Tuesday, March 31, 2015

After a decade of appeals, the third time's a charm for Somerset Prosecutor.

In an unpublished opinion released today, March 31, 2015, the Appellate Division of the New Jersey Superior Court affirmed a conviction against Raymond R. Martin for selling a Somerset County Prosecutor's Office undercover detective $80 worth of crack cocaine on March 31, 2005 and another $200 worth of the same substance on April 19, 2005.  The opinion is on-line here and a November 1, 2007 Star Ledger article about the matter is on-line here.

According to the opinion and the news article, Martin's two crack cocaine sales occurred in the parking lot of the now closed Rhythm's of the Night restaurant and bar on South Main Street in Manville.  On October 31, 2007, the then 37-year old Martin was found guilty of the drug charges and a related resisting arrest charge after a four day trial before Somerset County Superior Court Judge Paul W. Armstrong. He was later sentenced to three years in prison.  On April 29, 2009, however, the Appellate Division reversed Martin's conviction finding that Armstrong "mistakenly exercised [his] discretion when [he] insisted at 4:00 p.m. that [Martin] could not ponder overnight whether to take the stand."

Martin's second trial, also before Judge Armstrong, ended with a deadlocked jury.  The third trial, against before Armstrong, resulted in a December 7, 2012 conviction and a three year prison term.

In his most recent appeal, Martin raised many objections, including Armstrong's removal of a Hispanic-American from the jury, Armstrong's "unmistakable" bias against and an "apparent animus" towards him, Armstong's alleged deprivation of his right to cross-examine the State's witnesses and Armstrong's "misstatement" to jurors that they "must" rather than "may" consider Martin's fleeing from police as an indication of proof of consciousness of guilt.

The Appellate Division panel found none of Martin's arguments compelling and affirmed his conviction and sentence.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

South Jersey Regional Municipal Court used superseded code numbers to register violations.

The following letter delives into the the inside baseball (i.e. inner workings) of the municipal court system.  It might not be of interest to many people, but the problem that I'm addressing has the potential of allowing municipal courts to continue convicting people of offenses even after the municipal governing body has repealed the ordinance upon which the offenses are based.

March 29, 2015

Carole A. Cummings
Municipal Division Manager
19 N. Broad St
Woodbury, NJ 08096

Dear Ms. Cummings.

It appears that in 2011 and 2012 respectively, the Townships of Upper Deerfield (Cumberland County) and Pittsgrove (Salem County) had their municipal code books recodified.  This caused a renumbering of certain code provisions which has resulted in the same problem that we corresponded about in Spring 2010.  I've placed that correspondence on-line here for your ready reference.

The CS Regional Municipal Court in 2013 was still using the superseded code numbers, i.e §67-3 in Upper Deerfield and §63A-3 in Pittsgrove, to input violations for offenses that occurred post-recodification.  According to the Upper Deerfield Code's Derivation Table, the present Chapter 259 was derived from Chapter 67 and according to the historical note under Pittgrove's Chapter 74, that chapter was derived from Chapter 63A of the former code. Copies of the 2013 summonses are on-line here and here for Upper Deerfield and Pittsgrove respectively and note that the superseded numbers appear on the reverse side of each.  In sum, the CS Court was using invalid code numbers in 2013 to process summonses written in 2013.

I am currently trying to get both Townships to repeal their codes because they are superseded by state law and are being used to receive downgrades that violate the Attorney General's 1998 preemption directive.  As I stated in my April 5, 2010 letter, the Automated Criminal System's acceptance of superseded code numbers suggests that nothing in the System will prevent violations of those provisions from being entered even if I am successful in getting the provisions repealed.

Would you please contact the CS Regional Judge and Administrator and have them update their Local Offense Lists (not just for these specific code provisions in Upper Deerfield and Pittsgrove but for all code provisions in each municipality in the regional court)?

Thank you.  I look forward to hearing from you.

​​John Paff, Chairman
New Jersey Libertarian Party's
Preempted Ordinance Repeal Project
P.O. Box 5424
Somerset, NJ  08875
Voice: 732-873-1251
Fax: 908-325-0129
e-mail: paff@pobox.com

Saturday, March 28, 2015

An ordinance for all seasons. All types of illegal conduct fit into a South Jersey Township's vague proscription.

The Township of Upper Deerfield (Cumberland County) has Ordinance §259-3 (formerly §67-3) on the books entitled "Offenses against peace, safety and morals."  §259-3 states, in its entirety:
It shall be unlawful for any person to commit an offense against the public peace, safety and morals, as defined herein.
Elsewhere, the code defines "public peace, safety and morals" as:
Offenses against the public peace, safety and morals, without limiting the commonly accepted definition thereof, shall include destroying property of another; defacing property of another; loitering in groups of three or more in any public place; littering, destroying or defacing public property; destroying or defacing privately owned property used on a public playground or public park; consumption of alcoholic beverages on a public street; drunkenness; begging; lack of supervision by a parent or legal guardian or other person or persons having the care and custody of a minor child under the age of 18 years; indecent exposure; mugging; assault; assault and battery; larceny; burglary; robbery; sale or use of narcotics or other controlled dangerous substances.
One might ask: Why would Upper Deerfield have an ordinance on its books that makes offenses such as robbery, assault and narcotic sales--things that are already illegal under state statute--also violations of the Township's code?  Why would Upper Deerfield want to make a crime such as robbery, which can draw a long prison term, also a violation of a municipal ordinance that is usually satisfied by a fine and at most a short term in the county jail?

The answers to these questions may found in some documents I recently received from the Cumberland-Salem Regional Municipal Court.  These documents, which are on-line here, are complaints issued by New Jersey State Troopers for offenses that occurred in Upper Deerfield.  The first page of each complaint shows the charge as the State Trooper wrote it.  The second page shows that the Municipal Court "amended" the Trooper's charge to a violation of Upper Deerfield's Ordinance §259-3 (formerly §67-3) and collected a fine of between $100 and $300.

Among the varied violations that the Municipal Court was able to shoehorn into §67-3: Hitting someone in the face several times (State v. Kristopher K. Burt); throwing "perishable items" at a store employee (State v. Stanyell M. Jones); breaking car windows with a baseball bat (State v. Jason C. Lillia); trying to use a credit card without the cardholder's consent (State v. Brittany L. Lamanteer and Mark A. Gosbin, Jr.) and running from a State Trooper and locking oneself in the bathroom (State v. Anthony M. Bartley).

One might ask: Why weren't these defendants tried on the charges that the State Trooper wrote?

First, the Municipal Court' s system of downgrading offenses was severely limited by a 1998 Directive issued by then Attorney General Peter Verniero. (Download the Directive here).  Unfortunately, some courts--such as the Cumberland Salem Regional Municipal Court—still allows defendants to plead guilty to loitering offenses several years after the Directive was issued.

Second, the Municipal Court Judge and Prosecutor, although they should, do not consider the integrity of the criminal justice system as their top priority.  If they did, they'd abide by the Attorney General's directive.  Rather, the Judge and Prosecutor's main interests are collecting the cash and moving the court's calendar along.  These defendants, if convicted of the offenses that the Troopers charged, would have faced possible jail time, mandatory financial penalties to the Violent Crime Compensation Board and Safe Neighborhood Services Fund, a loss of the "presumption on non-incarceration" that first offenders enjoy and an inability to expunge the matters from their records for at least five five years.  But, because of the Judge's and Prosecutor's willingness to violate the Attorney General's directive, the Cumberland Salem Joint Municipal Court more closely resembles the "Let's Make a Deal" game show than a legitimate part of the New Jersey Judiciary.

Postscript: In case any readers are wondering whether I've complained to Cumberland County Prosecutor Jacqueline Webb-McRae about the municipal prosecutors under her watch violating the Attorney General's directive, please see the correspondence chain on-line here.  On August 16, 2010, Webb-McRae sent a memo to all prosecutors in Cumberland regarding the importance of following the Attorney General's directive.  Yet, some municipal prosecutors are ignoring Webb-McRae by still allowing the improper downgrades.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

A police misconduct case actually goes to trial.

Update: April 23, 2015

Glen Forero's excessive force lawsuit has settled.  According to an April 2, 2015 settlement agreement on-line here, Forero accepted $200,000 to settle the case.  According to court records, the settlement took place during the trial.

--original post follows--

Monday, March 23, 2015 starts the second week in the trial of Glen Forero's excessive force lawsuit against Atlantic City Police Officers Mark A. Pincus, Jr. and Jerard Ingenito.  The vast majority of such cases settle prior to trial, depriving the public from ever learning whether the officers did or did not do that for which they stand accused.  Anyone interesting in attending the trial should report to Judge Joseph H. Rodriquez's courtroom in the Federal Courthouse in Camden on Monday, March 23, 2015 at 9:30 a.m.  The case number is 1:11-cv-01630.

For a case to go to trial is interesting in itself.  What makes this case even more interesting is that the plaintiff is vigorously pursuing a Monell claim--that the police department itself is liable because of a policy or custom of allowing, or at least turning an indifferent eye toward, a "pattern, policy and practice of police abuse and misconduct against citizens."

In support of this "pattern, policy and practice," Thomas Mallon, Forero's attorney, argues in his trial brief (on-line here) that the Atlantic City Police Department's Internal Affairs (IA) process amounts to nothing more than "shallow and superficial Internal Affairs investigations tailored to exonerate officers for their wrongdoing."  In support of his contention, Mallon argues that his examination of IA records provided during discovery revealed that neither the officers nor the complainants were ever interviewed..  Rather, Mallon asserts that the matters were decided after reviewing the officers' and the complainants' written submissions.  In sum, Mallon argues that the inadequacy of Atlantic City's Internal Affairs process "send[s] the message to the members of their department that they will not be disciplined no matter how egregious the violation."  He argues that in the present case, the officers' confidence in not being disciplined or held accountable caused them assault Ferero "while fully aware that they were being recorded by a casino surveillance camera." Mallon states that 1,280 Internal Affairs complaints were filed against Atlantic City police between 2005 and 2010, 509 complaints alleging excessive force.

Photographs showing Forero's alleged injuries, as submitted to the Court, are on-line here.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Question for Deptford residents: Did the school board vote to hire a member's sister's live-in fiance?

March 24, 2015 Update:  In response to my OPRA request, the Deptford School District provided me with a September 25, 2013 advisory opinion by the New Jersey School Ethics Commission holding that no statute prevented Rachel Green from participating in employment matters related to her sister's fiance.  The opinion is on-line here.

 March 17, 2015 Update: I spoke with Rachel Green a few moments ago.  She stated that the school employee married to her sister is not Steven Senick.  If Green's statement is accurate, then Senick is not the person who Berglund referred to in paragraphs 20 to 30 of his complaint.
Paragraphs 20 to 30 of Walter Berglund's lawsuit against the Deptford Board of Education (Federal case no. 1:14-cv-01972, on line here) allege that in July 2012, the school board gave a full time position to a person who "resides with and is engaged to be married to the sister of one of [Board of Education members Stacy Gray, Rachel Green or Linda Rosser]."   The allegations, which are not proven, go on to say that this hire was a terrible employee and said things like "I'm just here to collect a paycheck" because "he has nothing to worry about because of his connections to a Board Member."

I submitted an Open Public Records Act (OPRA) request to Business Administrator Michael Griggel for the name of this employee.  In his response, on-line here, Mr. Griggel identified him as Steven Senick.  But, Mr. Griggel hedged a bit by saying that my OPRA has "deficiencies" and should not be taken as "an interpretation of any allegation" in Mr. Berglund's lawsuit.

So, I am left with knowing for sure that Steven Senick served as a night custodian for the school district starting on July 16, 2012 until he was terminated from that position on February 25, 2015.  Although he seems to be same person referred to by Mr. Berglund in his yet-to-be-proven lawsuit allegations, I am not exactly sure.

My concern is that if Senick was, as alleged in Berglund's complaint, living with and engaged to be married to the sister of an elected school board member at the time of his hiring, that may be something that should have been disclosed when the school board voted to hire Senick at its July 23, 2012 meeting.  This is especially true if Senick was engaged to Rachel Green's sister, because Green voted in favor of hiring Senick (I don't believe that Gray or Rosser served on the Board until later).

So, I ask that people who live in Deptford please e-mail me at paff@pobox.com if they know any answers to the following questions (those who feel uncomfortable e-mailing may send an anonymous response to me at P.O. Box 5424, Somerset, NJ 08875):
1. Was Senick living with and/or engaged to be married to the sister of any school board member in July 2012?
2. If so, which school board member?
3. Where is there a publicly available document that confirms any answers to 1 and 2 above?
Disclaimer: I intend nothing here to disparage Mr. Senick or anyone else.  I'm just trying to find out if there is any familial connection between Mr. Senick and any Board member that ought to have been publicly disclosed at the time of Mr. Senick's July 2012 hiring.

Lawnside Officer whose conduct resulted in $740,000 settlement received a $150,000 settlement herself.

A February 11, 2015 Courier Post article reported that the Borough of Lawnside (Camden County) and/or its insurer paid $740,000 to a tavern owner who filed suit because former Borough Police Officer Carmen Colon allegedly embarked on a long-term campaign to harass his patrons.

The article mentioned that Colon resigned as a Lawnside police officer in 2013 in exchange for the Borough dismissing disciplinary charges against her for allegedly filing a false report and tampering with records pertaining to an incident at the tavern.  But, a copy of the Borough's settlement agreement agreement with Colon, which I obtained by way of an Open Public Records Act (OPRA) request to Lawnside (on-line here), reveals that in addition to dismissal of the disciplinary charges, Colon also received:
a) a retirement badge and ID.
b) a neutral reference from Lawnside to any of Colon's future prospective employers.
c) no objection to Colon's efforts to collect unemployment benefits.
d) $150,000 of which $37,500 is intended to pay her lawyer.
e) another $4,683.80 for various paycheck withholdings.
Colon's lawsuit against Lawnside that was dismissed as a result of this settlement is on-line here.

Also of interest in this case is a September 26, 2013 letter (on-line here) from the tavern owner's lawyer.  Apparently, late in the discovery period, Lawnside produced a November 5, 2012 mediation statement, which caused the tavern owner to seek additional discovery to learn, among other things, whether and when Lawnside learned that Colon had previously resigned from the Camden Police Department and whether the Borough "believes that Colon has serious issues with dishonesty and abusing her position as a law enforcement officer."

Friday, March 6, 2015

Longtime Warren County Land Use Attorney charged with ethics infractions.

An Annandale attorney who has served as counsel for the Independence Township (Warren County) Land Use Board since at least 2006 has been charged with ethics violations arising out of his alleged neglect of and misrepresentations to a Tewksbury man who had hired him to file a tax appeal.

In the formal ethics complaint, District XIII Ethics Committee Presenter Richard A. Gantner of Oakland said that Walter N. Wilson, who maintains a law office at 67 Beaver Avenue, Annandale, told Tewksbury homeowner Roger McLaughlin that he had filed a tax appeal regarding McLaughlin's Cold Spring Road home that had not in fact been filed.   According to the complaint, McLaughlin went to the Tewksbury tax assessor's office to inquire about the status of his appeal and was told by the clerk: "I know Walter Wilson. He hasn't been here. We haven't heard from him."  In addition to ignoring McLaughlin, Wilson is also charged with failing to cooperate with the ethics investigation.

According to Ethics Committee records, Wilson's case was scheduled to be heard in early February before an Ethics Committee panel chaired by Paul H. Loeffler of Basking Ridge. I have requested information regarding the hearing results.

Franklin Prosecutor, Delran Public Defender faces ethics charges.

Update: On March 28, 2017, the District IV Ethics Committee issued a new complaint that consolidates all the ethics matters pending against Mr. Brent.  Click here for the complaint exhibits.  It appears from meeting minutes and resolutions that Mr. Brent no longer serves in any official capacity with either Delran or Franklin.
The municipal prosecutor from Franklin Township (Gloucester County) who also serves as public defender for Delran Township (Burlington County) is facing two ethics charges.

The charges, which are on-line here, allege that Vineland attorney Adam Luke Brent botched two cases for his clients.  The complaints also allege that Brent "was deceitful and made misrepresentations" and practiced law during a time when he was ineligible to practice.

According to the complaints, Brent was "administratively ineligible to practice law" between October 30, 2013 and January 30, 2014.  Interestingly, the Delran Township Council renewed his public defender position on January 5, 2014 and Franklin renewed him as prosecutor on January 1, 2014.  Therefore, it appears that both municipal governing bodies appointed Brent at a time when he was ineligible to practice law.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Fur flies at Wildwood Crest Borough Commission meeting.

I've placed the audio of the Borough Commission's February 18, 2015 meeting on-line here.  It's a big file, so it may take some time to download.

I've listened to the tape and have listed below the times (MM:SS) where some of the more interesting comments begin.

07:18 Open floor to public comment

07:25 Michael Hawthorne speaks.

07:53 Hawthorne "Uncovered . . . many serious crimes . . . all fell on deaf ears."

08:30 Hawthorne "I knew I was a dead man . . . my career was over."

09:00 Hawthorne "So called Brady letter is a crime in itself [I received it] because I reported that my superiors were stealing."

09:55 Hawthorne "I got to the prosecutor's office and somebody calls here and warns the chief . . . for the next two months I was harassed . . ."

10:12 Hawthorne "Went to Solicitor Corino . . . told her that whistleblower rights were being violated, nothing."

10:19 Borough Solicitor Doreen Corino interrupts--argument between Corino and Hawthorne runs until 12:37

12:41 Corino "I'm going to caution you about one other thing . . [about] Judge Johnson's decision.  Certain things that you are saying you may be saying in violation of his order . . . that nothing is to be disclosed to the public regarding certain aspects of this case . . ."

13:41 Corino "There's a whole lot in this Borough that I wish would come out. Believe me, more than most of you sitting in here would think."

14:32 Hawthorne "Let me tell you about settlement agreements.  What they do is they suspend you without pay and hold your pay hostage until you sign it.  That's a settlement agreement in this town."

15:33 Hawthorne "The person who deserves a 'Brady Letter' is Prosecutor Taylor himself for running a cover-up instead of an investigation."

15:48 Hawthorne "Mayor Groon had the discretion to suspend me with pay and allow me to fight the charges.  It's dirty pool."

22:50 Hawthorne "So you bring in a friend of the Chief's [to conduct investigation].  Very smart."

23:40 Hawthorne "Here's the deal I'm make you . . . I will be at every meeting . . . for the rest of your political careers because I want you to look at me every time . . . you ended my career, needlessly."

23:51 Corino "Mike, you ended your own career.  Stop blaming everyone else and accept responsibility for what you did."

24:16 Corino "When Judge Johnson orders that information, particularly the charges, can be released to the public I will be happy to tell the people. I'm not at liberty to do it tonight, and you know that.  If you want to violate his order, you can, but I'm an officer of the court."

24:42 Hawthorne "I'm not sure there is a court order."

24:45 Corino "Well, I'm aware that there's a court order and I'm sure Michelle Douglass is aware that the judge issued a ruling that day."

24:52 Michelle Douglass: "I'm not aware of a court order but I'm aware that the judge made a ruling."

29:32 Corino "You calling me a liar? Then I'm telling you what--you're a liar."

30:00 Hawthorne "Mayor . . . you hit the iceberg, the ship is sinking, I'm seeing employees jumping off right and left.  All three administrators from the police department are gone.  What's going on?

31:10 Hawthorne "the thousands of prints I found on the printer for his personal business."

31:20 Corino "Mr. Hawthorne, I am objecting on the record, you just violated Judge Johnson's ruling and I cannot and I will not involve this Board in a violation of a court ruling.

32:28 Hawthorne "I was thrown to the wolves . . . they harassed the hell out of me.  I got locked out of my office, locked out of my e-mail . . . I'm riding around town as a lieutenant of the police with nothing to do."

36:26 Hawthorne "I drank the Kool-Aid from the man named DePaul."

37:10 Diana Gant Brunell speaks.

43:47 Corino "I don't control this meeting, Diane!"

45:21 Hawthorne "Mayor . . . I truly believe that this snowballed . . . because of your legal counsel. That is your biggest problem, right there.

45:44 Hawthorne "I think you [referring to Corino] shared it with the accused.

45:50 Corino "I take offense to that."

45:54 Hawthorne "I take offense to you."

45:47 Corino "I probably now will be pursing an action . . . for that comment alone."

48:12 Tom Hunt speaks.

50:15 Hunt "When you have a bully in the room, which was Tom DePaul . . . it is very very hard to stand up to that bully because the bully will keep punching you in the face . . ."

Barnegat antique shop owner fights onerous ordinance.

On November 17, 2014, Barnegat Township (Ocean County) passed Ordinance 2014-30 which imposes substantial reporting requirements on "secondhand dealers" who purchase "secondhand goods" from the public.  The stated purpose of the ordinance is to "assist law enforcement officials and victims of crime in recovering stolen precious metals and other secondhand goods by requiring minimum identification, reporting, maintenance and distribution criteria for licensed dealers in these goods."

Karen Barchi, the owner of Bay Avenue Antiques in Barnegat Township, has been fighting the ordinance, so far unsuccessfully, as reported in the March 3, 2015 Sandpiper.  The main proponent of the ordinance is Ocean County Prosecutor Joseph Coronato who said, according to the Sandpiper article, that the ordinance is needed to "help track down stolen goods that are sold to get drug money."  Regulating these mom and pop shops is, according to Coronato, "another tool for us to fight our drug problems in Ocean County."

Barchi, however, says that the ordinance is onerous because it it requires her to take a photo of her customer, the item sold and a copy of the driver’s license and then forward everything to to Barnegat Police Chief Arthur Drexler, who then sends it to a national database.  “Some of the people I deal with bring many items at once,” she said. “If I accept 50 pieces of merchandise, I’m going to have to document each one,” Barchi is quoted as saying.

Anyone who wishes to contact Barchi may do so through her store's Facebook page.