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