In November 2011, the County of Warren agreed to pay $140,000 to a Blairstown woman who sued an employee of the Warren County Sheriff’s Office for allegedly breaking a lock to enter her home and frightening the minor daughter who was home alone at the time.

In her suit, Sylvia Zika said that on January 28, 2008, her minor daughter was home in their secluded, rural house when she observed Anthony DiLauri, who is employed by the Warren County Sheriff’s Office, approach the house in an unmarked car.  Unknown to the daughter was that DiLauri was at the house in order to serve legal papers.  She claims that because she was alone and did not recognize DiLauri, she went into the house through the garage and locked the garage door behind her.

Zika alleges that DiLauri, who didn’t identify himself as a sheriff’s officer, pounded on the door and demanded entry.  Fearing for her safety, the daughter called 911 and reported a break in.  DiLauri allegedly broke the lock on the door and entered the house and put the legal papers he intended to serve on a table.

When Blairstown police responded to the daughter’s 911 call, DiLauri allegedly falsely told them that he had “served the paperwork without incident.”  The recordings of Zika’s daughter’s 911 calls as well as photographs that Blairstown police took of the broken door were “subsequently lost” or “deleted.”

The case is captioned Zika v. Warren County, New Jersey Superior Court Docket No. WRN-L-114-09 and Zika’s attorney was Walter M. Luers of Clinton.  Case documents are on-line here.

The settlement agreement contains a confidentiality clause, which prevents the parties to the suit from publicly disclosing the settlement terms.  Fortunately, however, these confidentiality clauses do not trump the public’s right to obtain copies of settlement agreements that arise out of lawsuits in which a government agency or official is a defendant.

None of Zika’s allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $140,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Warren or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Warren or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Zika $140,000 than take the matter to trial. Perhaps the defendants’ decision to settle was done to save further legal expense and the costs of trying what were in fact exaggerated or meritless claims. Or, perhaps the claims were true and the defendants wanted to avoid being embarrassed at trial. This is the problem when cases settle before trial–it is impossible to know the truth of what really happened.

Chairman of the New Jersey Libertarian Party's Open Government Advocacy Project. Please send all comments to [email protected]