Thursday, August 31, 2017

Charge dismissed against cop's wife who allegedly sent cookies laced with dog feces to her daughter's school.

Note: This case was brought in early 2014 and was disposed of in mid-2015. Despite its age, I believe that the outrageous nature of the alleged offense, the fact that the case was ultimately dismissed and the fact that it has never before been reported causes it to presently be of legitimate public interest.  

According to a complaint filed on February 6, 2014 in the Wyckoff (Bergen County) Municipal Court, a Waldwick woman, who was the wife of a Ho-Ho-Kus Borough police officer, "sen[t] chocolate chip cookies to [her daughter's] school tainted with dog feces, with the intent that they would be consumed by the same student who had been taking cookies from her daughter without consent on numerous occasions in the past."

The defendant in the case was Theresa L. Cariddi-Tiernan, the wife of now retired Ho-Ho-Kus police officer Peter Tiernan.  According to a heavily redacted police incident report, some sort of post--probably a social media post--by Cariddi-Tiernan regarding the tainted cookies came to the attention of Waldwick Police Officer Dave Passeretti who brought the information to Sergeant Joseph Soto of the Wyckoff Police Department where Cariddi-Tiernan's daughter's school is located.  The two officers arrived at the school prior to lunch to retrieve the cookies and learned that Peter Tiernan had already been to the school, privately spoke to his daugher and apparently removed the cookies.

Soto said that after interviewing Cariddi-Tiernan he told her that she was free to go.  He said that he had several conversations with Bergen County Assistant Prosecutor Martin Delaney and that it "was decided that under the circumstances, the appropriate charge would be [N.J.S.A.] 2C:33-2a(2) Disorderly Conduct."  Soto reported that he mailed Cariddi-Tiernan a summons.

According to the court's disposition, Cariddi-Tiernan applied for a "conditional dismissal" on May 21, 2014.  The application was apparently successful because the disposition shows a "dismissed - other" entry in June 2015.  Unfortunately, the handwriting of the court official who wrote the entry on the disposition is mostly illegible but the words "satisfied" and "probation" are legible.

Cariddi-Tiernan's husband, Peter Tiernan, filed a lawsuit in March 2013 against the Ho-Ho-Kus police department and police officials alleging that he was unlawfully denied a sergeant's promotion on account of his age.  According to DataUniverse, Tiernan retired in 2013 and is collecting an $82,995 annual pension.  A June 25, 2015 article in The Record reports that Tiernan settled his lawsuit for $80,000.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Four law firms working on one lawsuit against Linden cops have thus far billed $140K.

On February 26, 2015, Patrick M. St. Fleur filed a lawsuit against the City of Linden and various police and other city officials claiming wrongful arrest, excessive force, report fabrication and destruction of evidence.  The city and/or its insurer has retained five lawyers from four separate law firms to defend against the lawsuit:

a) Robert F. Varady from the Union firm of LaCorte Bundy Varady & Kinsella to represent the City of Linden, its police department and police chief.

b) Michael A. D'Anton, Sr. of the Secaucus firm of Chasan Lamparello Mallon & Cappuzzo,PC to represent municipal prosecutor Nicholas P. Scutari. (Scutari also serves as a State Senator.)

c) Robert F. Renaud and Catherine M. DeAppolonio from the Cranford firm of Palumbo Renaud & DeAppolonio to represent police officer Martin Jedrzejewski.

d) Edward J. Kologi from the Linden firm of Kologi Simitz to represent police employees Gavin Sheehan, Jason Mohr, Andrew Bara, Charles Crane and an employee whose last name is Petruski.

Even though this case is far from over--it's still in the discovery phase--the four law firms have thus far billed the City's insurer $139,971.21: Varady's firm has billed $26,035.35, D'Anton's firm has billed $42,571.77, Renaud's and DeAppolonio's firm has billed $37,087.50 and Kology's firm has billed $34,276.66.  As the billing cover sheet notes, "Please note that litigation in this matter is on-going. As such, these totals are expected to increase accordingly."

It strikes me that there should be a more efficient and less expensive way of resolving this sort of claim.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Ethics committee accuses Moorestown lawyer of backdating client engagement letter.

On June 5, 2017, attorney disciplinary officials charged a Moorestown lawyer with not having a written contingency fee agreement with homeowners who sued Lockheed Martin for contaminating their groundwater and for having her client later sign a backdated version of the agreement.

According to the ethics complaint, Robert L. Ebby, Steven T. Miano, and Robert A. Wiygul, three attorneys representing Lockheed Martin, learned at a deposition that a husband and wife who were clients of Moorestown lawyer Julie A. LaVan were "not aware of any letter from [LaVan] describing their fee arrangements."  The husband allegedly testified that a contingent fee agreement that he and his wife entered into with LaVan called for the attorney to receive "approximately 30 percent of any settlement or recovery" from Lockheed Martin but that the agreement was never reduced to writing.

The Rules of Professional Conduct require lawyers to "communicate in writing the basis or rate of the fee" at the time the representation begins.  Those rules also require lawyers who work on contingency to enter into a written contract with the client that sets forth the percentage of the recovery that the lawyer will receive if the case is successful.

The ethics complaint also accuses LaVan of having the husband, in February 2013, sign an engagement letter dated August 2, 2012.  The complaint states that LaVan engaged in "dishonesty, fraud, deceit or misrepresentation" by "backdat[ing] that document . . . and producing the backdated [letter] to Lockheed Martin during discovery."

In her answer to the complaint, LaVan said that the engagement letter she gave to Lockheed Martin during discovery "was in fact prepared or or about August 2, 2012."  She said that she "located that letter dated August 2, 2012 on her computer and, according to her usual practice, would have provided that letter to [the husband] on or about August 2, 2012 with the request that he sign it."  But, when LaVan "was unable to locate a signed copy of the letter, she asked [the husband] to sign it as she believed he did or would have on or about August 2, 2012."  As for the contingency agreement, LaVan "she has been unable to locate a copy of a retainer and compensation agreement . . . that was signed on August 2, 2012 [and that it] is possible that such a letter exists despite [LaVan's] present inability to locate it."

In her defense, LaVan argued that this was nothing more than her misplacing documents and that nothing was done intentionally or maliciously to harm her clients or mislead Lockheed Martin.  She said that her clients have no complaint about the matter and that she has had an unblemished disciplinary record since becoming a lawyer in 2006.

LaVan indicated that there might be some bad blood between her and Ebby, Miano, and Wiygul.  She claimed that she and her adversaries "had pending motions for sanctions against one another" during the litigation where the allegations against her were "the same or substantially similar to" the charges contained in the ethics matter.  She said that her adversaries "[p]roposed, drafted and submitted a Release of" those claims during the litigation and are now bringing those charges again "as belated alleged ethics violations."

The case is captioned District IIIB Ethics Committee v. Julie A. LaVan, Docket No. IIIB-2016-0026 and the complaint and answer are on-line here.  The case is being presented (i.e. prosecuted) by Joseph Schramm, III of Princeton and LaVan is represented by Marshall D. Bilder of Lawrenceville.

What is written above is just a summary and the complaint and LaVan's answer should be read in their entirety in order to obtain the best understanding of the case.  The ethics charges are only allegations--nothing has been proven. LaVan has a right to a hearing and the burden of proof is on disciplinary officials to prove that she violated the Rules of Professional Conduct by clear and convincing evidence.

Since 1995, attorney disciplinary hearings have been open to the public. Anyone who is interested in being notified in advance of any hearings on LaVan's matter may complete and send a hearing request form to the District IIIB Ethics Committee Secretary Cynthia S. Earl via fax to 856- 642-7471.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Recently discovered: Maple Shade police officer found not guilty of 2012 drunk driving charge.

This goes back more than five years, but I believe that this police officer's acquittal on a drunk driving charge is of legitimate public interest especially because the acquittal, to my knowledge, was never published in the press even though the original charge did receive media attention. 

On May 17, 2012, the Burlington County Times published an article entitled "Maple Shade police officer charged with DWI after Pennsauken crash." The full article cannot be viewed by those who do not subscribe to the Times but its first line, which is visible at the link above, states: "A Maple Shade police officer was driving drunk when he crashed a township-owned car into several street signs and a streetlight in Pennsauken on an early April morning, authorities [allege] . . ."

The only other reference I can find on the Internet regarding this event is a May 16, 2012 Courier Post article that states that the officer involved, Scott Pacheco, remained on duty after being charged with being "drunk when he wrecked a township police vehicle on his way home from a bar around 5 a.m."  The article went on to report that Pacheco's April 4, 2012 drunken driving charge was scheduled for a May 15, 2012 hearing before the Pennsauken Municipal Court but was postponed.  It further stated that "Pacheco, 28, a six-year veteran, was not on duty at the time of the crash, but was driving a 2006 blue Ford Crown Victoria assigned to the Maple Shade department" and that Pacheco, who allegedly "had a blood-alcohol level of .14 percent following the crash, nearly twice the legal limit of .08 percent" was "allegedly driving the vehicle eastbound on Maple Avenue when he bounced over the right curb, and plowed through two street signs before striking a light pole." The article further reported that police records showed that Pacheco's "eyes were noted as being watery and bloodshot" and that he "told a responding officer he was on his way home from Bryson's Pub on Cove Road in Pennsauken."

In response to an Open Public Records Act (OPRA) request, the Township of Pennsauken released a motor vehicle crash report, the DWI summons issued to Pacheco and the report from the Alcotest machine. These three documents confirm the information contained in the Courier Post article.

In response to Judiciary Request, the Pennsauken Municipal Court disclosed a computer printout that showed that Pacheco was found not guilty of the DWI charge on April 4, 2013, exactly one year after the charge was made.  The printout also shows that due to a conflict, the case was sent to the Camden City Municipal Court for disposition.  Further information, such as the reason why the State could not prove Pacheco's guilt, is unknown at this time and is probably available only on the audio recording of the court proceeding, if such still exists.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Jury awards $127,998 to former Ocean City lifeguard who claimed age discrimination.

According to a July 27, 2017 court order entered by Cape May County Superior Court Judge Noah Bronkesh, a jury awarded a former lifeguard who sued Ocean City for age discrimination $127,998.

In his complaint, Paul McCracken claimed that City officials, by removing $53,000 from the Beach Patrol's budget in 2008, intentionally targeted senior lifeguards due to their age.  He claimed that the cut forced older lifeguard such as himself to retire or face reductions of their pensions.

McCracken claimed that City officials "concocted a scheme" to get rid of lifeguards "who did not bow to the pension pressure" by increasing their run and swim testing requirements so that they could not qualify for their positions.  He claimed the the officials behind the alleged scheme were Fire Chief Joseph Foglio, Deputy Fire Chief Charles Bowman and Beach Patrol Operations Director Thomas Mullineaux.

McCracken's lawsuit stated that even though he passed the run test, McCracken failed the swim test by three seconds.  He said that his failure to pass the swim test resulted in him being fired on June 27, 2011.

The case is captioned McCracken, v. City of Ocean City, et al, Cape May County Superior Court Docket No. CPM-L-277-13 and McCracken's attorney was initially Alan J. Cohen of Northfield and later Kevin Costello of Mount Laurel.    The lawsuit and court order are on-line here.

Plainfield cop acquitted of charges arising out of off-duty "laundry-room etiquette" fight.

On August 7, 2017, a three-judge Appellate Division panel acquitted a Plainfield (Union County) police officer of all charges that arose out of an off-duty altercation he had in a Jersey City apartment building's laundry room that left another man unconscious on the floor.

According to the Appellate panel's opinion, Officer Eric Groething and Nicholas Garret engaged in a physical confrontation in a laundry room that was captured on tape by the building's security cameras.  The panel said that the reason for the altercation was best described as a "violation of laundry-room etiquette."  After an investigation by Jersey City police, Garret was charged with aggravated assault against a police officer although the panel later found that Groething's "status as a police officer played no role in this matter [because he] was off-duty, wore civilian clothes, and was performing a purely personal task when he engaged Garret."  The Hudson County Prosecutor downgraded the charge against Garret to simple assault a few days later. Garret filed citizen complaints against Groething for simple assault and harassment.

After a two-day trial in Jersey City municipal court, both men were found guilty of the lesser offense of engaging in a fight or scuffle entered into by mutual consent and also found Groething guilty of harassment.  On appeal, a Hudson County Superior Court judge, after finding that Groething was the aggressor and that Garret merely defended himself, acquitted Garret.  The judge found Groething guilty of simple assault and dismissed the harassment conviction.  The judge also required Groething to take "anger management and/or cultural sensitivity [training] . . . as a result of the assaultive behavior in this particular matter."

The Appellate panel ruled that once the Jersey City municipal court found Groething guilty of engaging in a fight entered into mutual consent, that finding operated as an acquittal of the simple assault charge because the fighting charge is a "lesser included offense" of simple assault.  The Appellate panel found that Groething suffered double jeopardy when the Superior Court judge imposed a simple assault conviction after the municipal judge implicitly acquitted him of that charge by finding him guilty of a lesser included offense. Accordingly the panel vacated Groething's simple assault conviction. Also, since the Superior Court judge found that Garret was not guilty of the fighting charge because he did not give his consent, the Appellate panel reasoned that Groething must also be not guilty of the fighting charge because, absent Garret's consent, there could have not been mutual consent.

Garret has sued Groething, the City of Plainfield and his apartment building in Garret v. City of Plainfield, et al Docket No. HUD-L-2896-16.  That civil case is still pending.

Former Roseland cop to get another chance to contest his firing.

On August 8, 2017, a three-judge panel of the New Jersey Superior Court, Appellate Division held that Essex County Judge Thomas R. Vena applied the incorrect legal standard on June 25, 2015 when he affirmed a hearing officer's determination that a Roseland police officer should fired.

According to the Appellate Division's ruling, misconduct charges were filed against former Roseland police officer Freddie Mitchell "arising from his involvement in a marital dispute and relating to his failure to obey the department's order to submit weekly reports and other measures to remediate [Mitchell's] alleged issues."  Roseland's Borough Council adopted the recommendation of a retired Superior Court judge, who presided over Mitchell's administrative hearing, that Mitchell be fired.  When Mitchell appealed, Judge Vena incorrectly applied the "arbitrary, capricious or unreasonable" standard in reviewing the hearing officer's and the Borough's decisions.  According to the Appellate Division panel, Vena should have used the less deferential "de novo" standard.

The panel remanded the case back to Essex County and a new trial is scheduled for October 16, 2017, 9 a.m. before Judge Dennis F. Carey, III.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Burlington County police chief placed on paid administrative leave after FOP Lodge issues "no confidence" vote.

The chief of police in a Burlington County township has been placed on paid administrative leave on July 31, 2017--the same day that the township's mayor and council received a four-page letter from the police union that announced "a unanimous vote on no confidence" in the chief.

According to an August 3, 2017 letter from Florence Township Administrator Richard A. Brook, Chief John Bunce, whose 2017 salary is $130,691, "is currently employed by Florence Township; however, he is on paid administrative leave effective July 31, 2017."

Following Brook's letter at the link above is a four-page, July 31, 2017 letter from Chris Powell, President of the Florence Township Fraternal Order of Police Lodge No. 210, stating that the Lodge unanimously voted that it had "no confidence in Police Chief John Bunce" and that Bunce has "brought embarrassment to the Township."

The letter, which alleges that Bunce operates under a "do as I say, not as I do" policy, accuses Bunce of violating rules regarding proper access and use of criminal justice system databases.  The FOP letter also accuses Bunce of "taking extended leaves during his shift," announcing that he is attending meetings when he is actually going home.

Powell also alleged that Bunce took surveillance cameras that were donated to the department by a local business to his own home "and utilized them for his personal benefit."  Bunce also stands accused of "accepting donations from Amazon and then using those donations as gifts for family and friends" and misusing the department's Internal Affair process to target and retaliate against particular officers.