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.