every was fine at that time." Foley then allegedly had Celestine put his hands on van that was parked in the driveway so that Foley could frisk him. Meanwhile, Elk Township Officer Michael Bielski allegedly came into the back yard and "began putting black gloves on both of this hands." After Celestine expressed that Bielski's actions made him uncomfortable, Bielski, at Foley's request, allegedly went into the front yard. During the frisk, Celestine said that he started to turn to his right in order to talk to Foley. At this point, Foley allegedly grabbed Celestine's right wrist and told him he was under arrest for domestic violence. During the arrest, Foley allegedly pushed Celestine "so hard that Mr. Celestine's hand snapped the antenna off" the van that he was leaning against. Celestine claims that Foley put him in a "bear hug" and "slammed him to the ground" resulting in Celestine breaking his wrist and Foley dislocating his shoulder. This event was allegedly followed by Bielski jumping on top of Celestine, pushing his face into the ground and hitting him with his right fist. Elk Officer Joseph Pierson then handcuffed Celestine. Ather Clayton Police Sergeant John Dick filed an allegedly "false criminal charges against" him, Celestine spent the night in the Gloucester County Jail. Celestine claims that he was diagnosed at a hospital with "a concussion, wrist fracture and lumbar strain." The case is captioned Celestine v. Foley, et al, Federal Case No. 1:10-cv-01775 and Celestine's attorney was George R. Szymanski of Laurel Springs. Case documents are on-line here. None of Celestine's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $20,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Clayton or Elk or any of their officials. All that is known for sure is that Clayton and Elk or their insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Celestine $20,000 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. ABOUT ME AND WHY I'M POSTING THIS. I chair the New Jersey Libertarian Party's Open Government Advocacy Project which seeks to increase governmental transparency and accountability, particularly at a local level. For more information on the Libertarian Party, go to http://www.njlp.org. As part of my work, I routinely check civil court cases where at least one of the parties is a government agency or official. Most often, these settlement agreements are never revealed to the public. I post them on the Libertarian Party's blog at http://njcivilsettlements.blogspot.com and other public forums because I believe that civil settlements, regardless of amount, may be of interest to citizens and taxpayers. John Paff Somerset, New Jersey
 
Passaic County pays $49,000 to mother for death of her son.
On July 13, 2012, the County of Passaic agreed to pay $49,000 to a woman whose son died in jail after allegedly not receiving needed medical treatment. In her suit, Anita Jackson said that her son, John E. Jackson, died on March 15, 2007 while in custody at the Passaic County Jail. She claims that her son became "extremely ill while incarcerated" but, despite numerous requested for treatment, "the nurse employed by the Passaic County Jail took no action." Also named in the suit was the United States Marshal Service. The Marshall Service, however, is not named in the settlement agreement and may have settled separately with Jackson. The case is captioned Jackson v. County of Passaic, Federal Case No. 2:09-cv-01134 and Jackson's attorney was Shannon Garrahan of Oradell. Case documents are on-line here. None of Jackson's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $49,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Passaic or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Passaic or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Jackson $49,000 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. ABOUT ME AND WHY I'M POSTING THIS. I chair the New Jersey Libertarian Party's Open Government Advocacy Project which seeks to increase governmental transparency and accountability, particularly at a local level. For more information on the Libertarian Party, go to http://www.njlp.org. As part of my work, I routinely check civil court cases where at least one of the parties is a government agency or official. Most often, these settlement agreements are never revealed to the public. I post them on the Libertarian Party's blog at http://njcivilsettlements.blogspot.com and other public forums because I believe that civil settlements, regardless of amount, may be of interest to citizens and taxpayers. John Paff Somerset, New Jersey
 
Lebanon squad OPMA case

 
HNT-L-232-10

 
West Orange Board of Education
MKENNEY@woboe.org OPRA request Dear Mr. Kenney: Please accept this e-mail as my request for government records in accordance with the Open Public Records Act (OPRA) and the common law right of access. Please respond and send all responsive documents to me via e-mail at paff@pobox.com. If e-mail is not possible, please fax responses and responsive records to me at 908-325-0129. Also, I would appreciate it if you would acknowledge your receipt of this e-mail. Background: I am told that one of the reports for which the Board believes a $150 charge is justified is the "Gross Pay Report" an example of which is on-line here: This report is simply a listing of employees' names with each employee's corresponding gross pay for a specified period of time. It just doesn't seem right to me that a public agency should be able to assess a $150 "special service charge" for producing such a simple and fundamental report. I've consulted the Division of Archives and Records Management's records retention schedule M700105-001 which is on-line here: http://www.nj.gov/treasury/revenue/rms/pdf/m700105_001.pdf The 13th page of the schedule lists, as "Records Series # 0024-0001" a "Payroll Records and Reports File" which is described as follows: "Payroll Records and Reports File Includes: payroll summaries, payroll stubs, overtime slips, payroll trial balances, payroll printouts, payroll/personnel notices, summer payment plan, agency payroll accounts, and payroll reports including: distribution by account, noncontracted pay lists, payroll deduction summaries and register, base pay and extra compensation, deduction registers, direct deposits, posted payroll, check register, social security, TPAF, PERS, State and Federal Income Tax deduction, and health insurance." Suppose, for example, that a citizen wanted to know how much each Board employee made, in gross salary, during 2011. It would seem that one or more of the records in the Board's "Payroll Records and Reports File" would contain the information requested. For example, it appears that the "payroll printouts" and the "payroll deduction summaries and register," which are records that the Board is required to maintain for seven years, might satisfy the citizen's inquiry. In order to test my theory, I am requesting (see below) a record or records showing how much money each Board employee made, in gross salary, during 2011. Unfortunately, I don't much about the exact contents of the payroll records that the Board is required to keep, so it's difficult for me to determine exactly which records that are kept in the Board's "Payroll Records and Reports File" to request. But, I do know that the New Jersey Supreme Court has stated that the Open Public Records Act (OPRA) "is designed both to promote prompt access to government records and to encourage requestors and agencies to work together toward that end by accommodating one another." Mason v. City of Hoboken, 196 N.J. 51, 78 (2008). In fulfillment of the Supreme Court's mandate, would you please fulfill my request below by sending me whatever payroll records the Board maintains to help me accomplish my goal of learning the 2011 gross salary of each Board employee? I hope to accomplish this in a manner that is least expensive and cumbersome for both me and the Board. Records requested: A record, or if necessary, multiple records showing how much money each Board employee made, in gross salary, during 2011. Thank you. John Paff
 
Special Service Charge for reports prepared by private vendors
I recently learned that the West Orange Board of Education assesses OPRA requestors a $150 special service charge for each payroll report requested under the Open Public Record Act (OPRA). According to a July 31, 2012 e-mail from ADP, the payroll vendor (available here), the company apparently does charge the Board $150 for each report prepared. It's difficult to criticize the Board for simply passing a vendor's actual charge for fulfilling a request along to a requestor. Indeed, such seems to be expressly authorized by N.J.S.A. 47:1A-5(d). Yet, $150 seems like a lot of money for what appears to be a simple act of having an ADP employee push a key and produce a payroll report. Also, it strikes me that public agencies, many of which have an innate disposition toward suppressing public information, cannot be relied upon to vigorously negotiate for low access fees with the private vendors with which they contract out their services. Indeed, it is likely that some ornery agencies might even secretly work to intentionally put excessive charges in their vendors' service contracts for the exact purpose of dissuading citizens from gathering critical government records. This is the first time I've encountered this particular problem and am not clear, short of legislation, how to resolve it. John Paff Somerset, New Jersey
 
Essex County pays $30,000 to settle jail guard assault case
On June 18, 2012, the County of Essex agreed to pay $30,000 to a Irvington man who sued the County's correctional facility and several corrections officers for allegedly assaulting him. In his suit, Lester Seeley said that on December 15, 2007 Essex County Corrections Officers Jermaine Baptiste, Bruce Moore, Danny Smith and Fuquan Countryman repeatedly assaulted him "deliberately, maliciously and with willful indifference." No further details are contained in the lawsuit. Seeley also named Essex County Sheriff Armando B. Fontoura in the suit. The case is captioned Seeley v. Essex, Federal Case No. 3:08-cv-04717 and Seeley's attorney was Kevin C. Corriston of Hackensack. Case documents are on-line here. None of Seeley's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $30,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Essex or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Essex or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Seeley $30,000 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. ABOUT ME AND WHY I'M POSTING THIS. I chair the New Jersey Libertarian Party's Open Government Advocacy Project which seeks to increase governmental transparency and accountability, particularly at a local level. For more information on the Libertarian Party, go to http://www.njlp.org. As part of my work, I routinely check civil court cases where at least one of the parties is a government agency or official. Most often, these settlement agreements are never revealed to the public. I post them on the Libertarian Party's blog at http://njcivilsettlements.blogspot.com and other public forums because I believe that civil settlements, regardless of amount, may be of interest to citizens and taxpayers. John Paff Somerset, New Jersey
 
Acquittal of NJ State Trooper who wrecked his car and had alcohol on his breath
On July 27, 2012, the Press of Atlantic City reported on Jason Dare, a New Jersey State Trooper, being acquitted of drunk driving and refusal to take an Alcotest after an early morning, single car crash in Hamilton Township, Atlantic County. The article is on-line here. I requested records regarding the incident from the Hamilton Police and Municipal Court and placed the following records on-line: Motor Vehicle Crash Report Summonses issued--"not guilty" verdicts entered for each. Captain Petuskey's Incident Report Sergeant Gehring's Incident Report Officer Esposito's Incident Report Officer Lee's Incident Report Officer Rudolph's Incident Report According to Gehring's report, Dare's brother, Nicholas, serves as a Hamilton Township Officer. Also, Gehring reports that Dare used profanity, slurred his words and had a "strong odor of an alcoholic beverage coming from his breath." According to Petuskey's report, he had telephoned Hamilton Township municipal Judge H. Robert Switzer, who told Petuskey that he could not forcibly take blood from Dare at the hospital. While it's not entirely clear, Switzer's decision appears to find some support in the New Jersey Supreme Court's 2001 Decision in State v. Ravotto, 169 N.J. 227, which is on-line here. John Paff, Chairman New Jersey Libertarian Party's Police Accountability Project
 
State Supremes Rule on Sunshine Act
On July 25, 2012, the New Jersey Supreme Court ruled on an Open Public Meetings Act (OPMA) case that may have significant, long-term implications and may identify aspects of the OPMA that may need to be clarified by the New Jersey Legislature. In McGovern v. Rutgers, the Supreme Court unanimously agreed to reverse the Appellate Division's February 18, 2011 ruling on the case. Both the Supreme Court and Appellate Division decisions are on-line here. The highlights of the Supreme Court's ruling are: Sequencing: The Appellate Division had found that it violates the OPMA for a public body to open a public meeting, then immediately go into closed session for an indeterminate period, followed by another public session. The Appellate Division found that members of the public who arrived at the meeting when they believed the closed session might end "run of the risk of important business being conducted" prior to their arrival. This, according to the Appellate Division, "deter[s] the very public participation that Act is designed to promote." The Supreme Court, however, held that "a public body must be afforded discretion in determining the most advantageous and efficacious manner of proceeding through its agenda items . . . and that [absent proof of bad motive] courts should not interfere with a body's exercise of its discretion." Specificity of Meeting Notices and of Closed Session Resolutions: In the resolution it passed before going into its September 10, 2008 closed session, the Rutgers Board of Governors gave a fairly detailed description of the topics it was going to privately discuss. But, the notice that the Board issued to publicly announce its September 10, 2008 special meeting said only that the Board would "act on a resolution to meet in immediate closed session to discuss matters falling within contract negotiation and attorney-client privilege.? The Appellate Division did not distinguish the OPMA's requirements for advertising a special meeting (N.J.S.A. 10:4-8(d)) from the specificity required in closed session resolutions (N.J.S.A. 10:4-13(a)). The court's failure to make this distinction caused it to erroneously conclude that "notice of the September 10, 2008 special meeting was inadequate, and ran afoul of N.J.S.A. 10:4?13, because it did nothing more than track the statutory exceptions upon which the Board relied." The Supreme Court held that the Board's N.J.S.A. 10:4-13(a) resolution, which stated that it would "discuss matters [of] contract negotiations for sports naming rights of athletic and stadium construction; employment of personnel and terms and conditions of employment; and pending litigation, investigations, and matters falling within the attorney-client privilege with respect to these subjects" was "entirely adequate to meet the requirement of [the OPMA]." The Supreme Court, however, found that the Board's notice of the public meeting fell short of N.J.S.A. 10:4-8(d)'s requirement that the meeting's agenda, ?to the extent known,? be disclosed because "by the time this notice was prepared and published, more was known about the extent of the proposed agenda than what was conveyed by the generic references to 'contract negotiation and attorney-client privilege.'? Discussing matters in private that ought to be discussed in public. The Supreme Court agreed with the Appellate Division that a closed session discussion that drifted into "potentially significant policy issues" violated the OPMA. The Supreme Court warned public bodies to "be vigilant during closed sessions to ensure that they do not stray from the defined, circumscribed issues that may be addressed in a closed session." But, as explained below, the Court declined to remedy the violation because the board took no action and there was no evidence of a pattern of noncompliance. Citizen-Plaintiff's Remedy when OPMA is violated The Appellate Division found that the Board violated OPMA and directed the trial court to formulate "an appropriate remedy." The Supreme Court held that a citizen is not entitled to injunctive relief under N.J.S.A. 10:4-16 unless ?a pattern of noncompliance has been demonstrated.? And, the Court held that a citizen is not entitled to relief under N.J.S.A. 10:4-15 unless action is taken. Even though the Supreme Court found that the Board violated OPRA, it also found that the Plaintiff was not entitled to any remedy because "the record fails to disclose a repeated pattern of OPMA violations."
 
August 7, 2012 trial for Hamilton deputy mayor who claims that police set him up
On Tuesday, August 7, 2012, the Hon John Rauh, J.S.C. will hear Hamilton Township (Atlantic County) Deputy Mayor Charles Cain's appeal of his February 9, 2012 convictions for drunk driving and refusal of an Alcotest. The hearing will take place at 12:30 p.m. at the Cape May County Courthouse in Cape May Court House. At issue is Cain's claim that Hamilton officers targeted him for the DUI stop in retaliation for his announcement of police layoffs necessitated by a budget crisis. In his brief, Cain stated that Hamilton Patrolman Peter Burns and supervisor, Sergeant Christopher Gehring targeted him in order to send him "a very clear message about laying off eleven Hamilton Township police officers." Cain's and the state's appeal briefs are on-line here: The press and public is welcome to attend the August 7th hearing but should call Judge Rauh's secretary, Anne M. Vandegrift, at 609-465-1000, the day prior to ensure that the hearing has not been postponed.
 
Lakewood school board pays $225,000 and "costs of the lawsuit" to two employees who sued for discrimination and retaliation.
On May 10, 2012, the Lakewood Board of Education (Ocean County) entered into two separate settlement agreements that resolved a federal lawsuit that was jointly brought by Board employees Dean Richburg and Tammy Mitchell. In the suit, Richburg claimed that he moved to New Jersey from Maryland in March 2010 to work as the Lakewood school board's Director of Counseling. Richburg, an African-American, claimed that he, unlike other directors, had an office at the high school instead of at the school district's main office. He alleged that the office he was assigned to was more of a storage facility that he was forced to enter through the offices of other employees. Richburg alleged that this was discriminatory because other employees with an title lower than his had their own private offices. He particularly claimed that high school principal Tina Yulie would invade his privacy by entering his office during staff meetings. When he complained about Yulie to Superintendent Lydia Silva, Richburg claimed that Yulie excluded him from critical planning meetings. When he spoke out about the treatment to which he was allegedly subjected, he claimed that "Lakewood orchestrated a false accusation of unprofessional conduct." Specifically, Richburg alleged that he was falsely accused by Vice Principal Todd Pazilla of making "homosexual advances towards him." He further claimed that the school board, at a subsequent meeting, required him to submit to an evaluation by psychiatrist David J. Gallina who concluded that Richburg was unfit for employment because he suffered from ?adjustment disorder and occupational stress?. Based on Gallina's report, the Board reportedly fired Richburg after he refused the Board's request to resign. Special Education teacher Tammy Mitchell, the other plaintiff in the lawsuit, alleged that she was repeatedly rebuffed when she applied for a promotion to assistant principal. Mitchell attributed these rejections to her being a female, African American. Mitchell also claimed that school board attorney Michael I. Inzelbuch, Esq. "continually blocked" her promotion efforts because she had sued him for legal malpractice for allegedly failing "to timely file" a federal claim that she had against a federal prison in Fort Dix, New Jersey. In settlement of Richburg's claims, the Board agreed to pay him "the costs of the lawsuit," with no further specification of the amount of those costs, together with $5,340 for his unused vacation days. To settle Mitchell's claims, the Board agreed to pay her $225,000 and to place her on "a paid administrative leave through the end of her annual employment contract for the 2011-2012 school year" together with unused vacation time. The case is captioned Richburg and Mitchell v. Lakewood Board of Education, et al, Federal Case No. 3:11-cv-00774 and the plaintiffs' attorney was Michael A. Nelson of Freehold. Case documents are on-line here. The settlement agreements both contain a confidentiality clause, which prevents the parties to the suit from disclosing the settlement terms, or even the settlement's or the lawsuit's existence, to anyone. Mitchell's agreement characterizes the settlement as "a private, unpublished settlement" and calls for her to pay $30,000 in damages to the Board if she discloses its existence. Fortunately, 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 plaintiffs' allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the payments do not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by the Lakewood school board or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Lakewood or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay the plaintiffs approximately a quarter million dollars 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. ABOUT ME AND WHY I'M POSTING THIS. I chair the New Jersey Libertarian Party's Open Government Advocacy Project which seeks to increase governmental transparency and accountability, particularly at a local level. For more information on the Libertarian Party, go to http://www.njlp.org. As part of my work, I routinely check civil court cases where at least one of the parties is a government agency or official. Most often, these settlement agreements are never revealed to the public. I post them on the Libertarian Party's blog at http://njcivilsettlements.blogspot.com and other public forums because I believe that civil settlements, regardless of amount, may be of interest to citizens and taxpayers. John Paff Somerset, New Jersey
 
Englewood Cliffs school board settles OPMA suit
On March 12, 2012, I filed an Open Public Meetings Act (OPMA) lawsuit against the Englewood Cliffs (Bergen County) Board of Education. The lawsuit is on-line here. http://ogtf.lpcnj.org/2012/2012076Aw//ECBEOComplaint.pdf After I filed a motion for summary judgment (my brief is on-line here), the Board indicated that it wanted to settle the case. On June 22, 2012, I entered into a settlement agreement under which the school board agreed to improve its Open Public Meetings Act compliance and reimburse me $250 for my filing fees and miscellaneous costs. The Consent Judgment, which specifies the terms of compliance, is on-line here. The Board was represented by Fogarty & Hara, which represents several school districts in the Bergen County area, including Cliffside Park, Secaucus and Haledon. If you reside in a school district represented by the Fogarty & Hara firm, you may wish to compare your board's OPMA compliance to that required under the Consent Judgment. If your board is out of compliance in a manner similar to that remedied by the Consent Judgment, it should not be too difficult to convince the board to voluntarily adopt the standard set forth in the Consent Judgment, given that your board's own lawyer had already approved of and recommended that standard.
 
Timothy Scaffidi ethics matter
L.U.M.S. Consultants
 
Local Government Ethics enforcement in New Jersey
The majority of New Jersey counties and the vast majority of New Jersey municipalities have not created their own local ethics boards. In those counties and municipalities, the Local Government Ethics Law http://nj.gov/dca/divisions/dlgs/programs/ethics_docs/lgethics.pdf, which prohibits certain types of financial dealings by local government officials and their families, is enforced by the Local Finance Board (LFB) within the New Jersey Department of Community Affairs. (A listing of the counties and municipalities that have established their own ethics boards is here. http://nj.gov/dca/divisions/dlgs/programs/ethics_docs/localbds.pdf) Over the years, I have put some effort into tracking the cases that the LFB handles. This endeavor is more complicated than it might first appear because the LFB's policy is not to release any information on any case, including the identities or towns of the officials under investigation, until the case is completed and because it often take a year or two--and sometimes several years--before cases are completed. The only way I've found to keep track of the LFB's cases is to periodically submit an OPRA request for a roster of all cases, ordered by docket number. Such a roster, which I OPRA'd in February 2009 (and converted to an Excel file) is on-line here. Another, which I OPRA'd only a week or so ago, is on-line here. By comparing the two lists, one can identify cases that have resolved since the older roster was prepared. By comparing the two lists, one can determine, for example, that LFB Docket No. 2007-002, which was filed on January 4, 2007 against Secaucus Councilman (now Mayor) Michael Gonnelli http://www.secaucusnj.org/Officials/Official.aspx?id=4 by Robert Kickey, who lost his council seat to Gonnelli in 2006. http://esecaucus.com/2009/04/gonnelli-to-mount-mayoral-campaign/ was resolved sometime between February 2009 and now. In order to find out what the case was about and whether or not the ethics charges against Mayor Gonnelli were dismissed or sustained, one could to submit an OPRA request to the LFB for "the 'notice of dismissal' 'notice of determination' notice of violation' or other closing letter sent to the complainant in LFB Docket No. 2007-002." (Such OPRA requests can be submitted on-line by accessing the "State Request Form" at http://www.state.nj.us/opra/ and then selecting "Community Affairs" and then "Division of Local Government Services.") Readers will note that there are cases from 2006 and 2007 which are still pending and for which no information is available. For example, Docket No. LFB-2006-011, filed in May of 2006, is still pending more than six years later in July 2012. For all we know, this complaint could be against a mayor or councilman who is up for reelection in 2012 or who was just reelected in 2011. One could argue that it's not good policy to keep voters in the dark for the better part of a decade about an ethics matter that might be relevant to how they cast their ballots. In any event, I hope that readers find this list, especially the most recent one, useful. Please look it over and see if an official from your town has been the subject of a closed ethics complaint. If so, consider submitting an OPRA request for the case documents to inform yourself, and perhaps your neighbors, of the ethics infraction alleged and the case's outcome.
 
Winning "Costs" in Superior Court
When I bring an action in Superior Court without a lawyer, I always try to get the other side to reimburse me for my "costs of court." But, which costs are considered reimbursable? A good example is my and Jose Delgado's Open Public Meetings Act case against the Camden Board of Education. After winning the case, Jose and I asked for a court order seeking reimbursement for the following items: $200.00 lawsuit filing fee paid the the Clerk of the Court. $30.00 filing fee for our Order to Show Cause application. $23.20 that we paid Staples for copying costs. $72.59 for me driving from my home in Somerset to Camden for a court hearing (i.e. 130.8 miles round trip at the IRS approved rate of $.555 per mile.) $9.00 for parking my car in Camden. $40.00 as a special fee, allowed by statute, to those who win a judgment in Superior Court. Thus, our total request was for $374.79. Our application was opposed by Lester E. Taylor, III, of Florio Perrucci Steinhardt & Fader, LLC. which represented the Camden Board of Education. In his February 28, 2012 opposition (which likely cost the Board more in attorney fees to prepare than the cost award that it opposed), Taylor agreed with our requests for $200, $30 and $40, but argued that our requests for the copying, mileage and parking were "overreaching and lack[ing a] basis in law." I filed a reply to the Board's opposition. On March 22, 2012, Camden County Assignment Judge F.J. Fernandez-Vina granted Jose's and my request for $374.79. A copy of the court's order, as well as Jose's and my application, the Board's opposition and our reply are on-line here. (Incidentally, I did not become aware of the court's order until today, as the order was sent to temporary address to which I had requested the court to not send mail.)
 
Lawrence Township levied for attorney's back taxes
July 18, 2012 Township of Lawrence 357 Main Street Cedarville, NJ 08311 Attn: Hon. Elmer Skip Bowman, Mayor (via e-mail to elja47@aol.com) Hon. G. Erwin Sheppard, Deputy Mayor (via e-mail to erwin29@verizon.net) Hon. Joseph Miletta, Jr., Committeeman (via e-mail to jamiletta@msn.com) Gentlemen: I write both individually and on behalf of the New Jersey Libertarian Party's Open Government Advocacy Project to inquire about certain Internal Revenue Service (IRS) tax levies that have been served upon the Township that seek payment of back taxes owed by Township Solicitor Thomas E. Seeley. In order to track down a rumor that "Lawrence Township is paying the government instead of Mr. Seeley on account of back taxes" I stopped by the Municipal Building in Cedarville on July 13th and submitted an Open Public Records Act (OPRA) request for a) "the most recent three checks that were paid out on account of Mr. Seeley's services" and b) "a copy of any court order or agreement that requires the check to be sent to a third party." Today, in response to my OPRA request, Township Clerk Ruth Dawson faxed me twelve (12) pages of responsive records, which I have placed on-line here. The first three pages are copies of checks showing that: a) The Township paid the Seeley Law Office $2,422.50 on June 7, 2012. b) The Township paid the IRS $684.53 on June 29, 2012 (the memo on the check states "941 for 07/08 940 for 2007"). c) The Township paid the Seeley Law Office $1,654.95 on July 5, 2012. The remaining nine pages are "Notices of Levy on Wages, Salary and Other Income" that were issued by the IRS between March 10, 2009 and May 6, 2011. These notices direct the Township of Lawrence to pay the IRS hundreds of thousands of dollars in Mr. Seeley's taxes that were evidently left unpaid by him during 2006 through 2009. While I am not familiar with taxation and tax levy issues, these records do raise some initial questions: 1. The IRS's May 6, 2011 levy notice instructs the Township "to turn over to us . . . this taxpayer's wages and salary that have been earned by not paid yet, as well as wages and salary earned in the future until this levy is released." This seems to require Lawrence Township to pay the IRS all of the money earned by Mr. Seeley. Yet, the checks that Clerk Dawson sent me show that Mr. Seeley's law firm is still getting paid thousands of dollars while the IRS is getting paid hundreds of dollars. Could you please explain how the Township is justifying still paying Mr. Seeley any amount of money while the levies are in force? 2. Has the Township sought or received any legal advice on how to process these levies? If so, has the Township contacted separate counsel since, obviously, Mr. Seeley, as Township Solicitor, cannot advise the Township on this matter? 3. Finally, while the Township Committee is certainly free to select any lawyer it wishes, some might question the wisdom of retaining an attorney who has allowed so many tax levies to be entered against him. What is so special about the quality of Mr. Seeley's legal services that causes the Township to continue to retain him, over other area attorneys? Thank you for your attention to this matter. I look forward to hearing from you. Sincerely, John Paff, Chairman New Jersey Libertarian Party's Open Government Advocacy Project P.O. Box 5424 Somerset, NJ 08875 Phone: 732-873-1251 E-mail: paff@pobox.com
 
Appeals court, citing sunshine issues, reverses Waldwick zoning denial
On July 17, 2012, the New Jersey Superior Court, Appellate Division, reversed, on Open Public Meetings Act (OPMA) grounds, the Waldwick Zoning Board's denial of an application to establish a "mini-mart" at a gas station. In their six page unpublished decision, the three judge panel found that "based on the limited record" before them, they could not rule out that the Zoning Board may have improperly discussed and decided the merits of the zoning application in a private (i.e. executive or closed) meeting instead of at a meeting to which the public was admitted. Since the trial judge, Hon. Joseph S. Conte, J.S.C., did not consider the applicant's OPMA arguments, the Appellate Division remanded that matter back to the lower court "to determine whether the resolution adopted by the Board should be nullified because the Board violated the OPMA." The Appellate Division's opinion is on-line here.
 
North Brunswick pays $30,000 to settle police false arrest/excessive force suit
On October 31, 2011, the Township of North Brunswick (Middlesex County) agreed to pay $30,000 to a local couple who sued members of the North Brunswick Police Department for allegedly falsely arresting one of them and applying excessive force to both. In their suit, Natalya Yermakova and Michael Boksner said that on September 14, 2007, they were driving on Route 1 when North Brunswick Police Officer Myron O. Cox directed them to pull over into a parking lot. When Officer Cordell Harris approached the car, Boksner, who was the driver, asked him why he was pulled over. In response to Boksner's question, Harris allegedly responded because he was driving on the shoulder. When Boksner protested that he was merely following Cox's instruction, Harris allegedly threatened to write him a summons for "obstructed view." Yermakova, who was seated in the back seat next to her infant child, then allegedly exited the vehicle and asked Harris for an explanation for the traffic stop. According to the suit, Harris' response was "belligerent" and "provided her no details surrounding the traffic stop." The suit alleges that Cox then pushed Boksner, who had also exited the vehicle, into the vehicle's door, causing injury, and "forcefully pulled [Yermakova] out of the car, causing her eyeglasses to fall from her face." When Yermakova pleaded with the officers to watch out for her glasses, Cox allegedly "intentionally stepped on" them, "twisted [Yermakova's] left arm behind her back and threw [her] onto the rear driver's side of the vehicle." Cox then allegedly handcuffed Yermakova and placed her in a patrol car. Yermakova alledgely pleaded with the officers "to let her go since her child needed to be breast fed." Police charged Yermakova with aggravated assault, obstruction of justice, resisting arrest and disorderly conduct and lodged her in the Middlesex County Workhouse. They issued Boksner a summons for improper passing. According to the lawsuit, all charges against Yermakova were dismissed because "the arresting officers failed to appear in municipal court on numerous occassions." The motor vehicles summons was also allegedly dismissed. The case is captioned Yermakova and Boksner v. North Brunswick, New Jersey Superior Court Docket No. MID-L-7508-09 and Yermakova's and Boksner's attorney was Thomas J. Mallon of Freehold. Case documents are on-line here. None of Yermakova's and Boksner's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $30,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by North Brunswick or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that North Brunswick or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Yermakova and Boksner $30,000 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.
 
Wrightstown Mayor, wife exonerated on another ethics charge
In a July 10, 2012 letter, Local Finance Board Chairman Thomas H. Neff dismissed another ethics complaint against Wrightstown Borough (Burlington County) Mayor Thomas Harper and his wife Mary Karen Harper. This dismissal comes on the heels of Neff's July 3, 2012 dismissal which is reported here. http://njopengovt.blogspot.com/2012/07/wrightstown-mayor-wife-cleared-of.html The most recent dismissal regarded a December 10, 2011 complaint filed by John Paff, chairman of the New Jersey Libertarian Party's Open Government Advocacy Project. The complaint alleged that both Harpers, who served on Wrightstown's Joint Land Use Board, were in an impermissible conflict of interest when they moved and voted in favor of appointing David C. Frank, Esq. as the Land Use Board's attorney while Frank was serving as registered agent for two limited liability corporations owned by the Harpers. Those two corporations, Each Leasing, LLC and Avis, LLC, each own real estate in Wrightstown Borough. In his complaint, Paff had alleged that the Harpers violated the Local Government Ethics Law "by failing to recuse themselves from voting on three resolutions that awarded a no-bid contract to Mr. Frank, who had a standing business relationship with them by serving as registered agent of the two limited liability corporations." He also alleged that Frank himself had violated the Act "by simultaneously acting as Wrightstown Land Use Board attorney and as registered agent for the two limited liability corporations in which two members of Land Use Board held an interest." Neff found that both of Paff's charges lacked a "reasonable factual basis for violation of the Local Government Ethics Law." Neff reported that the Local Finance Board "determined that the business relationship between the Harpers and Mr. Frank did not constitute a business relationship that would be in violation of the Local Government Ethics Law." He characterized the relationship between the Harpers and Mr. Frank as "legitimate and unavoidable in a free society" and distinguished it from matters "which are prejudicial and material and . . . corruptive of democracy and a free society." The complaint and dismissal letter are on-line here. We hope that publication of this matter will help local government officers better determine the contours of the Local Government Ethics Law.
 
ELEC apparently doesn't require contributor occupations to be reported.
Several months ago, I was reading the Election Law Enforcement Commission's (ELEC's) "Compliance Manual for Candidates" (available here http://www.elec.state.nj.us/pdffiles/forms/compliance/man_cf.pdf ) And learned how critically important ELEC claims it is for candidates, on their "R-1" or "C-1" form filings, to report the "occupations" of those contributors who donate more than $300. According to page 22 of ELEC's manual When reporting occupation information, a description of the contributor?s source of income must be provided, such as ?florist,? ?attorney,? ?doctor,? ?custodian,? or ?electrician.? _Descriptions such as ?self-employed,? ?owner,? or ?sole proprietor? do not identify occupation and are insufficient._ If the contributor does not have a source of livelihood, a description such as ?retired,? ?student,? or ?none? shall be reported, but in all cases some written description shall be provided and the information shall not be left blank. (Emphasis in original) I starting perusing candidate filings looking to see if they were complying with this requirement. It didn't take me long to find that a Cumberland County Freeholder candidate, the Rev. James Dunkins, on his November 28, 2011 Form R-1 filing, just left the "occupation" field blank. So, like any good citizen who wants ELEC's rules to be scrupulously followed, I filed a formal complaint against Dunkins and requested that the Rev. Dunkins and/or his campaign treasurer be fined for this infraction. In late February, a little more than a month after I faxed ELEC my complaint, an ELEC representative called me and told me that my complaint letter wasn't sufficient and that I must submit my complaint on ELEC's official form and return by regular mail so that ELEC would have my "original signature." I simply filled out the form and mailed it to ELEC with my original complaint letter attached. By letter dated May 2, 2012, Shreve E. Marshall, Jr., ELEC's Director of Review & Investigation, informed me--without giving a reason why--that "at it's meeting on April 10, 2012, the Commission determined _not_ to open a review for compliance with the provisions of the New Jersey Campaign Contributions and Expenditures Reporting Act." (Emphasis in Marshall's letter.) My complaint and Director Marshall's letter are on-line here. All I can conclude is that despite the explicit directions on page 22 of its Manual, ELEC really doesn't care whether or not candidates complete their reporting forms correctly.
 
Wrightstown Mayor, wife cleared of ethics charge
By letter dated July 3, 2012, the New Jersey Local Finance Board cleared Wrightstown (Burlington County) Mayor Thomas Harper and his wife Mary Karen Harper of violating the Local Government Ethic Law for testifying in support of a land use application regarding a property adjacent to the Harpers' residence while both Harpers served on the same board that heard the application. The matter was initiated by a November 25, 2011 complaint filed by John Paff, chairman of the New Jersey Libertarian Party's Open Government Advocacy Project. The complaint alleged that both Harpers served on Wrightstown's Joint Land Use Board when the Board met on April 14, 2009. At the April 14, 2009 hearing, the Board was considering a site plan application regarding 56 West Main Street which is next door to the Harpers' residence at 54 West Main Street. Immediately prior to the hearing, both Harpers recused themselves from the matter but were both sworn in to testify in favor of the application. After the Board approved the application, both Harpers rejoined the other board members on the dais. In support of its complaint, the Libertarian Party cited an appellate level, unpublished opinion in Beacon Hill Farm, LLC v. Township of Marlboro, 2006 WL 1661361 (Law Div. 2006). That case considered the question of whether a council president, who recused himself from participating in proceedings to enact a zoning ordinance, could sit on the dais and conduct the meeting. In that case, the court ruled that the council president should have "physically remove[d] [himself] from the presence of the public body and leave the room until consideration of the topic which caused the recusal is complete." The court further held that participation by a recused official "poisons the board?s quasi-judicial proceedings.? The Local Finance Board, while recognizing the Beacon Hill Farm case, noted that it was decided under the Municipal Land Use Law rather than the ethics law. The Board stated that it "historically . . . has not made the recommendation that a local official who recused him/herself from the dais be required to leave the room during an open public comment meeting." Accordingly, the Local Finance Board ruled, "once Mayor and Mrs. Harper removed themselves from the official action of the Joint Land Use Board, they were representing themselves concerning their own interests." The Libertarian Party's complaint and the Local Finance Board's dismissal letter are both on-line here. We hope that publication of this complaint will help local government officers better determine the contours of the Local Government Ethics Law. John Paff, Chairman New Jersey Libertarian Party's Open Government Advocacy Project
 
Vuocolo

 
Paff v. Bridgeton Board of Ed

 
Fairfield Legal bills on-line
I have posted the detailed legal services bills submitted to Fairfield Township by Solicitor John G. Carr, Esq. to the following link: The bills cover services rendered during the months of July 2011 through May 2012.
 
Jones v. Dalton

 
Lean and mean version of the NJ civil case database
At last night's New Jersey Foundation for Open Government (NJFOG) Board meeting, I was asked to prepare a stripped-down version of the New Jersey Civil Case database and give detailed instructions on how to use it. This is what I did. I took the NJCIVIL.TXT file which contains approximately 260,000 records and deleted all the cases such as auto accidents, name changes, etc. and left only cases of the following types: Civil Rights, Whistleblower, Discrimination and Open Public Records. These are the types of cases that I believe that most open government advocates are interested in. This reduced the size of the file from about 260,000 records to about 5,600 records. I then sorted the records, first by county, and then by case type and then by docket number staring with the newest and ending with the oldest. So, if you open the file, the Atlantic County cases are listed first and the Warren County cases are listed last. Within each county, the Civil Rights cases are listed first, followed by the Whistleblower, Discrimination and the Open Public Records Act cases. Finally, the cases of each type are listed from newest to oldest. In order to use this new file, the first thing you need to do is download it from the following URL: Then, save it to your hard drive and open it with a text editor. I use EditPlus, which I like very much and which has a free evaluation version that can be downloaded from http://www.editplus.com/ But, you can use any text editor, such as WordPad or NotePad that are are on almost all Windows computers. Once you get the file open, turn off the "word wrap" (which in WordPad is under the "view" tab) and the file should reformat in nice, neat columns. Suppose you're interested in Morris County. Search (use CTRL-F) for the string "MRS-L" and you'll jump down to Wright v. Watson Pharmaceuticals, which is the first Morris County case listed. If you slowly scroll down the cases, you'll see some that might interest you. For example, Docket No. MRS-L-2970-10 is a the Civil Rights case of Rodano v. Morris County. If you read toward the right of the same row, you'll see that the case settled on March 8, 2012 ("ST SCHED TR" typically means that the case settled when the court scheduled it for trial). Suppose you're interested in finding more about the Rodano case. Then you might want to send the following OPRA request to the records custodian in Morris County: ----begin OPRA request Please accept this as my request for government records in accordance with the Open Public Records Act (OPRA) and the common law right of access. Please respond and send all responsive documents to me via e-mail at [address] Also, I would appreciate it if you would acknowledge your receipt of this request. Records requested: I am informed that a civil case captioned Rodano v. Morris County, Docket No. MRS-L-2970-10 may have settled on or about March 8, 2012. I would like the following records: 1. The most recently amended civil complaint filed in the case (or, I want the original complaint if the complaint was never amended.) I don't need summonses, case information sheets, cover letters, etc. 2. The agreement, if one exists, that sets forth the terms and amount of settlement, i.e. the "settlement agreement" related to the above cited case. Thank you. ----end OPRA request Also, know that you can learn all the parties to the case, exactly which documents were filed and other case information by using New Jersey's user-unfriendly on-line search engine. Instructions are on-line here: http://njopengovt.blogspot.com/2011/01/new-jersey-courts-put-civil-index-on.html Doing this is useful in cases like "MRS-L-001790-09 VITELLARO VS MAYOR AND TWP COMMITTE " where you can't tell, from the truncated information given, which Township was being sued. I hope this is useful. John Paff
 
Cumberland Salem Conservation District pays $10,000 to settle employee's defamation and improper termination suit
On October 12, 2011, the Cumberland Salem Conservation District, located in Upper Deerfield Township in Cumberland County, agreed to pay $10,000 to a former employee who sued the District claiming that the District's Director defamed her and that the District fired her . In her suit, Bridgeton resident Lisa Carll claimed that she was a 17 year employee who performed administrative work for the Conservation District. After her hours were cut back, she applied for partial unemployment benefits. While receiving the benefits, she claims to have noticed that they were "inconsistent and inaccurate with respect to holidays and vacation days" so she deposited what she felt may have been overpayments "into a savings account and waited for the Division of Unemployment Compensation to correct any overpayment." In November 2009, Carll claims that she was confronted by Conversation District Director Garry Timberman, who allegedly "accused [Carll] of improperly seeking unemployment benefits for her own benefit and use." Thereafter, Carll claims to have contacted the Division of Unemployment Compensation, confirmed that she had been overpaid and then paid the overpaid amounts back to the Division. Carll alleges that Timberman, despite knowing that the overpaid benefits were paid back, "published defamatory remarks accusing [her] of misappropriation or theft." Based on Timberman's remarked, Carll claims that she was summoned into the District's January 26, 2010 executive session, without proper notice, and "summarily fired." The case is captioned Carll v. Cumberland Salem Conservation District, Cumberland County Superior Court Docket No. L-67-11 and Carll's attorney was Theodore E. Baker of Bridgeton. 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 Carll's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $10,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by the Conservation District or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Cumberland Salem or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Carll $10,000 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. ABOUT ME AND WHY I'M POSTING THIS. I chair the New Jersey Libertarian Party's Open Government Advocacy Project which seeks to increase governmental transparency and accountability, particularly at a local level. For more information on the Libertarian Party, go to http://www.njlp.org. As part of my work, I routinely check civil court cases where at least one of the parties is a government agency or official. Most often, these settlement agreements are never revealed to the public. I post them on the Libertarian Party's blog at http://njcivilsettlements.blogspot.com and other public forums because I believe that civil settlements, regardless of amount, may be of interest to citizens and taxpayers. John Paff Somerset, New Jersey
 
Cumberland Salem Conservation District pays $10,000 to settle employee's defamation and improper termination suit
On October 12, 2011, the Cumberland Salem Conservation District, located in Upper Deerfield Township in Cumberland County, agreed to pay $10,000 to a former employee who sued the District claiming that the District's Director defamed her and that the District fired her . In her suit, Bridgeton resident Lisa Carll claimed that she was a 17 year employee who performed administrative work for the Conservation District. After her hours were cut back, she applied for partial unemployment benefits. While receiving the benefits, she claims to have noticed that they were "inconsistent and inaccurate with respect to holidays and vacation days" so she deposited what she felt may have been overpayments "into a savings account and waited for the Division of Unemployment Compensation to correct any overpayment." In November 2009, Carll claims that she was confronted by Conversation District Director Garry Timberman, who allegedly "accused [Carll] of improperly seeking unemployment benefits for her own benefit and use." Thereafter, Carll claims to have contacted the Division of Unemployment Compensation, confirmed that she had been overpaid and then paid the overpaid amounts back to the Division. Carll alleges that Timberman, despite knowing that the overpaid benefits were paid back, "published defamatory remarks accusing [her] of misappropriation or theft." Based on Timberman's remarked, Carll claims that she was summoned into the District's January 26, 2010 executive session, without proper notice, and "summarily fired." The case is captioned Carll v. Cumberland Salem Conservation District, Cumberland County Superior Court Docket No. L-67-11 and Carll's attorney was Theodore E. Baker of Bridgeton. 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 Carll's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $10,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by the Conservation District or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Cumberland Salem or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Carll $10,000 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. ABOUT ME AND WHY I'M POSTING THIS. I chair the New Jersey Libertarian Party's Open Government Advocacy Project which seeks to increase governmental transparency and accountability, particularly at a local level. For more information on the Libertarian Party, go to http://www.njlp.org. As part of my work, I routinely check civil court cases where at least one of the parties is a government agency or official. Most often, these settlement agreements are never revealed to the public. I post them on the Libertarian Party's blog at http://njcivilsettlements.blogspot.com and other public forums because I believe that civil settlements, regardless of amount, may be of interest to citizens and taxpayers. John Paff Somerset, New Jersey
 
Kissoondath v. Vineland

 
Bond lawsuit against Vineland

 
Vineland pays $375,000 to settle employment discrimination suit.
On March 16, 2011, the City of Vineland (Cumberland County) agreed to pay $375,000 to a local man who sued members of the Vineland Police Department for allegedly beating him and arresting him without probable cause. In his suit, Ryan M. Asselta, who had been employed by the City's Electric Utilities Department since 1988, claims to have suffered a serious spinal injury on March 2, 2005. After about a year of recovery, Asselta said that he sought to return to work for the City in a different capacity since he was no longer able to work at his former job--and electical lineman. He claims that despite the availabity of job to read electic meters he was not given that job, even though he was medically fit to perform it. In addition to his discrimination claims, Asselta claims that the City's refusal to re-hire him was retaliation for him having filed Workers Compensation claims. The settlement agreement requires Asselta to agree not to ever again seek employment from the City of Vineland. The case is captioned Asselta v. Vineland, Cumberland County Superior Court Docket No. L-294-07 and Asselta's attorney was Christine P. O'Hearn of Westmont. 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 Asselta'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 Vineland or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Vineland or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Asselta $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. ABOUT ME AND WHY I'M POSTING THIS. I chair the New Jersey Libertarian Party's Open Government Advocacy Project which seeks to increase governmental transparency and accountability, particularly at a local level. For more information on the Libertarian Party, go to http://www.njlp.org. As part of my work, I routinely check civil court cases where at least one of the parties is a government agency or official. Most often, these settlement agreements are never revealed to the public. I post them on the Libertarian Party's blog at http://njcivilsettlements.blogspot.com and other public forums because I believe that civil settlements, regardless of amount, may be of interest to citizens and taxpayers. John Paff Somerset, New Jersey
 
Bridgeton Board of Education pays $75,000 to settle lawsuit alleging racist, sexually harassing comments.
On January 20, 2012, the Bridgeton Board of Education (Cumberland County) agreed to pay $75,000 to a former Bridgeton school guidance counselor who claimed that her supervisor, Robert Cwik, sexually harassed and racially discriminated against her. She also claimed that school principal Lynn Williams ignored her complaints about Cwik's alleged conduct. In her suit, Angela Combs made some very specific and graphic allegations regarding Cwik's conduct and comments. Those who will not be offended by these allegations are invited to read them in paragraph 23 of Comb's complaint, which is on-line at the link below. The case is captioned Combs v. Bridgeton Board of Education, Cumberland County Superior Court Docket No. L-1069-08. Combs' attorney was Kevin M. Costello of Cherry Hill. Case documents are on-line here. None of Combs' allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $75,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Bridgeton Board of Education or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Bridgeton Board of Education or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Combs $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.
 
State pays $1.5 million to settle Bayside Prison inmate lawsuit
On June 22, 2012, the State of New Jersey agreed to pay $1.5 million to an inmate who claimed that he was severely beaten by correction officials at the Bayside State Prison and received insufficient medical attention at both Bayside and South Woods State Prison. Both prisons are located in Cumberland County, New Jersey. In his suit, Lewis Williford, who brought his suit through legal guardian Wanda Brigmon of Voorhees, said that on May 2, 2005, prison guards entered his cell and "slammed his head against the wall and beat him." He claims that beating was "performed, orchestrated, condoned, planned and/or directed" by correctional officials John Clendaniel, Gary Sheppard, Clyde Koerner and Michael Bryan and was in retaliation for an administrative complaint that Williford filed against Clendaniel. He further claims that despite his head trauma, Dr. Vitaly G. Steinberg, Registered Nurse Claire Cantrell and Licensed Practical Nurse Beverly Timmons, who provided medical services at Bayside, failed to properly diagnose or treat him. Williford claims that he was transferred to South Woods the day after his attack and the medical staff there, consisting of Marci L. MacKenzie, Ph.D., Kevin Frank, R.N., Stephanie Kudla, R.N., Elvira Maldonado, L.P.N., Sharon Akey, R.N., Fran Green, N.P.C., Diane M. Hollenbeck, R.N., Abu Ahsan, M.D., Michele McAdams, R.N. and Narrissa Pierce, R.N., similarly failed to properly diagnose or treat his injuries. Williford claims that the alleged beating, together with the alleged failure to diagnose and treat his injuries, caused him to suffer a hemorrhagic stroke on May 20, 2005, which left him incapacitated and "unable to ambulate himself, feed himself, dress himself or take care of his bodily functions." He is allegedly left with a "feeding tube to provide him with nourishment" and is unable to speak or "comprehend anything beyond basic instructions." The case is captioned Williford v. Bayside State Prison, Superior Court Docket No. CUM-L-509-07 Williford's attorneys were Jonathan M. Cohen and James Waldenberger of Philadelphia. Case documents are on-line here. None of Williford's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. Since the case settled, nothing in the record constitutes an admission of wrongdoing by State or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that State or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Williford $1.5 million 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. ABOUT ME AND WHY I'M POSTING THIS. I chair the New Jersey Libertarian Party's Open Government Advocacy Project which seeks to increase governmental transparency and accountability, particularly at a local level. For more information on the Libertarian Party, go to http://www.njlp.org. As part of my work, I routinely check civil court cases where at least one of the parties is a government agency or official. Most often, these settlement agreements are never revealed to the public. I post them on the Libertarian Party's blog at http://njcivilsettlements.blogspot.com and other public forums because I believe that civil settlements, regardless of amount, may be of interest to citizens and taxpayers. John Paff Somerset, New Jersey
 
Fairfield Cumberland

 
Weehawken official fined 100 dollars

 
Mecka v. Hudson Healthcare

 
Paff v. Egg Harbor Summary Judgment

 
Letter to Bound Brook Board

 
GRC asked to settle two issues

 
Accusations of sex in the Bound Brook school principal's office?
Hon. Terrence Hoben, President and members of the Bound Brook Board Of Education LaMonte Building 337 West Second Street Bound Brook, NJ 08805 (via e-mail only to cdeddy@bbrook.org) Dear President Hoben and Board members: I write both individually and on behalf of the New Jersey Libertarian Party's Open Government Advocacy Project. The project seeks to increase openness and transparency in government agencies, particularly at the local level. To that end, we routinely review lawsuits that are filed by and against government agencies, track those suits through to adjudication and post the results on our blog at http://njcivilsettlements.blogspot.com/ We believe that voters and taxpayers have a legitmate interest in knowing why their local government agencies and officials are getting sued and how much those suits are costing them. We also find that we cannot always rely on the agencies themselves to bring such lawsuits and settlements to the public's attention. On August 11, 2012, Shari Duddy, who works as a Learning Disabilities Teaching Consultant for the Bound Brook Borough (Somerset County) Board of Education, filed a lawsuit against school officials claiming that she has been the subject of "a campaign of harassment and abuse." The lawsuit, Duddy v. Bound Brook Board of Education, Docket No. SOM-L-0988-11, which I recently obtained in response to my Open Public Records Act request, is on-line here: This type of lawsuit is common, but one of the allegations in Duddy's lawsuit makes it stand out from the rest. In paragraph 14.k of her suit, she claims that her supervisor, Director of Special Services Jasmine Brandt, "falsely and publicly accus[ed] Ms. Duddy of having sexual relations with the principal of a District school in the principal's office." This allegation, regardless of its truth or falsity, is disturbing and troubling, because one of the following three cases must be true: a. The allegation is untruthful, meaning that Ms. Duddy falsely accused Ms. Brandt of spreading a rumor the she (Ms. Duddy) and a school principal had sex in the principal's office, or b. The allegation is is true, meaning that Ms. Brandt spread around a lie about Ms. Duddy and a school principal having sex in the principal's office, or c. The allegation is partially true, meaning that Ms. Brandt truthfully reported that Ms. Duddy and a school principal had sex in the principal's office. It appears that either a) Ms. Brandt or Ms. Duddy is telling a very nasty lie or b) that Ms. Duddy and a school principal actually had sex in the principal's office. In either event, the Board should investigate the allegation and discipline whichever of the two ladies lied, or if the Board finds that Ms. Duddy actually had sex with a principal in the principal's office, it should bring charges against both Ms. Duddy and the principal. Would you please discuss this matter at your June 11, 2012 Board meeting? Thank you for your attention to this matter. Very truly yours,
 
Egg Harbor pays $110,000 to settle hostile work environment suit
On April 24, 2012, the Township of Egg Harbor (Atlantic County) agreed to pay $110,000 to a former Township police officer who sued members of the Egg Harbor Police Department for allegedly retaliating against him and creating a hostile work environment. In his suit, Robert Gleisberg, who has worked for the department since 1985, claimed that police department officials, including Lieutenant Hector Tavarez and Sergeant William Fair, retaliated against him. Among Gleisberg's grievances were: a. Tavarez was hostile toward Gleisberg because Gleisberg had allegedly "objected to Tavarez's status as a person responsible for dealing with children pursuant to the Police Athletic League in light of Tavarez's conviction in municipal court for misconduct involving female children in the year 1988." b) Gleisberg had objected to a "Master Police Officer" designation because it was a "non-existent rank" and "was contrary to law." c) Gleisberg had objected to Fair allegedly having "coached" Officer Bob Smith on what to say to ensure that Margate Police Officer Mark Ciambrone would not succeed in his efforts to suppress "certain illegal gun(s)" that had been seized from him." Gleisberg alleged that Fair's intent was to "have Officer Smith lie under oath." d) He was denied entry into the motorcycle unit. e) Gleisberg was allegedly was "forced to inform the entire police department every time he had to defecate on duty" which Gleisberg felt was "embarrassing and humiliating." f) he supported fellow officer Christopher Mozitis in his grievances against the department. In 2011, Mozitis settled his lawsuit against Egg Harbor Township for $650,000. See http://njcivilsettlements.blogspot.com/2011/08/egg-harbor-pays-650000-to-settle-police.html The case is captioned Gleisberg v. Egg Harbor, New Jersey Superior Court, Docket No. ATL-L-2932-08and Gleisberg's attorney was Clifford L. Van Syoc of Cherry Hill. Case documents are on-line here. None of Gleisberg's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $110,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Egg Harbor or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Egg Harbor or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Gleisberg $110,000 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. ABOUT ME AND WHY I'M POSTING THIS. I chair the New Jersey Libertarian Party's Open Government Advocacy Project which seeks to increase governmental transparency and accountability, particularly at a local level. For more information on the Libertarian Party, go to http://www.njlp.org. As part of my work, I routinely check civil court cases where at least one of the parties is a government agency or official. Most often, these settlement agreements are never revealed to the public. I post them on the Libertarian Party's blog at http://njcivilsettlements.blogspot.com and other public forums because I believe that civil settlements, regardless of amount, may be of interest to citizens and taxpayers. John Paff Somerset, New Jersey
 
$340 Cassette

 
Hillside Board member files ethics complaint against fellow Board members
In her December 6, 2011 complaint filed with the New Jersey School Ethics Committee, which I received on May 11, 2012 in response to an Open Public Records Act request, Hillside school board member Rayba Watson alleged that Board president George L. Cook, III and Board member Robert Trotte voted on October 20, 2011 to award a $60,000 insurance contract to Fairview Insurance Agency Associates, Inc. even though a) A. Tony Monteiro, who allegedly served as both Cook's and Trotte's campaign managers is claimed by Watson to be "one of [Fairview's] representatives" and b) Fairview's bid was allegedly $12,000 higher than the lowest bidder. According to Watson's sworn complaint, both Cook and Trotte had been previously informed by school board attorney Perry Lattiboudere to remove themselves, apparently because of a conflict of interest, from the Board's interviews with Fairview. A copy of Watson's complaint is on-line here. It has been referred to the Office of Administrative Law and bears OAL Docket # EEC 3097-12 (School Ethics Commission Docket No. C53-11) and is scheduled for hearing on 09/18/12 before Judge Jones. About me and why I'm posting this. I chair the New Jersey Libertarian Party's Open Government Advocacy Project. Although ethics complaints against elected officials are of vital public importance, the School Ethics Commission makes it difficult for the public and media to learn about these complaints' existence until well into the process. The allegations are not proven and Cook and Trotte should be presumed not to have acted unethically unless and until the Commission finds otherwise. John Paff, Chairman New Jersey Libertarian Party's Open Government Advocacy Project Somerset, New Jersey
 
ECHA

 
Borough seeks up to $339.75 for audio tape of a single meeting
The Borough of Englewood Cliffs (Bergen County) wishes for me to pay up to $339.75 for the audio recording of a December 8, 2010 Borough Council meeting. lThe Borough posits that the meeting was recorded on audio tape and that since the Borough now uses CD technology, it needs to use a private vendor, at $135 per hour, to duplicate the 2.5 hour meeting recording. My OPRA request, the Borough's response and my reply to that response are on-line here.
 
West Deptford Municipal Court

 
Letter to Monmouth Presiding Judge

 
Paulsboro pays $94,524.28 to settle police officer's discrimination claim
On April 3, 2012, the Borough of Paulsboro (Gloucester County) agreed to pay $94,524.28 to a Paulsboro police officer who filed administrative discrimination claims against the Paulsboro Police Department, In his Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and Division on Civil Rights complaints, Pedro Heredia, a 10-year veteran of the Paulsboro Police Department, claimed that he was questioned by Captain Marino about an incident in which Officer David Belbin allegedly made "inappropriate remarks of a sexual nature" to Officer Nicole Thigpen. Marino, Heredia claimed, disclosed what Heredia said in the interview to Belbin who later confronted Heredia in the Police Station locker room. In another incident, Heredia said that he witnessed Sergeant Jason Bish use excessive force against an African American male. He claim that two other officers who also witnessed the alleged incident, Keith Hoagle and Michael Bielski, both false stated that the incident did not occur the way Heredia had reported it. Thereafter, he claims to have subjected to racially biased remarks and literature and was ultimately suspended because of "untruthfulness and misconduct." Under the settlement agreement, Heridia agreed to resign his position and never seek employment from Paulsboro again. In addtion to paying Heredia $94,524.28, Paulsboro agreed to dismiss all pending disciplinary charges against him and not oppose Heredia's application for a disability pension. Heredia's lawyer was represented by the law firm of Ginarte, O'Dwyer, Gonzalez, Gallardo & Winograd, LLP. The complaints and settlement agreement 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 disputes in which a government agency or official is a defendant. None of Heredia's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $94,524.28 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Paulsboro or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Paulsboro or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Heredia $94,524.28 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. ABOUT ME AND WHY I'M POSTING THIS. I chair the New Jersey Libertarian Party's Open Government Advocacy Project which seeks to increase governmental transparency and accountability, particularly at a local level. For more information on the Libertarian Party, go to http://www.njlp.org. As part of my work, I routinely check civil court cases where at least one of the parties is a government agency or official. Most often, these settlement agreements are never revealed to the public. I post them on the Libertarian Party's blog at http://njcivilsettlements.blogspot.com and other public forums because I believe that civil settlements, regardless of amount, may be of interest to citizens and taxpayers. John Paff Somerset, New Jersey
 
OPRA to Englewood Cliffs
I am trying to get a handle on exactly how up-to-date (or not up-to-date) the Borough Council is on keeping, approving and maintaining its public and executive minutes. I have submitted a very detailed OPRA request, available here, that ought to provide me with that information and inform me if a compliance lawsuit is necessary.
 
Paff v. Downe
Downe Township agrees to make minutes promptly available After receiving my notice of an intended lawsuit, the Downe Township (Cumberland County) Committee passed a May 7, 2012 resolution promising to make draft copies of both its public meetings and the nonexempt portions of its nonpublic (closed or executive) meetings publicly available "the sooner to occur of thirty (30) days after a meeting or prior to the next scheduled meeting, whichever occurs first." My threatened lawsuit, Committee resolution and cover letters are on-line here: http://ogtf.lpcnj.org/2012/2012130Uo//DowneComplaint.pdf Downe Township is a rural township of about 1,700 inhabitants that borders the Delaware Bay. Some towns, due to their small size, claim that they don't have the staff or resources to keep their minutes up to date. The fact that Downe is able to promise to make both its open and closed minutes publicly available prior to the next meeting challenges the "we're too small" excuse.
 
Paff v. Downe

 
Midland Park BOE

 
Fairfield Cumberland Letter
Regarding former Administrator's selection of contractors.
 
Paff v. Downe

 
Clinton Twp Board of Education

 
Galloway Minutes

 
Englewood Cliffs school board summary judgment

 
Letter to Atlantic County Prosecutor

 
Atlantic County Prosecutor's letter on OPMA
For the first time in my experience, the Atlantic County Prosecutor has taken a position on an Open Public Meetings Act (OPMA) issue. In a March 27, 2012 letter, Chief Assistant Prosecutor Diane M. Ruberton advised that the Absecon Board of Education would have violated the OPMA if it had voted "through an exchange of e-mails to amend the budget to appropriate money for an increase in high school tuition." But, Ruberton opined that since "no vote was ever taken and the matter was scheduled to be addressed at a public meeting, . . . no violation of the Open Public Meeting Act ever actually occurred." Ruberton's letter is on-line here. John Paff, Chairman New Jersey Libertarian Party's Open Government Advocacy Project
 
Are "private prisons" subject to OPRA?
On Friday, April 20, 2012, at 9 a.m., Essex County Superior Court judge Rachel N. Davidson will conduct an Order to Show Cause hearing in the case of John Paff v. Community Educational Centers, Inc., Docket No. ESX-L-1658-12. This case presents an issue of first impression in New Jersey--whether taxpayers lose their right to access government records when the government "contracts out" a traditional governmental function--in this case correctional services--to a private entity. In New Jersey, 11.4% of non-federal prisoners are housed in private facilities. Yet, as currently applied, the Open Public Records Act (OPRA), while allowing citizens access to certain categories of records held by government-run prisons, denies access to those very same categories when held by private prisons. It seems to me that the public's rights under OPRA shouldn't turn on the government's decision to privatize its functions rather than executing them through government employees. The hearing, which is open to the press and public, will be held in Courtroom 302 at the Historic Courthouse at 470 Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Blvd in Newark. Plaintiff's lawyer is Richard Gutman of Montclair (973-744-6038) and the private prison's lawyers are Debra Shannon and Nichoele Johnson of West Caldwell (973-226-2900). The briefs filed by both parties are on-line here. Anyone who wishes to attend the hearing is cautioned to telephone the court at 973-693-6716 on Thursday to ensure that it hasn't been postponed.
 
Forfeiture plea bargain

 
Dropped 911 call entitles police to warrantless entry of home
At the following link is a December 15, 2011 decision by Burlington County Superior Court Judge Thomas P. Kelly (retired on recall) affirming the conviction of an Air Force Captain for Obstruction (N.J.S.A. 2C:29-1(a)) and Resisting Arrest (N.J.S.A. 2C:39-2a(1)). The decision is on-line here. At issue was a "dropped" 911 call that came from Captain Evan Reece's home in Pemberton Township. (A "dropped" 911 call is a call that is received by police but in which the caller gives no voice response to the dispatcher.) When Sergeant Peter Delagarza came to investigate the call, Reece, in a calm voice and demeanor, told him that he did not place the call. After Delagarza noted a fresh abrasion on Reece's hand and notice there were three cars in the driveway, he asked Reece about his marital status and whether or not he was home alone." At this point, according to Delagarza, Reece's "demeanor began to change." Reece allegedly refused Delagarza's request to "come in and look around" and when two other officers arrived, Reece allegedly tried to close the door and lock it. The officers, however, were able to push the door open before Reece was able to lock it. "After a few minutes of physical struggle, with the police hitting [Reece] in the face, he was controlled and cuffed" and charged with the two offenses. Police then checked out the house and found it to be normal. Reece was convicted of both offenses by Pemberton Municipal Court Judge Charles Shimberg on March 14, 2011 after five court appearances. Judge Kelly affirmed, holding that a 911 call is presumptively an emergency and that the police were "justified in doing what was needed to insure that no one in that house was in need of emergent aid." The circumstances constituted an exception to the normal rule that police must get a search warrant before making an entry into someone's residence. Reece has filed a civil suit in the matter. http://ogtf.lpcnj.org/20119on//PembertonComplaint.pdf and one of the officers, John Hall, filed a counterclaim seeking damages against Reece for allegedly injuring him. The lawsuit, however, has been put on hold while Reece appeals his conviction to the Superior Court, Appellate Division. John Paff, Chairman New Jersey Libertarian Party's Police Accountability Project paff@pobox.com 732-873-1251
 
Ciampi v. Township of Union Public School District, et al, Docket No.: UNN-L-4703-11

 
Ciampi v. Township of Union Public School District, et al, Docket No.: UNN-L-4703-11

 
Mercer Prosecutor criticizes Trenton Council over tardy minutes
In a March 27, 2012 letter, Mercer County Prosecutor Joseph L. Bocchini, Jr. took the Trenton City Council to task for not making "available to the public written minutes of [Council] meetings for a substantial period of time." Citing N.J.S.A. 10:4-14, Bocchini told the Council that going forward, minutes "should be made 'promptly available' to the public and noted that a 1986 court decision defined "promptly available" as meaning within two weeks after the meeting. As for the Council's backlog of minutes from previous meetings, Bocchini asked the Council to provide him "with a timetable when minutes from past meetings will be complete and available to the public." Bocchini's letter is on-line at I wish to thank Trenton resident Jim Carlucci for bringing this matter to the prosecutor's attention and for sharing Bocchini's letter with me. It's not often that a county prosecutor enforces the Open Public Meetings Act. Bocchini's letter is refreshing and may help convince other prosecutors around New Jersey to take action on complaints about tardy disclosure of meeting minutes.
 
New Providence High School Teacher reprimanded

 
Lacey Board of Education executive minutes

 
North Jersey article

 
Montvale BOE minutes

 
Court: Bayonne "intentionally violated OPRA."
In its March 22, 2012 decision in Mark's Advanced Towing, Inc. v. City of Bayonne, Robert Sloan et al, the Appellate Division referred to an April 1, 2010 order entered by Hudson County Superior Court Judge Bernadette N. DeCastro that found that the City of Bayonne "intentionally violated" the Open Public Records Act. The Appellate Division's decision is on-line at John Paff, Chairman New Jersey Libertarian Party's Open Government Advocacy Project
 
Woodbridge Fire District 12
March 21, 2012 Richard M. Braslow, Esq. Dear Mr. Braslow: I received the records you sent me today and have place them on the Internet at for your ready reference. Just to recap, I submitted a records request on February 24, 2012 that contained four (4) separate requests set forth in numbered paragraphs. Paragraphs 3 and 4 were resolved by the settlement/release you previously sent me and you explanation that the civil complaint was too marked up with notes to make it convenient to redact and send to me. That leaves the following two paragraphs: 1. The minutes of the Board two most recently held public meetings for which minutes are available. 2. The minutes of the Board two most recently held nonpublic (i.e. closed or executive) meetings for which minutes are available. I have three questions/comments: 1. When we spoke on the phone on March 14th, did we discuss whether the Board of Commissioners ever goes into closed or executive session? The reason I ask is because both of the minutes provided to me are from public meetings and do not address paragraph 2 of my request. Unless the Board has never, since its inception, held an executive or closed meeting, there must be some record responsive to paragraph 2, please advise. 2. I don't think that the statement in the minutes that "The meeting was called to order under chapter 231 laws of 1975. The meeting is here advertised in the Home News and Tribune and Town Hall" comports with the Open Public Meetings Act (OPMA). First, in accordance with N.J.S.A. 10:4-10, the minutes need to "specify[] the time, place, and manner in which such notice was provided." If the statement in the minutes, that the meeting "is here advertised in the Home News and Tribune" is accurate, then the OPMA was violated because both N.J.S.A. 10:4-8(d) and 10:4-18 require notice to be served on "at least two newspapers." The Home News is one paper, which other newspaper was notified? (The full text of the OPMA is on-line at http://ogtf.lpcnj.org/OPMA.htm ) 3. Under "roll call" the minutes recite only that "everyone is present." But, N.J.S.A. 10:4-14 requires the minutes to show "the time and place [and] the members present." I believe this fairly means the names of the individual Board members present, not just the statement that "everyone" is present. Also, the minutes do not recite the location of the meeting. 4. Most substantively, I have a problem with the statements on pages 5 and 8 of the PDF file at the above link. Apparently, under "personnel," "Souza, Jr." stated that "We will discuss something after the meeting." Then, later, under "old business" he reiterates that "I don't have any concerns at this point other than the one that we will talk about later." Does this mean that a quorum of the Board discussed a "personnel matter" in private without the benefit of going into executive session? I find this matter very troubling and look forward to receiving yours or your client's response. Thank you. John Paff P.O. Box 5424 Somerset, NJ 08875-5424 Voice: 732-873-1251 Fax: 908-325-0129 E-mail paff@pobox.com cc: Ed Sheehan, Secretary to the Board (via
 
Mountain Lakes

 
Kearny case

 
Florence Township
Files for my Costa/Florence matter
 
Docket No. BER-L-2148-12
RE: Paff v. Englewood Cliffs Board of Education, March 16, 2012 Englewood Cliffs Board of Education via e-mail only to mwelfel@englewoodcliffs.org and cambrose@englewoodcliffs.org Dear Board President and Members: I have received word today that an Open Public Meetings Act lawsuit I recently filed against the Board of Education was received for filing on March 12, 2012 and assigned Docket No. BER-L-2148-12. Attached is a copy of the lawsuit, and I've also put it on-line for your convenience at I will formally serve the lawsuit upon the Board in the near future, but I wanted you to have an advance copy of it so that you and your attorney are aware of it as soon as possible. Very truly yours, John Paff
 
Englewood Cliffs school board pays $20,000 to settle wrongful termination suit
On October 3, 2011, the Englewood Cliffs (Bergen County) Board of Education agreed to pay $20,000 to a former school custodian who had sued the school board for allegedly firing him because he became injured and sought workers compensation benefits. In his suit, Henry Dudek of Harrison, who was hired as a school custodian in 2008, said that he was hurt on the job on March 2, 2009. He claims after he filed a workers compensation claim, Superintendent Dominick Mucci recommended that the school board fire him. When he asked why he was fired, Dudek alleges that the reasons the Board proffered "were unsupported by [Dudek's] performance reviews and employment records." He asked for and received a hearing before the school board, but alleges that during the July 13, 2009 the Board "did not take an active part in the hearing [and] did not ask a single question to, or request any explanation of [Dudek]." Following the hearing, Dudek claims, the Board affirmed their earlier decision to not renew Dudek's employment contract. He further claims that the board revoked his workers compensation benefits after the July 13, 2009 hearing. The case is captioned Dudek v. Englewood Cliffs Board of Education, Bergen County Superior Court Docket No. L-2008-10 and Dudek's attorney was Paul Piantini, III, Esq. of Paramus. 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 Dudek's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $20,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by the Englewood Cliffs school board or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that the school board or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Dudek $20,000 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. ABOUT ME AND WHY I'M POSTING THIS. I chair the New Jersey Libertarian Party's Open Government Advocacy Project which seeks to increase governmental transparency and accountability, particularly at a local level. For more information on the Libertarian Party, go to http://www.njlp.org. As part of my work, I routinely check civil court cases where at least one of the parties is a government agency or official. Most often, these settlement agreements are never revealed to the public. I post them on the Libertarian Party's blog at http://njcivilsettlements.blogspot.com and other public forums because I believe that civil settlements, regardless of amount, may be of interest to citizens and taxpayers. John Paff Somerset, New Jersey
 
Stillwater and contract award
Anthony M. Ardito, C.P.A. via e-mail: tony.ardito@traunerconsulting.com March 12, 2012 Mr. Ardito: I understand that you are the auditor for the Township of Stillwater in Sussex County. I chair the New Jersey Libertarian Party's Open Government Advocacy Project. I write because the Township of Stillwater, when it did not have a CFO, awarded a construction contract to Daniel A. Rivera for $18,784, which is in excess of the bid threshold, without soliciting competitive bids. The contract and other relevant documents are on-line here. I spoke to Municipal Clerk Lynda Knott on the telephone today and she acknowledges that the award of this contract was not done in accordance with the Local Public Contracts Law and that the Township Committee is well aware of the error. I just wanted to bring it to your attention as well, in case you are not already aware of it. Thank you for your attention to this matter. Sincerely, John Paff 732-873-1251 cc. Mayor and Committee
 
Manasquan Board of Education
Christine Muly, President and members of the Manasquan Board of Education 169 Broad St Manasquan, NJ 08736 (via e-mail to phom@manasquanboe.org ) Dear President Muly and Board members: The minutes of the Board's January 17, 2012 and January 24, 2012 executive sessions raise some troublesome issues. Those minutes are attached to this letter and, respectively, are available on-line at: and The most troubling issue, in my view, is Mr. McOmber's statement to President Muly, as reflected in the January 17th minutes, that "he had a conflict" negotiating with "with the staff on special education issues." Then, at the January 24th meeting, the Board "decided that [it] would stay with Mr. McOmber's firm for this service." This information raises two areas of concern. First, which N.J.S.A. 10:4-12(b) exception justified having this conversation outside of public view? The exception stated in the resolution--exception (b)7-"pending or anticipated contract negotiations"--is intended to shield the Board's negotiation strategy and tactics from its adversary. Given that all the 12(b) exceptions must be strictly construed against closure and in favor of openness, I question the Board's reliance on that exception. I think that exception (b)8 is a closer fit, but I still doubt that it would cover a discussion about the Board attorney's possible conflict. Second, and more troubling, Mr. McOmber, candidly, expressed to his client that it would be unethical for him to do 'X' because it would consitute a conflict of interest and violate the Rules of Professional Conduct. The Board, apparently, rejected his concern and instructed him to do 'X' despite his concerns. Like the minutes discussed in my January 16, 2012 letter to the Board, the January 17th and 24th minutes do not reveal sufficient details to permit the public to know 'X' (i.e. the nature of Mr. McOmber's alleged conflict). The public needs to know the nature of Mr. McOmber's perceived conflict so that it can a) judge for itself whether the conflict is real and would put Mr. McOmber at odds with the Rules of Professional Conduct and b) if so, report Mr. McOmber to the District IX Ethics Committee if he obeys his client's instructions to provide representation notwithstanding the conflict. Therefore, I ask that the Board please announce in public, at its next meeting, the nature of the conflict that Mr. McOmber reported to President Muly. If the Board declines this invitation, I ask that it resolve to amend the minutes of its January 17, 2012 executive minutes to reveal the nature of the conflict. Thereafter, I will submit an OPRA request for those minutes and, if the Board redacts the text that would disclose the conflict's nature, we can let a court decide whether the public's right to know or the Board's assertion of confidentiality is paramount. Also troubling are two non sequiturs in the January 17, 2012 executive minutes. First is the sentence "It was also noted that the coach was not present for a meeting with the students and parents" which immediately followed a discussion of "inappropriate comments" on Facebook. The second is the sentence "A RICE notice will be provided to the staff member involved in this matter prior to further discussion in closed session." These non sequiturs raise questions regarding the coach's role in the Facebook incident and that a "staff member" may have acted inappropriately in dealing with 8th graders. Clearly, the public has an interest in knowing about teachers and staff members who may be conducting themselves inappropriately with students. Is the Board intentionally making its executive session minutes vague? Would the Board be willing, at its next meeting, to revise its January 17th executive minutes so as to make them comprehensible? Remember, the Board would not be jeopardizing any confidentiality concerns simply by revising its executive minutes since it can always redact and confidential material from them prior to public disclosure.
 
Custodian charged with "operating business" in Belleville schools
My Open Public Records Act (OPRA) request has revealed that in December 2011, the Belleville Board of Education (Essex County) filed sworn tenure charges against school custodian Miguel Valladares. Those charges and supporting affidavits are on-line here According to a filed statement by Superintendent Joseph Picardo, Valladares, who had been employed as a school custodian since 2003, had placed his own vending machines in two district schools. Valladares allegedly stocked the machines and took the money from them "for at least three years" while school officials were not aware that the machines were on school property. In his defense, Valladares claimed that he serviced the machines on his lunch break and that "he turned over monies to the [School 8] principal by sliding envelopes under the locked door at the main office." The filed papers do not indicate whether or not an investigation was made into the allegations regarding the complicity of the principal. John Paff, Chairman New Jersey Libertarian Party's Open Government Advocacy Project paff@pobox.com 732-873-1251 March 9, 2012
 
Haddon Heights settles OPMA lawsuit
On February 21, 2012, Susan Scoblin-O'Neill settled her pro se Open Public Meetings Act (OPMA) lawsuit against Haddon Heights Borough (Camden County). In exchange for dismissal of her lawsuit, the Borough has agreed, among other things, to ensure that its future closed session resolutions "disclose as much information as possible without harming the public interest or the Borough's interest in keeping the matter private." The Borough also agreed to reimburse Susan her $260 in out-of-pocket court costs. The agreement, which is in the form a release, and not an order filed with the court, is on-line at It is important for citizens to learn how to file OPMA lawsuits. Since the OPMA does not contain any provision requiring public bodies to pay successful plaintiffs' attorney's fees, most citizens are understandably reluctant to hire lawyers to bring OPMA cases. Absent a legislative amendment, the OPMA will remain largely unenforced unless citizens file their own lawsuits. Thanks to Susan for stepping up to the plate. John Paff, Chairman New Jersey Libertarian Party's Open Government Advocacy Project
 
Carneys point accident

 
Fairfield Cumberland

 
Hillside cop undergoing discipline allowed to draw pension
In response to an Open Public Records Act (OPRA) request, I received an August 19, 2009 Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) between the Township of Hillside (Union County) and former Hillside police officer Francisco (Frank) Utset. I've placed the MOA on-line here: According to the MOA, the Township was in the process of firing Officer Utset for "engaging in conduct unbecoming a public employee on July 21, 2008. To that end, the Township had issued a Preliminary Notice of Disciplinary Action and suspended Utset, with pay, effective July 21, 2008--the day after the alleged "unbecoming" incident. Despite the pending disciplinary charge, Officer Utset applied for "accidental disability retirement" benefits from the Police and Firemen's Retirement System (PFRS) and the Township agreed to hold its disciplinary action in abeyance while the PFRS decided Officer Utset's retirement application. After a year had elapsed, and the PFRS still hadn't decided whether or not to grant Officer Utset's retirement application, the Township, citing "the severe economic crisis," decided that it couldn't continue to carry Officer Utset on full pay and benefits. Accordingly, an agreement was forged under which Officer Utset would go on "administrative leave" effective July 22, 2009, at which time he would no longer receive any pay or benefits. The Township "agree[d] that the best course of action would be for [Officer Utset's] disability retirement application to be approved." To that end, Officer Utset agreed to "actively pursue his application" and the Township agreed to "cooperate" in this endeavor. According to my search today on DataUniverse, the PFRS did grant Officer Utset a $36,047.88 annual pension with a May 1, 2009 retirement date. According to the search, which is on page 9 of the PDF at the link above, Officer Utset's "final average salary" was $90,119.94.
 
Voorhees pays $195,000 to settle police lieutenant's lawsuit
On September 27, 2011, the Township of Voorhees (Camden County) agreed to pay $195,000 to a former Voorhees Police lieutenant who sued the Voorhees Police Department for allegedly retaliating against him for supporting a fellow lieutenant who had complained about and filed a whistler blower lawsuit against Voorhees Police Chief Keith Hummel, Deputy Chief John Prettyman and Lieutenant Louis Bordi. (On December 2, 2009, Slack's fellow lieutenant, Jeffrey Nardello and his lawyer settled the whistler blower lawsuit for $930,000. For more details see http://njcivilsettlements.blogspot.com/2010/01/voorhees-township-settles-with-police.html) In his suit, Gerald Slack said that after Nardello filed a written complaint against his superiors in October 2000, Chief Hummel demanded to know who Nardello intended to call as witnesses to support the complaint. According to Slack, after Nardello filed his whistle blower suit and Hummel saw that Slack was listed as one of Nardello's witnesses, a campaign of harassment against him commenced. Hummel allegedly filed baseless disciplinary actions against Slack. According to the lawsuit, Slack's problems with his superiors worsened after Slack reported Prettyman for arriving at a hostage scene "in full uniform with his weapon and township vehicle in an intoxicated state." Slack also alleges that he got in trouble for allegedly "meowing" at Patrolman Brian Bonsall during a shift change. There are many more allegations of harassment listed in the complaint, a copy of which is at the link below. The case is captioned Slack v. Voorhees, Docket No. CAM-L-5659-09 and Slack's attorneys were F. Michael Daily, Jr. of Westmont and Clifford Van Syoc of Cherry Hill. Case documents are on-line here. The settlement agreement states that $125,000 of the settlement was paid to Slack while the remaining $70,000 was paid to Van Syoc. None of Slack's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $195,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Voorhees or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Voorhees or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Slack $195,000 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. ABOUT ME AND WHY I'M POSTING THIS. I chair the New Jersey Libertarian Party's Open Government Advocacy Project which seeks to increase governmental transparency and accountability, particularly at a local level. For more information on the Libertarian Party, go to http://www.njlp.org. As part of my work, I routinely check civil court cases where at least one of the parties is a government agency or official. Most often, these settlement agreements are never revealed to the public. I post them on the Libertarian Party's blog at http://njcivilsettlements.blogspot.com and other public forums because I believe that civil settlements, regardless of amount, may be of interest to citizens and taxpayers. John Paff Somerset, New Jersey
 
Was Englewood Cliffs Mayor conflicted from school budget discussion?
Question: If a Mayor serves as CEO of an insurance agency and on the board of directors of a bank, both of which do business with the local school board, is he permitted to participate in the Borough Council's deliberations regarding a defeated school budget? This is a question I presented to the Local Finance Board (LFB), the agency which enforces the Local Government Ethics Law, in a March 7, 2012 letter of complaint which I've placed on-line here. Unfortunately, it takes the LFB approximately two years to adjudicate a complaint.
 
Elk Township passes Open Public Meetings Act policy.
On December 14, 2011, as part of a ruling in an Open Public Meetings Act (OPMA) case, Superior Court Assignment Judge Georgia M. Curio ordered the Elk Township (Gloucester County) Committee to "implement an effective [OPMA] policy . . . within sixty (60) days." Mayor Philip A. Barbaro and the Committee adopted the policy on March 1, 2012 and a copy of it is on-line here: The majority of the policy summarizes the OPMA and doesn't add any additional protections to the public's interest beyond what is provided by the OPMA itself. The policy does, however, establish an e-mail usage policy. It also requires closed meeting minutes to be a "general summary of the matters discussed" and states that an "advisory body" is subject to the OPMA if it "has the power to eliminate options available to a decision-making body." The policy applies to the Township Committee as well as the Township's land use boards and other agencies and boards of the Township.
 
OPRA request misunderstood--lawsuit averted
Ms. Spohn: Please accept this e-mail as my request for government records in accordance with the Open Public Records Act (OPRA) and the common law right of access. Please respond and send all responsive documents to me via e-mail at paff@pobox.com. If e-mail is not possible, please fax responses and responsive records to me at 908-325-0129. Also, I would appreciate it if you would acknowledge your receipt of this e-mail. Background: I am in receipt of your March 5, 2012 response to my January 27, 2012 records request. I have posted my request, your response and fifty-four pages of records you sent me on the Internet at Unfortunately, you have misapprehended at least part of my January 27, 2012 records request. Paragraph 1 of that request was for "[t]he minutes of three most recently held nonpublic (i.e. "closed" or "executive") municipal governing body meetings for which minutes are available for public disclosure in either full or redacted form." Suppose that the Borough Council has not prepared minutes of any of the closed meetings held during 2011 and that the the most recent closed meetings for which minutes exist occurred on December 8, 2010, November 10, 2010 and October 13, 2010. Suppose further that the Borough attorney has determined that the minutes of the December 8, 2010 and November 10, 2010 closed meetings could be disclosed in full but that the minutes of the October 13, 2010 closed meeting needed redaction. Then, the records that would be properly responsive to paragraph 1 of my request would be the minutes of those three closed meetings, redacted as necessary. I recognize that the Borough Council is behind in production and disclosure of its minutes. The main object of paragraph 1 of my request was to gauge the extent of the problem. At this point, I am not sure whether Borough's closed session minutes are six months behind, two years behind or perhaps even further behind. Below I have repeated paragraph 1 of my request and ask that you respond to it within seven business days. Paragraph 2 of my request is simple and is repeated below. It merely asks for the resolutions that were passed authorizing the three closed meetings for which minutes were provided in response to paragraph 1. I want to compare the matters that the Council said that it was going to discuss in closed session to the matters that it actually discussed in private to see if there is a one to one correspondence. Paragraph 3 of my request was similar to paragraph 1, in that it attempted to find out how far behind the Borough is in production of its public meeting minutes. Note that the version of paragraph 3 set forth below differs a bit from the previous version. Finally, note that I have also added a new paragraph 4. Records Requested: 1. The minutes of the three most recently held nonpublic (i.e. "closed" or "executive") municipal governing body meetings for which minutes are available for public disclosure in either full or redacted form. 2. The resolutions, as required by N.J.S.A. 10:4-13, that authorized the three nonpublic meetings for which minutes were provided in response to #1 above. (If the resolutions are spread out in full in the public meeting minutes (as opposed to "free standing" resolutions), please furnish only those pages of the public meeting minutes that contain the resolutions.) 3. The minutes of three most recently held public municipal governing body meetings that have been approved by the Borough Council. 4. The "2012 bylaws" that were unanimously approved at the most recent reorganization meeting. Thank you. John Paff
 
Some Borough Council minutes on-line
On Saturday, May 3, 2012, I obtained some Englewood Cliffs Borough Council agendas and minutes from Borough Clerk Susan Spohn in response to my February 23, 2012 Open Public Records Act request. My request, Spohn's answer and the agendas and minutes are on-line here. John Paff
 
Belleville school board tenured employee fired
I chair the New Jersey Libertarian Party's Open Government Advocacy Project. I have found that in many, if not most, municipalities and school districts, the public is unaware of significant events that may impact upon their and their children's lives. Often, the details of such incidents are set forth in the minutes of a public body's nonpublic (i.e. closed or executive) meeting minutes. While public, these minutes are not often put on the public body's Internet site and the public is often not aware that they exist. A case in point are the the minutes of the January 9, 2012 closed session of the Belleville Board of Education, which I've placed on the Internet at The minutes indicate that a tenured employee was fired and that tenure charges were filed against him or her. It seems to me that Belleville parents and taxpayers have a right to know the teacher?s identity and at least some of the details regarding the conduct that led to his or her termination and the tenure charges being filed. Toward that end, I have requested more records from the Board of Education. I anticipate that the Board will resist my efforts to learn about this incident, but I will post on this forum whatever response I get to my records request. Sincerely, John Paff, Chairman New Jersey Libertarian Party's Open Government Advocacy Project paff@pobox.com 732-873-1251 March 3, 2012
 
New Providence High School Teacher reprimanded
I chair the New Jersey Libertarian Party's Open Government Advocacy Project. I have found that in many, if not most, municipalities and school districts, the public is unaware of significant events that may impact upon their and their children's lives. Often, the details of such incidents are set forth in the minutes of a public body's nonpublic (i.e. closed or executive) meeting minutes. While public, these minutes are not often put on the public body's Internet site and the public is often not aware that they exist. A case in point are the the minutes of the November 21, 2011 closed session of the New Providence Board of Education, which I've placed, along with other closed session minutes on the Internet at The minutes indicate that a teacher had, according to a written complaint filed by the parents of a high school student, ?been harassing their son over the past couple of years.? After the principal investigated and the parents were dissatisfied with the principal?s investigation, the superintendent conducted his own investigation. This resulted in a finding that there were five separate incidents of which four ?demonstrated poor judgment and unprofessional conduct by the teacher.? A letter of reprimand was issued to the teacher and the teacher?s increment was withheld. It seems to me that a) the student and parents who complained have a legitimate interest in keeping their identities confidential but b) other parents of high school students ought to know this teacher?s identity. I think the public?s right to know the teacher?s identity and at least some of the details regarding his or her ?poor judgment? would help guide them and their children in interacting with that teacher in the future. Toward that end, I have requested more records from the Board of Education. I anticipate that the Board will resist my efforts to learn about this incident, but I will post on this forum whatever response I get to my records request. Sincerely, John Paff, Chairman New Jersey Libertarian Party's Open Government Advocacy Project paff@pobox.com 732-873-1251 March 3, 2012
 
West Deptford pays $45,000 to settle police excessive force suit
On April 25, 2011, the Township of West Deptford (Gloucester County) agreed to pay $45,000 to Woodbury woman who sued members of the West Deptford Police Department for allegedly shoving and injuring her during an arrest of her grandson. In her suit, Dorothy Peele, who was then sixty years old, said that on October 11, 2007, West Deptford police officers Michael J. Cramer and Craig Burman visited her home in the Red Bank Run Apartments in order to arrest her grandson who was then a juvenile. She alleges that Cramer "physically assaulted her, grabbed her body forcefully threw her into a chair and knocked her to the floor." She said that Cramer, who was "enraged, verbally offensive and abusive," pushed her to the floor "and held her there with her hands behind her back." She alleges that Cramer arrested her and charged her with aggravated assault, obstructing justice and resisting arrest. Cramer denied Peele's account of the incident and Burman corroborated his account. Also named in the suit were West Deptford Police Chief Craig Mangano and the Township of West Deptford. The case is captioned Peele v. West Deptford, Federal Case No. 1:09-cv-02267 and Peele's attorney was Laurence P. Bafundo of Marlton. Case documents are on-line here. None of Peele's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $45,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by West Deptford or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that West Deptford or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Peele $45,000 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. ABOUT ME AND WHY I'M POSTING THIS. I chair the New Jersey Libertarian Party's Open Government Advocacy Project which seeks to increase governmental transparency and accountability, particularly at a local level. For more information on the Libertarian Party, go to http://www.njlp.org. As part of my work, I routinely check civil court cases where at least one of the parties is a government agency or official. Most often, these settlement agreements are never revealed to the public. I post them on the Libertarian Party's blog at http://njcivilsettlements.blogspot.com and other public forums because I believe that civil settlements, regardless of amount, may be of interest to citizens and taxpayers. John Paff Somerset, New Jersey
 
Dunellen: Repeal Request
My letter to the Mayor and Council seeking repeal of some unenforceable provisions of the Borough Code is on-line here:
 
Improper deals being made in Dunellen Municipal Court
I've found that the Dunellen Borough's municipal prosecutors and Judge Fackelman have been allowing plea bargains in the Dunellen Municipal Court that violate a 1998 Attorney General directive. I have complained to the Middlesex County Prosecutor's office regarding this matter and my letter of complaint and the attachments to the complaint are on-line here: John Paff, Chairman New Jersey Libertarian Party's Preempted Ordinance Repeal Project paff@pobox.com voice: 732-873-1251 February 27, 2012
 
Open Letter to Mayor and Council: My draft lawsuit against a planning board member
Following is a letter that I sent this evening to Mayor Seader and the Borough Council. At issue is the slack manner in which the Borough and its officials comply (or more accurately fail to comply) with the Local Government Ethics Law. The draft lawsuit referred to in the letter is on-line at: John Paff, Chairman New Jersey Libertarian Party's Open Government Advocacy Project -------------------------------------- February 25, 2012 Hon. Robert J. Seader, Mayor and members of the Dunellen Borough Council 355 North Ave Dunellen, NJ 08812 (via e-mail to wrobins@dunellenborough.com) Dear Mayor Seader and Council Members: I write both individually and in my capacity as Chairman of the New Jersey Libertarian Party?s Open Government Advocacy Project in an attempt to get Dunellen Borough officials to comply with the Local Government Ethics Law?s Financial Disclosure requirements. To that end, I?ve attached a draft civil complaint that I intend to file with the Middlesex County Superior Court on Monday, March 12, 2012, unless compliance?at least by Planning Board and Recreation Commission member Randee S. Staats?is achieved. I realize that threatening a lawsuit might seem like a drastic measure, so I?d like to explain why I find it to be necessary. As part of my work for the Libertarian Party, I routinely check to see if municipal officials across the state are filing their annual Financial Disclosure Statements, and if so, whether they are filing them completely and correctly. I checked Dunellen?s compliance last summer and found, unfortunately, that twenty-four (24) Borough officials had not complied with the filing requirements. (See Exhibit pages 1 through 7 of my draft lawsuit for a copy of my June 24, 2011 complaint with the New Jersey Local Finance Board against those officials.) I recently selected one member of those officials who did not file his 2011 financial statement and who was named in my June 24, 2011 complaint. The official I selected was Mr. Staats, in part due to unverified information I have that he is Mayor Seader?s brother-in-law. (see footnote) I filed an Open Public Records Act request for Mr. Staats? 2009, 2010 and 2011 Financial Disclosure Statements. In response, I learned that Mr. Staats made no 2009 filing and, as outlined in my draft lawsuit, his 2010 and 2011 filings contain virtually none of the information that the Ethics Law requires to be publicly disclosed, e.g. his sources of income, business interests owned, real estate owned, etc. (Mr. Staats? 2010 and 2011 filings are attached as Exhibit pages 8 through 11 of my draft lawsuit.) In sum, and almost comically, Mr. Staats? ?Financial Disclosure Statements? disclose absolutely no financial information regarding him or his household. The Legislature passed the Local Government Ethics Law because ?[t]he vitality and stability of representative democracy depend upon the public's confidence in the integrity of its elected and appointed representatives.? N.J.S.A. 40A:9-22.2(b). One of the law?s objects is to require Local Government Officers (but not Local Government Employees) to report their income sources so that the public can detect possible conflicts of interest. Suppose, hypothetically, that Mr. Staats? wife Joanne works for a company owned by an applicant seeking the Planning Board?s approval. Had Mr. Staats filled out his Financial Disclosure Statement properly, the public, having been put on notice of the sources of his family?s income, would realize that it would be a possible conflict for Mr. Staats to vote on or participate in this application. By not properly completing his Statement, Mr. Staats, in his hypothetical case, would have deprived the public of this important knowledge and thus undermined the Legislature?s intent. Dunellen Borough is not a family business. Rather, it is a government agency that is supposed to take seriously the legal obligations that govern it and its officials. Municipal clerk Robins ought to be watching these financial filings like a hawk and should immediately notify the Mayor and Council if any Borough official fails to file his or her Financial Disclosure promptly or completely. Any official who, after notice, fails or refuses to file a complete and accurate Statement should be removed from his or her position. My threatened lawsuit, in my view, is not an overreaction given the unacceptably poor and slack manner that the Borough and its officials have been complying with the Financial Disclosure Statement filing requirements. And, in case you?re wondering why I don?t take my complaint to the Local Finance Board, I recently learned that it has just two employees covering Ethics Law enforcement in every municipality and county that does not have its own ethics board?approximately five hundred forty (540) government units. There are so many officials and so much noncompliance and so little enforcement that it takes years, literally, for a complaint against a non-filer to be investigated and adjudicated. This letter is not only about Mr. Staats. Rather, please accept it as an invitation to discuss this issue with Mr. Robins at your March 5, 2012 meeting and devise a mechanism that will ensure that Financial Disclosure Statement filing requirements are a Borough priority that will be rigorously enforced going forward. As for the lawsuit, the last thing I want to do is file it. The taxpayers certainly don?t need that expense in addition to all the other tax burdens they endure. But filing it is exactly what I?ll do if Mr. Staats doesn?t file either his properly completed 2010 and 2011 Financial Disclosure Statements or his letter of resignation from both the Planning Board and the Recreation Committee by Friday, March 9, 2012. Thank you for your attention to this matter. I ask that you or Mr. Bruder notify me on or before March 9, 2012 of whether or not Mr. Staats will comply with the law. Sincerely, /s/ John Paff (Footnote) My information, which I have not verified, is that Randee Staats? sister, Karen, is Mayor Seader?s wife. I would appreciate it if Mayor Seader would confirm or dispute this information. cc. John E. Bruder, Esq., Borough Attorney
 
Dunellen's Appointment of Towing Companies
Like most towns, Dunellen appoints certain private towing companies to tow cars at the direction of the local police department. It appears that Dunellen, for the past three years, has not been following its own ordinance regarding the appointment of these companies. My letter to Mayor Seader and the Borough Council regarding this issue is on-line here: John Paff, Chairman New Jersey Libertarian Party's Open Government Advocacy Project paff@pobox.com 732-873-1251
 
Cain v. Hamilton

 
Paff v. Bridgeton Board of Ed

 
Berkeley Heights - Tedesco settlement

 
Dunellen e-mail policy

 
Andover E-mail policy

 
State v. OBrien
Issue: How is a minor motor vehicle summons an offense that can bring a "consequence of magnitude" and thus entitle to defendant to a public defender in accordance with R.7:3-2.
 
Councilman Washington's Trial Transcript
I have uploaded the transcript of Councilman Washington's August 9, 2011 trial in the Woolwich Township Municipal Court here: Also uploaded to the above link are a) Washington's defense brief, authored by Shannon M. Cornelius of the Law Office of Timothy D. Scaffidi of Woodbury and b) the State's brief authored by Gloucester County Assistant Prosecutor Margaret A. Cipparrone. According to my January 31, 2012 conversation with Gloucester County Criminal Case Manager Rosemarie Gallagher, the Scaffidi firm was appointed to represent Washington after he applied for free counsel as an indigent. Washington represented himself in municipal court. To summarize, a lieutenant and a detective from the Salem County Prosecutor's Office testified that they were standing on State Street, Penns Grove, outside the Penns Grove Police Department on May 18, 2011. They said that about 10:05 a.m., they observed Washington pull into the parking lot from State Street, exit his car and walk across the street. The next day, after receiving permission from his supervisor, the lieutenant issued Washington a summons for driving with a suspended license. Washington then testified on his own behalf. He said that he knew that his license was suspended on May 18, 2011. Accordingly, he said that his wife drove him to Borough Hall that day because he "already knew what the plot and the set up and the plan was." (T22:25) He testified that because his car windows are tinted, it may have been difficult for someone to tell how many people were in the car. Next, Washington's wife, Michelle Renee Washington, testified. She testified that she, and not Councilman Washington, was the driver on May 18, 2011. Thereafter, the prosecution recalled the lieutenant who testified that Mr. Washington's car's windows were not so heavily tinted to prevent him from seeing into the car. He testified that only one person--Mr. Washington--was in the car and that he saw him driving the car and get out of the driver side door. During closing arguments, Councilman Washington said that some of the decisions that he made while serving on Penns Grove's Police Committee caused him to be warned that "they were out to get [him] for political reasons." (T32:11-12) Judge William J. Golden found that the lieutenant's and investigator's testimony was clear and consistent and sustained the prosecution's burden in the case. He reviewed Mr. Washington's driver abstract and found ten prior convictions for driving with a suspended license, the most recent one being ten or eleven years prior. He sentenced Washington to pay a $1,006 fine, $33 in costs, serve ten days in jail and an additional 30 day term of license suspension. Judge Golden also indicated that he would approve Mr. Washington, if he was eligible, to serve his ten days in a program that is an alternative jail, such as the Sheriff's Labor Assistance Program (SLAP).
 
Hudson ELEC filings

 
New OPRA and OPMA bills

 
Gibbsboro/Voorhees OPRA suit concluded

 
Paff and Delgado v. Camden City Board of Ed

 
Renna v. Union County Alliance

 
Jones v. Paulsboro GLO-L-001360-11

 
Censure of former Excellence Charter School trustees
By submitting OPRA requests to the School Ethics Commission for its meeting minutes and then some of the docket numbers mentioned within those minutes, I have been able to determine that the Commission has recommended, and probably actually imposed, a "censure" upon the Institute for Excellence Charter School trustees Linda L. Clemons and Beverly J. Hutton. According to the school's site, http://tifecs.sjtp.net/, neither Clemons nor Hutton appear to still be trustees, although Clemons was a trustee as recently as mid-2011. The documents pertaining to the censure are online here. Pages 1 through 4 of that file comprise a "complaint form" filed by Antionette R. Thompson who appears to be the school's former director. The allegations are varied, but the allegation concerning the $4,950 invoice seems to be the most serious. Pages 5 through 6 comprise the Ethics Commission's October 25, 2011 public meeting minutes. Those minutes reflect that the Commission discussed this case (i.e. Docket No. C03-10) during executive session and unanimously resolved accept a settlement recommending a penalty of censure." Yet, if one searches the Commission's site (http://www.nj.gov/education/legal/ethics/index.html ) there is no listed of this case. Presumably, it will be made public on the site sometime in the future, but I believe that the public needs to know of these types of events as soon as possible. Sincerely, John Paff, Chairman New Jersey Libertarian Party's Open Government Advocacy Project Phone: 732-873-1251 Paff@pobox.com
 
Florence School Board
School Ethics Commission documents on Nutter's case are on-line here. Pages 1 through 4 comprise a "complaint form" filed by Nutter's family member who alleges that Nutter suggested that he could help her get a full time job with the Florence school district if the family member, who was executrix of the Nutter's deceased mother's estate, could give certain items of estate property to him. Pages 5 through 6 comprise the Ethics Commission's October 25, 2011 public meeting minutes. Those minutes reflect that the Commission discussed Nutter's case (i.e. Docket No. C35-10) during executive session and unanimously resolved "to reject the proposed settlement recommending a penalty of reprimand and instead propose a penalty of censure." Pages 7 through 8 comprise the Commission's November 22, 2011 meeting minutes reflecting that C35-10 was again discussed in executive session and that afterwards the Commission unanimously resolved to "accept the settlement with a recommended penalty of censure." Yet, if one searches the Commission's site (http://www.nj.gov/education/legal/ethics/index.html ) there is no listed of Nutter. Presumably, it will be made public on the site sometime in the future, but I believe that the public needs to know of these types of events as soon as possible.
 
Dunellen judge sued for malpractice in escalator injury case
On October 9, 2009, a Middlesex woman filed a lawsuit against Dennis Fackelman and his law firm of Vastola, Fackelman, Sullivan & Spengler for failing to properly protect her interests in a personal injury lawsuit. Fackelman, Dunellen's municipal court judge, was sued in his capacity as a private lawyer, and not as a judge. The lawsuit was filed in the Middlesex County Superior Court under Docket No. MID-L-8748-09. It was later transferred to Essex County under Docket No. ESX-L-3322-10 where it is scheduled for trial before Judge Dennis F. Carey, III on May 12, 2012. A copy of the lawsuit is on-line here The Plaintiff, Wendy Sue Clark of Second Street, Middlesex, claims that she was injured on October 25, 2007 at the Newark Airport. She alleges that her foot got stuck on a step of an escalator causing her to lose balance and fall. Besides Fackelman and his law firm, her suit names the City of Newark, the Port Authority, Schindler Elevator Corp and Jet Blue Airways as defendants. She claims that she consulted with Fackelman after her injury but that he told her "that she did not have a good and/or viable claim against the Port Authority." She also claims that Fackelman didn't tell her she had a claim against the City of Newark or that she had a potential claim against the escalator company. She alleges that Fackelman didn't file the proper tort claim notices upon Newark and "failed to institute a lawsuit against" the Port Authority within the statute of limitations "thereby barring and/or limiting [her] right to recover for her injuries. Fackelman has denied the allegations. These are only allegations and nothing has been proven in court. Clark is being represented by Patrick J. Bradshaw, law partner with of Middlesex County Counsel Thomas F. Kelso. Fackelman and his firm are being represented by Emery J. Mishky of Margolis Edelstein of Berkeley Heights. I believe that this case is of public interest because it alleges that a person in position of power and authority--a municipal court judge--was negligent in his duties as a lawyer. John Paff, Chairman New Jersey Libertarian Party's Open Government Advocacy Project Somerset, New Jersey 732-873-1251 paff@pobox.com
 
Letter to Englewood Cliffs
New Jersey Libertarian Party Open Government Advocacy Project John Paff, Project Chairman P.O. Box 5424 Somerset, NJ 08875-5424 Phone: 732-873-1251 Fax: 908-325-0129 E-mail: Paff@pobox.com January 24, 2011 Hon. Joseph C. Parisi, Jr., Mayor and members of the Englewood Cliffs Borough Council 482 Hudson Terrace Englewood Cliffs, NJ 07632 via e-mail to SSpohn@englewoodcliffsnj.org Hon Mayor Parisi and Council members: A recent news article ("Englewood Cliffs councilwoman alleges violation of the Open Public Meetings Act," the Record, by Melissa Hayes, January 21, 2012) reports allegations of two violations of the Open Public Meetings Act (OPMA). First, it is alleged that the Council did not set aside a portion of its reorganzation meeting for public comment. If this is true, a violation occurred. N.J.S.A. 10:4-12(a) states that "a municipal governing body . . . shall be required to set aside a portion of EVERY meeting of the municipal governing body . . . for public comment on any governmental . . . issue that a member of the public feels may be of concern to the residents of the municipality . . ." (emphasis supplied). No exception is made for reorganization meetings. Second, it is alleged that at a December 20, 2011 executive session, "council members were notified that Brian Ribarro, who was hired as building subcode official for a four-year term in August, had resigned." If this is true, it appears also to be a violation because the resolution that authorized the executive session in accordance of N.J.S.A. 10:4-13, listed only one topic to be discussed: "Police Contract Negotiations." (The resolution is on-line at ) The object of the resolution is to inform the public of the topics that the council will discuss behind closed doors. In order to effectively accomplish this objective, the Council must limit its private discussions to only those topics that are set forth in the resolution. Discussing a subcode official's resignation, while arguably a "personnel matter" which may be privately discussed in accordance with N.J.S.A. 10:4-12(b)(8), is clearly outside the scope of "police contract negotiations." If the council wanted to discuss the resignation, it ought to have reconvened in public session and passed another resolution that would have informed the public of the nature of the closed discussion's topic. Thank you for your attention to this matter. Sincerely, /s/ John Paff P.S. The full text of the OMPA is available here http://ogtf.lpcnj.org/OPMA.htm
 
Roccisano v. Franklin, Case No. 3:11-cv-06558

 
Piscataway school board's "sunshine" compliance
On January 20, 2012, I wrote to President Maas and the other members of the Piscataway Board of Education concerning the Board's compliance with the Open Public Meetings Act (i.e. the "sunshine" law). Particularly, I am concerned that the Board a) doesn't tell the public enough information about the topics that is discusses behind closed doors (i.e. closed or executive sessions), b) doesn't keep reasonably comprehensible minutes of its executive sessions and c) may be discussing topics in executive session that ought to be discussed with the public in attendance. My letter to the Board is on-line here. WHO AM I AND WHY AM I DOING THIS? I chair the New Jersey Libertarian Party's Open Government Advocacy Project. We take to heart James Madison's quote: "A popular government without popular information or the means of acquiring it, is but a prologue to a farce, or a tragedy, or perhaps both." As part of our work, we monitor local governmental bodies to check on how well they inform the public about the public business they discuss behind closed doors. John Paff, Chairman New Jersey Libertarian Party's Open Government Advocacy Project http://njopengovt.blogspot.com/ paff@pobox.com 732-873-1251
 
open letter to Dunellen Mayor and Council
Mayor Seader and Dunellen Borough Council Members As you know, I have previously asked the Council during public session to establish a written policy to ensure that the Council's discussions and decision-making are not done via e-mail and thus outside of public view. Specifically, in a July 11, 2011 letter, I expressed concern that the Council members still list their personal e-mail addresses (e.g. Yahoo and aol) on the Borough's web site making it very difficult, if not impossible, for the Borough to reliably retain those e-mails as required by state regulations. (For your ready reference, my July 11th letter is available on-line at ) Clearly, if e-mails are not being reliably retained by the Clerk, there is no way for the public to determine whether or not important decisions are being made via e-mail rather than during public meetings. While the Council has expressed interest in adopting such an e-mail policy, it has not yet, to my knowledge, actually adopted one. And, the Borough council's web page, which I checked today, still lists personal e-mail addresses. See http://www.dunellenborough.net/mayor&council.html Following is an editorial from yesterday's Press of Atlantic City regarding Lower Township's (Cape May County) proposed e-mail policy and lamenting that "too many officials simply don't accept their duty under the Sunshine Law" and that many wait until after a Sunshine violation occurs before adopting an e-mail use policy. I think that you'll agree that Dunellen shouldn't wait for a violation to occur, but should get out in front of this issue and adopt a preemptive policy. I have OPRA'd Lower Township's e-mail policy as well as others from around the state and will forward them to Clerk Robins upon receipt. Can the Mayor and Council commit to discussing this issue at its February 6, 2012 meeting and enacting a policy within a few months thereafter? Thank you for your attention to this matter. I look forward to hearing from you. Respectfully, John Paff, Chairman New Jersey Libertarian Party's Open Government Advocacy Project paff@pobox.com 732-873-1251 ---text of editorial Sunshine law / Emails count, too Tuesday, January 17, 2012 12:01 am It's only a matter of time before you see a headline about some town council or school board violating the state's Open Public Meetings Act by conducting public business via text or Skype or Facebook or whatever new communications technology comes next to our cell phones and iPads. The current culprit is email. The Lower Township Council has introduced an ordinance to clarify the use of email by officials. This comes after Cape May County Prosecutor Robert Taylor notified council members last summer that they had violated the open-meetings act, known as the Sunshine Law, when they used email to discuss township manager candidates in December 2010. Holding discussions and making decisions via email is the same as doing this behind closed doors. It prevents the public from knowing what is going on and how decisions are being made. It cuts the people who pay the bills out of the loop. To their credit, Lower Township Council members are now trying to ensure such violations won't happen again, by delineating how email can and cannot be used for public business. The New Jersey State League of Municipalities says Lower Township is among the first towns in the state to address the issue. Most of the other towns that have passed email restrictions have done so after a Sunshine Law violation. Rather than wait for this piecemeal approach, state legislators ought to clarify that discussions using email - or any other communication technology - fit the definition of public meetings and are covered by the Sunshine Law. Such legislation has been introduced in the past, but has not been adopted. While email may be the problematic medium of the moment, the underlying issue is that too many officials simply don't accept their duty under the Sunshine Law. Officials who want to circumvent the law will always find ways. Some have used phone calls or pre-meeting meetings. Too many bodies still go into closed sessions under flimsy pretenses, to avoid embarrassing discussions or just to keep arguments out of the public eye. If our elected representatives truly understood that they work for the public, and that they must conduct the public's business in public, constant updates and clarifications of the Sunshine Law would be unnecessary. Until that understanding is widespread, advocates for governmental transparency will have to keep chasing the latest technology. http://www.pressofatlanticcity.com/opinion/editorials/sunshine-law-emails-count-too/article_337acef7-cab7-5419-87ed-9fe9502bcd45.html
 
Union Township pays $40,728 to settle police excessive force suit
On December 22, 2010, the Township of Union (Union County) agreed to pay $40,728 to an Irvington man who sued members of the Union Police Department for allegedly beating him. In his suit, Michael David Evans of 1126 Stuyvesant Ave said that on May 30, 2007, he was walking down the street when he was ordered to stop by Union Police Officers David Pinto and Dan Roman. Evans claimed that during a pat down he "turned slightly toward [the officers] to ask why he was being arrested." He alleged that Pinto "punched [him] in the face, knocking [him] to the ground." Thereafter, he claimed that he was handcuffed and then "slammed several times" into a wall. He said that because he was handcuffed, he "could not brace himself against the impact and hit the wall with his face, breaking his nose, cutting his face open and denting the aluminum siding." He claimed that his injuries were so bad that he required a hospital visit. Thereafter, he alleges, the Union County jail "would not accept him because he had been beaten so badly" resulting in him being held at "the Union police station lock-up for two or three days." Afterwards, he said he spent ten days in jail before a judge set his bail. The case is captioned Evans v. Pinto, Federal Case No. 2:09-cv-02462 and Evans's attorney was Raoul Bustillo of Union City. Case documents are on-line here. According to an arbitrator's letter, out of the $40,728, Evans received $15,000 and his lawyer received $20,000 in fees and $5,728 in costs. None of Evans's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $40,728 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Union or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Union or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Evans $40,728 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. ABOUT ME AND WHY I'M POSTING THIS. I chair the New Jersey Libertarian Party's Open Government Advocacy Project which seeks to increase governmental transparency and accountability, particularly at a local level. For more information on the Libertarian Party, go to http://www.njlp.org. As part of my work, I routinely check civil court cases where at least one of the parties is a government agency or official. Most often, these settlement agreements are never revealed to the public. I post them on the Libertarian Party's blog at http://njcivilsettlements.blogspot.com and other public forums because I believe that civil settlements, regardless of amount, may be of interest to citizens and taxpayers. John Paff Somerset, New Jersey
 
Roselle Park Judge gets it wrong--cops' testimony is not automatically favored
On January 11, 2002, the Appellate Division reversed a conviction of a woman who was charged with improperly using a handicapped parking space and returned the matter to municipal court to be retried before a different judge. Central to the decision was the Roselle Park Municipal Court judge's erroneous conclusion that a police officer's testimony must automatically be considered more truthful than contradictory testimony given by an ordinary citizen. The rule in New Jersey is that police officer can't be considered more credible than any other witness simply because of their occupation. The decision is on-line here: John Paff, Chairman New Jersey Libertarian Party's Open Government Advocacy Project
 
Ethics Board fines 5 Old Bridge officials, including ex-Ethics Board member
On January 6, 2012, the Old Bridge Township (Middlesex County) Ethics Board fined five Township officials $100 each for failure to file Financial Disclosure Statements that were due on or before April 30, 2011. The statements are designed to inform the public of certain financial information--including sources of officials' income--so that conflicts of interest can be more readily detected. The five officials fined are: Rabbi Rossi Kanelsky: Municipal Ethics Board Marilyn Liberatore: Fire District #1 Donna Ortiz: Rent Stabilization Board Robin Rosen: Economic Development Corporation Donna Thibault: Unknown The fines were a result of the New Jersey Libertarian Party Open Government Advocacy Project's June 17, 2011 complaint against twenty (20) Old Bridge Officials who failed to file their financial statements. My complaint, the penalty letters, Ethics Board meeting minutes and other pertinent documents are on-line here: I have two comments/questions regarding the Ethics Board's actions: 1. I am unclear as to why Donna Thibault was fined, as she was not listed in the complaint that I filed. 2. My complaint was against twenty officials, yet only five were fined. Among those who were included in my complaint but were not fined was Ethics Board Attorney Brian Whitehead--who signed the penalty letters against the the five officials who were fined. I am unclear as to what criteria was used to determine which five of the twenty officials complained should be fined. John Paff, Chairman New Jersey Libertarian Party's Open Government Advocacy Project paff@pobox.com January 9, 2012
 
Dunellen Parking Authority article identifies areas of confusion
An article appeared in today's (January 7, 2012) Courier News regarding my and the State's questioning of the financial integrity of the Dunellen Parking Authority. http://www.mycentraljersey.com/article/20120106/NJNEWS/301060030 Background on the issue is on my blog: http://njopengovt.blogspot.com/2011/12/audits-need-close-look.html Condensed version: after reading an August 30, 2010 letter from Andrew G. Hodulik, the Authority's auditor, I became concerned by his statement that due to the "inadequacy of [the Authority's] accounting system and records for the year ended December 31, 2008," he wasn't able to determine the amounts of the Authority's "accounts receivable, accounts payable and deferred parking permit revenues [which] are recorded/not recorded on the balance sheet or accompanying financial statements." http://ogtf.lpcnj.org/2011289UU//Auditors%20letter.pdf Mr. Hodulik's comment caused me to contact the Division of Local Government Services (DLGS) within the Department of Community Affairs. On November 29, 2011, the DLGS, apparently finding merit to my concerns, wrote the Authority a stern letter noting that for several years it had insufficient controls "surrounding the monitoring of parking permit fees and parking meter collections and proof of collections." The DLGS stated that the Authority's "ongoing failure to resolve the significant [accounting] deficiency . . . is not acceptable" and demanded that it develop a Corrective Action Plan within 90 days.http://ogtf.lpcnj.org/2011360ug//dunellenPA.pdf I felt that the State's finding, which in essence said that that Authority didn't keep records of how much cash it was receiving from meters and permit sales (thus allowing pilfering to occur unchecked), warranted notification of the Borough Council as well as the media. During his research of the matter, Courier News staff writer Sergio Bichao was provided with the Parking Authority's January 6, 2012 letter to the DLGS. This letter indicates that most of the more critical accountability issues had already been addressed in 2004 and 2008. Bichao's article accurately stated that the January 6, 2012 letter "baffled" me. The matters that confuse me are: a) Why did Hodulik's August 30, 2010 letter, which was written approximately two years after the Authority had installed the new, improved parking meters in 2008, not indicate that the problem with meter collections had been resolved? b) Why did the DLGS, after reviewing the matter in late 2011, come to the apparently erroneous conclusion that parking meter collections were not properly accounted for when that problem was allegedly resolved in 2008 when the new, improved meters were purchased. I've always understood that a government audit's purpose is to professionally evaluate whether public money is being properly safeguarded and accounted for and to clearly report those evaluations to the taxpaying public. In this case, the audit reports apparently did not do their job because the DLGS--the State agency officially tasked with keeping track of local agencies' fiscal integrity--erroneously concluded that the Authority's meter collection and permit revenues were not properly accounted for. If the state agency charged with ensuring the financial integrity of public agencies cannot correctly interpret those agencies' audits, I don't see how a regular citizen is supposed to do better. Also, the article reveals that the DLGS "does not normally review audits at this level of detail." If this is true, and if the audits are not written in a manner allowing them to be interpreted by the general public, I question whether the audits' value exceeds their expense. I think that this matter illustrates that some sort of reform is needed on how audits of public funds are conducted and reviewed. Currently, millions of tax dollars are spent by thousands of public agencies across the state for audits that are "not normally reviewed" in detail by the state government and, even when they are so reviewed, are fundamentally misinterpreted. John Paff, Chairman New Jersey Libertarian Party's Open Government Advocacy Project Somerset, New Jersey paff@pobox.com January 7, 2012
 

 
2011
Passaic County Forfeiture Fund account holds nearly $2 million
I have uploaded checking account statements from January 2009 through August 2010 for the Passaic County (New Jersey) "Confiscated Funds Trust Account." Those statements are available here: This is the fund that holds money confiscated by police from criminal defendants and others under New Jersey's asset forfeiture law. (It may also contain moneys received through the federal government's asset forfeiture sharing program.) As of August 31, 2010, the balance in the account was $1,888,395.57. This money can be expended for "law enforcement purposes" by the county prosecutor. While the payees on the checks disbursed from this account are disclosed on the bank statements, they can easily be obtained by submitting Open Public Records Act (OPRA) requests for specific checks. For example, one could submit a written OPRA request for "a copy of both sides of check number 1596 for $18,256.59 from the County's "Confiscated Funds Trust Account." While an OPRA request needs to only be in writing and not on any specific request form, Passaic County's OPRA request form is available at http://www.passaiccountynj.org/PDF/modelrequest.pdf John Paff Somerset, New Jersey Parenthetically, I note that while the fund has, since January 2009, maintained a balance of greater than $1 million, it is held in Wachovia "Government Advantage Interest Checking" account. On August 10, 2010, Wachovia paid the county $74.77 as interest for the month of July 2010 while the balance during that month was $1.9 million. This translates to approximately .05% (i.e. .0005) annually. I did a quick on-line check and found that Investor's Savings Bank pays .49% on 91 day Certificates of Deposit. So, even if Passaic County were to invest $1 million of its "Confiscated Funds Trust Account" balance in those CD's instead of the checking account, it would realize an extra $4,400 per year in interest.
 
Air Force Captain sues Pemberton Twp Police
On January 6, 2011, Evan Reece, a Pemberton Township resident and Air Force Captain, filed a federal lawsuit against Pemberton Township Police Chief Robert Lewandowski, Sergeant Paul Delagarza and Patrolmen John Hall and Jason Gant for unlawfully entering into his California Trail home and arresting him. The suit arises out a January 7, 2009 visit to Reece's home by police who said that a "dropped" 911 call had been traced to Reece's home. Reece claims that after he informed officers that there was no emergency, Delagarza asked for consent to enter the home and look around. Reece claims that he denied consent and "closed his door to end the encounter." Reece then claimed that Delagarza, Gant and Hall "suddenly forced open the door" and took Reece, who claims to have not resisted, to the floor, struck him repeatedly in the face and "choked him about the neck." He claims that the officers falsely charged him with assault, obstruction of justice and resisting arrest. The lawsuit does not say whether Reece was convicted or acquitted of those charges. The lawsuit is on-line at Is there more to this story? In order to find out, I submitted the following records request to Pemberton Township today: Background: On January 6, 2011, Evan Reece filed a lawsuit against the Township of Pemberton and several members of Pemberton's police department for alleged police misconduct arising out of January 7, 2009 incident at 423 California Trail, Pemberton. The case is captioned Evan Reece v. Township of Pemberton, et al, Federal Civil Case No. 1:11-cv-00077. The lawsuit is on-line here: In his suit, Reece claimed that Sergeant Delagarza and Patrolmen Gant and Hall, without consent to enter or warrant "suddenly forced open the door" of his home and took him to the floor, struck him repeatedly in the face and "choked him about the neck." He claims that the officers falsely charged him with assault, obstruction of justice and resisting arrest. I realize that one cannot count on civil plaintiffs and their lawyers to tell the complete and unvarnished truth in their complaints, so the object of this request to obtain police reports regarding the incident to get the official side of the story. Records Requested: 1. Copies of "arrest reports" (also known as "police arrest reports" and "uniform arrest reports" issued in connection with the January 7, 2009 incident that formed the basis for the civil case of Reece v. Pemberton, Docket No. 1:11-cv-00077 For clarification, the reports I seek are required to be kept by Records Series 0007-0000 within Records Retention and Disposition Schedule No. M900000-004 (Municipal Police Departments) issued by the New Jersey Division of Archives and Records Management (www.njarchives.org). The requested reports are government records subject to disclosure. See Morgano v. Essex County Prosecutor's Office, Government Records Council Case No. 2007-156. 3. Copies of the "Daily Activity/Tally Sheets/Vehicle Logs" filed by Sergeant Delagarza and Patrolmen Gant and Hall on January 7, 2009. For clarification, the records I seek are required to be kept by Records Series 0021-0000 within Records Retention and Disposition Schedule No. M900000-004 (Municipal Police Departments) issued by the New Jersey Division of Archives and Records Management (www.njarchives.org). 4. Copy of the "Event Card/Complaint Card" issued in connection with the January 7, 2009 incident that formed the basis for the civil case of Reece v. Pemberton, Docket No. 1:11-cv-00077. For clarification, the reports I seek are required to be kept by Records Series 0026-0000 within Records Retention and Disposition Schedule No. M900000-004 (Municipal Police Departments) issued by the New Jersey Division of Archives and Records Management (www.njarchives.org). 5. Copy of the "Incident Reports" issued in connection with the January 7, 2009 incident that formed the basis for the civil case of Reece v. Pemberton, Docket No. 1:11-cv-00077 For clarification, the reports I seek are required to be kept by Records Series 0036-0000 within Records Retention and Disposition Schedule No. M900000-004 (Municipal Police Departments) issued by the New Jersey Division of Archives and Records Management (www.njarchives.org). 6. Copies of all "Use of Force Reports" that arose out of the January 7, 2009 incident that formed the basis for the civil case of Reece v. Pemberton, Docket No. 1:11-cv-00077. For clarification, these are the reports that the Appellate Division, on November 9, 2009, declared to be public records. See Martin O'Shea v. Township of West Milford, Docket No. A-1185-08. 7. Complaints issued against Evan Reece arising out of the January 7, 2009 incident that formed the basis for the civil case of Reece v. Pemberton, Docket No. 1:11-cv-00077. By "complaints" I mean the CDR-1, CDR-2 or other form of complaint issued in accordance with R.7:2-1. 8. Any records showing the dispositions (i.e. conviction, acquittal, plea bargain, dismissal, etc.) of the complaints responsive to #7 above. ABOUT ME AND WHY I'M POSTING THIS. I chair the New Jersey Libertarian Party's Open Government Advocacy Project which seeks to increase governmental transparency and accountability, particularly at a local level. For more information on the Libertarian Party, go to http://www.njlp.org. As part of my work, I routinely check civil court cases where at least one of the parties is a government agency or official. I then try to use the Open Public Records Act to determine whether the police acted appropriately. I believe that police using excessive force is of legitimate public concern. I also believe that litigants and attorneys who use the court system to advance fabricated or frivolous claims against the police similarly deserve public scrutiny. On the strength of a civil complaint alone, it is impossible to tell if the police conducted themselves appropriately, if the civil plaintiff fabricated or exaggerated the facts or neither or both. To complicate matters further, the vast majority of such civil cases reach settlement in which the plaintiff is paid a sum of cash and police deny liability. This makes it difficult or impossible for the public to know what really occurred. So, perhaps my records request to the Pemberton Township police will shed some light on this incident. When I receive Pemberton Township's response, I will post it on this forum. John Paff Somerset, New Jersey P.S. When civil cases settle, I post them on the Libertarian Party's blog at http://njcivilsettlements.blogspot.com and other public forums because I believe that civil settlements, regardless of amount, are of interest to citizens and taxpayers.
 
Washington Council (kind of) improves transparency
On January 11, 2011, Jason Braff of the Pascack Valley Community Life reported that the Washington Township Council (Bergen County) agreed to begin using a new form of resolution to go into closed session. At the following link, readers will find the Township's prior resolution, the New Jersey Libertarian Party's proposed resolution and the resolution that the Township is now using. The new resolution is better than the old one because it reveals the specific item of litigation and one of the specific land acquisition matters that were privately discussed. Yet, it vaguely discloses that "contract negotiations" were privately discussed without disclosing the parties to the contracts or even how many contracts were discussed. And, it stated--without more--that "personnel" matters were discussed. In sum, Washington's new resolution, while better than the old one, is a half-hearted attempt to improve its compliance with the Open Public Meetings Act. John Paff Somerset, New Jersey
 
Court orders release of neighbor's phone call to cops
On January 7, 2011, Hudson County Superior Court Judge Bernadette H. DeCastro ordered the Town of West New York (Hudson County) and its record custodian, Carmela Riccie, to disclose a recording of a call to the West New York Police Department that resulted in plaintiff's car being towed. According to the complaint, Plaintiff Frank Ponce's car was towed on September 4, 2010 after someone called police and reported that the car was blocking a driveway. Police also issued Ponce a summons for improperly blocking the driveway. Ponce claims that the owner of 6708 Palisade Avenue, the location from which the car was towed, "has made numerous, unfounded complaints" against him. While he suspects that the owner called police, he wants to listen to the recording so that he can verify who made the call. Since he is pleading not guilty to the summons, he says that he needs that information so that he can subpoena the caller as a witness before the Municipal Court. DeCastro ordered Riccie to provide Ponce with the recordings he sought and also declared him to be the prevailing party in the litigation who is entitled to recover his costs and attorney fees from West New York. Ponce was represented by Walter M. Luers of Oxford. The complaint, brief and DeCastro's order are on-line here.
 
Residential landlords cannot be penalized if tenants refuse to let Borough inspectors enter their homes
The Borough of National Park (Gloucester County), like many municipalities, has an ordinance that requires the owners and occupants of residential rental properties to periodically allow municipal inspectors inside the tenants' homes to conduct inspections. On January 28, 2011, Gloucester County Superior Court Judge Jean B. McMaster, ruled on consolidated appeals filed by two landlords who had been fined $150 for refusing to grant National Park inspectors access to their rental properties. (State v. Hunsberger, (Gloucester County Municipal Appeal No. 35-09) and State v. Devine (Gloucester County Municipal Appeal No. 36-09).) Judge McMaster reasoned that a) since tenants have a right to demand a search warrant before inspectors can enter their homes, and b) landlords do not have the capacity to waive the tenants' right to insist upon a search warrant, it violates landlords' due process rights to hold them liable for fines and impossible incarceration when their tenants refuse to consent to Borough inspections. Ultimately, Judge McMaster ruled that a rental property owner cannot be convicted under the ordinance if the property is occupied by a residential tenant on the day of the inspection who objects to the inspector entering his or her home. The landlords' attorney was Jamie Epstein of Cherry Hill and the court's orders and opinion are on-line here:
 
Monroe Township loses $4 records case
On January 25, 2011,the Government Records Council held that Monroe Township (Middlesex County) violated the Open Public Records Act (OPRA) by overcharging a records requestor by $4.00. The GRC found that Monroe improperly charged the requestor the fee for police accident reports even though the requestor had asked for police Internal Affairs records. The GRC's decision is on-line here. The decision indicates that the Township had the law firm of Shain, Schaffer & Rafanello, P.C. defend it in this GRC case. The Township defense, which is set forth in pages 3 to 6 of attached, appears to have been comprehensive and vigorous. It is questionable, however, whether it was sensible for the Township to pay for such a vigorous defense when all that was at stake in the matter was four dollars. Accordingly, I have submitted an OPRA request (also at the link above) to learn how much of its taxpayers' money Monroe spent on this case. I will post the Township's response on this forum. The next issue for the GRC to decide--probably in a month or two--is whether the requestor's attorney fees should be paid by the Township taxpayers. This, of course, will be in addition to the amount the Township paid its own lawyer. John Paff, Chair New Jersey Libertarian Party's Open Government Advocacy Project
 
State fines four Roselle Park officials for failure to disclose finances
On January 31, 2011, the Local Finance Board, which is within the New Jersey Department of Community Affairs, levied $100 fines against four Roselle Park (Union County) officials who failed to file their Financial Disclosure Statements (FDS) in 2008. The four officials are: Gail Bradley, Board of Health member Robert Tobe, Fire Chief Bill Heim, Zoning Board member Jeff Regan, Library Board member The Notices of Violations against the four officials are on-line here. The FDS forms are required by New Jersey's Local Government Ethics Law to be filed by elected and certain appointed municipal officials. The forms disclose officials' sources of income, business interests and real estate holdings so that members of the public can better determine if officials have a conflict of interest in any given matter. For example, a Zoning Board member's form might disclose, among other things, that the member's spouse works for a particular company. If the company for which the spouse works applies for a variance before the Zoning Board, the public might not realize that the member is conflicted from acting on that application had the member failed to file an FDS form. The fines were levied in response to an October 1, 2009 complaint filed by the New Jersey Libertarian Party's Open Government Advocacy Project. In that complaint, the Project alleged that twenty-seven Roselle Park officials had failed to file the FDS forms due on April 30, 2008. Among those named in the complaint for failing to file was First Ward Councilman Laurence Dinardo. The New Jersey Libertarian Party's complaint and letter to the Mayor and Council are on-line here: During 2008, 2009 and 2010, the Libertarian Party filed complaints against hundreds of officials in approximately fifty municipalities around the State. Previously, the Local Finance Board has steadfastly refused to fine officials who fail to file as long as the official later files the delinquent form. In light of the Libertarian Party's complaints, however, Thomas H. Neff, who chairs the Local Finance Board, has informed the Party that "the Board is considering implementation of a stricter policy of fining local government officers who fail to file annual financial disclosure statements in a timely manner." Neff added, however, that "pending advance notice of such a policy, the past policy of not fining officers who file statements in response to complaints will continue." A January 31, 2011 letter from Neff that contains these quotes is on-line here. It is believed that the fines levied against these four Roselle Park officials are the first fines to be levied against non filers by the Local Finance Board since the Local Government Ethics Law was enacted in 1991. John Paff, Chair New Jersey Libertarian Party's Open Government Advocacy Project
 
Robbinsville pays $9,000 to settle employment lawsuit
On January 10, 2011, the Township of Robbinsville (Mercer County) agreed to pay $9,000 to a California man who sued Mayor David Fried, Police Chief Martin Masseroni and Township Administrator Mary K. Cafferty for reneging on an employment offer. In his suit, John M. Holliday said that in 2007 he was offered a position as a Robbinsville police officer. After he completed the application process and accepted the position, he claims that he began moving his wife and family from California to New Jersey. Holliday alleges, however, that on October 9, 2007, the Township revoked its employment offer claiming that Holliday had "lacked full disclosure of his employment history." Acording to an article in the October 16, 2009 Trentonian ("Playgirl hunk suing R'ville over disputed officer's job," by Joe D'Aqula), Holliday's employment offer was revoked because he was a former "Playgirl Magazine Man of the Year" who posed nude for the magazine. The case is captioned Holliday v. Robbinsville, New Jersey Superior Court, Docket No. MER-L-2514-09 and Holliday's attorney was Raymond C. Staub of Trenton. 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 Holliday's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $9,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Robbinsville or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Robbinsville or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Holliday $9,000 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.
 
Camden school board pays $75,000 to settle teacher's suit
On October 23, 2009, the Camden Board of Education (Camden County) agreed to pay $75,000 to a former fifth-grade teacher who claimed that the Board retaliated against him after after he brought public attention to a vice principal allegedly making Hispanic students eat their lunch off the cafeteria's floor. In his suit, Jose L. Rivera of Vineland said in February 2008, one of the students in his bi-lingual class, consisting exclusively of Hispanic students, spilled some water on the floor while trying to change a jug of water on a water cooler. This incident allegedly happened on day when Rivera was absent and a substitute was teaching the class. He alleges that as a result of this accident, Vice Principal Theresa Brown "decided to punish the whole class [by making the Hispanic children] eat lunch on the floor of the cafeteria without trays, while the African-American and mixed classes sat at the lunch table with trays. This went on for more than a week before [Rivera] learned of the punishment." Rivera reported that his students told him that Vice Principal Brown had threatened them with more punishment if they told anyone about having to eat off the floor. Rivera, who said he feared retaliation, advised his students to tell their parents of the punishment and have the parents call the Board of Education. In his suit, Rivera said that he didn't report the matter to Acting Principal Alex DeFlavia because he felt that he would "be either indifferent to or in support of" the punishment. After the Board received parents' complaints, Rivera said that the Board reprimanded and suspended him "for failing to notify the principal, even though the principal already knew and had taken no action." He said that he "never worked another day" for the Board, but that Vice Principal Brown was not fired but transferred to another school. The case is captioned Rivera v. Camden Board of Education, Federal Case No. 1:08-cv-04306 and Rivera's attorney was Alan H. Schorr of Cherry Hill. Case documents are on-line here. None of Rivera's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $75,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Camden or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Camden or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Rivera $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.
 
Asbury Park pays $10,000 to settle police false arrest suit
On January 24, 2010, the City of Asbury Park (Monmouth County) agreed to pay $10,000 to a local woman who sued Asbury Park Police Officer Michael Paulk for falsely arresting her. In hwe suit, Lissa McQueen said that on June 30, 2008, she smelled an odor coming from a board up house next door to her residence. She claims that she knocked on the door to speak to the occupants about the odor when she was approached by Paulk who accused her of trespassing and being engaged in drug activity. She said that after she became upset at these accusations, Paulk handcuffed her, took her to the policy station and charged her with disorderly conduct. She claims that the charges were dismissed by the court on October 14, 2008. 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. The case is captioned McQueen v. Asbury Park, Federal Case No. 3:09-cv-02657 and McQueen's attorney was Dwight P. Ransom of Neptune. Case documents are on-line here. None of McQueen's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $10,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Asbury Park or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Asbury Park or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay McQueen $10,000 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.
 
Camden County pays $400,000 to settle wrongful death action
On July 16, 2008, the County of Camden agreed to pay $400,000 to a estate of man who hanged himself while incarcerated at the Camden County Correctional Facility (CCCF). In her suit, Agnes E. Walls, administratrix of the estate of Christopher L. Miller, claimed that CCCF officials ignored Miller's repeated threats of suicide while he was incarcerated in early January 2005. According to the suit, Miller allegedly "begged [the guards] to again place him in restraints, so as to prevent him from taking his own life." He reportedly hanged himself after guards "turned a deaf ear to his entreaties and ignored his prayer for help." Named in the suit were Facility Warden Eric Taylor and CCCF officers Harry Sweeten, Troy Jones, Walter Radlinger, Glen Titus, Donald Souder, Christopher Burcii, J. DeForge, and Donovan Washington. According to a July 16, 2008 settlement, the County agreed to pay Walls $300,000 of the $400,000 settlement immediately and work with her to file direct claims against CFG Health Systems, LLC and Steininger Behavioral Care Services, who appear to be private contractors retained by the County. According to a December 3, 2009 release, the County recovered a total of $150,000 from CFG and Steininger. The case is captioned Walls v. County of Camden, Federal Case No. 1:06-cv-05961 and Walls' attorney was Philip Stephen Fuoco of Haddonfield. Case documents are on-line here. None of Walls' allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $400,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Camden or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Camden or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Walls $400,000 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.
 
Ridgefield pays $7,500 to settle police false arrest suit
On April 30, 2010, the Borough of Ridgefield (Bergen County) agreed to pay $7,500 to a developmentally disabled man who sued members of the Ridgefield Police Department for allegedly falsely arresting and maliciously prosecuting him. In his suit, Bryan Parker said that he was at a Little League field on July 7, 2006 when he was taunted and teased by several teenage boys identified in the suit as Julian Benitez, Christopher Yakoubian, Christian Ganci, Vincent Cumella, Keith Lyons, Matthew Savinovich and Matthew Kees. Parker, who said that he became afraid, called the police. When Ridgefield Police Officers Robert Katz, Joseph Castellitto, Hagop Cigercioglu, Robert Williams and Richard Besser responded, Benitez allegedly told them that "Parker had touched him on the butt and rubbed his leg." Benitez's allegation caused Katz to arrest him and charge him with criminal sexual contact. He was released on his own recognizance after being in custody for about three hours. The charge was reportedly amended to harassment and was later dismissed by the municipal court. The complaint alleges that subsequent police interviews of Benitez revealed "contradictions that called into doubt his credibility." Even though Police Chief John Bogovich was aware of the contradictions prior to Parker's first court hearing, he allegedly did nothing to stop his prosecution from continuing. The case is captioned Parker v. Ridgefield, Federal Case No. 2:08-cv-3226 and Parker's attorney was Stephen M. Latimer of Hackensack. 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. The settlement agreement releases only Ridgefield and its officers, not Julian Benitez. None of Parker's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $7,500 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Ridgefield or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Ridgefield or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Parker $7,500 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.
 
Bridgewater Police Sergeant settles suit with Township
On February 17, 2011, the insurer for Bridgewater Township (Somerset County) confirmed that Police Sergeant Gerald Nunnery and the Township "have reached an agreement in principle" that will settle Nunnery's lawsuit against the Township. The insurer declined to release details regarding the settlement since it is not yet finalized. On December 1, 2008, Nunnery sued the Township, Mayor Patricia Flannery, Police Chief Richard Borden and Lieutenants Rick Hollander and Robert Wilk (Nunnery v. Bridgewater, Docket No. SOM-L-1858-08) claiming that he was unlawfully passed over for promotion to lieutenant. According to the suit, the Township promoted Hollander and Wilk to lieutenant on October 8, 2008. Nunnery alleges that the promotion process was unlawful because it "allows for arbitrary decisions based upon superiors' personal opinions" and is, in part, "geared towards candidates who are favored in the eyes of the Bridgewater Police Department." He claims that a more objective process is required by law. His suit seeks rescission of Wilk's and Hollander's promotions and a court order requiring Bridgewater to establish a more objective promotion policy. Nunnery also seeks compensatory and punitive damages, attorney fees and the imposition of "fines and penalties" against the defendants. Nunnery's lawsuit, my records request and the insurer's response to my request are on-line here. ABOUT ME AND WHY I'M POSTING THIS. I chair the New Jersey Libertarian Party's Open Government Advocacy Project which seeks to increase governmental transparency and accountability, particularly at a local level. For more information on the Libertarian Party, go to http://www.njlp.org. As part of my work, I routinely check civil court cases where at least one of the parties is a government agency or official. Most often, these settlement agreements are never revealed to the public. I post them on the Libertarian Party's blog at http://njcivilsettlements.blogspot.com and other public forums because I believe that civil settlements, regardless of amount, may be of interest to citizens and taxpayers. John Paff Somerset, New Jersey
 
Bordentown Fire District 2 pays $13,756.98 to settle firefighter lawsuit
In August 2010, Fire District No. 2 in Bordentown Township (Burlington County) agreed to pay $13,756.98 to a career firefighter who claimed that the Fire District violated his due process rights when it suspended him without pay for three months. As part of the settlement, the firefighter--David J. MacFarland of Florence--agreed to resign effective December 31, 2009. In his suit, MacFarland claimed that he was suspended by the Fire District on January 29, 2009 based on a psychogist's evaluation deeming him unfit for duty. He said that the suspension was procedurally defective because it did not provide him with meaningful notice and an opportunity to be heard. He also said that the suspension was "ludicrous and irrational" because he was already excused from duty for medical reasons when the suspension was imposed. Named in the suit were Fire Commissioners Stephen Monson, Matt Dillon, Joseph Fresco, Andrew Watson and David Horsnall. The case is captioned MacFarland v. Commissioners of Fire District No. 2, Federal Case No. 1:09-cv-02865 and MacFarland's attorney was John F. Pilles, Jr. of Mount Holly. Case documents are on-line here. None of MacFarland's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement expressly states that the $13,756.98 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by the Fire District or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that the Fire District or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay MacFarland $13,756.98 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.
 
Important OPMA case: Court forbids routine "sequencing" of open and closed sessions.
In an important ruling handed down today, the Appellate Division ruled that the routine sequencing of a five-minute open session, followed by a closed session of indeterminate duration, followed by the resumption of an open session, violates the Open Public Meetings Act (OPMA). The court found that such sequencing forces citizens to wait a considerable period of time while the body is in closed session and provides them no guarantee when the open session will resume. Such uncertainty, the court ruled, will inevitably cause some members of the public to leave the meeting, a result that would be avoided if the closed session did not begin until the entire public session had been completed. The court did not rule that there could never be a case where it was proper for a closed session to be held before the public portion ended. Rather, it ruled against the public body in this case because the record reflected that the body routinely engaged in this practice. Also of importance was the court's ruling that that resolutions passed in advance of a closed session AND THE PUBLIC NOTICES ADVERTISING THE CLOSED MEETING, "should contain as much information as is consistent with full public knowledge without doing any harm to the public interest." The court also ruled that the body's discussion regarding "the need for clear rules to be implemented across all facets of the University" should not have been held in closed session. The decision, McGovern v. Rutgers, is on-line here:
 
Seaside Height pays $30,000 to settle police excessive force suit
On January 20, 2011, the Borough of Seaside Height (Ocean County) agreed to pay $30,000 to an Avenel man who sued members of the Seaside Height Police Department for allegedly assaulting him. In his suit, Justin Racelis said that on July 29, 2007, he was leaving the Bamboo Bar when Police Officer Robert Rezzonico yelled to him "Hey, f*****' retard, get over here!" After he and his friends emptied their pockets in accordance with Rezzonico's instructions, Rezzonico allegedly threatened Racelis with arrest if he said "another word." After Racelis asked Rezzonico if he was serious, Rezzonico reportedly arrested and handcuffed him. Racelis' girlfriend then allegedly put her attorney's business card and a PBA card into Racelis' mouth, and Rezzonico reportedly took them out. After the girlfriend asked for the cards back, Rezzonico allegedly threatened to "kick her ass." Racelis started calling out to passersby and asked them to videotape the event. At this point, Racelis alleges, Rezzonico, together with Officers Shawn Heckler, Sean J. McGinley, Matthew Quinn and Moutros Constantino, "tackled [Racelis] to the ground, rammed a knee into [his] next and maced him." But, allegedly, a passerby by the name of George W. Kramer, did photograph the event and when police realized it, they allegedly arrested Kramer and deleted the photos from his camera. (Kramer sued and later settled for $50,000 -- see http://njcivilsettlements.blogspot.com/2010/12/seaside-heights-pays-50000-to-man-who.html ) Also named in the suit were Seaside Height Police Chief Thomas Boyd and Sergeant Terrence R. Farley. The case is captioned Racelis v. Seaside Height, Federal Case No. 3:09-cv-03066 and Racelis's attorney was Thomas J. Mallon of Freehold. Case documents are on-line here. None of Racelis's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $30,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Seaside Height or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Seaside Height or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Racelis $30,000 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. ABOUT ME AND WHY I'M POSTING THIS. I chair the New Jersey Libertarian Party's Open Government Advocacy Project which seeks to increase governmental transparency and accountability, particularly at a local level. For more information on the Libertarian Party, go to http://www.njlp.org. As part of my work, I routinely check civil court cases where at least one of the parties is a government agency or official. Most often, these settlement agreements are never revealed to the public. I post them on the Libertarian Party's blog at http://njcivilsettlements.blogspot.com and other public forums because I believe that civil settlements, regardless of amount, may be of interest to citizens and taxpayers. John Paff Somerset, New Jersey
 
East Brunswick pays $22,500 to police officer who claimed retaliation
On October 22, 2010, the Township of East Brunswick (Middlesex County) agreed to pay $22,500 to a Township police officer who claimed he was retaliated against after speaking out about the East Brunswick Police Department allegedly "engaging in illegal racial profiling" and allowing police officers who drive drunk to drive away without being charged. He also claims to have spoken out about several other safety issues, including officers in patrol cars having loaded shotguns on a rack behind their heads. In his suit, Joseph Marcantonio, who claims to have a very high success rate in arresting drunk drivers, complained about being regularly scheduled to appear in municipal court at 9 a.m. on the mornings after he completed his shift at 4 a.m. He claims that his supervisors refused to allow him sufficient time to sleep and this resulted in increased blood pressure, sleeping disorders, anxiety and depression. Named in the suit were East Brunswick Police Director Barry Roberson, Captain Scott Mayer, Lieutenant Alan Quercia and Sergeant George Kaltenbach. The case is captioned Marcantonio v. East Brunswick, Superior Court Docket No. MID-L-6428-07 and Marcantonio's attorney was William H. Buckman of Moorestown. Case documents are on-line here. None of Marcantonio's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $22,500 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by East Brunswick or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that East Brunswick or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Marcantonio $22,500 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.
 
Gloucester City pays $45,000 to settle police false arrest/excessive force suit
On October 14, 2010, two officers in the Gloucester City (Camden County) Police Department agreed to pay $45,000 to a Woodbury man who sued them for allegedly falsely arresting and using excessive force against him. In his suit, Reginal Gaines, a 45 year old, African American man, said that on July 7, 2006 he was pulled over by Gloucester City Police Officer James Little for "not having a tag light and for failing to use a turn signal." Gaines claims that Little, without provocation, sprayed mace in his face and eyes. He alleged that Officer J. Flood (presumably Jason S. Flood) threatened to have Marco, a police dog, attack him. Further, he alleged that Officer Carlos A. DePoder tackled him to the asphalt without provocation. Gaines stated that he was arrested, charged with disorderly conduct, obstruction and aggravated assault on a police officer held under $20,000 bail. According to a March 3, 2010 court opinion, Gaines was later found not guilty of those charges in Audubon Municipal Court. According to the court opinion, the mobile video camera on Little's car ran out of videotape prior to the arrest and Flood's vehicle camera also did not record the police interaction with Gaines because of the way it was parked. Also named in the suit were Gloucester City Police Chief William G. Crothers, Deputy Chief Michael Kaye, Lieutenant G. Berglund (presumably George J. Berglund) and several official from Audubon Borough. These officials, as well as Flood, were dismissed from the suit. The case is captioned Gaines v. Gloucester City, Federal Case No. 1:08-cv-03879 and Gaines' attorney was Ronald P. Sierzega of Woodbury. Case documents are on-line here. None of Gaines' allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $45,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Gloucester City or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Gloucester City or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Gaines $45,000 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.
 
Closed Minutes reveal Galloway's reasons for removing Manager Tees
I recently requested the minutes of the Galloway Township (Atlantic County) Council's December 14, 2010 and January 25, 2011 closed session in order to better understand the reasons why Galloway Mayor Keith Hartman and Council members removed Manager Roger B. Tees from his position in late January 2011. The minutes, although still heavily redacted, do provide some details on the Council's reasons for removing Tees. They are on-line here.
 
Clayton and Elk pay $35,000 to settle police harassment suit
On October 26, 2010, the Borough of Clayton and Township of Elk, (both in Gloucester County) each agreed to pay $17,500 (for a total of $35,000) to a Sewell Church, two church pastors and a church worker who alleged that police and officials from both municipalities harassed them. The suit was brought by the City Harvest World Outreach Church (on-line at http://www.cityharvestnj.org/), Pastors Richard Beatty, his wife Pastor Leola Beatty and church worker Harry Hampton. According to the lawsuit, Hampton was living at an Elk Township residence owned by City Harvest Church while the residence was being renovated and converted into a place of worship. On October 31, 2006, Elk Mayor William J. Rainey, accompanied by Elk Police Corporal Victor Molinari and Elk Police Officers Walter P. Garrison II, Joseph Pierson and Kevin Przybyszewski, allegedly knocked on the door, entered the premises and accused Hampton of possessing illegal drugs. According to the suit, Mayor Rainey and police detained Hampton while searching "the inside of closets, cabinets, rooms and storage areas." The police allegedly did not have a warrant, not did they have probable cause or permission to search the premises. The lawsuit further alleges that no charges were brought against Hampton or the other plaintiffs as a result of the search. Hampton also alleged that Clayton Police Officer Mark Konnick stopped him while he was walking down the street at about 11 a.m. on December 12, 2006. He alleges that there was no justification for the stop and that Elk Police Officers Victor Molinari and Joseph Pierson and Clayton Officer Michael J. Foley also responded to the scene and assisted in questioning Hampton. Hampton alleged that after questioning him and finding no outstanding warrants against him, the four officers transported him to his Elk Township residence, "confiscated his house keys" and opened the front door without his permission. Hampton further alleged that January 1, 2007, at about 11 p.m., Elk Police Corporal Lance Hitzelberger, who was later accompanied by Elk Officer Kevin Przybyszewski, stopped and questioned him without reason or cause. Also named in the suit were Clayton Police Chief Dennis R. Marchei, Elk Police Chief Stephen B. Brogan and the Gloucester County Sheriff's Department. According to Clayton's release, Marchei was dismissed from the suit after a successful summary judgment motion and Officers Konnick and Foley were voluntarily dismissed from the suit. It is unclear exactly what injury either pastor suffered or why Gloucester County was named in the suit. The case is captioned Beatty et al v. County of Gloucester, et al, Federal Case No. 3:08-cv-02235 and the plaintiffs' attorney was Jonathan H. Lomurro of Freehold. Case documents are on-line here. The settlement agreement with Clayton 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 plaintiffs' allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreements expressly state that the $35,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Clayton, Elk, Gloucester County or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that the defendants or their insurers, for whatever reason, decided they would rather pay the plaintiffs $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.
 
Livingston Township is in violation of state records retention laws.
Livingston's web site invites members of the public to contact the mayor and council members by sending e-mails to their personal accounts. While it's good for public officials to be accessible by e-mail, the fact that their personal addresses are being used for official correspondence raises a question as to how Livingston is fulfilling its duties under state regulations to archive and preserve all official e-mails. (The applicable state regulations are on-line at http://www.njarchives.org/links/circular-letter-03-10-st.html ) Suppose that a council member dies, moves out of town or has a computer crash. Suppose further that a citizen were to then submit an Open Public Records Act (OPRA) request for that council member's previously sent or received e-mails. Would the Township clerk be able to produce those e-mails without having to contact the former council member (or his or her estate) or subpoena them from the former council member's personal e-mail server? On February 22, 2011, I sent a letter and an OPRA request to Livingston Mayor Rudy Fernandez and the members of the Township Council. In it, I asked for three random, municipal-related e-mails that were sent or received in February 2009 by former Township Councilman Charles "Buddy" August. By letter of March 2, 2011, Township Clerk Glenn R. Turtletaub advised me that he was having trouble getting former Councilman August's e-mails because they are on his former employer's computer. He also stated that the "Township is aware of [the state record retention requirements], has been working to address the situation and is in the process of developing a policy to address the situation." He asked for a three day extension that I granted. By letter of March 7, 2011, Turtletaub advised me that August's former employer advised him that "he does not know how to retrieve and can't retrieve any such documents, and that he has no knowledge of how to retrieve old e-mails from the time period when Mr. August worked for" his previous employer but that he would "keep trying." The OPRA request and correspondence are on-line here: Livingston's inability to produce official e-mails of a former council member clearly demonstrates that the Township is not in compliance with state regulations. Unfortunately, Livingston is only one of many New Jersey municipalities that I have found to suffer from the same deficiency. John Paff, Chairman New Jersey Libertarian Party's Open Government Advocacy Project
 
Four Gloucester officials file financial statements, three others not required to file
On September 11, 2009, I filed a complaint against nineteen (19) Gloucester City officials for failing to file their Financial Disclosure Statements that were due to be filed by no later than April 30, 2008. The complaints were filed with the Local Finance Board, which is within the Department of Community Affairs, and which has the power to fine municipal officials who fail to file. On January 31, 2011 and February 28, 2011, I received updates from the Local Finance Board advising that a) the following four officials had filed their forms: Former Councilman William R. Hagan, Planning/Zoning Board members Patrick Cerone and Jean McLaughlin and Board of Health member John Schmidt. b) Clerk Kathleen Jentsch determined that the following officials weren't required by law to file Financial Statements, even though the city previously told them that they had to file: Historic Preservation Committee member Mary Jean Goheen, Urban Enterprise Zone member Dianne Fisher and Electrical Inspector William Fisher. As of March 1, 2011, my complaint against the following twelve officials are still pending: Murphy, Ryan; Planning/Zoning Board Smallock, Michael; Planning/Zoning Board Wunsch, Frank; Planning/Zoning Board Brandt, Jack; Planning/Zoning Board Alt. Hagan; Colleen; Library Board Kain, Mary Francis; Library Board Gurick, Joanne B.; Library Board Hartzel, Joseph; Board of Health Gorman, Bernadette; Board of Health Dobleman, Dan; Board of Health Bonner, Michael; Board of Health Solicitor Gorman, Kathy J.; Housing Authority It is worth noting that the statements these twelve officials are charged with not filing are almost three years overdue. My complaint and the updates from the City are on-line here. John Paff, Chair New Jersey Libertarian Party's Open Government Advocacy Project
 
Millstone Valley's insurance cancellation
I was recently provided some records, obtained through another person's records request, that shed a bit of light on the cancellation and subsequent reinstatement of Millstone Valley Fire Department's insurance. The records I received, which I've pared down to eliminate duplicates, are on-line here: The documents show: a) That Millstone Valley Fire Department's and Ladies Auxiliary's coverage was deleted from the District's Commercial and Umbrella policies effective December 23, 2010. b) The Fire Department's and Auxiliary's coverage was reinstated effective January 28, 2011, BUT as of the same date, a "Designated Individual Exclusion" rider took effect that removes coverage for "Robert Sheer, Jr." [sic]. It appears that the Fire Department's and Auxiliary's coverage is back in force, but that the insurance company has specifically excluded coverage for "injury, damage, expense, cost, loss, liability, or legal obligation that arises directly or indirectly out of any actions committed or allegedly committed by [Robert Sheer, Jr.] [sic]. The exact reason why the the Fire Department and Auxiliary were deleted from the policy in the first place remains unknown. John Paff
 
Cedar Grove pays $8,000 to settle free speech lawsuit
On February 28, 2011, the Township of Cedar Grove (Essex County) agreed to pay $8,000 to a Millburn woman who sued the Township and its former mayor for refusing to let her speak during two Township Council meetings held in 2009. In her suit, Janet Piszar, along with Verona resident Marilyn English, who both oppose the killing of deer as a way of managing deer population, said that they attended an April 6, 2009 public meeting of the Cedar Grove Township Council "to present arguments and evidence regarding the efficacy of deer kills and to encourage the Township to employ alternate methods." According to the lawsuit, Paul Lee, who was Mayor at the time, and several Council members "repeatedly interrupted Plaintiffs, refused to permit [them] to finish their comments and refused to allow Ms. Piszar to make her presentation regarding deer kills." At a May 18, 2009 public meeting, Mayor Lee allegedly told the pair that "I am not listening to your comments" and accused Ms. Piszar of "denigrating" the Township and implied that unless Ms. Piszar left the podium, she would be arrested. 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. The case is captioned Piszar v. Cedar Grove, Superiour Court Docket No. ESX-DC-34868-09 and Piszar's attorney was Walter M. Luers of Oxford. Case documents are on-line here. None of Piszar's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $8,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Cedar Grove or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Cedar Grove or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Piszar $8,000 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.
 
OPRA/OPMA hearing in Camden this Wednesday
At 8:30 a.m. on Wednesday, April 13, 2011, Judge Frederick J. Schuck, sitting in Camden, will hear oral argument in a lawsuit alleging that the City of Gloucester City committed several violations the Open Public Meetings Act (OPMA), the Open Public Records Act (OPRA) and the common law right of access to government records. The lawsuit, Schmidt et al v. City of Gloucester City, et al, Docket No. CAM-L-1287-11 was filed on March 17, 2011 by Oxford, New Jersey attorney Walter M. Luers on behalf of Plaintiffs John P. Schmidt and Michael Walters, both of Gloucester City. In addition to the City, the lawsuit names the Gloucester City Board of Education, the City's Housing Authority as well as City Clerk Kathy Jentsch, Board of Education Business Administrator Margaret McDonnell and Housing Authority Records Custodian Sue McElhatton as defendants. The lawsuit and other case documents are on-line here: The complaint alleges a smorgasbord of OPRA and OPMA violations. The Plaintiffs claim that the Board of Education consistently goes into executive session without sufficiently identifying the topics to be discussed and recording minutes that are "uniformly uninformative." The City Council is accused of denying access to various meeting minutes, holding a secret, illegal meeting and failing to approve executive session minutes in a timely fashion. The Housing Authority is charged with refusing to release any of its 2010 executive session minutes, even in redacted form, and for overly-redacting its attorneys legal invoices. One of the most serious allegations is that the Mayor, on January 1, 2011, invited all City Council members along with certain administrative officials to "a meting at the democrat club on Sunday at 1 p.m. for the sole purpose of finalizing committees for the upcoming year." Despite this being a meeting that ought to have been publicly advertised in accordance with the OPMA, the complaint alleged that "no public notice of that meeting was prepared or published [and] no minutes of the January 2, 2011 secret meeting have been kept." Also of particular significance is the lawsuit's challenge to Board of Education minutes that sum up hour long meetings in one word, such as "Retirement" or "Personnel." The media and public are invited to attend and observe Wednesday's hearing. It will be held at the Hall of Justice, 101 S. 5th Street, Camden. Those who wish to attend are advised to call Judge Schuck's chambers at 856-379-2380 or the Civil Division Manager's office at 856-379-2200 ext. 3070 the day prior to the hearing to verify that it hasn't been adjourned. John Paff, Chairman New Jersey Libertarian Party's Open Government Advocacy Project Somerset, New Jersey
 
Woodbury Heights 2010 municipal salaries on-line
As a service to the public, I have submitted an Open Public Record Act request for the amounts of money Woodbury Heights officials and employees received during 2010 and uploaded the results to the following link: John Paff, Chairman New Jersey Libertarian Party's Open Government Advocacy Project
 
Gloucester City counterclaims against OPRA requestors
I previously posted information regarding the court case of Schmidt and Walters v. City of Gloucester City, et al, Docket No. CAM-L-1287-11, which alleges various violations of the Open Public Meetings Act (OPMA), the Open Public Records Act (OPRA) and the common law right of access to government records. On April 12, 2011, City of Gloucester City and Acting Clerk Kathy Jentsch filed a counterclaim against Plaintiffs John Schmidt and Michael Walters seeking a court declaration that "the actions of the plaintiffs constitute a substantial disruption under OPRA [and] harassment" and a directive "controlling and regulating plaintiffs [sic] OPRA requests [and] limiting plaintiffs [sic] use of OPRA for legitimate purposes." According to the counterclaim, Schmidt and Walters "between January 1, 2011 and March 1, 2011 . . . filed a total of 154 [OPRA] requests" requiring Acting Clerk Jentsch to "spend close to 26 hours in responding." The counterclaim also alleges that "when it became apparent that the plaintiffs were undertaking a campaign of harassment via OPRA" City officials asked the Government Records Council (GRC) for advice. According to the counterclaim, the GRC told City officials "that there may be some relief provided in the substantial disruption provision of N.J.S.A. 47:1A-5.g" but that "the best option [is] to pursue a harassment complaint . . . in court." The counterclaim is available on-line here. The lawsuit and other other paperwork is on-line here. Alert readers may remember that Clerk Jentsch is the same records custodian who announced in January 2011 that she was only going to accept two OPRA requests per day. See http://njopengovt.blogspot.com/2011/04/just-two-opra-requests-per-day-in.html
 
Should cop who pled guilty in shooting be required to forfeit his job?
On April 18, 2011, I wrote a letter to Ocean County Prosecutor Marlene Lynch Ford asking why a Hillside, New Jersey police officer who pled guilty to aggravated assault (for shooting his stepson) wasn't required to forfeit his job, in accordance with the law, when he entered his guilty plea. My letter to the prosecutor is on-line here. John Paff
 
Hearing today in North Plainfield lawsuit
At 9 a.m. this morning, April 29, 2011, Somerset County Superior Court Judge Margaret Goodzeit will hear cross-motions for summary judgment on a Plainfield's man lawsuit against the Borough, the police department, Police Officer Joseph Mazza and Municipal Court Administrator Jodi Hansen-Rodriguez. In his suit, Stephen Lancaster, of Franklin Place, claims that Mazza, when issuing him some traffic tickets in April 2009, failed to include Lancaster's apartment number on the tickets even though that number allegedly "appears on [Lancaster's] motor vehicle registration and insurance identification card." Lancaster claims that the incomplete address caused him to not receive court notices, resulting in him not appearing in court and a bench warrant being issued for his arrest and his driver license being suspended. He claims that after being stopped in Bernards Township in August 2009, and being informed of the warrant, he visited the Court and Hansen-Rodriguez gave him "a letter requesting the Motor Vehicle Commission to reinstate [his driving privileges]." But, he alleges that Hansen-Rodriguez "failed to rescind the bench warrant." Since the warrant was still active, Lancaster claims that he was stopped a week later by Irvington Police "due to a random computer search of his license plate" which revealed North Plainfield's outstanding bench warrant. He claims that he was arrested and held in the Essex County Correctional Center for three days until the $250 cash bail was posted. His suit demands compensatory and punitive damages since he was "greatly humiliated and disgraced" by his arrest and incarceration. Lancaster is represented in the suit by Joel I. Rachmiel, Esq. of Springfield. A copy of the lawsuit, Lancaster v. North Plainfield, Docket No. SOM-L-1164-10, is on-line here. This message is posted courtesy of the New Jersey Libertarian Party's Open Government Advocacy Project. John Paff, Project Chairman
 
Hunterdon County's bank account levied upon for $93,265.37
On April 15, 2011, Hunterdon County Sheriff Corporal Sandra Ford delivered a writ of execution to the Wells Fargo Bank at 74 Church Street, Flemington and levied on Hunterdon's County's bank accounts. The levy amount, $93,265.37, represented legal fees that the County owes to the South Jersey law firm Friedman Doherty, LLC of West Berlin. The County was ordered to pay the $93,265.37 by Superior Court Assignment Judge Yolanda Ciccone's February 7, 2011 order that arose out of a class action lawsuit captioned James Gensch et al v. Mary H. Melfi, Hunterdon County Clerk et al, Docket No. HNT-L-307-07. Gensch's lawsuit was a class action, filed on May 8, 2007, challenging the 25 cents per page charged by the self service copier machines located in the deeds and mortgages recording room. Gensch alleged that the 25 cents per page was too high and that the County was legally allowed only to collect its actual cost per copy, which Gensch estimated to be 7 cents. The trial court dismissed Gensch's complaint on December 22, 2008 and Gensch appealed. The Appellate Division, on February 10, 2010, reversed and held that effective July 2, 1010, the County must reevaluate its actual costs and charge no more that its actual costs of producing a copy. According to the Appellate Division's decision, the number of copies purchased from the County's machines between May 2001 and August 2008 was 1,598,563 and, at 25 cents per page, the County collected $399,640.74 for providing copies of those pages. On April 30, 2010, Gensch and the County entered into a consent judgment in which the County agreed to start charging seven cents per copy effective July 1, 2010. Thereafter, Friedman & Doherty, Gensch's attorney, filed a motion seeking to require the County to pay Gensch's legal fees. According to filed papers, the firm sought $166,255.73 in fees plus a $12,000 award to Gensch. In a March 14, 2011 written opinion, Judge Ciccone started by considering Friedman & Doherty's request to be paid $350 per hour for 309.3 hours. After removing "unnecessary billings, billings for two attorneys where the task was reasonably allotted to a single attorney, duplicative work, or work which contributed to the litigation of similar cases in other counties," Judge Ciccone reduced the attorney fee award to $93,265.37 and denied Gensch his requested $12,000 award. After the award of the attorney fees, the County moved for a stay of the attorney fee award so that the County could appeal the award to the Appellate Division. In its motion, the County argued that the County didn't have $93,265.37 in its budget and, like other local agencies, was under "extreme financial pressures" and "recently laid off nineteen (19) County employees in order to reduce its spending." The County's motion papers also noted that a judge in Hudson County had recently denied Friedman & Doherty attorney fees "on the exact same issue as this matter" and that the firm had appealed the Hudson County judge's order. On March 23, 2011, the County filed its Notice of Appeal and on April 1, 2011, Judge Ciccone denied the County's motion for a stay. Since nothing prevented legally stood in the way of the February 7, 2011 order that awarded Friedman & Doherty its $93,265.37 in fees, the firm, on April 13, 2011, applied for a writ of execution, which was signed by Judge Ciccone. The writ was then given to the Hunterdon County Sheriff's office which effected the bank levy. The County's lawyer in the Gensch matter is Michael A. DeSapio of Frenchtown. According to the most recent "Hunterdon County Legal Actions Report" on the County's Internet site, which is dated September 1, 2010, $65,769.82 had been paid to DeSapio's firm for representation. My Open Public Records Act request for DeSapio's bills show that the firm has billed the County for an additional $10,869.53 since the most recent "Hunterdon County Legal Actions Report" was prepared. All of the relevant official documents used in the preparation of this article are on-line here. John Paff, Chairman New Jersey Libertarian Party's Open Government Advocacy Project
 
Vineland pays $12,694.05 to settle police officers' suit for legal costs
In January and March 2011, the City of Vineland (Cumberland County) agreed to pay $12,694.05 toward the legal expenses incurred by two City police officers who claimed to have been suspended for two days but had those suspensions reversed by a Superior Court judge. In theirs suit, Officers Brad Marchesano and Gregory Pacitto both claimed to have been suspended in 2008 and 2009 by Business Administrator Denise Monaco, who acted as a disciplinary hearing officer, for violating the Police Department's rules and regulations. Both officers appealed their supensions and received reversals from Cumberland County Superior Court Judge Richard J. Geiger. Marchesano and Pacitto, respectively, claimed $9,880.05 and $11,304.00 for their attorney fees expended in seeking relief from Judge Geiger. Even though they claimed a total of $21,184.05, they settled, respectively, for $5,832.15 and $6,862.90, which is about 60% of that claimed. The cases are captioned Marchesano v. City of Vineland, Docket No. CUM-L-743-10 and Pacitto v. City of Vineland, Docket No. CUM-L-744.10. Both officers were represented by Christopher Gray of the Marlton firm of Alterman & Associates, LLC. . Case documents are on-line here.
 
Murdered teen's family sue Lawnside Borough
On April 8, 2011, the family of Sergio Rivera sued the Borough of Lawnside (Camden County) after Sergio was fatally shot on April 13, 2009 at the Wayne R. Bryant Community Center. In her lawsuit, Lissette Rivera, Sergio's mother, claimed that Lawnside officials were negligent for allowing a "young unruly crowd" to congregate at the center on the night of her son's shooting. The suit was filed by Marlton attorney Timothy J. McNamara of Stark & Stark. It is on-line here: ABOUT ME AND WHY I'M POSTING THIS. I chair the New Jersey Libertarian Party's Open Government Advocacy Project which seeks to increase governmental transparency and accountability, particularly at a local level. For more information on the Libertarian Party, go to http://www.njlp.org. As part of my work, I routinely check civil court cases where at least one of the parties is a government agency or official. Most often, these cases aren't written about in the newspapers or publicly discussed during municipal council meetings. Therefore, taxpayers usually aren't aware of them. But, these cases often end up in settlement, paid for with taxpayer dollars, and almost always result in taxpayers, or the municipal government's insurer, footing the bill for the lawsuit. I don't express any opinion on whether or not the suit is valid--I just think that the taxpayers ought to be aware of how their money is being spent. For those interested, please visit the Libertarian Party's blog at http://njcivilsettlements.blogspot.com where I report on settlements that are reached in such lawsuits. John Paff, Project Chairman
 
Libertarians ask Egg Harbor Township to revise its police internal affairs form
In a May 23, 2011 letter, the chairman of the New Jersey Libertarian Party's Police Accountability Project asked Egg Harbor Township (Atlantic County) Mayor James McCullough to review and update the police department's on-line internal affairs reporting form. In the letter, Project's chairman John Paff noted that the department's on-line form, upon which citizens are asked to report police misconduct, improperly requests that citizens submit their dates of birth, social security numbers and identify the race to which they belong. Paff claims that although complaint forms can be submitted without these questions being answered, asking for this highly sensitive information is likely to "dissuade many members of the public from bringing internal affairs complaints to the police administration's attention." Also, Paff questioned the police department's decision to put a photograph of a police SWAT team breaking down a residence's door at the top of the complaint form. Would you please direct the Police Department to review and update its on-line Internal Affairs complaint form? We look forward to your response. The letter to Mayor McCullough and a screen-shot of the current reporting form are on-line here:
 
Union County's web site creation--Part II
In my May 19, 2011 posting (see http://www.countywatchers.com/?p=4608) I questioned why and how Union County decided to award a $136,600 no-bid contract to Web Creation of New Jersey, LLC, web design company which had no apparent history and was created less than a month prior to the contract being awarded. On that day, I requested that Union County provide me with: 1. Other than Rich Loalbo's May 10, 2010 letter and the company's "Union County Multi Channel Communication Portal Design and Maintenance Proposal," any records upon which Mr. Faella based his conclusion that Web Creations of New Jersey, LLC possessed "experience and artistic web design expertise." 2. The quotation and proposal submitted by the web designing firm that the County rejected. In response to my first request, the County advised me that there are no records responsive to my request. (See page 1 of the PDF at the link below.) In response to my second request, the company provided me with a proposal from JK Design of Hillsborough, New Jersey which has created web sites for companies such as Phillips Lighting and LG Commercial and public entities such as the City of Jersey City. For examples of the firm's work, see http://www.jkdesign.com/links While JK Design's and Web Creations' are difficult to compare to one another, JK Design offered to charge between $99,000 to $129,000 for its "core project total fees." (See page 11 of the PDF.) Also, JK Design's proposal contains biographies for twelve "Project Leaders" that shows each person's areas of experience and accomplishments. (See page 34 of the PDF.) Web Creations' proposal has no similar section. The PDF referred to above is at John Paff
 
Union County's web site creation--Part II
In my May 19, 2011 posting (see http://www.countywatchers.com/?p=4608) I questioned why and how Union County decided to award a $136,600 no-bid contract to Web Creation of New Jersey, LLC, web design company which had no apparent history and was created less than a month prior to the contract being awarded. On that day, I requested that Union County provide me with: 1. Other than Rich Loalbo's May 10, 2010 letter and the company's "Union County Multi Channel Communication Portal Design and Maintenance Proposal," any records upon which Mr. Faella based his conclusion that Web Creations of New Jersey, LLC possessed "experience and artistic web design expertise." 2. The quotation and proposal submitted by the web designing firm that the County rejected. In response to my first request, the County advised me that there are no records responsive to my request. (See page 1 of the PDF at the link below.) In response to my second request, the company provided me with a proposal from JK Design of Hillsborough, New Jersey which has created web sites for companies such as Phillips Lighting and LG Commercial and public entities such as the City of Jersey City. For examples of the firm's work, see http://www.jkdesign.com/links While JK Design's and Web Creations' are difficult to compare to one another, JK Design offered to charge between $99,000 to $129,000 for its "core project total fees." (See page 11 of the PDF.) Also, JK Design's proposal contains biographies for twelve "Project Leaders" that shows each person's areas of experience and accomplishments. (See page 34 of the PDF.) Web Creations' proposal has no similar section. The PDF referred to above is at John Paff
 
Help wanted: NJLP Police Accountability Project
Chairman Jay Edgar recently created a "Police Accountability Project" within the New Jersey Libertarian Party. The project, which I'm current chairing, searches court cases of police misconduct and then files formal Internal Affairs (IA) complaints against the involved officers. For example, I located an April 27, 2011 case in which the Appellate Division held that a State Trooper improperly conducted a warrantless search of an automobile that he stopped on the New Jersey Turnpike. That court decision is on-line here: This case prompted me to file an IA complaint against the Trooper, which is on-line here: One of the Project's objects is to see how responsive various police departments are to these types of complaints. It's possible, perhaps likely, that some police agencies won't even acknowledge receipt of the complaints. Another goal is to see if our complaints lead to any changes to police policy. This project is in its infancy and, with proper help and coordination, could grow into something substantial. I'm stretched pretty thin due to my work on the Open Government Advocacy and Preempted Ordinance Repeal Projects, so I'm not sure how much time I'll be able to devote to it. If anyone wishes to plug in and help, please e-mail policeaccountability@njlp.org which currently goes to Jay and me. While I don't want to limit the directions that the Project may take, here are some of my ideas on how a person could help: 1. Create and maintain a web site that tracks each IA complaint the Project files and periodically checks back for a response from the police agency. 2. Select police agencies around the state and, using OPRA requests, audit how well they are abiding by the New Jersey Attorney General's Internal Affairs Standard Operating Procedures and reporting the results of those audits on our web site. 3. Speak to citizen groups to help them better understand the IA process. I hope this sparks some interest and look forward to hearing from you. John Paff Somerset, New Jersey
 
Citing statute as reason for redaction ruled insufficient
In a May 24, 2011 decision, the Government Records Council (GRC) held that that it is improper for a records custodian to simply cite a statute as its reason for suppressing or redacting a document. The GRC stated that "simply citing to a specific provision of a law would force a requestor to search out the law and identify those provisions that may apply. It is often possible that members of the New Jersey citizenry would have no knowledge of where to find a particular statute or be able to single out the exemption within the statute that authorizes a redaction." The case is Paff v. Teaneck Township, GRC Complaint No. 2010-09 and is available on-line at At issue was the Teaneck Township Council's October 28, 2008 executive session minutes. In response to my OPRA request, the Township provided me with the minutes with large blocks of text redacted. As an example, a large block of redacted text appeared after the heading "Compliance with the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices." The only reason that the custodian gave for the redaction was "N.J.S.A. 10:4-12b7." (That page from the minutes is at page 33 of the PDF at the above link.) The GRC said that "the Custodian should have included an explanation of each legal citation similar to how the Custodian set forth same in the document index submitted as part of the [Statement of Information] SOI." In its SOI, the Custodian gave the following reason for redacting the portion of the minutes dealing with Uniform Traffic Control Devices manual compliance: "Potential litigation and liability regarding installation of certain traffic control devises [sic] and attorney-client communications in connection therewith." John Paff, Chair New Jersey Libertarian Party's Open Government Advocacy Project
 
Comprehensive e-mail policy adopted
On May 23, 2011, the Franklin Township (Somerset County) Fire District No. 1 Board of Commissioners passed a comprehensive e-mail usage policy that might serve as a model for public bodies across New Jersey. The policy, which is on-line here , provides each elected and other Board official with a District e-mail account and requires officials to use that account for official business. Officials who receive official e-mails on their personal e-mail accounts are required to "immediately copy the e-mail together with all attachments to their official District e-mail address [and notify the sender] that all future correspondence and e-mails pertaining to [official business] must be sent to their official District e-mail address." The policy also prohibits officials from using e-mail to "correspond back and forth with a majority of the Board of Commissioners . . . unless such e-mail is strictly informational in purpose." It also prohibits officials from attempting to "permanently delete any information or e-mails that are send to the District e-mail account." Interested citizens may wish to forward the above link to their elected public bodies and request them to adopt a similar e-mail policy. John Paff, Chair New Jersey Libertarian Party's Open Government Advocacy Project
 
Is Maplewood convicting people of violating repealed, invalid ordinances
On May 25, 2011, I found that police in Maplewood Township (Essex County) cited a man for violating the Township's "public intoxication" code even though the Township Committee repealed that provision of the code approximately a year and a half earlier. The uncial court accepted the man's guilty plea to the violation and assessed $80 in fines and costs. I believe that it's reasonable for citizens, at a minimum, to expect government officials to refrain from enforcing laws that the government itself has previously repealed. Accordingly, I wrote to Maplewood Mayor Victor DeLuca and the Township Committee requesting that immediate steps be taken to prevent more people from being charged with repealed ordinances. My letter, with exhibits, is on-line here. John Paff, Chair New Jersey Libertarian Party's Preempted Ordinance Repeal Project
 
What if executive session minutes are heavily redacted due to "personnel issues" being discussed?
I recently requested executive session minutes from the Belmar Housing Authority. I believe that the minutes that I received, which are on-line here and my follow-up records request to the Housing Authority's records custodian (set forth below) might be helpful to others who confront the same problem. If the follow-up request does not get me unredacted or properly redacted minutes, it will at least put me in a better position to file an action in Superior Court or the Government Records Council for disclosure of the minutes. John Paff, Chairman New Jersey Libertarian Party's Open Government Advocacy Project --text of records request Please accept this e-mail as my request for government records in accordance with the Open Public Records Act (OPRA) and the common law right of access. Please respond and send all responsive documents to me via e-mail at paff@pobox.com. If e-mail is not possible, please fax responses and responsive records to me at 908-325-0129. Also, I would appreciate it if you would acknowledge your receipt of this e-mail. Background: In response to a recent request, I recently received a two-page, handwritten set of minutes from a closed or executive meeting held in "June of 2010" by the Belmar Housing Authority. (I note that the minutes are undated, even though N.J.S.A. 10:4-14 requires minutes to contain "the time and place" of the meeting.) The minutes disclose that the meeting was called "to discuss raises for the three employees. Paul Caverly, Amy Spena, Bruce Petitt." But the entire substance of the minutes was redacted. In the record custodian's June 2, 2011 handwritten letter that accompanied the minutes, he noted that the minutes were redacted, but gave no reason for their redaction. Although "personnel matters" such as employee raises, may be discussed by a public body in executive session (see N.J.S.A. 10:4-12b8), it does not necessarily follow that the minutes of such an executive session may be kept confidential. In South Jersey Publishing Company, Inc. v. New Jersey Expressway Authority, 124 N.J. 478 (1991), the New Jersey Supreme Court found that there was "no inconsistency between the exemption allowing personnel matters to be discussed and debated in executive session and the Act's mandate that adequate minutes of ALL meetings be available to the public." (Id. at 493, Emphasis in original). Rather, the Court held that "the exemption is designed to enable the public body to determine the appropriate action to be taken, not to withhold from the public either the public body's determination or the reasons on which its determination was based." So, on the current record, it is impossible for me to tell whether or not redaction of the entire substance of the "June of 2010" executive session is justified. Request: Another copy of the "June of 2010" executive session minutes. This time, I would like them either unredacted or more narrowly redacted so that the maximum amount of information is revealed in accordance with the South Jersey Publishing Company decision cited above. For any elements of the minutes that you believe need to remain redacted, please recognize that when denying or redacting a record, N.J.S.A. 47:1A-5(g) requires a custodian to inform the requestor of the “specific basis” for each suppressed element. Beyond stating the “specific basis” for each suppressed element, the custodian is required to “produce specific reliable evidence sufficient to meet a statutorily recognized basis for confidentiality.” Courier News v. Hunterdon County Prosecutor’s Office, 358 N.J. Super. 373, 382-83 (App. Div. 2003). Further, he or she must explain each suppression in a manner that “will enable other parties to assess the applicability of the privilege or protection.” Paff v. New Jersey Department of Labor, Board of Review, 379 N.J. Super. 346, 354-55 (2005) (quoting R. 4:10-2(e)). --end text of request
 
Sparta pays $225,000 to settle suit alleging Uranium-tainted drinking water
On September 2008, the Township of Sparta (Sussex County) agreed to pay a total of $225,000 to ten local residents ($22,500) who sued the Township and its Water Utility claiming that their drinking water contained levels of Uranium in excess of EPA regulations. In their suit, Suzanne Cohen, Alyson Cohen, Jeffrey Cohen, Sharon Strickland, Ken Strickland, Barrette Strickland, Sally Finegan, Christina Finegan, Stephen Finegan and Gerald Finegan claimed that Township and Water Utility officials were negligent and failed to warn them of the hazard and "acted with conscious disregard of [their] safety with malice and oppression for which punitive and exemplary damages should be imposed." The case is captioned Cohen et al v. Township of Sparta, et al, Docket No. SSX-L-361-05 and the residents' attorney was Shari M. Blecher 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 the Plaintiffs' allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $225,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Sparta or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Sparta or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay the Plaintiffs $225,000 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.
 
OPRA/OPMA Suit filed against Runnemede school board

 
Perfunctory, uninformative dismissal of Internal Affairs complaint
On May 19, 2011, the New Jersey Libertarian Party's Police Accountability Project filed an Internal Affairs Complaint against State Trooper Scott Sanders. The complaint was based on a decision of the New Jersey Superior Court, Appellate Division in which a two judge panel found that Sanders conducted an improper, warrantless search of a motor vehicle. The court's decision caused suppression of "five dime bags of high grade marijuana, approximately a half ounce of cocaine, seven bricks of heroin, and five sealed blunts containing tobacco." Because of evidence the suppressed, the conviction and the six year prison sentence against the driver was reversed. Despite the fact that the search was deemed by an appellate court to have been illegal and resulted in a violation of a person's Fourth Amendment rights (not to mention the money--both public and private--wasted on the arrest, prosecution and defense), State Police Captain Jeffrey Gale, in a June 3, 2011 letter, perfunctorily informed the NJLP that his office had "determined that the trooper did not violate any of the New Jersey State Police Standard Operating Procedures, Rules or Regulations, or laws of the State of New Jersey." The NJLP's complaint, the Appellate Division's decision and Captain Gale's dismissal letter are on line here. Page 11-52 of the New Jersey Attorney General's "Internal Affairs Policy & Procedures" Manual (http://www.nj.gov/lps/dcj/agguide/internalaffairs2000v1_2.pdf) states that "citizen confidence in the integrity of the law enforcement agency increases through the establishment of meaningful and effective complaint procedures. This confidence engenders community support for the law enforcement agency." Yet, it is understandably hard for the public to have any confidence in the integrity of this particular investigation and dismissal. Are we to believe that the State Police have no rules against State Troopers conducting unconstitutional searches? Or, are we to believe that such rules do exists but that Trooper Sanders, despite the Appellate Division's ruling, did not violate them? The same page of the Manual also states that "the internal affairs process shall also be used to identify and correct unclear or inappropriate agency procedures. In addition it will highlight organizational conditions that may contribute to any misconduct, such as poor recruitment and selection procedures or inadequate training and supervision of officers." Indeed, the NJLP's letter of complaint specifically asked the State Police to "determine if there were training or policy failures within your agency." If Captain Gale did make this determination, he certainly did not share it with us. Based on this case, the public has no evidence upon which to conclude that the Division of State Police has a meaningful and effective internal affairs procedure. John Paff, Chairman New Jersey Libertarian Party's Police Accountability Project paff@pobox.com June 14, 2011
 
Jilted Officer got $75K and attoney seeks $400K more
jbileci@twp.washington.nj.us OPRA request Dear Ms. Bileci: Please accept this e-mail as my request for government records in accordance with the Open Public Records Act (OPRA) and the common law right of access. Please respond and send all responsive documents to me via e-mail at paff@pobox.com. If e-mail is not possible, please fax responses and responsive records to me at 908-325-0129. Also, I would appreciate it if you would acknowledge your receipt of this e-mail. Background: On February 16, 2011, Washington Township (Gloucester County), through its attorney, A. Michael Barker, offered Ernest M. D'Orazio, III $75,000 in exchange for D'Orazio dismissing his federal lawsuit against the Township and various police officials. Further research revealed that D'Orazio accepted the $75,000 but that it was stipulated that his attorney could still request that the Court order Washington to pay the legal fees and costs--in addition to the $75,000--that D'Orazio incurred during his lawsuit and the police disciplinary matter that precipitated the lawsuit (i.e. briefly--please see the filed court documents for more detail--D'Orazio was a Special Officer who was internally charged by police with revealing an upcoming drug bust to a target of the drug bust. In 2007, a judge who heard the disciplinary cases didn't sustain the charge and recommended that D'Orazio get his back wages, etc. On March 11, 2009, the Washington Township Council rejected the judge's recommendation, thus leading to D'Orazio's civil suit.) I have recently reviewed D'Orazio's attorney's fee claim and learned that D'Orazio's lawyer--Jacqueline M. Vigilante of Mullica Hill--is seeking an order requiring Washington Township taxpayers (or their insurer) to pay her $398,621 in fees and costs for having represented D'Orazio. The hearing on the attorney fee issue should be held soon. Note: Relevant documents regarding this case are on-line at: Records Requested: 1. Resolution or other written decision by the Township Council that authorized the offer of $75,000 to D'Orazio. 2. The resolution that authorized all Township Council nonpublic (executive or closed) meetings held on or after January 26, 2011. 3. The minutes, redacted as narrowly as possible, for all Township Council nonpublic (executive or closed) meetings held on or after January 26, 2011. 4. Minutes of all Township Council meetings, public or nonpublic, held on March 11, 2009. Thank you. John Paff, Chairman New Jersey Libertarian Party's Open Government Advocacy Project.
 
No incident reports filed in police accidental shooting
I received a letter dated June 15, 2011 from Lauren R. Staiger, Esq., attorney for Lacey Township. Ms. Staiger wrote in response to my records request for "all reports, including supplemental reports, of" a June 2, 2011 incident in which Lacey Police Officer Gerald Noda's firearm discharged in the police squad room injuring fellow Officer Julie Barcalow. The letter is on-line here: According to Ms. Staiger, Lacey Police Chief William A. Nalley informed her "that he does not currently have any records responsive to [my] request, not even an incident report." He noted however, that "the internal investigation will generate a report" in about a week. It is doubtful that I or anyone else from the public will be allowed to see the upcoming report since it is likely to be exempt from disclosure. If no report presently exists, I cannot fault Lacey Township for not disclosing it. Yet, I find it odd that no written report has yet been generated regarding this incident. I took it as a given that a police officer's weapon discharging and injuring another officer at police headquarters would have caused an immediate, written report to be filed. John Paff, Chairman New Jersey Libertarian Party's Open Government Advocacy Project
 
Department of Corrections pays $415,000 to settle discrimination suit
On April 21, 2011, the State of New Jersey Department of Corrections agreed to pay $415,000 to settle a lawsuit filed by a former female instructor who worked at the Corrections Officer Training Academy in Sea Girt, New Jersey. In her suit, Gina Marie DiPasquale, who served as a Senior Corrections Officer since 1996, said that after she began working as an instructor at the Sea Girt Academy in 2001, she "was subjected to harassment, retaliation and other discriminatory conduct on account of her sex and was forced to endure a work environment hostile to her and others." Specifically, she said that she complained in February 2002 about "sexually offensive cadences" used in training including one that included the phrase "don't let your ding dong dangle in the dirt." In her complaint, DiPasquale alleged that her complaint fell on deaf ears and that she "renewed" those complaints when Craig Conway was hired as the new director of the the Academy in 2002. In a December 18, 2009 Appellate Division decision, Conway was described as "an openly gay man" who "allegedly created an inner-circle of good-looking, young male officers, including captains, lieutenants and sergeants who supervised plaintiff [and that Conway] allegedly gave preferential treatment and more favorable assignments to these men." She said that she was discriminated after she complained, and that she was not allowed to instruct classes for which she was qualified. She said that Conway and others in management referred to her as "psycho-bitch" and other derogatory terms. DiPasquale claimed that the campaign of harassment forced her to take a temporary disability leave in early 2003. While she was on leave, she was notified that upon her return, she would be reassigned to work in the prison in Trenton and not teach at the Academy. She claimed that the harassment escalated and became so severe that she was forced to resign. The case is captioned DiPasquale v. State of New Jersey, Docket No. MER-L-228-05 and DiPasquale's attorney was Patricia A. Barasch of Moorestown. 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 DiPasquale's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $415,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Department of Corrections or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Department of Corrections or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay DiPasquale $415,000 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. ABOUT ME AND WHY I'M POSTING THIS. I chair the New Jersey Libertarian Party's Open Government Advocacy Project which seeks to increase governmental transparency and accountability, particularly at a local level. For more information on the Libertarian Party, go to http://www.njlp.org. As part of my work, I routinely check civil court cases where at least one of the parties is a government agency or official. Most often, these settlement agreements are never revealed to the public. I post them on the Libertarian Party's blog at http://njcivilsettlements.blogspot.com and other public forums because I believe that civil settlements, regardless of amount, may be of interest to citizens and taxpayers. John Paff Somerset, New Jersey
 
Two Police Employees have suits pending against Berkeley Township
At the following link there is a 42-page PDF file that contains: a) August 21, 2009 Administrative Law decision regarding Berkeley Police Lieutenant Robert Andrews and Police Dispatcher Denise Capizzi. b) January 18, 2011 lawsuit filed by Lieutenant Andrews against Berkeley Township Administrator Leonard W. Roeber, Police Chief John C. Weinlein and Police Officer James Britton. c) August 19, 2009 amended lawsuit filed by Dispatcher Capizzi against Chief Weinlein, Police Officer Timothy McNichols and the Ocean County Prosecutor's Office. SUMMARY OF THE ADMINISTRATIVE LAW DECISION Departmental charges were brought against both Capizzi and Andrews after Sergeant Britton, in response to questioning by Chief Weinlein, said that while he was not certain that oral sex was taking place, when he returned from road duty and walked into the police radio room, he saw Capizzi's head in Andrew's lap while they were both on duty. The questioning that caused Britton to reveal this event occurred in 2005 although the event itself allegedly occurred on June 30, 2002. In a written certification Britton provided concerning the incident, Andrews wasn't named. Rather Britton referred to him only as "the other sergeant on duty." (Britton was the "road sergeant" on duty while Andrews was the "desk sergeant.") Yet, under cross examination, Britton was confronted with documentation that showed that he was at headquarters during the period he testified he was on road duty. Ultimately, Administrative Law Judge Patricia J. Kerins found Andrews and Capizzi did not engage in a sexual act while on duty in the radio room. Judge Kerins found that Britton was not a credible witness and noted that although Britton, while standing in the radio room, supposedly had a side view of Capizzi kneeling in front of Andrews, who was seated, with her head in his lap, he was unable to tell what, if any, sexual act was taking place. Further research shows that at its December 2, 2009 meeting, the New Jersey Civil Services Commission agreed with the Administrative Law Judge that the charge against Andrews should be dismissed (see http://www.state.nj.us/csc/about/meetings/minutes/120209m.html) On February 11, 2011, Andrews applied to the Civil Services Commission to require Berkeley Township to pay the fees that he incurred defending against the disciplinary charge. (see http://www.state.nj.us/csc/about/meetings/schedule/pdf/020211a.pdf ) As a result of that application the Commission awarded Andrews his attorney fees in the amount of $19,430. (see http://www.nj.gov/csc/about/meetings/minutes/020211m.html ) SUMMARY OF ANDREWS' LAWSUIT AGAINST BERKELEY In his lawsuit, filed on January 18, 2011, Lieutenant Andrews alleged that the investigation that led to the sexual misconduct charge was not complete and and was not compliant with the New Jersey Attorney General's Internal Affairs Guidelines. He alleged that the charges being brought were just part of a pattern of harassment and retaliation by Chief Weinlein and others. He asserted claims under the Conscientious Employee Protection Act (Whistleblower Act), the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination and the torts of intentional infliction of emotional distress and malicious prosecution. He is represented in the suit by Charles J. Uliano of West Long Branch who also represented him in the administrative proceedings. SUMMARY OF CAPIZZI'S LAWSUIT AGAINST BERKELEY Capizzi, in her lawsuit, stated that she was hired as a dispatcher in 2002. After she separated from her husband in 2003, she said she began a consensual relationship with Officer Timothy McNichols who she alleges was married. Capizzi said that during the relationship, McNichols would meet with her while she was off duty but while he was on duty. In February 2004, Capizzi said that she became pregnant with McNichols' child. Although she resisted, McNichols allegedly pressured her to have an abortion. She said that she finally relented to the pressure and allowed McNichols to take her to Pleasant Women's Pavilion where she received an injection of Methotrexate to induce an abortion. However, she said that prior to taking the drug, she took large doses of folic acid which he understood would counteract Methotrexate. After consulting with her own doctor, she determined that the abortion did not induce and that her pregnancy remained viable. A few weeks later, however, she said that she fell down 13 concrete steps while at work on a cold and rainy night. This caused her to suffer a miscarriage. Shortly thereafter, her alleged relationship with McNichols came to an end. Thereafter, she claimed that she was counseled and given an official warning about her relationship with McNichols and that in order to gain information about the relationship, the confidence of counseling sessions that she had been attending must have been breached. She was interviewed by the Ocean County Prosecutor's office about the relationship and Chief Weinlein ordered her, without reason, to undergo a psychological evaluation. She claims that McNichols was never counseled, warned or ordered to be evaluated for his role in the relationship. Her lawsuit alleged that in April or May of 2004, McNichols told the police administration that Capizzi had an abortion and that was what caused the termination of her pregnancy. Weinlein, upon receipt of this information, allegedly decided to pursue criminal charges against her based on his belief that Capizzi's claim that a work related fall caused her to miscarriage was fraudulent. In early June 2004, she said that her working conditions became hostile and abusive. She alleges that on June 7, 2004, she was ordered to meet Chief Weinlein at 3:30 p.m. on July 11, 2004. When she reported to the meeting, she said that she was arrested and led out of the building in handcuffs in front of her follow employees. She was indicted for insurance fraud on September 28, 2004. She claimed, however, that no evidence regarding the incident that was favorable to her was presented to the Grand Jury. She claims that the prosecutor's office dismissed the charges after learning of the successful efforts that she made to counteract the effects of the Methotrexate. She alleged that Weinlein, when the fraud charges were beginning to unravel, convinced the Prosecutor's office to bring Official Misconduct charges against her for altering a police record. Capizzi explained that while she was pregnant, she fainted at a convenience store and police were called. For some unknown reason, the officer completing the report indicated that she was intoxicated. When she saw the error, she said that her supervisor gave her permission to correct it. After she was indicted for Official Misconduct, the Prosecutor's Office, in February 2005, determined that the charge should be dismissed. Yet, she said, Weinlein and others encouraged that a disorderly persons charge be filed against her. Such a charge was filed and Capizzi claims that in June 2005, she was found not guilty. Her lawsuit claims that she has not been paid the attorney fees that she incurred to defend against the charges. Even after the criminal charges were resolved in her favor, she remained suspended and claimed that Weinlein and others in the administration filed additional departmental charges against her to keep her on suspended status. Ultimately, she claimed that she was notified not to return to work even though she had been restored to paid status. Capizzi's complaint list several reasons why she should recover money from the Township including the "tort of outrage," malicious prosecution and civil rights violations. She is being represented in her lawsuit by Robyn B. Gigl of Livingston. ABOUT ME AND WHY I'M POSTING THIS. I chair the New Jersey Libertarian Party's Open Government Advocacy Project which seeks to increase governmental transparency and accountability, particularly at a local level. For more information on the Libertarian Party, go to http://www.njlp.org. As part of my work, I routinely check civil court cases where at least one of the parties is a government agency or official. Often, these lawsuits are never revealed to the public or written about in the newspapers. I post them on public forums because I believe that civil lawsuits may be of interest to citizens and taxpayers. John Paff, Chair New Jersey Libertarian Party's Open Government Advocacy Project Somerset, New Jersey
 
Elizabeth pays $500,000 to settle employee discrimination suit
On May 9, 2011, the Elizabeth Board of Education (Union County) agreed to pay $500,000 to an electrician who sued the Board and Superintendent Pablo Munoz for allegedly firing him because of his age, Italian ancestry, perceived disability or because he filed a workers compensation claim. In his suit, Frank LaFace, who was 60 when the lawsuit was filed, said that he was hired by the Board in 1983 and was placed on administrative leave on June 30, 2006 while he was seeking a workers compensation claim. He claims that he was then discharged even though he had seniority and "an excellent work history." The Board agreed to pay the $500,000 as follows: a) an initial check of $240,000, $110,000 of which is for LaFace's attorney's fees, $65,000 for his pain and suffering and $65,000 for economic damages. b) one year later, another check for $130,000, $65,000 for LaFace's pain and suffering and $65,000 for economic damages. c) one year after that, another $130,000 check, similar split between pain & suffering and economic damages. The case is captioned LaFace v. Elizabeth Board of Education, Docket No. UNN-L-3662-7 and LaFace's attorney was Phillip B. Linder of Edison. 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 LaFace's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $500,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by the school board or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that the school board or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay LaFace $500,000 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. ABOUT ME AND WHY I'M POSTING THIS. I chair the New Jersey Libertarian Party's Open Government Advocacy Project which seeks to increase governmental transparency and accountability, particularly at a local level. For more information on the Libertarian Party, go to http://www.njlp.org. As part of my work, I routinely check civil court cases where at least one of the parties is a government agency or official. Most often, these settlement agreements are never revealed to the public. I post them on the Libertarian Party's blog at http://njcivilsettlements.blogspot.com and other public forums because I believe that civil settlements, regardless of amount, may be of interest to citizens and taxpayers. John Paff Somerset, New Jersey
 
Elizabeth Board pays $205,000 to settle employee age discrimination suit
On January 26, 2011, the Elizabeth Board of Education (Union County) agreed to pay $205,000 to worker in its technology department who sued the Board for allegedly firing him because of his age. In his suit, Carmen Fortunato of Belleville, claims that he showed up to work on June 26, 2006, he discovered that he had been locked out of the Board's computer system. He subsequently learned that he had been terminated "as a consequence of performance, attendance, credentials and/or budgetary reasons." He claimed that those reasons were pretextual and that the real reason for firing him was his age. The case is captioned Fortunato v. Elizabeth Board of Education, Docket No. UNN-L-2500-07 and Fortunato's attorney was Thomas R. Basta of Warren. Case documents are on-line here. None of Fortunato's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $205,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by the school board or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that the school board or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Fortunato $205,000 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. ABOUT ME AND WHY I'M POSTING THIS. I chair the New Jersey Libertarian Party's Open Government Advocacy Project which seeks to increase governmental transparency and accountability, particularly at a local level. For more information on the Libertarian Party, go to http://www.njlp.org. As part of my work, I routinely check civil court cases where at least one of the parties is a government agency or official. Most often, these settlement agreements are never revealed to the public. I post them on the Libertarian Party's blog at http://njcivilsettlements.blogspot.com and other public forums because I believe that civil settlements, regardless of amount, may be of interest to citizens and taxpayers. John Paff Somerset, New Jersey
 

 
New Host Script Test

 

 
Re-test Issue Creation

 
3rd Issue Entry Test
This should now be correct
 
Bayonne pays $95,000 to settle police false arrest/excessive force suit
On May 25, 2011, the City of Bayonne (Hudson County) agreed to pay $95,000 to two local men who sued members of the Bayonne Police Department for allegedly beating them and arresting them without probable cause. In their suit, Michael Condo and Craig S. DeRocco said that they were assaulted by police as they left Fratelli\'s Bar on Broadway, Bayonne on March 18, 2007. Specifically, Condo said that Bayonne Police Detective David Macre beat, kicked and threw him to the ground while cursing at him. DeRocco claimed that Officer Dominick Lillo tackled him and punched him \"numerous times in the face and head.\" DeRocco also claimed that Lillo kicked DeRocco\'s sister when she asked him to stop beating her brother. The men also accused Detectives William Peterson and Timothy Carey as well as Sergeant Timothy McAuliffe of \"assaulting other individuals\" who were in the area. Both men claimed that they were taken to Bayonne Hospital\'s Emergency room while handcuffed and then taken back to the police department where they were \"booked, searched and detained.\" Both men said that they were charged with aggravated assault and resisting arrest but that all charges were administdatively dismissed by the Hudson County Prosecutor on December 3, 2007. The case is captioned Condo and DeRocco v. City of Bayonne, Federal Case No. 2:09-cv-01215 and the men were represented by Ida Cambria of New Brunswick. Case documents are on-line here. None of the men\'s allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $95,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Bayonne or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Bayonne or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay the men $95,000 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.
 
Source of crime information in your town
I recently became aware of a form called a \"UCR-370\" that local police departments are required to file monthly with the New Jersey State Police. As an example, I have uploaded the Ventnor City (Atlantic County) Police Department\'s UCR-370 from April 2011 here. The form reports the number of people who the police have charged during the month for various categories of offenses. For example, the form at the above link shows that during April 2011 Ventnor Police charged a twenty-two year old White male with possession of \"marijuana, hashish, etc.\" Based on this, I submitted the following, supplemental OPRA to the Ventnor police: *** Please accept this e-mail as my request for government records in accordance with the Open Public Records Act (OPRA) and the common law right of access. Please respond and send all responsive documents to me via e-mail at paff@pobox.com. If e-mail is not possible, please fax responses and responsive records to me at 908-325-0129. Also, I would appreciate it if you would acknowledge your receipt of this e-mail. Records Requested: Your April 2011 UCR-370 reports that a 22 year old male was charged with possession or use of marijuana or hashish. I\'d like a copy of the complaint (CDR-1 or CDR-2 or other form of complaint) issued against that defendant. *** My thought is that knowing the names of CDS defendants might be a useful recruitment tool for the NJLP. Also, I think that regular review of UCR-370 forms could help citizens learn about instances of violent crime in their towns that might not have been reported in the local newspapers. While similar (but not as detailed) information is eventually available through the Attorney General\'s Office (see See pages 109-171. http://www.njsp.org/info/ucr2009/pdf/2009_uniform_crime_report_b.pdf ), the UCR-370 forms are required to be filed by local police departments within seven days after the end of the month. The UCR-370 is not the only required filing. A complete list of Uniform Crime Reporting forms is on-line at http://www.state.nj.us/njsp/info/forms.html#ucr Interestingly, the State Police considers the UCR-370 and related forms confidential and not available to the public. (N.J.A.C. 13:57-1.3(d) states that “The uniform crime report form shall be used by the Uniform Crime Reporting Unit of the Division of State Police for purposes of compliance with the provisions of N.J.S.A. 52:17B-1 et seq. and such working documents shall be maintained as confidential by the Division of State Police and are not public records.”) Despite this provision, the municipalities that I have requested UCR-370 forms from have all complied. Also, since the reports contain only numerical data, I suspect that if challenged, the confidentiality provision would be overruled. If anyone wishes to request a UCR-370 from any municipal police department in the state, all they need to do is sent an e-mail to the municipal clerk in the following form: *** Please accept this e-mail as my request for government records in accordance with the Open Public Records Act (OPRA) and the common law right of access. Please respond and send all responsive documents to me via e-mail at [address[. If e-mail is not possible, please fax responses and responsive records to me at 908-325-0129. Also, I would appreciate it if you would acknowledge your receipt of this e-mail. Background: I\'m interested in seeing some of the reports that the Ventnor Police Department submitted to the Uniform Crime Reporting Unit of the Division of State Police for purposes of compliance with the provisions of N.J.S.A. 52:17B-5.1 et seq. Records Requested: The N.J.-UCR 370 (\"Age, Sex, Race and Ethnic Origin of Persons Arrested (18 years of age and over)\") form submitted by the Police Department covering the month of [month and year]. *** If anyone experiences a denial based on N.J.A.C. 13:57-1.3(d), please let me know. John Paff Somerset, New Jersey
 
Ventor complaint against marijuana smoker

 
FDS Complaint against Jersey City

 
No appointment needed to make OPRA request
In a July 12, 2011 letter, Government Records Council (GRC) Executive Director Catherine Starghill advised a South Jersey school district that it could not require records requestors to schedule an appointment before stopping by to make an Open Public Records Act (OPRA) request unless the district\'s enrollment does not exceed 500 pupils. Starghill\'s letter was in response to a complaint from local activist John Schmidt who complained that he had stopped by the Gloucester Township (Camden County) school district\'s offices on June 1, 2011 to make an OPRA request but was told that he needed to first schedule an appointment. In his letter, Schmidt pointed out that N.J.S.A. 47:1A-5(e) provides citizens with \"immediate access . . . to budgets, bills, vouchers, contracts\" and other records and that the district\'s policy of requiring people to first schedule an appointment unduly burdens that statutory right. Starghill\'s and Schmidt\'s correspondence is on-line here. John Paff, Chairman New Jersey Libertarian Party\'s Open Government Advocacy Project
 
Serving as an appointed municipal official
A good way for Libertarians to embark on getting involved in local government is to serve as a member of an appointed board. In order to find out what boards have vacancies, submit the following OPRA request to your municipal clerk: -------- OPRA request I would like the following government records in accordance with the Open Public Records Act (OPRA) and the common law right of access. 1. The municipality\'s up-to-date directory of local authorities, boards and commissions, as required by N.J.S.A. 40A:9-9.2 2. The municipality\'s \"Citizen Leadership Form\" as required by the same statute. -------- I submitted such a request to Penns Grove Borough in Salem County and the responsive documents are on-line at As you can see, the following vacancies currently exist in Penns Grove: two positions as Planning Board Alternate; one position on the Redevelopment Agency; two vacancies on the Recreation Board and one position on the Shade Tree Commission. John Paff Somerset, New Jersey
 
Merchantville pays $11,000 to settle suit alleging illegal MV stop
On May 11, 2011, the Borough of Merchantville (Camden County) agreed to pay $11,000 to a Pennsauken man who sued members of the Merchantville Police Department for allegedly stopping his vehicle and arresting him for Driving While Intoxicated without probable cause. In his suit, Alan Donia said that on September 23, 2007, he was stopped in Pennsaulken by Merchantville Police Sergeant Jeffrey Brocious, Sergeant Michael Reilly and Officer Matthew Rull and arrested for drunk driving, refusing to submit to a breath test and careless driving. After being convicted in municipal court, Donia claimed that Superior Court Judge William J. Cook reversed his conviction, finding that \"there was no probable cause for the police to stop Alan Donia\'s vehicle and arrest him.\" The case is captioned Donia v. Merchantville, Superior Court Docket No. CAM-L-2623-09 and Donia\'s attorney was Kimberly Stuart Kluchnick of Cherry Hill. Case documents are on-line here. None of Donia\'s allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $11,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Merchantville or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Merchantville or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Donia $11,000 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.
 
RE: Merchantville Dismisses Police Internal Affairs Complaint
July 19, 2011 Hon. Frank M. North, Mayor and members of the Merchantville Borough Council 1 West Maple Avenue Merchantville, NJ 08109 via e-mail to dbrouse@merchantvillenj.gov RE: Merchantville Dismisses Police Internal Affairs Complaint Dear Mayor North and Council members: I chair the New Jersey Libertarian Party\'s Police Accountability Project. On May 24, 2011, the Project filed an Internal Affairs Complaint against Merchantville Police Sergeant Jeffrey Brocious, Sergeant Michael Reilly and Officer Matthew Rulli. The basis for the complaint was a May 29, 2008 order by Superior Court Judge William J. Cook holding that the three officers stopped a vehicle owned by Pennsauken resident William Donia and arrested him despite there being any probable cause for the stop. In his May 28, 2008 ruling, Judge Cook reversed the January 10, 2008 holdings of Merchantville Municipal Court Judge Oren R. Thomas, III that convicted Donia of drunk driving, refusing to submit to a breath test and careless driving. In his decision, Judge Cook found that \"there was no probable cause for the police to stop Alan Donia\'s vehicle and arrest him, nor was there any other lawful basis for the motor vehicle stop under the community caretaking function, or was there any other lawful basis.\" Judge Cook further found that since the stop and arrest took place in Pennsauken, \"the Merchantville Municipal Court lacked jurisdiction\" to hear the matter. After Cook\'s decision, Donia sued the Borough of Merchantville and on May 11, 2011 the Borough paid him $11,000 to settle his his suit. (For suit documents, see my blog entry at http://njcivilsettlements.blogspot.com/2011/07/merchantville-pays-11000-to-settle-suit.html ) Despite Judge Cook\'s ruling, Detective Sergeant Stephen Morrone of the Merchantville Police Department\'s Internal Affairs Unit dismissed our Internal Affairs complaint against the arresting officers. Morrone gave no reasons for the dismissal except to state that \"a review of all information available to [him] would indicate that the named police officers followed the appropriate departmental policies and procedures.\" Our complaint, Judge Cook\'s decision, the police department\'s response and other documents are on-line here: Sergeant Morrone\'s response is bewildering. Is the public to understand that it is permissible, under the Merchantville Police Department\'s regulations, for its police officers to stop and arrest motorists without probable cause in a neighboring town? Are these officers to suffer no consequences even though their actions resulted in the Borough paying $11,000 to the motorist who was improperly stopped and arrested? I look forward to learning the Mayor\'s and Council\'s position on this matter. Sincerely, John Paff, Chairman New Jersey Libertarian Party\'s Open Government Advocacy Project paff@pobox.com
 
Bloomfield FDS Complaints
My complaint against 30 Bloomfield officials is on-line here: My complaint against Clerk Louis M. Palagano for not maintaining a proper roster and the state\'s response to that complaint are on-line here: John Paff, Chair New Jersey Libertarian Party\'s Open Government Advocacy Project paff@pobox.com
 
Egg Harbor Township pays $32,500 to settle police false arrest/intimidation suit
On November 17, 2008, the Township of Egg Harbor (Atlantic County) agreed to pay $32,500 to a man who sued members of the Egg Harbor Township Police Department for allegedly beating him and arresting him without probable cause. According to a June 8, 2008 federal court opinion, Pierre Reid, Sr. said that he was falsely arrested by Patrolmen Scott Nell, Michael Steinman, Christopher Mozitis, Anthony Venuto, William Reed and Jeffrey Lancaster and Lieutenant Larry Szapor on September 13, 2003. The arrest arose out of domestic violence charges brought against Reid by his former girlfriend Michelle Nieves. The second count of Reid\'s lawsuit alleges that Szapor, Steinman, Mozitis, Venuto, Reed and Lancaster hurled \"racial slurs and profanity\" at him and \"maced him uncontrollably\" in the face and genitals while again arresting him two days later on September 15, 2003. The crux of Reid\'s complaints is that Patrolman Scott Nell was allegedly in a romantic relationship with Michelle Nieves and that Nell and Nieves conspired to falsely assert domestic violence charges against Reid. According to a footnote in the court decision, \"Nell and Nieves became romantically involved and were married in December of 2004.\" Also named as plaintiffs in the suit were Pierre Reid, Jr., Kristen Amber Reed and Victor Nelson. Also named as defendants were Michelle Nieves, Patrolman Michael Bordonaro and the Township of Egg Harbor. The case is captioned Reid v. Nell, et al, Federal Case No. 1:05-cv-04885-RMB-JS and Reid\'s attorney was Ericka A. Appenzeller of Atlantic 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 Reid\'s allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $32,500 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Egg Harbor or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Egg Harbor or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Reid $32,500 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.
 
Egg Harbor Township police revises their Internet reporting form
On May 23, 2011, I posted an article entitled \"Libertarians ask Egg Harbor Township to revise its police internal affairs form\" which criticized the Egg Harbor Township (Atlantic County) Police Department\'s internal affairs reporting system. At issue was an on-line form that citizens were invited to use to report misconduct by township police officers. The reporting form improperly requested the complainant\'s date of birth, social security number and other sensitive information. I asserted that the intrusive information requests, along with a photograph of a police SWAT team breaking down a residence\'s door appearing at the top of the complaint form, might \"dissuade many members of the public from bringing internal affairs complaints to the police administration\'s attention.\" In a July 21, 2011 letter, Police Chief Michael J. Morris thanked the NJLP Police Accountability for expressing its concerns and stated that the police department, based on our suggestions, had modified its complaint form. The revised form, which is on-line at https://www.ehtpd.com/forms/complain.cfm removes the intimidating photo and most of the intrusive questions. It also explicitly advises citizens that complaint forms will be accepted and processed \"even if fields are blank and/or the form is not complete.\" Accordingly, even anonymous complaints can now be submitted on-line. Chief Morris\' letter is on-line at The Project\'s May 23, 2011 complaint letter and a screen-shot of the old reporting form are on-line here: http://ogtf.lpcnj.org/2011142Og//EggHarborPoliceForm.pdf John Paff, Chair New Jersey Libertarian Party\'s Police Accountability Project
 
Egg Harbor pays $650,000 to settle police officer\'s whistle blower suit
On May 28, 2009, the Township of Egg Harbor (Atlantic County) agreed to pay $650,000 to a Township police officer who sued the Egg Harbor Police Department for retaliating against him after he reported suspected cheating on a sergeant promotional exam. In his suit, Christopher Mozitis said after he took the sergeant promotional exam in 2005, he was \"shocked\" to learn that five other officers who \"were definitely not the best and the brightest\" had achieved the top five test scores. He further claimed that he had hear rumors that some of the top scorers had boasted \"that they had been given access to a surreptitiously made audiotape recording of the sergeant\'s promotional exam oral test portions by the Key Schools.\" Mozitis said that he after reported his suspicions to Captain John Pope and Chief John Coyle a \"half-hearted\" investigation was done. However, Mozitis alleged, Chief Coyle promoted one of the top scorers to sergeant prior to the investigation\'s completion. Mozitis also alleged that after the test scores were known, Chief Coyle and other supervisors evaluated the candidates and \"then manipulated the ultimate promotional list rankings based upon non-objective factors.\" In sum, Mozitis claimed, \"favoritism was allowed to trump merit.\" Mozitis claimed that his complaints about the testing process resulted in \"a grotesquely hostile and retaliatory work environment.\" He claimed, for example, that police union shop steward Ray Theriault threatened to \"kick his ass\" when Mozitis confronted Theriault for failing to pursue his grievance. Also named in the suit was Egg Harbor Police Captain Matthew Coyle who is Chief Coyle\'s brother. The case is captioned Mozitis v. Coyle, Docket No. ATL-L-1936-06 and Mozitis\'s attorney was Clifford Van Syoc of Cherry Hill. Case documents are on-line here. The settlement agreement contains a confidentiality clause which, curiously, states that it is not a \"confidentiality agreement\" but limits the parties\' statements about the settlement to \"The matter has been resolved to the satisfaction of the parties.\" 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 Mozitis\'s allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $650,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Egg Harbor or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Egg Harbor or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Mozitis $650,000 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. ABOUT ME AND WHY I\'M POSTING THIS. I chair the New Jersey Libertarian Party\'s Open Government Advocacy Project which seeks to increase governmental transparency and accountability, particularly at a local level. For more information on the Libertarian Party, go to http://www.njlp.org. As part of my work, I routinely check civil court cases where at least one of the parties is a government agency or official. Most often, these settlement agreements are never revealed to the public. I post them on the Libertarian Party\'s blog at http://njcivilsettlements.blogspot.com and other public forums because I believe that civil settlements, regardless of amount, may be of interest to citizens and taxpayers. John Paff Somerset, New Jersey
 
Burlco Prosecutor: Evesham official \"unwittingly\" violated Sunshine Act
In an August 4, 2011 letter to the attorney for the Eveham Township Council, Burlington County Prosecutor Robert D. Bernardi said that \"Evesham Township officials did unwittingly run afoul of the prohibitions contained in the Open Public Meetings Act\" by discussing public business by way of e-mail communications. Prosecutor Bernardi, however, declined to impose fines against the officials because that it was a not a \"knowing\" violation and that \"educating public officials who may have mistakenly violated the provisions of the statute is far more effective than the imposition of nominal fines.\" The prosecutor\'s letter, which is on-line here, was sent in response to a complaint filed by the New Jersey Libertarian Party\'s Open Government Advocacy Project. John Paff Somerset, New Jersey
 
Bergen Judge orders officials to stop using personal e-mail accounts
In an August 4, 2011 decision, Bergen County Superior Assignment Court Judge Peter E. Doyne considered, among other issues, the question of public officials using private e-mails to discuss public business. Judge Doyne ultimately concluded that using personal e-mail accounts for public business \"appears highly questionable\" and \"order[ed] counsel for [the municipality] to circulate a memorandum among all pertinent Borough employees directing they use only their public e-mail accounts, rather than private accounts, when conducting town business.\" This is the first such holding of which I\'m aware and it may be useful in convincing other government officials to sent official e-mail communications solely through their governmental e-mail accounts. Judge Doyne\'s decision is on-line here. Many thanks to Kevin M. O\'Brien, who filed and prosecuted this lawsuit without the aid of an attorney. John Paff
 
Plea Bargains in Municipal. Court
On August 6, 2011, the New Jersey Libertarian Party contacted Senator Christopher Bateman seeking enactment of a statutory offense designed to be the one to which municipal courts plea-bargain other statutory offenses. The letter to Senator Bateman is on-line here: Such a statute, in our view, would be preferable to the current, unlawful practice, used in many courts, of downgrading statutory offenses to municipal ordinance violations, a practice that has been ruled improper by the state Attorney General\'s office in 1998. See the Attorney General\'s memo here: There are two basic problems with the current practice. First, since ordinance violations are not listed on the criminal history records maintained by the State, there is no way for a judge to know whether a defendant standing before the court with a purportedly clean record is really a first offender or has had statutory charges downgraded to ordinance violations one or more times in the past. Unrecorded plea bargains to municipal ordinances undermine the criminal justice system\'s practice of showing leniency toward first offenders while meting out more severe penalties to repeat offenders. Second, not everyone gets their statutory offenses plea bargained to an unrecorded ordinance violation. Some defendants either plead guilty or are found guilty of the statutory offense. In one of the cases I examined, a Manville defendant was charged with possession of a small amount of marijuana which was pled down to a municipal ordinance violation and resulted in a $350 fine and $33 costs. (Summons No. 1811-S-2011-000090). From a Libertarian\'s perspective, drug prohibition laws shouldn\'t exist, so, I suppose that this is a good outcome. But, it\'s not right if other defendants--perhaps ones who do not have the \"right\" defense lawyer or who are in a disfavored political party or social class--plead guilty or are found guilty of the statutory offenses and subjected to the severe, life-changing statutory penalties. People who commit \"real\" crimes (i.e. those with an identifiable victim, such as assault, forgery, etc.) should be subject to progressively severe criminal penalties according to the number of times they re-offend. And, people who commit victimless crimes (i.e. drug, prostitution, gambling and other offenses where \"society\" is the purported victim) shouldn\'t be prosecuted at all, but as long as some are being prosecuted, it shouldn\'t be permitted for others to escape the harsh penalties based on factors that should be irrelevant to prosecutors and judges. (Also, perhaps if the sons and daughters of politicians and other members of the political and law enforcement classes were subjected to the same life-changing penalties that the rest of us are, the laws against these victimless crimes would promptly be amended.) Nobody wants to see first offenders who make a mistake saddled with a criminal record. We envision that the statutory offense suggested in our letter to Senator Bateman would allow these one-time offenders to enjoy an automatic expungement of the conviction after a period in which no repeat violations occur. Perhaps a record of the conviction might be shielded from prospective employers or schools during those five years in order to aid in the defendant\'s rehabilitation. These are matters for the legislature to work out. But, the current practice of downgrading to preempted municipal ordinance violations totally lacks any design or accountability, disserves the criminal justice process and allows for plea bargains that can either be granted or withheld at a prosecutor\'s or judge\'s whim. John Paff, Chairman New Jersey Libertarian Party\'s Preempted Ordinance Repeal Project
 
Bloomfield Settles OPRA case
There is some importance of keeping track--as much as we can--of OPRA and OPMA litigation. The idea is to keep abreast of trial level decisions that the public might not otherwise been aware of. I\'ve tracked down one such case that I didn\'t previously know of, and even though it contains nothing of great importance, I thought I\'d make the Board aware of it. The paperwork is on-line at the following link: Essentially, it\'s a case against Bloomfield in which a local resident, Karen Blanda, sued Bloomfield Township in Essex County because they a) charged her $25 for an audio recording of a public meeting and b) gave her a tape that played at double speed making it impossible for her to listen to it. After Plaintiff\'s motion for summary judgment, which was limited, curiously, to striking Bloomfield\'s asserted affirmative defenses of laches, estoppel and failure to exhaust administrative remedies, Judge Claude M. Coleman held that \"even if tapes were inaudible of Plaintiff\'s machine, Plaintiff was granted access to listen to the tapes and an opportunity to record the tapes at a speed and in a manner suitable for Plaintiff\'s recorder. The actual cost of duplicating the tape is a dispute of a material fact and not appropriate for summary judgment at this time.\" The matter was settled on April 29, 2011 but Bloomfield claims to have no settlement agreement on file that memorializes the terms of settlement. Bloomfield did give me a voucher showing that Plaintiff\'s lawyer, Friedman & Doherty, LLC, received $1,544.95 in costs and fees from the Township. John Paff
 
Ethics Charges against West Wildwood attorney
WEST WILDWOOD — Former borough solicitor Ronald Stagliano has had ethics charges brought against him by the Supreme Court of New Jersey District Ethics Committee for allegedly benefiting from the sale of properties on North Drive.
 
Did Northfield PD give break to a fellow officer who was driving drunk?
August 15, 2011 New Jersey Attorney General\'s Office Office of Citizens\' Services P.O. Box 080 Trenton, NJ 08625-0080 RE: Northfield Police Department (Atlantic County) Dear Sir or Madam: We believe that during the early morning hours of February 17, 2011, the Northfield Police Department may have encountered an off-duty police officer from Egg Harbor Township who was intoxicated and passed out behind the wheel of his private vehicle while stopped at a traffic light. We further believe that the Northfield Police did not administer a field sobriety test or otherwise investigate to determine whether the off-duty officer was driving while under the influence. Rather, Northfield Police apparently gave their fellow officer preferential treatment by having him driven home by an Egg Harbor Township police sergeant. In order to understand the matter better, please download the following records: August 15, 2011 Letter from Egg Harbor Police Chief in response to my August 8, 2011 letter. Northfield Police Department\'s \"Detail Call for Service Report\" from February 17, 2011. Audio of radio transmissions and telephone call related to the February 17, 2011 incident. The audio recording and Service Report suggest that Northfield Police observed Egg Harbor Township Officer Jeffrey Lancaster asleep behind his wheel while his vehicle was stopped at an intersection and remained there while the traffic light went through several sequences. They also suggest that Lancaster was \"AOB\" (i.e. had alcohol on his breath) and may have been \"four-fifty\" (in violation of N.J.S.A. 39:4-50, New Jersey\'s drunk driving statute). Yet, instead of investigating this incident as a drunk driving violation, Northfield Police called Egg Harbor Township Police and Sergeant Michael T. Hughes went to the scene to drive Lancaster home. Egg Harbor Township Police Chief Michael J. Morris\' letter confirms, however, that an internal affairs investigation of the incident resulted in Lancaster pleading guilty to several infractions of departmental rules and regulations. While we have been denied access to many of the records related to this matter, it appears to us that Lancaster, who was off-duty and driving his own vehicle at the time of his encounter with Northfield Police, was disciplined as a result of that encounter--probably for driving while intoxicated. Also, had Lancaster been sleeping but not intoxicated, he could have driven himself home. If our suspicions are correct, then it appears that the Northfield Police Department acted inappropriately by not investigating their encounter with Lancaster as a drunk driving matter and treating him as they undoubted would have had treated an ordinary citizen. We find such preferential treatment repugnant and hope that your office feels the same way. We ask that you please investigate this matter and advise us of the results of your investigation. Very truly yours, John Paff, Chairman New Jersey Libertarian Party\'s Police Accountability Project
 
Model Res

 
Galloway Township Supplemental OPRA request
CHackney@gallowaytwp-nj.gov Please accept this e-mail as my request for government records in accordance with the Open Public Records Act (OPRA) and the common law right of access. Please respond and send all responsive documents to me via e-mail at paff@pobox.com. If e-mail is not possible, please fax responses and responsive records to me at 908-325-0129. Also, I would appreciate it if you would acknowledge your receipt of this e-mail. Background: In an earlier request, I asked for minutes of the July 18, 2011 Township Council closed session. I asked for these minutes after readings two Patch articles (\"Galloway Township Appoints New Clerk\" on August 23, 2011 and \"Lisa Tilton Resigns as Township Clerk as Part of Deal Reached Monday Night\" on July 19, 2011). A copy of my request and the Township\'s response is on-line at From reading those article, I learned that outstanding disciplinary charges against Tilton would be dropped in exchange for her resigning effective October 3, 2011. In addition to paying Tilton $3,800 for her attorney fees, the agreement \"called for all charges pending against her to be dismissed with prejudice and expunged in exchange for her resignation.\" She will also receive a \"neutral reference . . . when contacted by potential employers, including to state she resigned in good standing.\" This deal was hammered out during a seven hour executive session from which Mayor Hartman recused himself part of the way through. According to the resolution that authorized the July 18, 2011 closed meeting, there were two issues to be discussed privately: a) \"Township Clerk\" and b) Chief Financial Officer.\" According to the resolution, the discussion related to the Clerk would only be publicly revealed as follows: \"If employee is terminated, redacted minutes may be available in 60 days. If employee is not terminated, only pursuant to Court Order.\" For the private discussion related to the CFO, the discussion, as recorded in the minutes, would be release \"only pursuant to Court Order.\" The July 19, 2011 Patch article indicates that both Tilton and Township Manager Steve Bonanni received Rice notices. And, Deputy Mayor Don Purdy is quoted as saying that the issues involving Tilton and Bonanni \"were handled simultaneously because the issues were intertwined. “One had to do with the other,” Purdy said. “We had to talk about Steve because Lisa brought him into it.” Yet, the July 18, 2011 closed session resolution doesn\'t mention any issue involving Bonanni that needed to be privately discussed, so it is confusing as to how his issues, whatever they are, were legitimately discussed in closed session. From what I\'ve read so far, it appears that there was some major controversy that was settled, with taxpayer money, of course, that the Township is now seeking to keep secret. I would like for you to remember that the taxpayers--the ones who are footing the bill for all this drama--have a right to know the real story as to what\'s going on so that they can determine whether the Mayor and Council acted wisely and appropriately in making this deal with Tilton. These taxpayers vote, and they need to have information on what really happened so that they are fully informed when they cast their votes. My intent is to get the records that reveal what really happened and post them on the Internet so that the voting public can review them. If you review the South Jersey Publishing case that is cited in your resolution, you might come to the conclusion--as I have--that at the very least, redacted versions of the July 18, 2011 closed meeting should be disclosed. Your decision to completely suppress the minutes until October 3, 2011 \"with approval from the Solicitor and Council\" appears to be out of step with the South Jersey Publishing ruling. Be advised that if you continue to withhold the information I seek, I will likely litigate this matter. Records Requested: 1. Minutes of the July 18, 2011 closed Council meeting, redacted as narrowly as possible, if at all. 2. Rice notice sent to Tilton 3. Rice notice sent to Bonanni 4. Tilton\'s written response to Rice Notice, if any. 5. Bonanni\'s written response to Rice Notice, if any. 6. Settlement agreement with Tilton. 7. Disciplinary charges against Tilton, and her or her lawyer\'s written responses to those charges, redacted as narrowly as possible, if at all. Thank you!
 
State v. Paulsboro Police: Judge to decide whether cases move forward
On May 5, 2011, Eltereake Mears of Billings Avenue, Paulsboro was arrested by Paulsboro Police. Shortly thereafter, Mears\' two brother, Shavon Mears and Artavious Mears went to the police department to inquire about his status. An altercation allegedly occurred that spilled out onto the street. The melee resulted in the Mears brothers filing five citizen complaints, alleging assault and harassment, against Paulboro Police Chief Francis J. Grogan, Detective Sergeant Vernon Marino and Investigator Gary Kille. According to the July 6, 2011 edition of the Gloucester County times, Chief Grogan is going to retire in September 2011. The complaints, which were filed on July 15, 2011, along with the corresponding \"Complaint Information Forms\" and \"Certifications in Support of Probable Cause\" are on-line here: The detailed charges made in the complaints are set forth at the bottom of this post. Citizen complaints, such as the ones filed by the Mears brothers, cannot move forward unless and until \"probable cause\" is found to exist by either the Court Administrator or a Municipal Court Judge. According to my August 24, 2011 conversation with Gloucester County Municipal Division Manager Carole A. Cummings, the probable cause determination will be made by Westville Municipal Court Judge Thomas M. North. According to Cummings, Judge North will make the decision because it might present a conflict of interest for Paulsboro Municipal Court Judge William Golden to decide. Although the complaints were filed more than a month ago, there has been no probably cause determination yet, and Cummings was not able to provide a date by which the determination will be made. If probable cause is found, the matters will proceed to trial. If not, they will be dismissed and, according to Cummings, the Mears brothers will lack standing to appeal the dismissals. John Paff, Chairman New Jersey Libertarian Party\'s Police Accountability Project ---Details of charges The complaints allege that: 1. Eltereake Mears was pushing his five month old son in a stroller on May 5, 2011 in the area of Adams and Spruce Streets in Paulsboro when two police officers--Detective Sergeant Vernon Marino, Investigator Gary Kille--jumped out of their car to arrest Eltereake\'s friend, Daquan Belcher. The complaint alleges that Marino \"crashed into [the] baby\'s stroller knocking it sideways on two wheels\" with the baby inside. Eltereake claims that after he told Marino that \"he almost knocked [my] son out the stroller,\" some words were exchanged and Eltereake walked away. According to Eltereake, Marino jumped out his car \"a short time later\" and \"falsely arrested\" Eltereake. State v. Marino, Complaint No. 0814-S-2011-000396 (charging simple assault and harassment.) 2. Eltereake Mears claims that Kille, while arresting him, pushed him against a fence as he was holding his five month old\'s stroller and \"walked [him] to the trunk of the car hit [him] with the back of [Kille\'s] forearm slamming [his] face into the truck of the car.\" State v. Kille, Complaint No. 0814-S-2011-000395 (charging simple assault and harassment.) 3. Artavious Mears claims that when he and his brother, Shavon, went to the police station to check on Eltereake, the \"police were uncooperative and confrontational.\" He alleges that \"argument ensured\" as the brothers \"were walking away from the police.\" He says that Kille followed him outside, \"took [him] to the ground, bent [his] arm behind [his] back and arrested [him].\" State v. Kille, Complaint No. 0814-S-2011-000391 (charging simple assault and harassment.) 4 and 5. Shavon Mears claims that when he and his brother, Artavious, went to the police station to check on Eltereake, the \"police were uncooperative and confrontational.\" He alleges that \"argument ensured\" as the brothers \"were walking away\" that Marino and Chief Grogan followed them out. Marino allegedly \"ran towards [him] fast and attempted to throw [him] to the ground [and that] \"Grogan tackled [him] from behind and, as they fell to the ground, either Grogan or Marino \"punched [him] in the back of [his] head.\" State v. Marino, Complaint No. 0814-S-2011-000390 (charging simple assault and harassment) and State v. Grogan, Complaint No. 0814-S-2011-000389 (charging simple assault and harassment.) -30-
 
OPRA decision in Hudson County
One of the things that I try to do is identify and call activists\' attention to court cases that construe and apply the Open Public Records Act (OPRA), the Open Public Meetings Act (OPRA) and the common law right of access. Sometimes, these case are filed and adjudicated without anyone noticing. One such case is Comprelli v. Town of Harrison, Docket No. HUD-L-1179-10. The complaint, two court orders and two written opinions by Superior Court Judge Bernadette N. DeCastro are on-line here: Here\'s a thumbnail sketch of the case. Plaintiff owns commuter parking lot in Harrison (Hudson County), New Jersey and asserts that city officials are harassing him by visiting his parking lots daily and counting the number of cars parked there. He submitted records requests to see, among other things, whether his competitors were enduring similar daily inspections. The Town denies his requests for not being on an official OPRA form and for being overly broad. Plaintiff, through his attorney, completes the Town\'s OPRA form and repeatedly amends and clarifies the request to make it specific as possible. Ultimately, the Town fails or refuses to grant access to the vast majority of the requested records and maintains that the request is overly broad and that pending litigation between the parties permits the records to be withheld. In her May 4, 2010 opinion, Judge DeCastro determined \"plaintiffs have sufficiently amended their requests in a manner which would not require [Harrison] to guess the information that plaintiff is requesting.\" She also found that to the extent that the Town denied access to public meeting minutes, it violated OPMA. Finally, she found that \"the Town has not articulated any concern form confidentiality of the requested records, and as such, there is no basis to withhold these records from plaintiff under the common law.\" Plaintiff asked for the court to impose OPRA\'s civil penalty against the Town\'s custodian. Judge DeCastro, citing the unpublished Appellate Division opinion in Hirsch v. City of Hoboken, determined that the Superior Court does not have jurisdiction to impose civil penalties. In her August 26, 2010 opinion, Judge DeCastro found: a) that hourly rates of $450, which was increased to $520 effective January 1, 2010 by lead attorney Paul H. Schafhauser of Herrick, Feinstein LLP were \"reasonable and customary;\" b) the Town was required to pay for legal work done prior to the request being submitted on the Town\'s OPRA request form; c) plaintiff was granted attorney fees of $28,951.36 for work done between March 26, 2010 and July 31, 2010 and d) that plaintiffs is entitled to additional fees for work done after July 31, 2010. In a January 4, 2011 Order, Judge DeCastro ordered the Town to pay an additional amount of fees and costs of $14,687.00. According to the Harrison Town Clerk, the fee award has been appealed and that the trial court has, on July 7, 2011, stayed payment of the fees pending appeal. John Paff, Chairman New Jersey Libertarian Party\'s Open Government Advocacy Project
 
NJLP seeks repeal of Paulsboro Loitering Ordinance
The New Jersey Libertarian Party\'s Preempted Ordinance Repeal Project has taken aim at the Loitering and Peace and Good Order codes in Paulsboro Borough, Gloucester County. In an August 26, 2011 letter to John Burzichelli, Project Chairman I pointed out that the Borough\'s ordinances are preempted by state law and are thus invalid. That letter is on-line here: Paulsboro\'s code is nearly identical to the loitering codes in other municipalities that have already been declared invalid. (See, e.g. Butler Borough, Morris County, at http://www.lpcnj.org/OGTF/LButler.pdf) John Paff, Chairman New Jersey Libertarian Party\'s Preempted Ordinance Repeal Project
 
Somerset Freeholders revise closed session process
If your local government officials aren\'t doing what the Open Public Meetings Act (OPMA) requires, one way to get their attention is to threaten to sue them. That\'s what I did on August 11, 2011 when I discovered that the Somerset County Freeholders were discussing matters in closed session that they should have been discussing in public and were keeping closed meeting minutes that lacked enough detail for the public to understand what was discussed. So that the Freeholders realized that I wasn\'t making idle threats, I drafted a civil lawsuit and e-mailed it to the Board advising them that unless I heard from them or their attorney by Friday, August 26, 2011 (i.e. three days after the Freeholder Board\'s August 23, 2011 meeting), I would file my lawsuit \"without further notice.\" On August 26, 2011, at 4:37 p.m., I received a letter from Somerset County Counsel William T. Cooper, III providing me with a list of five changes that the Freeholders pledged to make to bring them within OPMA compliance. Mr. Cooper\'s letter, along with my draft lawsuit, is on-line here. This is a good outcome because I was able to get compliance without having to burden the taxpayers (and myself) with the cost of litigation. And, although it sounds difficult and may seem a bit intimidating, it\'s not really very hard to file a lawsuit without an attorney. I\'ve done it several times and have found that, in most all cases, the courts haven\'t been hostile to a non-lawyered citizen and have actually been quite accommodating and helpful. John Paff, Chairman New Jersey Libertarian Party\'s Open Government Advocacy Project
 
Attorney General acknowledges receipt of NJLP rulemaking petition
As reported on May 16, 2011, the New Jersey Libertarian Party submitted a \"Petition for Rulemaking\" formally requesting the New Jersey Attorney General to adopt some rules \"that genuinely and substantially address the problem of police showing favoritism to fellow officers.\" The request was made in the wake of media reports regarding police officers\' habitual failure to enforce drunk driving laws against State Trooper Sheila McKaig. After apparently misplacing our first petition, I re-sent the petition to the Attorney General on July 11, 2011. After not hearing from the Attorney General\'s office for over a month, I submitted a records request for a copy of the petition, to determine whether the Attorney General received it. Today, I received a response to my records request indicating that the Attorney General\'s office did receive our petition and that notice of it will be published in the September 19, 2011 New Jersey Register. The notice to be published is on-line here. Within a few months, the Attorney General will determine whether or not to grant our petition and will publish its decision in the New Jersey Register. The Register is on-line at http://www.lexisnexis.com/njoal/
 
Whoops! Atlantic County Links not available!
When I sent out my last posting regarding the Atlantic County OPRA case, I didn\'t realize that the links were password protected. (I\'m still getting used to the new system.) Judge Higbee\'s decision is on-line here. Court Rule 1:36-3 is on-line here. Sorry for the trouble. John Paff
 
Union County MusicFest
If you want to see New Jersey local government at its \"finest,\" check out the Union County Prosecutor\'s investigation report on Union County\'s 2010 \"MusicFest.\" The report, without exhibits, is on-line here: The report finds multiple instances of county employees and vendors handling cash without any supervision or accountability. Also notable, is the County\'s failure to notice that $24,281.68 was improperly kept by a vendor instead of being returned to the county\'s treasury. Despite all the problems found, the prosecutor\'s office ultimately found that \"there is insufficient evidence which warrants the filing of criminal charges in this matter.\" John Paff
 
Greenwich Township Tort Claim Notice
On August 25, 2011, the News of Cumberland County published an article entitled \"Greenwich Twp. representatives and fire department named in tort claims notice.\" As a public service, the Libertarian Party has secured a copy of the actual Tort Claim Notice and have placed it on-line here. John Paff, Chairman New Jersey Libertarian Party\'s Open Government Advocacy Project
 
Gloucester Prosecutor issues guidelines on public officials\' e-mail usage
On September 13, 2011, Gloucester County Prosecutor Sean F. Dalton sent a memorandum to every municipality in the county \"strongly urging\" them to \"adopt an e-mail policy\" for local government officials \"in order to uphold the high levels of transparency contemplated by the Open Public Meetings Act (OPMA).\" The memorandum was issued in response to a February 19, 2011 complaint against the Borough of Pitman that Prosecutor Dalton received from the New Jersey Libertarian Party\'s Open Government Advocacy Project. The Project had complained that a majority of the Pitman Borough Council had \"voted\" via e-mail to pay a utility bill. Dalton found that \"there is sufficient evidence to believe a violation of the OPMA took place\" but felt that it was not \"in the best interest of the public\" for fines to be levied against the Pitman Council members who participated in the improper e-mail. However, Dalton issues some guidelines, including not having an effective majority of a governing body included in a single e-mail and not conducting \"rolling\" e-mail communications (i.e. a series of e-mails on official business that eventually involve a majority of the body). Dalton\'s letter, memorandum and background material are on-line here. This is the second instance this year where a county prosecutor has responded to the Open Government Advocacy Project\'s complaints regarding e-mail use by public officials. In an August 4, 2011 letter, Burlington County Prosecutor Robert D. Bernardi made findings similar to Dalton\'s regarding use of e-mail by Evesham Township Council members. That letter is on-line here: http://ogtf.lpcnj.org/2011216TS//b10804BurlcoProsEvesham.pdf John Paff
 
Morristown: Appellate Division to hear argument Wednesday on police suspension case.
On Wednesday, September 21, 2011, the Appellate Division will hear oral argument in the case of John Paff v. Borough of Chatham, Docket No. A-2350-10. The argument is scheduled to start at 10:30 a.m. at the Morris County Courthouse, Court Room 12, Morristown. Background: In early 2010, newspapers reported that Chatham Borough Police Sergeant Roy George allegedly left a backpack containing a loaded, .45-caliber handgun on a Westfield sidewalk after a night of drinking. The papers also reported that Sergeant George had been demoted and suspended as a result of this incident. After learning of the matter, I submitted a records request for a record that disclosed the length of George\'s suspension. The Borough of Chatham denied access to that record “based on the confidentiality for personnel records.” In June 2010, Richard Gutman, Esq. of Montclair filed suit against Chatham on my behalf under the common law right of access. In essense, the suit claimed that the public\'s right to know the duration of George\'s suspension was superior to George\'s or the Borough\'s interest in keeping that information confidential. On December 3, 2010, Morris County Assignment Judge B. Theodore Bozonelis upheld the Borough\'s refusal to dislose the length of George\'s suspension and dismissed my complaint. Judge Bozonelis held that “the release of the information would have a chilling effect on the otherwise private personnel evaluation and analysis of public employees.” The judge expressed concern that knowing the length of George\'s suspension might allow the public to derive information about his prior, confidential disciplinary history. The press and public is welcome to attend Wednesday\'s argument. The case filings in the trial court are on-line at http://ogtf.lpcnj.org/2010272oD//PaffvChatham.pdf. The appellate briefs filed by both sides are on-line here.
 
Fire District 1 Sexual harassment case settled
Earlier this month, a settlement agreement was reached between Debi Nelson and Robert Scheer, First District No. 1 and other defendants. It is on-line here: Basically, Nelson received a payment of $150,000 and Robert Scheer agreed to a) resign as a Millstone Valley auxiliary member, not seek membership in a District No. 1 fire company, not to run for Commissioner ever again and not to attend District and fire company events where Nelson will be present.
 
Do two OPRA requests constitute harassment?
At the May 10, 2011 Runnemede (Camden County) Board of Education executive session, Board Attorney Philip Stern said that he would contact me and another citizen \"requesting that [we] cease and desist [filing OPRA requests] under possible charges of harassment.\&qu