Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Court orders disclosure of phone call neighbor made to cops

On January 7, 2011, Hudson County Superior Court Judge Bernadette H. DeCastro ordered the Town of West New York (Hudson County) and its record custodian, Carmela Riccie, to disclose a recording of a call to the West New York Police Department that resulted in plaintiff's car being towed.

According to the complaint, Plaintiff Frank Ponce's car was towed on September 4, 2010 after someone called police and reported that the car was blocking a driveway. Police also issued Ponce a summons for improperly blocking the driveway.

Ponce claims that the owner of 6708 Palisade Avenue, the location from which the car was towed, "has made numerous, unfounded complaints" against him. While he suspects that the owner called police, he wants to listen to the recording so that he can verify who made the call. Since he is pleading not guilty to the summons, he says that he needs that information so that he can subpoena the caller as a witness before the Municipal Court.

DeCastro ordered Riccie to provide Ponce with the recordings he sought and also declared him to be the prevailing party in the litigation who is entitled to recover his costs and attorney fees from West New York.

Ponce was represented by Walter M. Luers of Oxford. The complaint, brief and DeCastro's order are on-line here.

Brigantine suit partially settled and court will hear argument tomorrow

Update: The March 10, 2010 Investigation Report (redacted), Judge Johnson's February 25, 2011 Order and Opinion are on-line here.
On November 1, 2010, I reported that I had sued the City of Brigantine (Atlantic County) seeking access to a) a redacted settlement between a top Brigantine official and an employee who accused him of sexual harassment and b) a report of the City's investigation of the alleged sexual harassment.

I am being represented in this suit by Richard Gutman, Esq. of Montclair. Background is available on-line here.

The City and I recently settled my demand for the settlement agreement. The settlement agreement between me and Brigantine is at pages 101 - 106 of the PDF file here.

Atlantic County Superior Court Judge Nelson C. Johnson will hear my claim for the investigation report on Thursday, January 27, 2011 at 1:30 p.m. in Atlantic City.

According to the terms of its settlement with me, Brigantine agreed to provide me with a copy of its settlement with former Brigantine Police Chief James C. Frugoli, Jr., an unidentified "victim" in an unspecified "personnel matter" and the City. This is exactly the record to which Brigantine previously denied access. As part of the agreement, Brigantine also agreed to pay my out-of-pocket court costs and attorney fees in the amount of $3,188.67.

The disclosed document, which is at pages 107 - 109 of the PDF at the link above, shows that on March 30, 2010: a) Frugoli agreed to retire and not seek reemployment with the City, b) the unidentified person who was involved in the "personnel matter" with Frugoli would release Frugoli and the City from any claims, and c) that the unidentified person would receive "time off with pay up through and including April 4, 2010."

Also of interest is Brigantine's opposition paperwork filed December 17, 2010. In it, City Manager James Barber strongly implies that the allegation of sexual harassment against Police Chief Frugoli was trumped up by Police Captain Raymond Cox and current Chief John Stone after Frugoli had second thoughts about retiring. Barber's affidavit is on pages 82 - 86 of the PDF.

Finally, at page 87 of the PDF is City Attorney Timothy Patrick Maguire's January 3, 2011 letter to Judge Johnson explaining Mr. Barber's comments that were reported in an April 9, 2010 article in the Press of Atlantic City. Those comments were:

"There was an internal investigation, and we are confident (in its results)," Barber said. "There were a lot of rumors, but did anything really occur? No."

In his January 3rd letter, Maguire explained that Barber's comment referenced allegations that Chief Frugoli had engaged in misconduct "outside of the police department which was unrelated to the alleged conduct with had occurred in the City of Brigantine." The way I interpret it, Maguire is saying that Barber's comment that nothing occurred should not be taken to mean that the investigation cleared Frugoli of misconduct that was alleged to have taken place within the City--including, presumably, allegations that Frugoli sexually harassed a subordinate. Rather, Barber's comment should be taken to mean only that Frugoli did not engage in misconduct outside of the City.

The January 27, 2011 hearing is scheduled to begin at 1:30 p.m. at the courthouse at 1201 Bacharach Blvd, Atlantic City. The public is invited to attend, but cautioned to telephone the court at 609-594-3384 or 609-594-3579 tomorrow morning to verify that the hearing has not been canceled or postponed. Refer to Paff v. Brigantine, Docket No. ATL-L-5038-10.

Monday, January 24, 2011

New Jersey Courts put civil index on-line

The New Jersey Judiciary recently put the Automated Case Management System (ACMS), its computerized civil case index, on-line. Previously, anyone who wished to access this index needed to travel to his or her county's courthouse and use a public access terminal there.

To access the system, go to the Judiciary's main site here and navigate to "Attorneys" and then "Civil Case Public Access."  Or, you can try going directly to this link.  Then enter the CAPTCHA code and you can begin your search, either by party name, docket number or you can access archived cases.

(NOTE: You may have to configure your browser to allow pop-ups.)

While the index can serve several uses, I'll go through an example of how it might help someone who wants to know more about lawsuits filed against municipalities in Hunterdon County.

After you log in to the main screen, enter "Borough of" in the "Last Name" box and click on "party inquiry." What you will get is a list of every non-archived court case in which the name of one of the parties begins with "Borough of" Here's a typical entry:

Party name: Borough of Belmar
Party#: 1
Cou: MON
Docket Number: LT-001024-99
Date Disposed: 03/12/1999
The "Party#" field is the position of the party in the lawsuit. For example, in the suit of "John Doe v. Mary Smith and Jane Roe" John would be "Party#" 1, Mary would be 2 and Jane would be 3. So, the fact that the Borough of Belmar is listed as Party# 1 almost certainly means that it is the plaintiff.

"Cou" means "County" which shows that the case was filed in Monmouth County.

The docket number "LT-001024-99" means that it is the 1024th Landlord Tenant case (LT) filed in Monmouth County in 1999.

The "Date Disposed" field means that the case terminated on March 12, 1999.
Generally, I'm not very interested in Landlord tenant cases. Nor am I generally interested in cases with docket numbers that start with "DC" (Special Civil Part--cases where less than $15,000 in damages are claimed); or "SC" (Small Claims -- cases where less than $3,000 in damages are claimed).

So, to sort out the "LT" "DC" and "SC" cases (along with "C" (Chancery) and "F" (Foreclosure) cases), I typically select "Law Civil" in the "Court" drop-down box.  Then, to narrow the cases to those filed in Hunterdon County, I select "Hunterdon" in the "County drop down box and hit "new search."  Of course, you can choose any county or leave the county field blank of you want the ACMS to report cases from all counties.

If you follow these steps, you should now have a list of all the Law Division cases filed in Hunterdon County by or against a party whose name begins with "Borough of."
Note: This article was last updated on November 7, 2017.  Since cases open and close constantly, the example I am about to give may not be available when you access the system.
If you look at the case list, you'll see one in which the "Borough of High Bridge" is the 2nd party to the case. You'll also see that the docket number is HNT-L-000003-17 and that the case hasn't yet been disposed of.

Click the "radio button" in the left column and click "Case Party List." You'll see that a plaintiff named Linda Mills sued several defendants, including the High Bridge Police Department.

Now, click on the little icon that looks like a magnifying glass with five dots in it and then click the "Locate by Docket" tab. The HNT-L-000003-17 docket number should already be plugged in, so hit "Case Document List" to see the types of documents that were filed in the case.  At the time of this writing, the documents show that the lawsuit was filed on January 5, 2017, that the defendants filed an answer on April 12, 2017 and that the matter was referred to mediation on August 3, 2017.

If you click the left-arrow icon and then "Case Detail" you'll see that it's a "civil rights" case.

There is no currently no way for the public to see the actual documents filed in the case on-line. If you are interested in knowing exactly why Mills sued, you'd have to contact the courthouse in Flemington to review the file or get a copy of the file or (easier) send an OPRA request to High Bridge and ask for the civil complaint filed in the case along with any other documents you would like to see.

I hope you find this helpful.

NOTE1: The court enters the parties to lawsuits exactly how they are listed on the suit's filing. So, if you're interested in learning about lawsuits against the Borough of High Bridge, you'd have to search "High Bridge Borough" as well as "Borough of High Bridge" or perhaps even "Boro of High Bridge."

NOTE2: This system only reveal filings in state court (i.e. the New Jersey Superior Court) not those filed in federal court. To access federal court filings, you could try a free site such here or establish an account at the official government site here.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Washington Council (kind of) improves transparency

On January 11, 2011, Jason Braff of the Pascack Valley Community Life reported that the Washington Township Council (Bergen County) agreed to begin using a new form of resolution to go into closed session.

The Township's prior resolution, the New Jersey Libertarian Party's proposed resolution and the resolution that the Township is now using are on-line here.

The new resolution is better than the old one because it reveals the specific item of litigation and one of the specific land acquisition matters that were privately discussed. Yet, it vaguely discloses that "contract negotiations" were privately discussed without disclosing the parties to the contracts or even how many contracts were discussed. And, it stated--without more--that "personnel" matters were discussed.

In sum, Washington's new resolution, while better than the old one, is a half-hearted attempt to improve its compliance with the Open Public Meetings Act.