Monday, March 31, 2014

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Hopefully, Judge Miller's opinion, although unpublished and of no precedential value, may help other litigants who face the same frustrations.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Burlington Jail Death likely topic at "Stand-Up, Speak-Out!" event

On Monday, March 31st at 7 p.m. the Rancocas Valley Clergy Association will be holding a "Stand-Up, Speak-Out!" event where residents will be given an open forum "to speak out about social issues, problems and the needs of people in" Burlington County. 

According to Sean C. Turzanski, who spoke at Saturday's New Jersey Libertarian Party Convention, a likely topic of the event is Robert Taylor, a homeless 74-year-old man, who died while in custody at the Burlington County Jail.  According to a gripping letter, written by Turzanski while he was jailed with Taylor during his final days, jail officials neglected Taylor who was lying naked in the same position for 5 days on the floor of his cell without taking any meals or water.

The "Stand-Up, Speak-Out!" event, which is open to the public, will be held at the Christian Faith Assembly Church, 810 Marne Highway (Co. Rt. 537) ¼ mile west Co. Rt. 541 By-pass, in Hainesport, New Jersey.

More information and ground rules on the event are on-line here and Turzanski's letter is on-line here.

Monday, March 24, 2014

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 government 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."

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Questions for the Somerset Freeholders regarding the Bissell Defense Fund.

March 15, 2014

Hon. Patrick Scaglione, Director and members of the
Somerset County Board of Chosen Freeholders
20 Grove Street
Somerville, New Jersey
via e-mail only to

Dear Director Scaglione and members of the Board:

I am confused by the County's responses to two Open Public Records Act (OPRA) requests I made for financial records related to a $1 million fund that the County set up in 1998 to defend against claims against former County Prosecutor Nicholas Bissell.  My two OPRA requests and the County's responses are on-line here.  There are two general areas of confusion:

1. Why aren't any financial records available for this fund?

In both his February 21, 2014 and March 14, 2014 responses, County Counsel William T. Cooper, III stated that even though the Bissell Defense Fund was in existence as recently as 2010, the County's "research cannot locate any specific records pertaining to this account" (See Cooper's February 21, 2014 letter) and "the Records Custodian cannot locate any records for the referenced account" (See Cooper's March 14, 2014 letter).  Rather, the only records of the account that the County's staff can find are "references in audits . . . for 2008 and 2010 [which] are the basis for the information and belief that an account was created" (See Cooper's March 14, 2014 letter).

I am confused as to why the original, source records pertaining to the Bissell Defense Fund account cannot be located.  After all, the auditors must have reviewed some financial records in order to reference the Bissell Defense Fund account in their 2008 and 2010 audit reports.  Why cannot the financial records that the auditor reviewed be disclosed in response to my OPRA requests?

According to the "County Agency General Records Retention Schedule" which is online here, Somerset County is required to retain "[a] central listing of all activities for an account within a particular time period" permanently. (See, Record Series 0102-0001 on page 2 of the Schedule).  And, most of the other financial records, such as account statements, checks and deposit slips need to be kept for six years. 

The only conclusion I can draw after reading the retention schedule and Mr. Cooper's letters is that the County, despite the State's retention requirements, somehow lost or destroyed records that were supposed to have been retained.

Did the County disobey the retention requirements?  If not, then why does it not have any records related to this account?

2. Why did the Bissell Defense Fund account continue to exist until 2010? 

According to Mr. Cooper's March 14, 2014 letter, "the County was first advised that the State was taking over the defense [of any actions alleging negligence or wrongdoing by Prosecutor Bissell] on or about July 31, 2001.  Yet, Mr. Cooper's February 21, 2014 letter states that the Bissell Defense Fund "account was cancelled by the County when the State of New Jersey assumed the defense and liability for the actions of the Somerset County Prosecutor's Office."

Why did it take the County until 2008 and 2010--seven and nine years after it realized that the Bissell Defense Fund account was no longer needed--to return the $1.6 million account balance back to the general fund?  Could not the taxpayers have benefited by having this substantial fund of money available to them in 2001 instead of in 2008 and 2010?

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

Very truly yours,

John Paff
P.O. Box 5424
Somerset, NJ  08875
Voice: 732-873-1251
Fax: 908-325-0129