Sunday, May 7, 2017

Lawsuit: Burlington municipal court clerks claim they were terminated because they criticized an incompetent judge.

Two former officials of the Burlington City (Burlington County) Municipal Court are suing City officials and the court's former judge for retaliating against them for complaining about the judge's alleged incompetence.  According to the two female plaintiffs, the judge suffered from confusion, improperly incarcerated people and made remarks from the bench such as "Don't trust the prosecutor, he's a democrat."

The plaintiffs in the two consolidated lawsuits are Elizabeth Fitzpatrick and Mary Penny who served, respectively, as the Burlington City Municipal Court's Administrator and Deputy Administrator until their employment with the court terminated in October 2013.  The two lawsuits, on-line here and here, contain similar and sometimes nearly identical allegations.  Both lawsuits allege that the trouble began when Thomas J. Scattergood was appointed as judge on August 5, 2010.  Both women said that it was clear that Scattergood could not properly discharge his duties because of "memory issues, dementia symptoms, confusion, administrative incompetence, and a lack of understanding of laws and/or procedures."  The women claimed that Scattergood improperly jailed defendants, would sometimes "create in his head events and conversations that never took place" and would handle cases where "he had a clear and admitted conflict of interest."  The women said that Scattergood began to rely on them for making judicial decisions, such as whether or not to issue a warrant or how to rule on cases.  They claimed that when Scattergood made an error, he would yell at them for not watching him closely enough. 

The women said that they complained to City Business Administrator David Ballard, Meg Boice, an Administrative Specialist with the New Jersey Administrative Office of the Courts, Burlington County Municipal Division Manager David Young and other court officials.  They both said that Boice screamed at them in February 2012 for making complaints against Scattergood and forbade them from making any more complaints.  Boice also allegedly told the women that their complaints had angered Young as well as Presiding Municipal Court Judge Bonnie Goldman and Superior Court Assignment Judge Ronald Bookbinder.

Both women said that their normally positive evaluations turned negative after they complained against Scattergood.  They claimed that Boice "manufactured" their falsely negative reviews in retaliation against them and said that disciplinary charges were brought against them for abusing breaks and overtime pay and for causing budget errors.  Fitzpatrick said that Young, Boice, Goldman and Bookbinder were "directly involved" in the disciplinary action against her while Penny said that only Young was directly involved in disciplining her.  Both woman said that Ballard "directly participated in retaliatory action against" them.

Both women said that the stress of the retaliation caused them to take sick leave in 2013.  Both said that while on leave, they were suspended and charged with disciplinary violations.  Both women said that no hearings were ever held on on the charges against them, that their employment was terminated on October 14, 2013 and they were told that they were being "laid off."

On March 8, 2016, Scattergood was reprimanded by New Jersey Supreme Court and was "permanently barred from holding future judicial office."  The Supreme Court took its action in response to a December 14, 2015, 30-page presentment filed against Scattergood by the Advisory Committee on Judicial Conduct.  The presentment, which identified Penny as one of the two grievants who initiated the case, claimed that Scattergood engaged in conflicts of interest, had an improper judicial demeanor, violated rules regarding plea bargaining and engaged in what the presentment called "ticket fixing."

Earlier this year, the City and Scattergood formally offered the two women a total of $90,000 to resolve their complaints. The Offers of Judgment, on-line here and here, offer Penny $50,000 and Fitzpatrick $40,000--the majority coming from Scattergood.  The matters are still pending, however, as the offers have apparently not been accepted. 

The Administrative Office of the Courts, Boice and Young were named as defendants but were dismissed from both cases.  The cases continue against the City, Ballard and Scattergood.