On February 23, 2016, the Township of Lower (Cape May County) agreed to return 340 hours of accumulated leave time to a Township police officer and also to reimburse the officer $15,000 in attorneys fees.

In his suit, Officer Robert Hartman claimed that despite a departmental policy that allowed ill and injured offices to be placed on “light duty,” he was denied the light duty designation and required to use his accumulated leave time from April 17, 2013 to June 17, 2013.  Hartman also vaguely claimed that Chief Brian Marker sent him a communication that “set forth threats and intimidation” and was intended to “extract a monetary penalty from him without legal basis.”

As part of the settlement, the Township agreed “to remove the report of Dr. Matthew
Guller from the plaintiff’s personnel/disciplinary file in connection with this matter”

The case is captioned Hartman v. Township of Lower, et al, Docket No. CPM-L-326-14 and Hartman’s attorney was John C. Eastlack, Jr. of Cherry Hill.  Case documents are on-line here.

None of Hartman’s allegations have been proven or disproven in court. Settlement agreements typically state that payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by any of the defendants.  All that is known for sure is that Lower Township or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather settle with Hartman than take the matter to trial. Perhaps the defendants’ decision 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 resolve 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]