On October 30, 2012, the City of Union City (Hudson County) agreed to pay $25,000 to a local man who sued members of the Union City Police Department for arresting him for drunk driving despite there being no evidence that he was driving.

In his suit, Estaban Castro said that on November 9, 2009, after having an argument with his girlfriend, he went outside to sit in his car “to defuse the situation.”  He alleged that after having slept in his car for two and a half hours, he was awoken by Union City Police who arrested him for drunk driving despite Castro’s explanation that he had not driven the car.

Castro’s suit alleged that the Union City Police are not adequately trained to conduct drunk driving investigations, and that this lack of training resulted in his false arrest.

The case is captioned Castro v. Union City, Federal Case No. 2:09-cv-06176 and Castro’s attorney was Louis A. Zayas of Newark.  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 Castro’s allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $25,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Union City or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Union City or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Castro $25,000 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]