Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Threatened lawsuit seeks Bridgeton Port Authority's compliance with state law.

On September 17, 2014, I notified the Bridgeton Municipal Port Authority (Cumberland County) of my intent to file suit against it on October 6, 2014 unless the Authority commits to bringing itself into compliance with state statutes and regulations that promote public transparency and financial discipline.  I sent the Authority and its attorney a draft lawsuit (on-line here) that I intend to file unless the Authority and I can come to an alternate arrangement.

One of my complaints is that the Authority has not yet abided by a 2011 law requiring it to maintain a web site or web page from which the public can access certain documents and information.  In order to help remedy this deficiency, I obtained some important records from the Authority by way of an Open Public Records Act (OPRA) request and have placed them at the following links:
2006 through 2013 Audit and Audit Compilations
2012 to 2014 Meeting Minutes and Resolutions
Authority's 2014 Legal Services invoices

Monday, September 15, 2014

Galloway Township appeals OPRA ruling

On September 4, 2014, the Township of Galloway (Atlantic County) filed its notice of appeal of a June 10, 2014 order that compelled the township to disclose a log of e-mails sent and received by the township clerk and police chief during a two-week period in 2013.

Background information on the suit is here as are the transcripts of the hearings on November 1, 2013, January 9, 2014 and June 2, 2014.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Gloucester Township discloses DPW Director police reports.

Asserting that "the criminal investigation has concluded," Gloucester Township (Camden County) municipal attorney David F. Carlamere has disclosed police reports of a "theft of services" allegedly committed by former Township Public Works Director Len Moffa.  I have previously blogged about this lawsuit here.

According to the reports, which along with other documents are on-line here, five "Gloucester Township Clean Community" employees all gave statements that on May 5, 2014 Moffa had them go into the basement of his residence to "remove several pieces of furniture, several electronics and some trash that was damaged by flooding."  According to the report, some of the property was taken to Public Works and "discarded in township dumpsters."

A supplemental police report states that it wasn't until June 30, 2014 that Camden County Assistant Prosecutor Angela Seixas determined that criminal charges would not be brought against Moffa because its "investigation failed to disclose sufficient evidence to prove an allegation of criminal conduct beyond a reasonable doubt."   Finally, a pension determination letter discloses that Moffa was not eligible for any pension because he was employed by the Township for less than ten years as of the date of his termination.

The Township posits that its denial of my records request was proper because the investigation was still pending when my records request was received and because they are "criminal investigatory records."

Perth Amboy, in a sanctimonious display, finally gives up police report on alleged teacher-on-teacher sexual assault.

In a September 3, 2014 letter, Perth Amboy (Middlesex County) City Attorney Mark J. Blunda, provided a redacted copy of a two-page police report regarding an alleged sexual assault by one Perth Amboy school teacher against another.  The letter and the report, on-line here, bring my lawsuit, which I blogged about here, to an end.

Blunda's letter, written to Middlesex County Assignment Judge Travis L. Francis and copied to my lawyer, Walter M. Luers of Clinton, contains a fair amount of sanctimony.  In his letter, Blunda intoned:
While some may consider re-publication of salacious details of a sexual assault to be an act of intentional infliction of emotional distress upon the victim, since the events happened more than four years ago and the criminal and civil matters have been completed, the municipality's grant of access to the record will not interfere with the judicial or criminal process. Any potential liability for further publication, or the chilling effect that it may place on future victims, falls on the Plaintiffs shoulders.
So, according to Blunda, I am intentionally inflicting "emotional distress" upon the alleged victim by seeking police reports that would disclose what, if anything, the Perth Amboy Police Department did about this alleged sexual assault.  Never mind that the alleged victim, who received a $199,000 secret settlement from the Perth Amboy Board of Education, herself put on public display in her lawsuit the same "salacious details" that Blunda now feigns an interest in protecting.

In sum, and as I reported in my earlier blog entry, Perth Amboy could have avoided this entire lawsuit had it been more candid about which records the City had on file regarding this incident.  It was only after my OPRA lawsuit was filed that the City disclosed that it only possessed one initial police report and that the matter was thereafter transferred to the Middlesex County Prosecutor's Office.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Lawsuit: Gloucester Township allegedly used threat of arrest to coerce employee to resign.

On August 5, 2014, West Berlin attorney Donald M. Doherty, Jr. filed an Open Public Records Act (OPRA) lawsuit on my behalf against Gloucester Township (Camden County).  The lawsuit, John Paff v. Township and Gloucester and Rosemary DiJosie, Township Clerk, Docket No. CAM-L-3147-14 is on-line here.

The lawsuit's basis is a tip from an informant that those in power in Gloucester Township government sought to remove a high-ranking employee from his position so that they could give the job to another person who was politically connected and favored.  In order to prod the employee into leaving his position, those holding political sway allegedly arranged for the employee to be caught doing something illegal and then used a threat of arrest and prosecution to coerce him into resigning.

I sought disclosure of several records, including police reports, regarding this alleged incident under OPRA and the common law right of access.  In her response, Gloucester Township Clerk Rosemary DiJosie admitted that there was an "on-going investigation" into the employee but that public disclosure of the police reports "would be inimical to the public interest."  DiJosie did, however, disclose a Computer Aided Dispatch (CAD) screen shot on "Police Case # 14-019933" showing that  police were dispatched to a Township address on May 13, 2014 at about 3:30 p.m.  The "Call for Service" description on the CAD report was "Theft - All other."

Further documents received indicated that the Township entered into a "Severance Agreement and General Release" with the employee.  The agreement, which was signed on June 4, 2014, allowed for the employee to retain his paid medical benefits through July 31, 2014 and contained a covenant under which the employee gave up all rights to sue the Township.

Interestingly, the Agreement provided that the employee's date of severance from Township employment was May 12, 2014--the day before he was allegedly caught in committing an illegal act.  According to the lawsuit, the timing of his severance lent "substantial credence to several elements of the 'tipped' facts - i.e., that while 'the powers' wanted [the employee] out, they did not want to "hurt" him by jeopardizing his pension etc."

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Rural Cumberland County township adopts e-mail policy

In response to my request, the Township of Greenwich (Cumberland County) adopted an e-mail policy, on-line here, for its elected and appointed officials.  While weaker than what I would prefer, the policy "discourages" Township officials from using their personal e-mail accounts.  Instead, it requires them to adopt a free e-mail account, such as one from GMail or Yahoo, and "use a name such that they are identifiable in the contest of their role with the Township of Greenwich including by way of example and not limitation: 'townshipcommitteemansmith@gmail.com'”  It requires officials to give the Township Clerk their e-mail passwords so that e-mails may be searched "provide responsive information in compliance with State law to any document request.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Judge grants access to Cape Prosecutor's letters regarding Wildwood Crest police officials, ruling that they "contain findings of public official misconduct."

Update: 09/15/14

On September 15, 2014, the Cape May County Prosecutor's Office has filed a motion for reconsideration of Judge Johnson's August 21, 2014 order that granted me access to "Brady" letters regarding Wildwood Crest police officials.  The motion, which is on-line here, will be heard on Friday, October 24, 2014 at 9 a.m. in Atlantic City.
In a certification that accompanied the motion, Prosecutor Robert L. Taylor claimed that disclosure of the "Brady" letters "will impede [his] duties to supervise local police departments in consultation with local civilian authorities in Wildwood Crest."  
The Prosecutor's Office also asked the court, if it denies its motion for reconsideration, to stay disclosure of the letters so that it can file an appeal in the matter. 
In his August 21, 2014 Order and Decision (on-line here), Superior Court Judge Nelson C. Johnson ruled that the public is entitled to see unredacted versions of four letters written "by the Cape May County Prosecutors's Office [containing] exculpatory or favorable information to [criminal] defendants concerning" three Wildwood Crest Police officials.  In his ruling, Johnson held that the letters "contain findings of public official misconduct, which the public certainly has a heightened interest in knowing."

Such exculpatory letters from a prosecutor are referred to as "Brady letters" and are named after the United States Supreme Court's 1963 decision in the case of Brady v. Maryland.  That decision, among other things, requires law enforcement officials to notify criminal defendants and their lawyers whenever the government receives information that a police officer involved in the defendants' cases has been untruthful.

Johnson, who characterized the Prosecutor's defense to my lawsuit as being "akin to a mantra," had reviewed the four letters in camera (privately in his chambers).  He found that while not "technically 'Brady letters,'" two of the letters "written by Prosecutor Taylor very pointedly address the legal and public policy concerns enunciated by the Brady Court."  He went on to say that those two letters are "harbingers of Brady Letters which will be written by [Taylor's] office in the future should either Captain [David] Mayer or Lieutenant [Michael] Hawthorne be called to testify as witnesses in a criminal case."

Importantly, Judge Johnson found that all four letters were exempt under the Open Public Records Act's advisory, consultative and deliberative exemption.  Thus, recovery of my attorney's fees for bringing this case is unclear.  But, even though I lost on OPRA, Judge Johnson found that "the public interest in said letters far outweighs any government interest in confidentiality."  Accordingly, he found that apart from OPRA, I had a common law right to disclosure of the letters.

Johnson gave the Prosecutor's Office 21 days within which to either disclose the letters or appeal his ruling.  I was represented in the case by Richard M. Gutman of Montclair.

Background on this case are available in my blog articles written on June 20, 2014 and July 22, 2014.