In his 2014 lawsuit, Wayne Byrd, a Township employee from 2004 to 2008 and the brother of current Fairfield Mayor Benjamin Byrd, claimed that former Mayor and Township Committee member JoAnne L. Servais violated the terms of a confidential settlement agreement by disclosing that he was paid a settlement amount of $72,000 and that she disparaged him by falsely stating that he “filed suit against the Township following his suspension for alleged theft.”  In a June 19, 2017 Decision, Arbitrator Nicole J. Curio found in Servais’ favor and dismissed Byrd’s claims. 

In her 11-page ruling, Curio found that Servais’ “alleged theft” remark, which appeared in a October 31, 2012 letter to the editor, was not disparaging. “Mr. Byrd was suspended and he was alleged to have committed theft,” Curio wrote.  After noting that the parties stipulated that Byrd was never convicted of theft, Curio wrote “Therefore, this statement is true.”  Curio also noted that “Ms. Servais clearly includes the word ‘alleged’ and follows it by the fact that he settled the suit which would lead to the conclusion that he was never found to be a thief.” 

Curio found that Servais’ letter to the editor “was meant as a political piece in an effort to discredit Ben Byrd and was not aimed at Wayne Byrd.”  Servais was competing with Ben Byrd in a Township Committee election at the time the letter was published.

Curio also pointed out that Wayne Byrd testified that what he “was really upset about was the fact that the article mentioned he had received $72,000.”  Byrd said that he experienced “paranoia, pain and suffering” out of worry that “someone would now know that he had money and would come and try to ‘get him.'” According to his testimony, the prospect of being harmed by a thief caused Byrd to shower with a knife and check and re-check the locks on his doors.

Curio wrote that the parties acknowleged that the confidentiality clause in the settlement was unenforceable and that Byrd’s settlement was already common public knowledge.  As to the non-disparagement clause, Curio found that “the foundation of [Wayne Byrd’s] claim for damages is that the letter publicized that he had received money. There is no connection between any alleged ‘disparagement’ and the claim for damages.” Accordingly she dismissed his claims.

The prior lawsuit, filed by Byrd in 2008, allegesd racially hostile and discriminatory treatment by William Ridgeway. That lawsuit settled for $72,500 and that settlement agreement contained the confidentiality and non-disparagement clauses that are the subject of Byrd’s more recent lawsuit discussed in this article. 

Chairman of the New Jersey Libertarian Party's Open Government Advocacy Project. Please send all comments to [email protected]