Monday, December 22, 2014

East Hanover Planning Board Attorney, former municipal judge, charged in ethics violation.


Update: See my February 14, 2016 article.

On July 15, 2013, the New Jersey Office of Attorney Ethics (OAE) filed a formal ethics complaint against Wayne attorney William J. Rush.  See OAE v. Rush, Docket No. XIV-2012-0273E and 328E, on-line here.  According to his Financial Disclosure Statement, Rush presently serves as the Land Use Planning Board Attorney for the Township of East Hanover (Morris County). The matter is still pending and awaiting disposition.

The ethics complaint against Rush arises out of two real estate transactions for which Rush was the settlement agent.  In one transaction, involving a property in Bergen County, Rush is accused of failing to wire a mortgage payoff that was due on November 1, 2011 until December 20, 2011 and for paying himself $1,699 in fees instead of the $1,185 that was listed on the closing statement.  In the other transaction, Rush is accused of using other clients' funds in 2008 to pay a $54,050.27 disbursement and for participating in an arrangement where a $12,844.22 "concession" was given to the buyer without it being disclosed on the closing statement.  According to the complaint, this allowed the buyer to receive 100% financing without that fact being disclosed to the buyer's lender.  Rush is further accused of taking a $1,200 as a settlement fee instead of the $1,000 fee listed in the settlement agreement.  In his answer to the complaint, Rush admits to the bulk of the allegations but claims that he "acted in good faith" and "did not knowingly or purposely intend to deceive the grievants or the lenders in either real estate transaction."

Prior to being Land Use Planning Board Attorney, Rush served as East Hanover's municipal court judge.  According to the Township Council's January 3, 2012 meeting minutes, Rush was unanimously appointed as municipal court judge that day.  The following year, 2013, Vincent A. Pirone was appoint as judge.  Yet, according to N.J.S.A. 2B:12-4, municipal court judges are appointed for a term of three years, so it is unclear why Rush only served one year of his term.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

South Jersey attorney, former assemblyman and school board president, charged in ethics matter.


A Turnersville attorney who briefly served as an Assemblyman in 2003 and who in April 2013 resigned his seat as a member of the Washington Township (Gloucester County) Board of Education, is in trouble with state ethics authorities.

According to an August 19, 2014 formal complaint filed by the New Jersey Office of Attorney Ethics (on-line here) attorney Stephen Altamuro represented a Pennsauken man who had been indicted in Camden County for burglary, weapons and drug offenses after attempting to enter a residence while in possession of drugs and an imitation firearm.  After the man was offered a 4 year prison sentence in exchange for a guilty plea, Altamuro allegedly told the Camden County Prosecutor's office that he could produce as a witness a friend of Altamuro's client who would testify that the defendant was actually trying to enter the witness' home but mistakenly tried to enter a neighbor's home because he was intoxicated.

Altamuro prepared a statement for the witness to sign. But, Altamuro, after having difficulty scheduling a meeting with he witness, allegedly read the statement to the witness over the phone and then signed the witnesses name to it after the witness orally agreed that it was accurate.  The signed statement did not reflect that Altamuro signed the statement instead of the witness.

Later the witness advised Altamuro that he recanted his statement, but Altamuro had already used the statement to get the Camden Prosecutor to agree to two years' probation instead of a four year prison term.  The complaint alleges that Altamuro did not advise the Prosecutor's office of the witness's intent to recant until more than a month after he learned about it.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Rockaway Mayor laments that Municipal Court not making the Borough enough money.


At a December 11, 2014 closed session of the Rockaway Borough (Morris County) Council, Mayor Russell Greuter advised Council members that he had met with Gerald Smith, Chief Judge of the Dover Joint Municipal Court to "explain that the Borough is not making enough revenue to cover the cost of the court." A copy of the closed session minutes are on-line here.

The paragraph immediately following Mayor Greuter's comment, which presumably explains what the Judge Smith is going to do about this problem, is redacted.  Borough Clerk Sheila Seifert justified the redaction by explaining that it "regard[s] anticipated litigation and ongoing contract negotiation."

The Joint Municipal Court handles cases from Dover, Mine Hill, Mount Arlington, Rockaway, Victory Gardens and Wharton.

Mercer Corrections Officer charged with "offensive touching" of coworker.


Update:  The Hopewell Township Municipal Court disclosed on December 23, 2014 that McArthur was found not guilty of the charge.  Click here.
A couple of weeks ago, I received an Internal Affairs (IA) Log (on-line here) of incidents involving Mercer County Corrections Officers.  I have been successful in getting IA logs since I won a lawsuit in Bergen County (more information on-line here) seeking similar records.

Near the bottom of the second page of the roster, an entry shows that "criminal charges" were filed against an officer arising out of a "harassment/unbecoming an officer" allegation.  I put in an Open Public Records Act (OPRA) request for the criminal complaint.  The response, received today, is on-line here.

Turns out that a female employee was in the law library at the Mercer County Corrections Facility on Route 29 in Hopewell Township about lunchtime on April 2, 2012.  While she was stooping down to look into the bottom drawer of a filing cabinet, Officer Ronald McArthur allegedly walked up to her and said "While you are down there . . ." and then started kissing her on the neck.

The female employee said that she pushed him off and said "What is wrong with you?"  McArthur allegedly then walked off while saying "Awwww girl."

The female employee reported the matter to a supervisor who in turn forwarded it to the IA unit.  Two days later, Complaint No. S-2012-000051 was filed against McArthur in the Hopewell Municipal Court for violating N.J.S.A. 2C:33-4B (harassment), which is a petty disorderly persons offense.

Interestingly, the female employee filed the harassment charge as a citizen complainant.  I would think that jail supervisors would have filed the complaint on her behalf.

I have submitted a request for the disposition of the charge from the Court and will update this blog entry upon receipt.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Hunterdon municipal prosecutor charged in ethics case.



The prosecutor for two Hunterdon County municipalities is fighting charges that she improperly allowed the dismissal of a speeding ticket received by an employee of a business owned by the prosecutor and her husband.  According to Office of Attorney Ethics (OAE) filings, the vehicle the employee was driving at the time he was issued the summons was owned by the prosecutor's and her husband's business.

According to the OAE's October 10, 2013 complaint (on-line here), Mary Rose Mott of Kingwood Township owns, along with her husband, Kocsis Farms, LLC on Route 519 in that Township.  Mott also maintains her law office there.  Mott served, and still serves (click here) as Municipal Court Prosecutor for the Borough of Frenchtown and, according to Mott's October 15, 2012 statement, as prosecutor for Kingwood and assistant prosecutor for Flemington Borough.

According to the complaint, a Kocsis Farms employee, Thomas Spork, received a speeding ticket on January 20, 2012 from Frenchtown Police Officer Harold Johnson.  (Johnson, according to a Independent Press article, was fired on August 1, 2012).

The ethics complaint charges that Mott, authorized dismissal of the summons by falsely advising Judge Joseph Novak, who presided over the Joint Municipal Court to which Frenchtown belongs, that there was a "problem with discovery" even though discovery was not an issue in the case.  She is also charged with failing to inform Judge Novak that Spork worked for Kocsis Farms and that he was driving a Kocsis Farms vehicle when the summons was issued.  The complaint further charges Mott with lying to OAE investigators during an October 15, 2012 interview and interfering with both the ethics investigation and a parallel investigation involving the Hunterdon County Prosecutor's Office.

Also mentioned in the complaint is Frenchtown Officer David Voll's May 12, 2011 traffic stop of Daniel Rosenthal, who Mott refers to as her "good friend" who is "of the New York Times Rosenthals."  During the stop, Voll asked Rosenthal who he was calling on his cell phone to which Rosenthal allegedly responded "I'm talking to my good friend Mary Mott."  Rosenthal was later able to downgrade his charge from a "38 in a 15" to a "29 in a 15" in the Court where Mott was prosecutor thus reducing the number of points assessed against his license.  According to the complaint, "the same courtesies and favorable treatment would not be accorded in the Joint Municipal Court for a similarly-situated driver, who, having been issued a speeding ticket for having done 38 in a 15 MPH zone . . . did not have [Mott's] phone number to call her from the side of the road during a traffic stop."

Mott, during her October 15, 2012 interview with OAE Investigator Isabel McGinty said that she suspected that her ethics charge was a "setup" orchestrated by Frenchtown Police Chief Allan Kurylka.  Mott claimed that Kurylka was "pissed off" at her for transferring something known as the "Figler case" from the Joint Municipal Court to which Frenchtown belong because Kurylka wanted "to keep control of this case."  Elsewhere in the interview, she referred to the Chief as a "lying son of a bitch."

The documents in this case, which are voluminous, are on-line at the following links:

October 15, 2012 Interview transcript Segment 1 and Segment 2.

Complaint exhibits Segments, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 and 8.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Wildwood Crest loses appeal, Hunt's federal lawsuit can now continue.



On December 15, 2014, a three-judge Appellate Division panel rejected Wildwood Crest Borough's attempt to make the New Jersey Civil Service Commission's proceeding regarding former Borough Police Sergeant Thomas Hunt's claim of retaliation preclusive of the sergeant's federal lawsuit against the Borough.  In the decision, which is on-line here, the panel held that Hunt's decision to withdraw from the Commission's process "was not motivated by forum shopping or avoiding a potentially bad result" thus differentiating it from a New Jersey Supreme Court case that the Borough relied upon.

This ruling clears the way for Hunt to reactivate his federal suit for retaliatory discharge against the Borough.  The federal court had dismissed Hunt's lawsuit because of the issue that was resolved by today's Appellate Division decision.  In its dismissal order, the federal court specifically preserved Hunt's right to reactivate his civil complaint if the Borough's appeal was denied.

A copy of Hunt's federal lawsuit, which describes the alleged events that led up to Hunt's termination, is on-line here.

Somerville Attorney and Sewerage Authority Commissioner faces ethics charges



On December 13, 2013, the New Jersey Office of Attorney Ethics (OAE) filed a formal ethics complaint against Somerville attorney Richard M. DeLuca who maintains an office at 90 Grove Street.  DeLuca also serves as a Commissioner of the Somerset Raritan Valley Sewerage Authority.

The complaint, which is on-line here, notes that the OAE began its investigation into DeLuca's financial records after having received two overdraft notices from DeLuca's bank in February 2013.  New Jersey Court Rule 1:21-6(b) requires banks to notify the OAE "in the event any properly payable attorney trust account instrument is presented against insufficient funds."

The OAE's audit, completed on April 30, 2013, found six "record keeping deficiencies" including $8,198.33 in DeLuca's trust account that could not be matched to any client.  On August 5, 2013, the OAE demanded that DeLuca explain "whose funds were contained in this $8,198.33 unidentified balance."  As of December 13, 2013, DeLuca had not yet provided an explanation although he had promised to do so.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Ocean County Corrections Officer gets PTI, never will seek public job in NJ



On-line here is a criminal complaint issued on January 3, 2013, charging former Ocean County Corrections Officer Timothy Browning, currently age 51, with aggravated assault for "causing significant bodily injury to [inmate] Armando Penales by striking him about the head and face."  According to court documents, also available at the link above, Browning was entered into the Pretrial Intervention Program (PTI) on August 8, 2013.  As a condition for PTI, Browning was required to pay $532.66 in restitution to Ocean County, and to "resign his position as corrections officer [and] not to seek future public employment in NJ."

The inmate, Penales, who Browning assaulted, has recently settled his lawsuit against the County.  According to a December 9, 2014 e-mail from John C. Sahradnik, the attorney representing the County in Penales' suit, he is "still awaiting receipt of executed settlement documents from Plaintiff’s attorney," Thomas J. Mallon of Freehold.  I will post the lawsuit and settlement agreement on my NJ Civil Settlements blog when I receive it.

Hearing next Friday on former PMUA CFO's reverse racial discrimination suit.

Cross motions for summary judgment in former Plainfield Municipal Utilities Authority (PMUA) Chief Financial Officer James R. Perry's lawsuit against the PMUA will be heard on Friday, December 19, 2014, 9 a.m. before Union County Superior Court Judge James Hely at 2 Broad Street, Elizabeth, on the 12th floor.

I have collected two briefs of the three summary judgment briefs that were filed and have placed them on-line, along with Perry's lawsuit and his confidential, conditional July 2014 settlement with former PMUA Commissioner Tracey Brown are on-line here.

Anyone wishing to attend the hearing should call the court at 908-659-4885 the day prior to make sure that it hasn't been postponed.  Refer to Docket No. UNN-L-2537-13.



Saturday, December 6, 2014

Dog sniffs and police errors: What does "probable cause" actually mean in New Jersey?


The file on-line here contains both:

a) Atlantic County Superior Court Judge Mark H. Sandson's March 10, 2014 opinion which voided a warrant authorizing a search of a package containing marijuana that was shipped to the defendant via Federal Express, and

b) A November 24, 2014 Appellate Division unpublished opinion that reversed Judge Sandson's ruling.



The cases are instructive on the contours of probable cause.  Here, the affidavit in support of the search warrant was based on information, some of which was later shown to be erroneous, that one officer received via telephone from another officer.

The facts reveal that the arresting officer's affidavit stated that he had been told by another officer that the defendant had been arrested for marijuana possession in Iowa in 2012 and that "approximately $84,000 in U.S. currency" was seized.  But, the officer later acknowledged that this statement was "a mistake" and that the defendant was instead issued a summons in Iowa for having possessed a "small amount of marijuana." Despite the apparent seriousness of this error, the Appellate Division found that the officer who prepared the affidavit "had no obvious reason to doubt the truth of what he had been told about the package or the 2012 motor vehicle stop in Iowa."

Also, the Appellate Division did not address Judge Sandson's concern that a significant distinction exists between a canine's alert to a motor vehicle as opposed to a package sent through a common carrier.  Judge Sandson said that unlike a motor vehicle, which is in a suspect's full, continuous possession and control, a package sent via common carrier comes into contact with hundreds of other packages during shipping.  Since a drug canine "is unable to differentiate residual odors on Defendant's package remaining from other packages from the odors of the targeted package's contents," the sniff is not sufficiently reliable to justify the issuance of warrant.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Should a city attorney advise his city as to whether the city attorney is eligible for state pension enrollment?




I believe that a city attorney should not be involved in the municipal employer's decision of whether the attorney is eligible for pension enrollment. . So, I filed the following complaint against Garfield City Attorney Joseph J. Rotolo.



Update 10/30/16:  By way of an October 20, 2016 letter, the Local Finance Board dismissed the complaint.
----------------------------------------------
December 4, 2014

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 e-mail to be my complaint against Joseph J. Rotolo who, at all times relevant to the activities alleged below, served as Municipal Attorney for the City of Garfield 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(d) which states:
No local government officer or employee shall act in his official capacity in any matter where he, a member of his immediate family, or a business organization in which he has an interest, has a direct or indirect financial or personal involvement that might reasonably be expected to impair his objectivity or independence of judgment. 
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 and Joseph J. Rotolo. 

3. Set forth in detail the pertinent facts surrounding the alleged violative action. 

The relevant documents are on-line here. At issue is a January 26, 2011 letter (page 13 of the PDF at the above link) written by Mr. Rotolo, on his law office letterhead, to Roy Riggitano who served as the Public Employees' Retirement System (PERS) Certifying Officer for the City of Garfield.  At the time the letter was written, Mr. Rotolo was the municipal attorney for the City of Garfield. In his letter, Mr. Rotolo states:
As a result, it is my opinion that you should, as Pension Certifying Officer, determine that I qualify as an employee, and, hence, for continued Pension System Membership. Of course, the ultimate decision is yours. The purpose of this correspondence is not to tell you how to decide the issue but simply to provide you with adequate factual background upon which such a determination should be made.
I assert that the elements of N.J.S.A. 40A:9-22.5(d) have been met.  First, the January 26, 2011 letter expressly "follow[ed] up" on Mr. Rotolo's January 24, 2011 letter (page 12 of the PDF at the above link).  The earlier letter indicates that Mr. Rotolo's involvement in the pension eligibility issue was initiated by a request from the City Manager that Mr. Rotolo "assist in drafting a letter or otherwise responding to the Office of the Comptroller on behalf of the City." Accordingly, Mr Rotolo was acting in his "official capacity" when he wrote the letters.  Second, Mr. Rotolo clearly had "a direct or indirect financial or personal involvement" in his continued PERS eligibility "that might reasonably be expected to impair his objectivity or independence of judgment."  

Accordingly, Mr. Rotolo should be issued a Notice of Violation.

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,

/s/ John Paff, Chairman
New Jersey Libertarian Party's
Open Government Advocacy Project
P.O. Box 5424
Somerset, NJ 08875
Voice: 732-873-1251

cc. Mr. Rotolo
Garfield Mayor and Council (via e-mail to the City Clerk)

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Was the Edison Ethics Board allowed to waive Mayor Lankey's fine?

On December 2, 2014, the Edison Municipal Ethics Board made two decisions.  First, it found that Mayor Thomas Lankey violated the Local Government Ethics Law by using the free services of the Township lawyer to help fight a traffic ticket.  Second, it voted to not assess any fine or penalty against Lankey for the ethics violation.   A few people have asked me whether the Ethics Board had the discretion to waive a fine after a violation has been found.

Given the mandatory language of N.J.S.A. 40A:9-22.10(b), it appears that imposition of a fine is mandatory:
b. An elected local government officer or employee found guilty by the Local Finance Board or a county or municipal ethics board of the violation of any provision of P.L.1991, c. 29 (C.40A:9-22.1 et seq.) or of any code of ethics in effect pursuant to P.L.1991, c. 29 (C.40A:9-22.1 et seq.), shall be fined not less than $100.00 nor more than $500.00, which penalty may be collected in a summary proceeding pursuant to “the penalty enforcement law” (N.J.S.2A:58-1 et seq.).  (Emphasis added.)
But, another statute--N.J.S.A. 40A:9-22.24--softens the "shall be fined" language:
If the ethics board determines that the officer or employee is in conflict with the code or any financial disclosure requirements, it may impose any penalties which it believes appropriate within the limitations of this act.  (Emphasis supplied.)
The two sections contradict each other.  But, my guess is that imposition of a penalty for ethics violations is discretionary.

Suit against Plainfield: "We are the cops. We run sh*t around here."


A real estate investor filed a discrimination suit this summer against the City of Plainfield (Union County) based on his November 17, 2013 encounter with police officers Eric Groething and Michael Black.  According to the lawsuit, on-line here, Derron Appleton, an African American, just finished a meeting with investors outside a Johnson Avenue property that Appleton and the investors were considering "flipping."  After Appleton returned to his car, he said he was confronted by Groething who accused him of "appearing suspicious."  Appleton alleged that Groething, without reason, forcefully removed him from his vehicle, slammed him against the car and arrested him for "obstruction of justice and for having a Christmas tree air freshener hanging from his vehicle's rear view mirror."  When Appleton appealed to Black to intervene, Black allegedly said "We are the cops.  We run sh*t around here."

The lawsuit, Appleton v. City of Plainfield, Docket No. UNN-L-2682-14 was filed on July 29, 2014 by attorney Maged W. Hanna of Scotch Plains.

Black police officer files racial discrimination suit against Medford Township.

On November 17, 2014, Mark K. Hunsinger, who has worked for the Medford Police Department since 1999, filed suit alleging that the police department and its officials have discriminated against him based on his race.  In this lawsuit, Hunsinger claimed that he has been repeatedly passed over for promotions and job assignments based on his race.

He also claimed that there is a hostile racial culture within the police department.  His lawsuit specifically names Corporal Robert Zane and alleges that Zane referred to an Italian as a "ginny and wop" and an Asian as "slant eyed."  Zane is alleged to have repeatedly referred to the Township of Maple Shade as "Maple Spade."

The lawsuit, Hunsinger v. Medford Township Police Department, Docket No. BUR-L-2804-14, is on-line here.  Hunsinger's attorney is Anthony F. DiMento of Cherry Hill.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Hudson County Democratic and Republican Committee bylaws on-line.

The bylaws of county political party committees are required by law, N.J.S.A. 19:5-3.2, to be posted on both the county committee's and the election board's websites.  This requirement took effect on October 2, 2009.  I have placed the bylaws on-line here and and now seeking to get Hudson County to put it on its own website.


Appeals court upholds Ridgefield Park's taking of building to satisfy fines levied against owner.

On July 25, 2012, an owner of four properties in Ridgefield Park Village (Bergen County) was ordered to execute a deed conveying one of his properties to the Village to satisfy $177,000 in "Unsafe Structure" penalties that the Ridgefield Municipal Court ordered him to pay.  The owner appealed.  Today, the Appellate Division, in a ruling on-line here, affirmed the ruling.

Hillside: Former mayor responded to traffic stop after being contacted by man stopped.

One of the allegations in Hillside Township's (Union County) former police chief Robert Quinlan, who recently settled with Hillside for $450,000, was that:
On September 18, 2010, Township police officers stopped a motorist who began to object to the actions of the officers. From the scene, the motorist contacted Mayor [Joseph] Menza via cell phone to request his assistance. Moments later, Mayor Menza arrived at the scene while Township police officers were issuing summonses to the motorist and engaged one of the officers about the circumstances of the stop.
In a November 19, 2014 e-mail, present Police Chief Louis Panarese confirmed that the Mayor did arrive at the scene but "did not, in any way, interfere with the stop" but actually helped the matter by "calm[ing] the complainant down, deescalating the situation."

I submitted an Open Public Records Act (OPRA) request to the Hillside for the traffic summonses that were issued against the motorist, which are on-line here.  They identify the recipient of those summonses as Lee P. Toucheque who is apparently the same person who, according to press reports, was arrested in February 2013 for allegedly extorting $10,000 from a Berkeley Heights woman.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Milltown Police Standard Operating Procedures are on-line

The Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) for the Milltown Borough (Middlesex County) Police Department are now on-line here.

There are two versions: "MilltownSOP" which I received from the Borough in August 2014 and "MilltownPriorSOP" which is the version that existed prior to the adoption of the revised version.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Court hearing on Monday, Dec. 1st: Wildwood cops apparently seeking attorney fees from former Wildwood cops.

On April 3, 2013, eight retirees from the Wildwood Police Department (Kerry Higgs, Jonathan Winsett, James Nanos, John Davis, Gary Demarzo, William Cooper, Kenneth Philips and Roland Roy) sued two then currently employed officers (Steven Long and Shawn Yuhas), the City of Wildwood and its City Clerk Christopher Wood.  The civil complaint in Higgs, et al v. Long, et al, Docket No. CPM-C-20-13, is on-line here.

The lawsuit contains two claims.  In their first claim, the eight retirees allege that Long and Yuhas, who were said to be in charge of the "Wildwood Police Benefit Fund," a fund to which all eight retirees claimed to have contributed, "failed to manage the fund in a way that would maximize value [and] negligently distributed monies from the Fund for purposes other than intended when created."  Their second claim alleges that Clerk Wood failed to abide by the Open Public Records Act (OPRA) by refusing to disclose records pertaining to the Fund.

The Superior Court's computer system makes it difficult to tell how this case has proceeded.  But, it looks as if the City and Clerk Wood were dismissed out of the case on August 21, 2014.  The only other thing I can determine is that Long and Yuhas have filed a "Motn Pay Cslf" which I understand to be a Motion to Pay Counsel Fees, where Long and Yuhas are apparently seeking to recover their attorney fees from the plaintiffs.

Long's and Yuhas' motion, along with a Case Management Conference, will be held before Judge Raymond A. Batten on Monday, December 1, 2014 at 1:30 p.m.  The Court's computer lists the location of the hearing as "ML4" which I presume means the Mays Landing facility at 4997 Unami Boulevard.  Anyone who wishes to attend the hearing should call Judge Batten's chambers at 609-909-8233 on Monday morning and confirm the hearing's location.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

List of "Faukner" Municipalities on-line

There are 130 municipalities in New Jersey that have charters issued under the Optional Municipal Charter Act of 1950 (also known as the "Faulkner Act"). I have uploaded an Excel file of these municipalities here.

Burlington Prosecutor defers investigation info on Wrightstown Mayor. Seeks Mayor's explanation of "various discrepancies."

In a November 25, 2014 letter, Burlington County Assistant Prosecutor Thaddeus E. Drummond said his office will defer its decision on whether to investigate an ethics violation committed by Wrightstown Mayor Thomas Harper until after the Mayor exhausts his rights to appeal.  Background on the ethics matter out of which the violation arose is on-line here.

Drummond did, however, ask Thomas Neff, Chairman of the state agency that issued the ethics violation, to advise him of "any explanation offered by Mayor Harper regarding various discrepancies among his 2010 to 2014 final disclosure statements."

My small project: Gathering court cases involving Plainfield, NJ

After publishing the $145,000 racial discrimination settlement between Plainfield and a police aide, I decided, just for fun, (I know. I have a pretty warped sense of what is "fun") to search the court indexes and submit OPRA requests for other interesting court cases involving Plainfield.

Today, I received the following court cases from Plainfield City Clerk Abubakar Jalloh:

Andre Crawford v. City of Plainfield, et al, Docket No. UNN-L-3184-13.

In this case, the President of Plainfield's police union claims that he was retaliated against after reporting a February 19, 2013 incident where Police Lieutenant Jeffrey Plum, while off duty, "was kissing and otherwise acting inappropriately with" a female subordinate.  One interesting thing is that Plum is the same officer who the police aide who received the $145,000 settlement complained about--see above.  Update: This case settled--click here.

Jeffrey Plum v. Andre Crawford, et al., Docket No. UNN-L-2529-14.

This is Plum's take on the February 19, 2013 incident.  Plum claims that Crawford assaulted him by placing his arm around Plum's neck, pulling him into an office, yelling at him and not allowing him to leave.  He claims that after reporting this incident, Crawford make a "false report" concerning Plum which is probably the "kissing" report that Crawford alleges in his complaint.  Plum further complains that he was confronted by the Police Director after having made a meritorious report against Crawford. Update: This case settled--click here.

Crawford's and Plum's cases have been consolidated by the court.

Frederick W. Walz v. City of Plainfield, et al, Docket No. UNN-L-1569-11

Walz, a Plainfield police sergeant, alleged that while investigating Public Safety Director Martin Hellwig, he found a three-page printed e-mail on the center console of a police vehicle that he and his supervising captain "interpreted as indicating that defendant Hellwig was soliciting prostitution services via the Internet while in the course of his employment."  Walz said that his finding of this alleged e-mail caused Hellwig to retaliate against him including a transfer and a demotion. Update: This case settled--click here.

More to come . . .


Monday, November 24, 2014

Managing pension abuse and fraud inquiries.

I spoke today with Sue Grant, Lead Investigator with the New Jersey Pension Fraud and Abuse Unit.  She informed me that her office is interested in receiving requests to investigate whether a particular public official is properly enrolled in the state pension system.  For each such investigation requested, she invited me to complete the "Referral Form" that is available from the Unit's web site here.

While she assured me that the requests are taken seriously and investigated thoroughly, she also told me that the Unit would not acknowledge receipt of Referral Forms and is not permitted to correspond with or give progress reports to citizens who submit Referral Forms.  She recommended that interested citizens follow up with the local agency that appointed or elected the public official to see what action, if any, the local agency took.

I will endeavor to submit Referral Forms for each suspected instance of fraud and abuse.  I will keep track of those Referral Forms by way of an on-line Excel roster, which is on-line here, and can be accessed by anyone who wishes to see the Referral Forms I have so far submitted.

To learn more about the pension abuse problem in New Jersey, please see my blog entry here.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Change of venue sought in Edison mayor's ethics case. Still, Edison Ethics Board to meet on December 2nd.

In a November 3, 2014 letter (on-line here), a local lawyer urged the New Jersey Local Finance Board to take jurisdiction over an ethics complaint filed against Edison Mayor Thomas Lankey.  In his complaint (on-line here), Somerset resident John Paff, who chairs the New Jersey Libertarian Party's Open Government Advocacy Project, claimed that the mayor may have acted unethically by using the Township lawyer's free legal services to represent him on a traffic violation.

In his letter, attorney Christian R. Mastondrea of the Edison law firm of Eichen, Crutchlow, Zaslow & McElroy LLP, does not explicitly say that he is representing Mayor Lankey.  He states, however, that Mayor Lankey "has relationships with a number of the individuals who are on [Edison's local ethics] board and played a role in appointing some of them."  Accordingly, Mastondrea argued, "there would be a conflict of interest by having him appear before a board whose decision could be question based upon their partiality."

In a November 21, 2014 e-mail to Paff (on-line here), Edison Ethics Board Secretary Michelle Kasperski referred to Mastondrea as "the Mayor’s attorney" and said that the "Edison Ethics Board does not believe that [the complaint] should be moved as we are an established Commission."  According to Kasperski's e-mail, the Board will meet on the 3rd Floor of the Edison Municipal Complex at 7 p.m.on Tuesday, December 2, 2014 "to discuss whether the Board will pursue the matter further or not."

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Somerdale Borough asked to reconsider whether public defender is eligible for a state pension.

My letter to Somerdale Borough is on-line below.
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November 17, 2014

Hon. Gary J. Passanante, Mayor and members of the 
Somerdale Borough Council
105 Kennedy Blvd
Somerdale, NJ 08083

Dear Mayor Passanante and Borough Council members:

On behalf of the New Jersey Libertarian Party's Open Government Advocacy Project, I ask that you please put the following issue as a discussion item on the agenda of the November 24, 2014 Council work session: 
Is it legal for Somerdale to still be retaining Public Defender Charles Wigginton on the PERS pension rolls given that the Borough of Gibbsboro, where Wigginton also serves as Public Defender, decided to terminate him from PERS enrollment on August 30, 2014 apparently due to an e-mail and letter received from the Fraud and Abuse Unit of the Division of Pension and Benefits?  
Background material and documents pertaining to Gibbsboro's decision to remove Wigginton from the PERS are on-line here.  Somerdale's list of PERS enrollees is on-line here.

Thank you for your attention to this matter.

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

cc. John B. Kearney Esq. Solicitor

Burlington County Democrat and Republican Committee Members on-line


On-line here and here are lists of the Democrats and Republicans, respectively. who serve on the County Committees for terms running from 2013 through 2015.  I am not aware of this information being on-line anywhere else.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Letter to Prosecutor: School boards should not hire professional media consultants to "educate" voters on bond referenda.

Update: The Prosecutor's Office's December 2, 2014  response is on-line here.
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November 12, 2014

Geoffrey D. Soriano, Esq.
Somerset County Prosecutor
40 North Bridge St
P.O. BOX 3000
Somerville, New Jersey
via e-mail to Bennett@co.somerset.nj.us and fax to 908-526-8634

Dear Prosecutor Soriano:

More than twenty years ago, I worked with Hillsborough resident Randy Enterline and the local chapter of the New Jersey Libertarian Party to challenge the Hillsborough Township school district's use of taxpayer money to produce a newsletter that urged voters to approve a referendum authorizing $54 million for a new high school.  The effort resulted in a September 11, 1995 decision by Administrative Law Judge Solomon A. Metzger holding that the newsletter in question was "very much an advocacy piece." Accordingly, Judge Metzger held that the newsletter, even though it did not explicitly urge voters to vote "yes," was an impermissible expenditure of taxpayers' money because it attempted to sway voters' opinions.

Judge Metzger based his decision on Citizens to Protect Pub. Funds v. Board of Educ. of Parsippany-Troy Hills, 13 N.J. 172 (1953) in which then New Jersey Supreme Court Justice William J. Brennan, Jr. (who later became a Justice of the United State Supreme Court) ruled that school boards could use public funds to educate the voters on ballot initiatives provided that they didn't cross the line into advocating for or against the measure.

Fast forward approximately twenty years: On September 30, 2014, voters in Bound Brook approved a $27 million bond referendum.  The school district's web site contains professionally produced fact sheets, flyers, newsletters and press releases that the Bound Brook school district distributed to voters and media prior to the election.  My Open Public Records Act (OPRA) request disclosed the school district's $8,400 contract with Zander Consulting, LLC for a media and public relations campaign related to the referendum.  A quick check of Zander's web site shows that its clients include several school districts across the state.

While the pieces Zander produced at taxpayers' expense are very carefully worded to not expressly exhort voters to vote in favor of Bound Brook's referendum, the material does accentuate the positives of the referendum while downplaying the negatives.  For example, the back page of the Zander-produced newsletter asks "It sounds too good to be true. How will our taxes not increase if Bond Proposal #1 is approved?" The newsletter goes on to state: "The school district is paying off the previous bond. If approved, the new debt will replace the old bond with no additional tax increase to residents." The "Top 10 Referendum Facts" sheet produced by Zander discloses that the existing bond "is about to be paid in full."

An opponent of the referendum might would likely want to emphasize that while replacing the old bond with a new one might not greatly increase the amount of the tax burden, it would clearly extend the duration of the burden since the old bond would, regardless of the referendum's outcome, be soon paid off.  But, the opponents of the referendum did not have the benefit of $8,400 of taxpayers' money to prepare and mail their newsletter out to every Borough household thus getting its spin of the facts in voters' hands.  Likewise the opponents didn't have public funds available to it for professionally developed "talking points" prepared for presentation at professionally coordinated "referendum open houses" or for "backpack stuffers" to be distributed to parents through their children.

School districts that use public money to purportedly "educate" voters will invariably spend it to send a lopsided message that promotes passage of the referendum.  They will hire professional public relations consultants who, being intimately familiar with the Parsippany-Troy Hills case, will come as close to the education-versus-advocacy line as possible to spin the message in favor of a "yes" vote while retaining a plausible claim that the school board's true intention for retaining them was merely to present the voters with neutral facts.

I bring this issue to your office's attention because I don't think that filing petitions with the Department of Education is a sufficient remedy for citizens who feel aggrieved by their school boards' hiring of professional media relations firms to promote their bond referenda.  In the Hillsborough case, all that Judge Metzger did, after the bond was passed, was simply declare that the board was in violation and require it to have bond referenda that might to come up during the next year "reviewed in advance by the full Board in open session with the assistance of counsel."  This is a slap on the wrist that I'm sure the Hillsborough Board was (or the Bound Brook Board would be) happy to accept in exchange for the bond referendum being ultimately approved.

Given that school boards in Somerset County will continue to campaign for new debt and, accordingly, will continue to use public relations firms to get their version of the facts presented to the voters, I believe that it would be appropriate for your office to take a position or issue some guidelines on this issue.

Thank you for your attention to this matter.  I look forward to hearing from you.

Very truly yours,

John Paff
Somerset, New Jersey

Monday, November 10, 2014

Trouble, with a capital T, right here in Riverdale Borough

A police sergeant serving Riverdale Borough (Morris County) New Jersey filed suit last October against the Borough's mayor claiming that the mayor has been harassing and retaliating against him.  Even though the lawsuit was filed more than a year ago, I have not seen mention of it in any newspaper. So I decided to blog it.    The lawsuit is on-line here.

In his lawsuit, Sergeant Gregory Bogert claimed that Mayor William Budesheim perceived that Bogert harassed Budesheim's son, who works for the Borough as a police dispatcher.  Bogert, however, maintains that the junior Budesheim is often late to work and neglects his duties but escapes discipline because his father is the mayor.  Bogert also alleged that the junior Budesheim more than likely destroyed the campaign signs of his father's political opponents.  He also alleged that Mayor Budesheim has become so enraged at Bogert that he has tailgated his car and made a "scumbag" comment for which the Borough Council forced him to apologize. 

The lawsuit is in the discovery phase, but the discovery period is scheduled to end in March 2015.  Thereafter, the matter is likely to settle or be tried. 

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Why the limits on taxicab owner's licenses?

The City of Trenton, like many cities across New Jersey and the nation, set an arbitrary limit on the number of taxicabs the city will license.  In Trenton, City Code § 272-4(B), sets the maximum number of cabs at 82.  Cities don't limit the number of bakeries or shoe stores in a town, so why taxicabs?  Does this type of restriction benefit the public good or is its aim to protect existing cab owners from competition?

Similar taxicab limits have been struck down in other states for violating constitutional provisions guaranteeing equal protection under the law.  In a 2013 case, Wisconsin Circuit Judge Jane Carroll found that Milwaukee's limit on taxicab licenses failed an equal protection analysis because it wasn't rationally related to the public health, safety, morals or general welfare.  Judge Carroll's ruling, which is on-line here, states that the arbitrary limit on taxicabs indicates "the desire of the City to create a valuable asset for the current permit holders so that they could sell them and, as the one taxi driver indicated, retire comfortably to Florida, that's simply not a legitimate government purpose."


Question for the General Assembly's Standing Committee on Ethical Standards

November 5, 2014

Michael J. Mitzner, Esq.
Mitzner & Mitzner,PA
Suite 101A
786 Mountain Blvd
Watchung, NJ 07069-6268
Via e-mail to mitznerlaw@aol.com and via fax to 908-668-9986

Dear Mr. Mitzner:

I understand from reading the February 21, 2012 New Jersey Legislative Digest that you were appointed, by authority of N.J.S.A. 52:13D-22(a), by the Assembly Republican Leader to serve as one of the eight members of the bipartisan Joint Legislative Committee on Ethical Standards. According to the current list of Committee members you still serve in that capacity.

Through further research I learned from Rules 19a of the Rules of the General Assembly for the State of New Jersey that in addition to the eight members of the Joint Committee, the four members of the Joint Committee appointed from the General Assembly, of which you are one, constitute a standing committee of the General Assembly authorized to receive and consider allegations of possible misconduct by members of the General Assembly which "reflect[] upon the good name, integrity and reputation of the Legislature, a House or any member thereof."

Against this backdrop, I ask that you please accept this e-mail and fax as my request for the General Assembly's Standing Committee on Ethical Standards to conduct an investigation into a) whether Assemblyman Angel Fuentes violated any rule, law or ethical standard by using his district office staff and state resources for the benefit of a private, non-profit organization and, b) if not, whether the rules, laws or ethical standards should be amended to proscribe a legislator's use of taxpayer-funded resources for private purposes.

The factual allegations that form the basis of this request are contained within an October 17, 2014 Courier-Post article entitled "Legislator's actions spur ethics questions" authored by journalist Kevin C. Shelly.  

According to the article, Assemblyman Fuentes admitted to having used members of his staff, on state time, to support the Hispanic Leadership Association, a private, non-profit organization. While the type of staff support is not completely known, the article quotes Fuentes as stating that "[t]he work included compiling a mailing list for the association's annual fall summit."  According to the Association's web site, the summit is "The Premier Event for New Jersey's Hispanic Leaders" for which tickets are available for purchase.

The propriety of using taxpayer resources to benefit a private organization does not turn on the popularity of the organization or how beneficial its works are perceived to be.  The public funds Fuentes committed to the Association's benefit belong equally to both those who support the Association's work and those who don't.  My complaint should not be taken as a criticism of the Association or its works, since I would have the same argument had Fuentes used state resources to benefit any other private organization.  While Fuentes' desire to support charity is admirable, he should use his own funds for his advocacy and not taxpayer funds to which he has been entrusted.

Regardless of whether Fuentes' actions were morally wrong, the question of whether or not he violated the ethics standards is the main question for the Standing Committee's consideration.  The standards, as I understand them, mainly prohibit legislators from taking public action that financially benefits the legislator or his family.  The only proscription that might pertain is that contained in N.J.S.A. 52:13D-25, which states, in relevant part:
No State officer or employee, special State officer or employee, or member of the Legislature shall willfully disclose to any person, whether or not for pecuniary gain, any information not generally available to members of the public which he receives or acquires in the course of and by reason of his official duties. 
Whether Fuentes violated this provision depends on facts that are currently unknown.  Did his staff create the Association's summit invitation list from Fuentes' private lists of supporters, friends and acquaintances or did they otherwise use private information to promote the summit to the invitees?  Or, did the staff use their time to create a list from publicly available sources?  The question of whether Fuentes violated N.J.S.A. 52:13D-25 turns on the source and of information that was used rather than on Fuentes' decision to use taxpayer-funded resources to create the list.  This is a question that the Standing Committee, if it chooses to, can answer by conducting an investigation into this matter.

Regardless of whether Fuentes' conduct violated N.J.S.A. 52:13D-25, the Standing Committee should consider recommending the adoption of a new ethical standard that would ban a legislator's use of public resources to benefit a private charity.  I fully agree with veteran legislator William E. Schluter, who is quoted in the Courier-Post article as stating "I think that the legislative office, paid for with taxpayer money, should be used for legislative work, period."

Thank you for your attention to this matter.  I would appreciate receiving a response to this inquiry.

John Paff

Monday, November 3, 2014

Bergen County Corrections Officers' Salaries

In response to an Open Public Records Act (OPRA) request, I learned that Bergen County has 273 Corrections Officers at an average annual base salary of $97,206 and a median annual base salary of $108,513.

An Excel table is on-line here.


Monday, October 27, 2014

Warren County loses appeal. Taxpayers likely on the hook for more attorney fees.

County taxpayers might question the wisdom of Warren County's refusal to pay a vendor $12,250 that remained due on a $300,000 contract to renovate a county building.  According to an October 27, 2014 Appellate Division decision, on-line here, the County refused to pay the bill because some of the carpet tiles that the renovation company installed did not properly adhere to the floor.

But, as the contractor successfully argued before Judge Amy C. O'Connor, the County failed to abide by New Jersey's Prompt Payment Act which required the County to either pay the bill or to give timely notice as to why payment was being withheld.  O'Connor found that the County provided neither payment nor notice and awarded the contractor the $12,250 balance due plus interest and $44,000 in attorney's fees.  Since the County's appeal of O'Connor's judgment was not successful, it is likely that County taxpayers will also have to pay the contractor's attorney fees for work done in the Appellate Division.

The County was represented in the appeal by Warren County Counsel Joseph J. Bell.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

State policy on Automatic License Plate Readers

Of possible interest is the Somers Point Police General Order that governs the use of Automatic License Plate Readers (ALPR) on-line here.  The Somers Point order adopts the Attorney General's ALPR policy. Of interest to records requestors is Section 13 which treats all stored ALPR data as a "criminal investigatory record" not subject to disclosure under the Open Public Records Act (OPRA).


Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Bridgeton Police officers settle disciplinary charges against them.

At its November 21, 2012 meeting, the New Jersey Civil Service Commission signed off on a settlement reached between the Bridgeton Police Department (Cumberland County) and Officer Veronica L. Cheeseman who had been subjected to removal from her position for one violation and a 14-day unpaid suspension for another.  The settlement reinstated Cheeseman but called for her to receive a 21-day suspension from duty and required her to complete another one year "working test period," which is a probationary employment period.

Charges arising out of the same two incidents were also filed against Officer Roger Worley.  Worley, with the assistance of his police union, was able to settle these two charges--along with two other charges involving absenteeism and lateness--by agreeing to accept forfeiture of 48 hours of vacation time in 2011.

The charges and settlement agreements regarding Cheeseman and Worley are on-line here and here respectively.

The most serious matter charged both officers with insubordination for failing to follow proper procedures after an armed robbery victim approached them while they were parked in two separate patrol cars in an Irving Avenue parking lot on October 19, 2010.  The officers at the time were taking radar readings on the traffic headed west on Irving avenue.

According to hearing testimony, when the Spanish-speaking robbery victim approached Cheeseman, who is fluent in Spanish, and told her that his assailant had pulled a gun and threatened to kill him, neither Cheeseman nor senior officer Worley put out a radio bulletin or informed a supervisor of the report.  Rather, Cheeseman reportedly just asked the victim for his name and phone number and both officers went out on foot patrol for 45-minutes to look for the suspect without telling other officers or their superiors what they were doing and why they were doing it.

The victim then went to a friend's house and then back to the location of the robbery after he realized that the robbery may have been captured by a store's surveillance camera.  Although some twenty minutes had elapsed, the victim allegedly still saw Cheeseman's and Worley's police cars at the same location and assumed that the officers, who were apparently out on foot patrol, were still in their cars.  This caused him to "conclude that the officers were not doing anything about the incident, so he didn't approach them again."

Cheeseman and Worley claimed that the victim never mentioned a robber or a gun and that he reported only an attempted simple assault.  The officers also reported that the victim walked to their patrol cars and spoke in a calm voice while the victim's testimony and video evidence suggested that ran to the police cars and was out of breath and excited when he made his report to Cheeseman.

The second matter charged both Cheeseman and Worley with using racially discriminatory language on December 22, 2010.  Apparently, Cheeseman told Worley that an individual that she had just stopped was a "F***'in White Cracker."  Worley apparently made reference to a "bacon cracker."  This matter caused City Hearing Officer J. Fred Coldren to impose a 14-day unpaid suspension upon Cheeseman.  As noted above, Worley and the City settled this charge, along with the other charges, with a 48-hour vacation forfeiture.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Question on Medford trash hauling contract

October 7, 2014

Katherine Burger, Interim Manager
Township of Medford
17 North Main Street
Medford, NJ 08055
via e-mail only to kburger@medfordtownship.com

Dear Ms. Burger:

Thank you for your recent response to my Open Public Records Act (OPRA) request and for providing me with the contract between Medford Township  and Casworth (the Township's trash hauler) and copies of some logs of calls for service relating to trash pick-up and other issues.
For your ready reference, the contract is on-line here and a representative sample of the call logs is on-line here.

Paragraph 2 of the contract states:
The Contractor will establish a phone number and a primary point of contact to receive and return calls relating to general information, questions or complaints about the solid waste collection.
Yet the call logs appear to indicate that the calls for service were handled by a Township employee.  As I stated in my records request, I was informed that employee Judy A. Scherf took those calls and my information is apparently proven correct by virtue of the logs you provided.

Do I understand this issue correctly?  If so, why did Medford taxpayers pay a Township employee to field phone calls for trash collection when that task was undertaken by Casworth under the contract?

I am making this letter public so that Medford taxpayers may be informed of this issue.  I invite the taxpayers to direct any questions regarding this matter to you or the Township Council.

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

Hudson County Democrat and Republican Committee Members on-line

On-line here is a list of the Democrats and Republicans who serve on the County Committees for terms running from 2013 through 2015.  I am not aware of this information being on-line anywhere else.

It's interesting to take the Committee members in a town that is controlled by the dominant part (i.e. the Democrats in Hudson County) and cross reference their names with DataUniverse's listing of government employees.  Many of them have positions with the county or one of the school districts or municipalities in Hudson County.

For example (and I don't know if this is typical), I checked out the first district listed on the sheet, which is Bayonne District 01,01. Lisa Cerbone, the female Democratic Party Committeewoman from that District apparently has a $100,760 position at the Bayonne Board of Education while Stephen Gallo, the male Democratic Party Committeeman from the same district apparently has a $116,494 position with Bayonne Municipal Utilities Authority.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Bridgeton Tort Claims Notice

In response to my recent Open Public Records Act (OPRA) request to the City of Bridgeton (Cumberland County), I visited City Hall on October 9, 2014 to review all the Tort Claims Notices filed against the City during the past three years.  Whenever a local government official or employee causes personal injury or property damage, the claimant must file a "Tort Claim Notice" within 90 days after the incident and failure to timely file may be fatal to the claim.

I looked at a total of thirty-three filings.  Twenty-three filings dealt with simple negligence actions where, for example, a person claimed that the City was negligent for not fixing a crack in a sidewalk that caused the claimant to trip and fall.  The other ten claims, each of which are described below, dealt with something other than the City's alleged passive negligence.

SETH DUPPIN'S AUGUST 9, 2011 CLAIM

Mr. Duppin, of Harvard Avenue, Bridgeton, claimed that Bridgeton Police, including Sergeant Angel Santiago and Patrolmen Crokus and Wright, injured him on May 13, 2011.  I have located no lawsuit arising out of this claim.  Mr. Duppin is represented by Lee J. Hughes of Vineland.

JAMES K. BRIGG'S MAY 11, 2012 CLAIM

Mr. Briggs, of Cronell Avenue, Bridgeton, a former employee of the Bridgeton Fire Department, claimed that he was wrongfully terminated from the Fire Department and that Chief David E. Schoch, Battalion Chief Bowen and others harassed, threatened and discriminated against him.  I have located no lawsuit arising out of this claim. Mr. Briggs is represented by Stuart J. Alterman of Marlton.

ESTATE OF DESTINY M. SMITH'S JULY 12, 2012 CLAIM

Ms. Smith, who is deceased, claims that Bridgeton Police and Fire Departments were negligent in responding to an April 9, 2012 fire at 71 Church Street.  I have located no lawsuit arising out of this claim. The estate is represented by Thomas J. Mallon of Freehold.

STEPHEN P. KERNAN'S DECEMBER 7, 2012 CLAIM

Mr. Kernan, of Franklin Street, Bridgeton, claimed that the 2012 Annual Report of the City's Historic District Commission and a statement on the Commission's web site damaged his reputation and violated his right to privacy. The claim.was settled without a monetary payout.  Details regarding the settlement are on-line here. Mr. Kernan is represented by John P. Morris of Bridgeton.

ROGELIO PEREZ-GOMEZ AKA ROGELIO GOMEZ-PEREZ'S JANUARY 28, 2013 CLAIM 

Mr. Perez-Gomez, for whom no address is listed, claimed that he was "viciously assaulted" by Bridgeton Police and officers of the Cumberland County Prosecutor's Office on November 30, 2012 at 76 Elmer Street, Bridgeton. I have located no lawsuit arising out of this claim. Mr. Perez-Gomez is represented by Elizabeth M. Trinidad of Bridgeton.

PHILLIP A. AND CHERYL DUBOSE'S APRIL 1, 2013 CLAIM

Mr. and Mrs. DuBose, for whom no address is listed, claimed that on February 20, 2013 Bridgeton Police stopped him on Wood Street, Bridgeton and applied excessive force upon him while arresting him for disorderly conduct, aggravated assault and resisting arrest.  He alleges that the following officers were involved: a) Sergeant Richard Zanni, b) Sergeant Angel Santiago, c) Ptl. Joseph Camp, d) Ptl. Nicholas Caprio, e) Ptl. Joshua Soper and f) Det. Miguel Martinez.A lawsuit (on-line here) was filed in the United States District Court, Phillip A. and Cheryl Dubose v. Bridgeton Police, Case No. 1:14-cv-02209.  Mr. and Mrs. DuBose are represented by Alfonso Gambone of Philadelphia.

JOSHUA A DAIRSOW, JR.'S MAY 10, 2013 CLAIM

Mr. Dairsow, of Mr. Vernon Street, Bridgeton, claimed that Police Sergeant Angel Santiago provided false information to Vineland Police upon which Detective Charles Cappelli relied, which cause Cappelli to stop Dairsow's automobile, arrest him and apply excessive force upon him.  I have located no lawsuit arising out of this claim. Mr. DeAngelis is represented by John P. Morris of Bridgeton.

JOSEPH P. DEANGELIS, JR.'S JULY 8, 2013 CLAIM

Mr. DeAngelis, of Central Avenue, Bridgeton, claimed that Police Sergeant Angel Santiago and Patrolman Jeffrey Scull caused a warrant to issue against him without probable cause existing.  I have located no lawsuit arising out of this claim. Mr. DeAngelis is represented by John P. Morris of Bridgeton.

MARELLA LAWSON'S JULY 9, 2013 CLAIM

Ms. Lawson, of Third Avenue, Bridgeton, claimed that on April 20, 2013 she was assaulted by two male Bridgeton police officers.  A lawsuit (on-line here) was filed in the United States District Court, Marella Lawson v. City of Bridgeton, Case No. 1:14-cv-00749-JBS-KMW.  Ms. Lawson is represented by Gregg L. Zeff of Mt. Laurel.

ANGEL L. SANTIAGO'S NOVEMBER 23, 2013 CLAIM

Mr. Santiago, a former Bridgeton Police Sergeant, claimed race-based harassment and retaliation from Police Chief Mark W. Ott.  He claimed that he was removed from his position of sergeant and placed on administrative leave in retaliation for filing an internal affairs complaint regarding Lt. Filippello and Detective Zanni.  He claimed that he was forbidden to have contact with the following six City employees: a) Ptl. Veronica Cheeseman, b) Ptl. Deena Bertoli, c) Ptl. Roger Worley, d) TCO Carolyn Dover, e) TCO Kelly Queen and f) Frances Tabora. He also claimed that Ott required him to "report any absence from his home to Sgt. Tom Speranza or Jason Hovermann."  He claimed to have been punished disproportionately, as compared to others, for an excessive force complaint and that baseless sexual harassment charges have been filed against him. Mr. Santiago is represented by Stuart J. Alterman of Marlton.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Former Haledon school social worker appeals certificate revocation.

A former employee of Haledon School District (Passaic County) has appealed the New Jersey Education Commissioner's August 5, 2014 decision to revoke his School Social Worker certificate.  Appellate Docket A-366-14.  According to the decision, the Department of Education decided to revoke the man's certification after an Administrative Law Judge found that he told a female staff member that he wanted to “lick her legs up and down” and twice exposed his genitalia to her.  The judge also found that he made inappropriate remarks to three other women.

The Administrative Law Judge recommended a two year suspension because of the man's exemplary “past performance and his dedication to special-needs students” and because "he received mixed messages from" the female staff member.  The Board of Examiners and Commissioner, however, found that his conduct warranted revocation of his certificate.

Case documents are on-line here.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Cape May County Sheriff releases Internal Affairs records for 2012 and 2013

On Tuesday, September 30, 2014, just three days before an Order to Show Cause hearing before Superior Court Judge Nelson C. Johnson, Cape May Assistant County Counsel James B. Arsenault, Jr. provided my lawyer, Donald M. Doherty of West Berlin, rosters showing internal affairs matters that were filed against county corrections officers and other county employees.  The disclosure mooted my lawsuit, Paff v. Cape May County and Elizabeth Bozzelli, Board Clerk, Docket No. CPM-L-373-14.

Typically, law enforcement internal affairs (IA) records are strictly confidential.  But, IA records pertaining to corrections officers are treated differently..

N.J.A.C. 10A:34-1.6(a)(2) makes corrections officers' internal affairs records confidential but only to the extent that "redaction of information would be insufficient to protect the safety of any person or the safe and secure operation of a detention facility."  And, the Attorney General's Internal Affairs Policy & Procedures (IAPP) Manual, which generally confers confidentiality of IA matters, excludes "county correctional agencies" from its scope.

Since the County could not show how disclosing its corrections department's IA records would imperil "any person or the safe and secure operation of a detention facility," it determined that it could not  satisfy its burden of proof under OPRA and decided to disclose the records in full.

The twenty pages of records I received, which are on-line here, show that nearly every complaint that was brought by the warden or other jail officer ended up with an inposition of discipline while those that were brought by inmates or the public ended up being dismissed.

Also revealed were two criminal complaints against county employees, one against Ed S. Beamon for allegedly passing a bad check and the other against Kathleen James for allegedly selling Adderall to an undercover police officer.  Both criminal complaints are at the link above and I do not know the final disposition of either of them.  It appears that Kathleen James is the same employee who had a pit bull removed from her leg by an inmate on September 17, 2011.  See news article here.



Questioning Cumberland Democrats' civil judgment and its campaign finance reporting.

One area of the law that I am not very familiar with is that regarding political campaign receipts and expenditures.  In order to venture into this area, I've made a few Open Public Records Act (OPRA) requests and have reviewed some reports of filed with the Election Law Enforcement Commission (ELEC) web site here.

My interest in this issue was piqued by recent newspaper articles regarding the Initiate Civic Empowerment PAC, or ICE PAC for short.  See, e.g. "Delran Mayor Ken Paris employed by PAC that contributed to his campaign," by Jenna Pizzi of the Times of Trenton, August 21, 2014;  "State DCA seeks to review 2 Trenton legal contracts," by Jenna Pizzi of the Times of Trenton, August 6, 2014 and "State ethics complaint dooms embattled law firm from doing work with Trenton," by David Foster of the Trentonian, September 14, 2014.

This is the Political Action Committee that shares a Woodbury address with the law firm Long, Marmero & Associates.  One of the firm's founding partners is Douglas Long, who serves as Deputy Director of the Cumberland County Board of Chosen Freeholders.

The following are my determinations based on the records I have reviewed.  I do not claim to have come to the correct determination in each case, and ask that anyone who has more information or corrections to contact me at paff@pobox.com so that I can update this blog entry.  That said, here is what I've found.

On January 3, 2013, a corporation called "Just Four Wheels, Inc." won a $22,167.58 civil judgment against the "Cumberland County Democratic Committee" under Superior Court Docket No. CUM-L-1001-11.  The plaintiff, according to its web site, is a car rental company operating out Vineland, New Jersey.

I looked up "Cumberland County Democratic Committee" on the Election Law Enforcement Commission's (ELEC) web site and found no organization listed with that exact name.  I did, however, find an organization called the "Cumberland County Democratic Organization."

In its ELEC filings, the "Cumberland County Democratic Organization" identifies itself as a "PPC."  According to the ELEC publication on-line here, a PPC is a Political Party Committee, which is defined as including "any county committee of a political party organized pursuant to N.J.S.A. 19:5-3."

From this, I gather that "Cumberland County Democratic Committee" and "Cumberland County Democratic Organization" are two names for the same organization and that both names refer to the assembly of the male and female Democratic Party members who were elected from each of Cumberland County's election districts at the most recent primary election.

According to court documents (on-line here) that I received today from Cumberland County in response to an OPRA request to the Cumberland County Sheriff's Office, the attorney for Just For Wheels, Inc., Steven Mitnick of Frenchtown, in the Spring of 2013, attempted to execute the judgment by levying on the Cumberland County Democratic Committee's bank account at PNC Bank.  The levy was served upon PNC's branch at 638 Landis Avenue, Vineland, on May 20, 2013 by Cumberland County Sheriff's Deputy Jose Rodriguez.  According to the levy's return, PNC Customer Service Representative advised Deputy Rodriguez that "no accounts found."  Thus, the levy was unsuccessful.

Yet, the Cumberland County Democratic Organization's 2nd Quarter 2013 financial report (here - see page 3) shows that the Organization did maintain a bank account at PNC Bank, 638 East Landis Avenue, Vineland with a balance of several thousands of dollars at the time of levy. The only conclusion that I can reach is that PNC Bank did not levy account because the name on the account differed from the name of the judgment debtor (i.e. "Committee" v. "Organization")

Also of interest is a $5,000 contribution the Cumberland County Democratic Organization received from the ICE PAC on February 26, 2014.  See page 4 of the Organization's 1st Quarter 2014 financial report here. The ICE PAC's report (here - page 13) financial report for the 1st Quarter 2014 shows that the PAC issued its $5,000 check, no. 1055, to the Cumberland County Democratic Organization for the stated purpose of "Just for Wheels Payment." Note that this disbursement is listed as a "operating disbursement" on Schedule C rather than as a "monetary contribution made to candidates/committees" on Schedule D.

Among the questions that I have are:

a. Why did a the Cumberland County Democratic Committee/Organization allow itself to become indebted to a car rental company and why would a county political committee need to rent cars?

b. Did the Committee/Organization rent cars often enough to generate a $20,000+ bill?

c. If the Committee/Organization received $20,000 worth of goods or services from Just for Wheels and did not pay for them, is it not obligated to report the value of those services as a contribution?

d. Did the Committee/Organization pay the $5,000 that it received from ICE PAC to Just for Wheels, Inc?

e. Is the judgment now satisfied?

I ask that anyone with any answers or insight please e-mail me.

John Paff
Somerset, New Jersey








Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Camden County Dems post their bylaws.

In a September 29, 2014 letter, the attorney for the Camden County Democratic Committee asked for a copy of its bylaws to be posted on the web site of the Camden County Board of Elections.  The letter and bylaws were then posted on the Board's site and are on-line here.

The bylaws of county political party committees are required by law, N.J.S.A. 19:5-3.2, to be posted on both the county committee's and the election board's websites.  This requirement took effect on October 2, 2009.  I believe that this is the first time that the the Camden Democratic Committee has complied with this requirement.

Avalon steps away from its curfew ordinance

In an October 1, 2014 e-mail to me, Avalon Borough Solicitor Stephen Barse advised me that on October 8, 2014, the Avalon Borough Council "will introduce an ordinance to repeal the existing curfew ordinance."   The letter that caused the Council to reconsider its curfew prohibition is set forth below.
-------------------------------------------------
September 8, 2014

Hon. Martin L. Pagliughi,, Mayor, and members of the
Avalon Borough Council
3100 Dune Drive
Avalon, NJ 08202
Via e-mail only to Administrator Wahl at swahl@avalonboro.org

Dear Mayor Pagliughi and Council members:

Avalon Borough is mentioned in a recent Press of Atlantic City article as having "stepped up [its] curfew enforcement since" a 2012 decision that declared a similar curfew ordinance unconstitutional.
For the reasons that follow, I believe that Chapter 7-11 of Avalon's Code, establishing a juvenile curfew, is unconstitutional and that a person against whom enforcement is sought may have a viable lawsuit against the Borough.

Compare Chapter 7-11 to Wanaque Borough's juvenile curfew ordinance which is attached as Exhibit A to the April 10, 2013 civil complaint filed by the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey, which I've placed on-line here.  Like Wanaque's, Avalon's curfew ordinance does not contain an exception for cases where the minor has parental consent to be in public during curfew hours.

The brief filed by the ACLU, which is on-line here, gives several compelling reasons why that lack of such an exception makes Wanaque's curfew ordinance unconstitutional.  According to an August 13, 2014 article in Suburban Trends, Wanaque has responded to the ACLU's lawsuit by introducing an ordinance repealing its curfew law in its entirety and by paying $55,000 in attorney fees to the ACLU."

Egg Harbor Township in Atlantic County repealed its curfew ordinance after being sued and paid $10,000 in attorney fees. The Atlantic County judge's preliminary decision in that case is on-line here.

Whether you are for or against juvenile curfews, I am sure that you will see the wisdom in keeping the Borough out of a potentially costly lawsuit.  I ask that you please ask the Borough Attorney to provide a legal opinion regarding the curfew ordinance's constitutionality and discuss that opinion at your September 10, 2014 meeting.

Thank you for your attention to this matter.

Very truly yours,

John Paff, Chairman
New Jersey Libertarian Party's
Preempted Ordinance Project
P.O. Box 5424
Somerset, NJ  08875
Phone 732-873-1251
e-mail: paff@pobox.com

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Former Bridgeton Comptroller files "Whistle Blower" suit against City

In May 2014, Teresa Delp, who served as Comptroller for Bridgeton (and also had part time positions in Shiloh, Lawrence and Stow Creek) filed a lawsuit against the City of Bridgeton claiming that she was retaliated against her when she complained in early 2012 that "the City's business administrator engaged in conduct in violation of the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination based upon the protected class/category of gender and/or sexual orientation and its anti-retaliation provisions."  Further details of exactly how the business administrator violated anti-discrimination laws is not disclosed in the lawsuit.

Records on DataUniverse show that Delp retired in 2014 at a final salary of $134,186 from all her employers and is collecting a pension of $78,380 per year.

The lawsuit, Teresa Delp v City of Bridgeton, Superior Court Docket No. CUM-L-342-14 is on-line here.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Camden County Democrat and Republican Committee Members on-line

On-line here is a list of the Democrats and Republicans who serve on the County Committees for terms running from 2013 through 2015.  I am not aware of this information being on-line anywhere else.

It's interesting to take the Committee members in a town that is controlled by the dominant party (i.e. the Democrats in Camden County) and cross reference their names with DataUniverse's listing of government employees.  Many of them have positions with the county or one of the school districts or municipalities in Camden County.