On August 6, 2013, the Borough of Lawnside (Camden County) agreed to pay $125,000 to the estate of a teen who was fatally shot on April 12, 2009 while at a party at the Borough’s Wayne R. Bryant Community Center.

In the suit, Lissette Rivera, claimed that Borough officials “knew or should have known” that an unruly crowd that gathered at the party would become violent and that her son, Sergio Rivera, would have been alive today but for the officials’ negligence.

The case is captioned Rivera v. Lawnside, New Jersey Superior Court Docket No. CAM-L-1832-11 and Rivera’s attorney was Timothy J. McNamara of Marlton.  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 Rivera’s allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $125,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Lawnside or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Lawnside or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Rivera $125,000 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]