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NJ Civil Settlements

Bergenfield confidentially paid out $843,000 to settle cop’s whistleblower lawsuit.

On December 3, 2019, the Borough of Bergenfield (Bergen County) quietly agreed to pay $843,000 to a former police officer who had claimed that his superiors retaliated against him after he sought permission to amend a motor vehicle crash report to show that a Bergenfield police lieutenant’s reckless driving was the cause of the accident and that several Bergenfield officers witnessed the crash.

In his lawsuit, Michael Legregni, claimed Lieutenant Frank Figel had originally told him that his July 29, 2014 accident was the result of a floor mat getting caught under his GMC Jimmy’s gas pedal. Later, according to the lawsuit, Legregni reviewed some captured video of the accident and saw that Figel was “operating his vehicle recklessly, speeding across the parking lot in different directions, forward and backwards [causing] the vehicle to overturn.” He claimed that Figel, in full view of six or seven other officers, crawled out of the overturned vehicle’s driver side window at which time the officers, including Captain Cathy Madalone, attempted to push the Jimmy back onto its wheels.

Since his original report contained Figel’s version of the accident, Legregni claimed that he asked Captain Christopher Massey for permission to amend the report to include the information contained in the video. Massey allegedly told him “not to change the report, to delete the video from his cell phone, and to not speak with anyone about the incident.”

About six months later, Legregni said that he was brought up on two internal affairs charges brought by his supervisors. He claimed that Lieutenant David Doherty, Sergeant Scott Macfie and Captain Massey demanded that he participate in a verbal interview concerning those charges without his attorney present. Legregni claimed that Captain Massey threatened him with immediate suspension if he did not participate in the interview without legal representation.

Legregni’s lawsuit contains many other claims of unfair treatment and retaliation. Readers interested in more detail are directed to the civil lawsuit at the link below.

Under the settlement, Legregni will receive $480,000 and his lawyer will receive $363,000. Additionally, the Borough agreed to dismiss the disciplinary charges against Legregni. Finally, the Borough agreed to reinstate Legregni to employment on December 9, 2019 provided that he resign effective December 19, 2019 and agree never to seek re-employment with the Borough.

The case is captioned Michael Legregni v. Borough of Bergenfield, Docket No. BER-L-7283-16 and Legregni’s attorney was Charles J. Sciarra of Clifton. Case documents are on-line here.

The settlement agreement contains a confidentiality clause, which prevents the parties to the suit from disclosing the settlement’s terms to others, including the media. 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 the the lawsuit’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 Bergenfield or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Legregni $843,000 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.

By John Paff

Chairman of the New Jersey Libertarian Party's Open Government Advocacy Project