Despite the constant influx of novel legal issues caused by the COVID-19 crisis, the New Jersey Appellate Division is still busy at work rendering decisions on all aspects of the law, including those related to labor and employment. Case in point: M.R. v. Board. of Trustees (PERS), No. A-6015-17T4, 2020 N.J. Super. Unpub. LEXIS
A recent opinion rendered by the Appellate Division has important implications for all law enforcement officers, and all public employees for that matter, who are considering applying for disability retirement while simultaneously fighting disciplinary charges. The case, Cardinale v. Board of Trustees, Police and Firemen’s Retirement System, A-1997-17T1, involved a police officer who was…
Following a two week trial presided by the Honorable Anne E. Thompson, USDJ, in the United States District Court, District of New Jersey, a jury of ten men and women unanimously returned a verdict of “No Cause of Liability” against three State Corrections Officers, a State Corrections Sergeant and a State Corrections Lieutenant. …
The U.S. Supreme Court sided with former Paterson police officer Jeffrey J. Heffernan and ruled that his First Amendment rights were violated when he was demoted after picking up a campaign sign for the mayor’s opponent. Heffernan had been demoted after supporters of Mayor Jose “Joey” Torres saw him picking up a campaign sign for…
As reported in the Trenton Times on January 25, 2011, a judge has ordered Princeton Borough to reinstate a police officer who was suspended without pay in 2008 and to reimburse the officer for back pay and legal fees totaling an estimated $400,000.
Last week, Superior Court Judge Linda Feinberg dismissed all charges against Sergeant Kenneth Riley related to allegations that he wrongfully accessed a police department video database of motor vehicle stops in January of 2008. Feinberg issued an order requiring the borough to reinstate Riley effective this week.
Riley allegedly reviewed a video of a police stop that involved a drive suspected of drunken driving. A sergeant and three patrolmen were involved in the stop, and two of the patrol officers were under Riley’s supervision. During the stop, the sergeant allowed the driver to urinate in bushes on private property. Riley learned about the incident and believed the sergeant had violated policy.
A borough officer for 17 years and sergeant since 2006, Riley was suspended with pay in March 2008 along with two other officers as part of an internal affairs investigation related to the access of the video database. He was indicted by a grand jury in September 2008 and the borough stopped paying him in late September of 2008.
The Mercer County Prosecutor’s Office contended that Riley showed the footage to other officers in order to hurt the other sergeant’s standing in the department. Prosecutors claimed he was untruthful during questioning about when and why he accessed the database.
But, in November of 2009, a judge threw out the six-count indictment because Riley was authorized to access the database. Despite this finding, the Borough continued to pursue the case internally, racking up thousands of dollars more it would owe in back pay and legal fees. An administrative hearing officer upheld Riley’s suspension, which Riley then appealed in Superior Court.
Riley, who earned a salary of $103,706 annually, is owed about 28 months of pay, or more than $241,000, plus money he spent on health insurance and legal fees, for a total estimated to be about $400,000. Including the borough’s fees for its own lawyer, staff, and an administrative hearing officer, the case could cost borough taxpayers about $500,000.
Councilman Roger Martindell, a vocal critic of the borough’s handling of disciplinary matters, called the pursuit of disciplinary action against Riley “a colossal waste for borough taxpayers.” “It appears that the borough has spend hundreds of thousands of dollars in pursuit of disciplinary action against Sgt. Riley without a firm foundation for doing so,” he said.
On July 20, 2010, the Appellate Division decided In the Matter of Latief Dickerson, Hudson County, Docket No.: A-1323-08T2. In the case, Latief Dickerson appealed from a final decision of the Civil Service Commission (“Commission”) terminating his employment as a corrections officer with the Hudson County Department of Corrections (“Department”).
On June 3, 2010, the Appellate Division decided In the Matter of Torres Mayfield, Docket No.: A-2969-08T1. In the case, Torres Mayfield appealed from the final decision of the Civil Service Commission (“Commission”) terminating him as an Atlantic City police officer for misconduct.
Mayfield was charged with violations of Atlantic City Police Department…
On June 1, 2010, the Appellate Division decided In the Matter of Michael Sottilare, Department of Corrections Hudson County, Docket No.: A-4761-08T3. In the case, Michael Sottilare appealed from a Civil Service Commission (“Commission”) decision affirming the Hudson County Division of Personnel’s termination of his employment with the county’s Department of Corrections.
Sottilare, after more than ten years as a corrections officer, received four preliminary notices of disciplinary action arising from events commencing on November 30, 2005 and continuing through December 23, 2005. The final incident resulted in his termination.
While on leave due to an on-the-job injury, Sottilare was videotaped working at a construction site in contravention of Hudson County’s policy requiring persons on leave to remain at home unless they are receiving medical care or purchasing medication. A disciplinary charge of malingering issued as a result. Shortly thereafter, on December 23, 2005, Sottilare made a telephone call to the New Jersey Policemen’s Benevolent Association Local 109 office in order to obtain legal representation for the hearing scheduled on the malingering charge and to request a postponement. Officer Shaara Marie Green, then the Vice President of PBA Local 109, answered the phone call.
When Green testified before the Office of Administrative Law, she said she told Sottilare that the union could not provide him with legal representation because the Internal Affairs Unit (“IAU”) officers were no longer members. Sottilare had been assigned to IAU since 1995 or 1996. Green also told Sottialre to obtain his own attorney, and gave him the name of the person that his attorney should contact in order to request the postponement.
Green also testified that after she told Sottialre that PBA Local 109 could not provide him with counsel, Sottilare informed her that she was under investigation by IAU. Sottialre explained to Green that surveillance was being initiated because she was reportedly living with an ex-inmate in violation of departmental policy.
Green immediately telephoned Ricardo Alves, Sottilare’s supervisor at IAU, to report the conversation. When Alves testified, he confirmed that he received a call from Green about the complaint that had been filed against her and that Sottilare had told her that she was the subject of an IAU investigation. Deputy Warden David Krusznis confirmed that Green was being investigated and said that disclosure of the existence of a pending IAU investigation is a violation of departmental policies and procedures, as well as of guidelines promulgated by the Office of the Attorney General.
On May 18, 2010, the Appellate Division decided In the Matter of Linda Reid, Riverfront State Prison, Docket No.: A-3145-08T2. In the case, Linda Reid appealed from the final determination of the Civil Service Commission sustaining the charges of: (1) conduct unbecoming a public employee; and (2) filing a false report; and the sanction of removal from her position as a Senior Corrections Officer at Riverfront State Prison.
Reid began working as a corrections officer at Riverfront State Prison on July 26, 2002. As a result of an incident occurring on August 6, 2005, she was charged with assaulting an inmate and filing a false report in which she represented she had been the victim. The charges were sustained at a departmental hearing and on April 25, 2007, she was removed from employment. Following an appeal, the contested case was transmitted to the Office of Administrative Law, wherein a hearing was conducted on April 30, 2008.
Testimony and evidence were presented by Captain Tommy Stahl regarding the internal affairs investigation, which concluded that Reid had assaulted an inmate and misrepresented that she was the victim; Officers Cherril Davis and Dyshella Kee who were eyewitnesses to the incident and reported that the inmate used profanity towards Reid but did not strike her, and that Reid beat the inmate and falsely claimed he assaulted her; and nurse Evelyn Mamuyac who observed only a slight swelling on Reid’s right cheek and lower lip. Reid testified on her own behalf stating that the inmate used profanities indicating he had to use the restroom after which an argument ensued and the inmate pushed her and hit her in the face, causing swelling to the right side of her face and lip and resulting in a scar under her right eye. She further testified to her exemplary performance assessment review from June 15, 2004 through June 15, 2005.
On November 14, 2008, an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) issued an initial decision, making express credibility assessments and finding Reid engaged in the charged conduct. Based on several inconsistencies in Reid’s testimony, the ALJ discredited her version of the events as self-serving. In determining the appropriate sanction, the ALJ considered Reid’s status as a Senior Corrections Officer, which “subjects her to a higher standard of conduct and responsibility than is required of other public employees.” Consequently, the ALJ found this conduct so egregious as to warrant removal despite the absence of a disciplinary history. On January 16, 2009, the Commission issued a final determination adopting the ALJ’s initial decision as to the charges and the sanction of removal. This appeal ensued.
On appeal, Reid challenged the agency’s determination on the charges as not based on sufficient credible evidence in the record. She further contended the penalty of removal is not reflective of progressive discipline and, as such, the sanction should be reduced.
On March 23, 2010, the Appellate Division decided In the Matter of Keith Curry, Vernon Township, Docket No.: A-4662-07T2. In the case, Keith Curry, a police officer with the Vernon Township Police Department (“the Department”), appealed from a final decision of the Merit System Board (“the Board”) rejecting the Administrative Law Judge’s (“ALJ”)…