On August 5, 2014, West Berlin attorney Donald M. Doherty, Jr. filed an Open Public Records Act (OPRA) lawsuit on my behalf against Gloucester Township (Camden County). The lawsuit, John Paff v. Township and Gloucester and Rosemary DiJosie, Township Clerk, Docket No. CAM-L-3147-14 is on-line here.
The lawsuit’s basis is a tip from an informant that those in power in Gloucester Township government sought to remove a high-ranking employee from his position so that they could give the job to another person who was politically connected and favored. In order to prod the employee into leaving his position, those holding political sway allegedly arranged for the employee to be caught doing something illegal and then used a threat of arrest and prosecution to coerce him into resigning.
I sought disclosure of several records, including police reports, regarding this alleged incident under OPRA and the common law right of access. In her response, Gloucester Township Clerk Rosemary DiJosie admitted that there was an “on-going investigation” into the employee but that public disclosure of the police reports “would be inimical to the public interest.” DiJosie did, however, disclose a Computer Aided Dispatch (CAD) screen shot on “Police Case # 14-019933” showing that police were dispatched to a Township address on May 13, 2014 at about 3:30 p.m. The “Call for Service” description on the CAD report was “Theft – All other.”
Further documents received indicated that the Township entered into a “Severance Agreement and General Release” with the employee. The agreement, which was signed on June 4, 2014, allowed for the employee to retain his paid medical benefits through July 31, 2014 and contained a covenant under which the employee gave up all rights to sue the Township.
Interestingly, the Agreement provided that the employee’s date of severance from Township employment was May 12, 2014–the day before he was allegedly caught in committing an illegal act. According to the lawsuit, the timing of his severance lent “substantial credence to several elements of the ‘tipped’ facts – i.e., that while ‘the powers’ wanted [the employee] out, they did not want to “hurt” him by jeopardizing his pension etc.”