On January 25, 2013, the State of New Jersey agreed to pay $162,500 to a man who sued the Cape May County Office of Public Defender for legal malpractice.

In his petition to file a late Tort Claim notice, John Rogers he was wrongfully convicted in 1999 for drug trafficking and spent 6 years in state prison.  In 2007, the Appellate Division held that the public defender who represented him court provided him with ineffective legal counsel.  In his petition, Rogers claimed that Erica Smith, Esq. was the attorney who ineffectively represented him at his trial. After the Appellate Division reversed his conviction and remanded the matter for a new trial, Rogers claimed that the trial court dismissed all charges against him.

The Appellate Division’s October 23, 2007 decision, which details the ineffective lawyering that Rogers received, is on-line here.

The case is captioned Rogers v. Cape May County Office of the Public Defender, et al, Docket No. CPM-L-480-09 and Rogers’ attorney was Joseph C. Grassi of Wildwood.  Case documents are on-line here.

None of Rogers’s allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The  $162,500 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by New Jersey, Erica Smith or any other official. All that is known for sure is that New Jersey, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Rogers $162,500 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]