Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Because of EEOC taking 19 years to resolve complaint, woman is still in litigation with state lottery officials for reneging on 1994 job promise.

On November 8, 2013, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) finally concluded its investigation into a Bradley Beach woman's 1995 administrative discrimination complaint alleging that the New Jersey Lottery Commission refused to hire her because she was a blonde.  The EEOC's November 8, 2013 letter is known as a "right to sue" letter and instructs complainants that they have 90 days within which to file a lawsuit.

The woman, Lorraine Scocozza, did file her lawsuit on February 7, 2014--within the 90 day window. According to the federal lawsuit, Scocozza was promised a position collecting lottery receipts from agents who hadn't turned in their sales receipts.  According to the lawsuit, her job was "primarily . . . to convince the agent to agree to cooperate in payment to avoid a visit by the State Police."  In December 1994, lottery officials allegedly reneged on their job promise and Scocozza said that one official told her that "Well, the high ups at the Lottery had a big problem with a blonde woman like you going into Newark."

Discover is now wrapping up and, according to an August 22, 2016 scheduling order, Magistrate Judge Douglas E. Arpert will conduct a status conference on September 28, 2016.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

North Hanover's new police chief topped overtime charts in 2013, 2014 and 2015.

A recent Open Public Records Act (OPRA) request to North Hanover Township (Burlington County) revealed that the newly sworn police chief, Theodore Wells, made more overtime than any other Township officer in 2013, 2014 and 2015. 

Chief Wells has been in the news (here and here) after the Libertarian Party's NJ Civil Settlements blog reported on August 12, 2016 that he had twice been involved in lawsuits that were resolved by confidential settlement agreements.

According to an Excel file disclosed by North Hanover Acting Clerk Mary Picariello today, Wells earned an average of $25,945.57 per year in overtime over the three year period.  Patrolman Richard A. Mellor had the next highest average annual overtime earnings of $14,888.40.  Wells' total compensation for 2015 was $107,691.55.

Acting Clerk Picariello also disclosed a PDF file showing the rank of each police employee in 2013, 2014 and 2015 as well as the dates that those employees changed rank or separated from employment.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Man who says he has nothing to do with heroin sues Monmouth Prosecutor for using his driver license photo on "Faces of Heroin" pamphlet.

A West Long Branch man is suing the Monmouth County Prosecutor, among others, for allegedly putting his driver license photo on a "Faces of Heroin" pamphlet that was distributed at a symposium held at the Manasquan High School.

The date of the symposium where the pamphlet was distributed is not disclosed in the lawsuit but the claimant, Robert M. Ferrante, said that he first learned of the pamphlet on September 18, 2013.  In his lawsuit, Ferrante claimed that he "never used or was associated with heroin use" and that the release of the photo has caused "great humiliation, embarrassment and mental anguish" for him and his wife Doreen Ferrante.

The lawsuit, Ferrante v. County of Monmouth, et al, Federal Case No. 3:16-cv-0349, was brought by Long Branch attorney John Jay Perrone.  Also named as defendants are the Manasquan Board of Education, the Motor Vehicle Commission and the Patch on-line newspaper which allegedly published the pamphlet on the Internet.

The Manasquan school board filed a motion for dismissal and argues that the Ferrantes' complaint does not "assert a specific constitutional violation" and merely states that they're civil rights have been violated.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Three Salem County Corrections Officers sue over imposition of minor discipline.

At least three Salem County Corrections officers have filed suit seeking to overturn disciplinary decisions imposed the the Warden (presumably Raymond C. Skradzinski) that they feel are unfair and in excess of what a Disciplinary Hearing Committee recommended.

In the case bearing Docket No. SLM-L-219-15, Officer Brian Pio claimed that the Warden imposed an improper one day suspension to punish him for sending a June 12, 2015 insubordinate e-mail in response to the Human Resources Department's demand for Pio's marriage certificate and his family's birth certificates after Pio claimed that he had already furnished those documents.  Pio said that the Disciplinary Hearing Committee recommended that Salem County investigate why the originally supplied documents couldn't be located but the Warden imposed the one-day suspension.

In the case bearing Docket No. SLM-L-229-15, Officer Joseph Massey claimed that the Warden imposed an improper one day suspension to punish him for reporting to work late and failing to follow call-in procedures.  Massey said that he "overslept due to taking medication" on August 7, 2015.  Massey said that the Disciplinary Hearing Committee recommended a written reprimand but the Warden imposed the one-day suspension.

In the case bearing Docket No. SLM-L-230-15, Officer Sherreece Holder claimed that the Warden imposed an improper three day suspension to punish her for sleeping and eating on duty on October 3, 2015.  Holder said that she was not sleeping but reading the Bible.  She claimed that after the Disciplinary Hearing Committee found that she was not sleeping, the Warden amended the charge to inattentiveness to duty.  Holder claimed that although the Committee recommended a written reprimand on the eating charge, the Warden imposed a three-day suspension--two days for inattentiveness to duty and one for eating while on duty.

All three matters have been assigned to Assignment Judge Georgia M. Curio who referred the cases to mediation.  All three officers are being represented by Christopher A. Gray of Hamilton.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Montclair ex-cop denied "accidental disability retirement benefits" for alleged PTSD caused by traumatic event.

At its May 2, 2016 meeting, the Police and Firemen's Retirement System (PFRS) affirmed an Administrative Law Judge's denial of accidental disability retirement benefits to a former Montclair Township (Essex County) police officer who claimed that the emotional trauma caused by his February 2009 application of CPR on the body of an already-deceased 9-year-old child rendered him permanently disabled.

In her April 8, 2016 ruling, Administrative Law Judge Evelyn J. Marose noted that former Police Officer Michael Whittle, who served as a Montclair police officer for seven years and previously as a North Caldwell dispatcher for two years, did not apply for disability benefits until February 23, 2012 and did not see any medical professionals about his emotional trauma until April 3, 2012.  Judge Marose also found that Whittle's application was filed only five days before he was found guilty for tampering with evidence and obstruction of justice.  These charges arose out of Whittle arose out of a November 2009 incident in which Whittle allegedly found ten bags of marijuana during an investigation but only reported having found two bags.  On February 29, 2012, he was sentenced to two six-month suspended sentences, a $250 fine and forfeiture of public office.

Judge Marose found one of Whittle's doctors, Dr. Alexander M. Golin, to "not be credible."  She noted that Dr. Golin did not treat Whittle but saw him only "on one occasion to complete a form required by Whittle in support of his disability application."  She also found as "unreliable" the opinions of Dr. Michael R. Bizzarro and Dr. Eugene Stefanelli, neither of whom testified at the hearing.  Judge Marose wrote that both Bizzarro and Stefanelli "essentially formed their opinion that Whittle was disabled based upon statements made by Whittle, who sought their medical support for his application for accidental disability pension benefits."

It is unknown whether Whittle appealed from the PFRS ruling.   Whittle was represented by John D. Feeley of Feeley & LaRocca.

Friday, July 29, 2016

Ethics officials recommend "reprimand" for former Cumberland County Freeholder Deputy Director and impose an "admonition" upon his law partner.

On July 29, 2016, the New Jersey Supreme Court's Disciplinary Review Board recommended that an attorney ethics complaint filed in 2014 against former Cumberland County Freeholder Deputy Director (and now Cumberland County Democratic Party Committee Chairman) Douglas M. Long be resolved with a "reprimand."  The Board also imposed an "admonition" upon Long's law partner Albert K. Marmero. 

An admonition is the mildest form of discipline that can be imposed and a reprimand is the second mildest.  The types of discipline that can be imposed, in order of severity, are admonition, reprimand, censure, license suspension and disbarment.  The Board has the authority to impose an admonition, as it did with Marmero, but higher levels of discipline including a reprimand must be ordered by the Supreme Court.

In the ethics complaint, the OAE had charged that Long's and Marmero's law firm trust account funds were being "regularly invaded and utilized as a 'line of credit' to fund the firm's operating expenses."  In a September 5, 2014 Random Notes on NJ Government article, I called out Long and Marmero for suggesting in filed documents that the firm's bookkeeper, without Long's or Marmero's knowledge, reached out to Long's brother for a $10,000 cash loan to keep the firm's accounts from being overdrawn.

The Office of Attorney Ethics (OAE), with both Long's and Marmero's consent, had filed Motions for Discipline by Consent to resolve both matters. In Long's case the OAE recommended a discipline within a range of a reprimand to a three-month suspension.  In Marmero's case, the OAE recommended a "reprimand or such lesser discipline as the Board may deem warranted."

In making its recommendation, the Board found that Long had "made extraordinary contributions to his community" including heading up an effort to make 400 backpacks and school supplies available to needy Vineland children.  The Board also noted that Long, who previously worked for an engineering company and performed limited in-house counsel work "had no experience or involvement with trust accounting or recordkeeping.  The Board also credited Marmero for his firm's community service and his "unblemished career of thirteen years at the bar."

Reprimand sought for lawyer who drank alcohol, crashed car and left the scene with his 7 year-old daughter in car.

On June 20, 2016, the Office of Attorney Ethics petitioned the New Jersey Supreme Court's Disciplinary Review Board to impose a "reprimand" on a Gloucester County lawyer who pleaded guilty to Cruelty and Neglect to a Child in the Fourth Degree following a March 20, 2014 Clayton car crash while "[h]e was operating a motor vehicle after having consumed alcohol . .  while his seven year-old daughter . . . was a passenger in his vehicle."

According to the Motion for Final Discipline and supporting brief, Ronald P. Sierzega of the Woodbury law firm of Puff & Cockerill, LLC, pleaded guilty on November 19, 2014 to the Cruelty and Neglect charge and was sentenced to one year of probation and a substance abuse evaluation in accordance with a plea deal accepted by Superior Court Judge Robert Becker.

Charges of Driving Under the Influence, Refusal to Submit to a Breathalyzer and Leaving the Scene of an Accident were remanded to the Elk Township Municipal Court where two alcohol related offenses were dismissed and a guilty plea was entered on the Leaving the Scene of an Accident charge.  Sierzega was assessed $189 in fines and costs and lost his driver license for six months.

Sierzega reportedly enrolled in an intensive substance abuse treatment program and "voluntarily purchased and installed an ignition interlock device on his vehicle."

New Jersey lawyers who commit offenses can be disciplined even when the attorney’s offense is not related to the practice of law.  A reprimand is the second mildest form of discipline that can be imposed.  The range of discipline that can be imposed, in their order of severity, are admonition, reprimand, censure, license suspension and disbarment.

It is unknown when the Disciplinary Review Board will rule on the motion.