A former Bergen County Prosecutor’s Office employees’ allegations that retired Bergen County Prosecutor John Molinelli and his top lieutenants, Executive Assistant Prosecutor Frank Puccio and others, had her involuntary committed to a psychiatric facility has cost taxpayers $300,000 in legal fees. And that’s just the start.
Attorneys at the Newark based law firm Genova Burns were hired by Bergen County to represent Molinelli, Puccio, Nathanson, Ardizzone, and Trahey. The attorneys have billed the county in excess of $14,000 per month throughout the course of the litigation. Molinelli, who was removed from office amid a corruption scandal, is in constant contact with the attorneys, according to legal bills.
This appears to be another case of dirty employees in the Bergen County Prosecutor’s Office abusing their power to settle personal vendettas. As always, taxpayers have to foot the bill.
Barbara Harrington, a 30 year employee of the Bergen County Prosecutor’s Office, filed a federal lawsuit against Molinelli, Puccio, Deputy Executive Assistant Prosecutor David Nathanson, Kenneth Ardizzon, Michael Trahey, and Patricia Speake-Martin, in 2014. Harrington alleged that after she began a relationship with another prosecutor’s office employee, David Martin, Martin’s estranged wife Patricia Speake-Martin, another prosecutor’s office employee and close friend of Molinelli, began a campaign of retaliation.
In September 2012, after Harrington sent a text message to one of David Martin’s children, Molinelli, Puccio, and Nathanson concocted a scheme to retaliate against Harrington, according to a February 23, 2015 opinion by retired U.S. District Judge Stanley Chesler:
A few days later, on September 24th, Defendant Ardizzone, BCPO’s Chief Information Officer, instructed Plaintiff and Mr. Martin to attend a meeting. Various individuals were present in the office conference room, including Defendants Molinelli and Ardizzone, as well as David Nathanson (the Deputy Executive Prosecutor), Frank Puccio (the Executive Assistant Prosecutor), and Michael Trahey (from the Executive Office) (collectively “Defendants”). They instructed Mr. Martin to enter the room and told Plaintiff to wait outside in the hall.
Defendants asked Mr. Martin about the text-message incident, and Mr. Martin explained what had happened. Defendants told Mr. Martin that Plaintiff was ill and potentially dangerous, and they informed him that Plaintiff was going to be taken to a psychiatric facility for seventy-two hours. Mr. Martin responded that Plaintiff did not pose any danger. Defendant Nathanson told Mr. Martin that if he defended Plaintiff, they would claim that Mr. Martin was himself delusional. Defendants soon instructed Mr. Martin to leave and send in Plaintiff. Plaintiff entered. Defendants asked Plaintiff about the text-message incident, and she explained. Defendants then told Plaintiff to leave again and have Mr. Martin return. Mr. Martin reentered the conference room, and Defendants told him to inform Plaintiff that she was to be admitted to a psychiatric facility; they said the news would be better coming from him.
Mr. Martin left and told Plaintiff about Defendants’ plan; she began to cry. Detective Patricia DeSimone escorted Plaintiff to the office library. Plaintiff was not permitted to leave the library, except to use the restroom once. While Plaintiff waited, Defendants drafted a letter addressed to her, which stated that she was being suspended from work with pay, and which informed her that she was to be transported to a psychiatric facility for evaluation. Approximately one hour later, Defendant Puccio gave Plaintiff the letter. That document is entitled “Suspension with Pay,” and it reads in part as follows:
[E]ffective today, you are suspended with pay pending a psychiatric evaluation. The basis for this action is a concern for whether you are capable of functioning in this workplace without posing a danger to yourself or others in light of the events that [the named Defendants] and I discussed with you this morning. At the time of this writing, preparations are being made to have you transported to. . . a psychiatric facility for an evaluation in consultation with your private physician.
(Compl., Ex. A).
The letter is dated September 24, 2012, and it is signed by Defendant Molinelli.
Detective DeSimone then drove Plaintiff to the Bergen Regional Medical Center (“the hospital”). Mr. Martin met Plaintiff there. It was at this time, shortly before 1:00PM, that Plaintiff underwent an unwanted psychiatric evaluation. At the hospital, several people interviewed Plaintiff. A doctor spoke with Plaintiff and was surprised to learn that she had been brought there apparently due to sending an accidental text message. The doctor concluded that Plaintiff was not psychotic, posed no danger, and that she should be discharged. The hospital accordingly discharged Plaintiff shortly after 4:00PM that day.
Plaintiff resigned from her employment with the BCPO effective May 1, 2013; she claims that she was forced to do so.
In a September 13, 2016 Opinion, U.S. Magistrate Judge Cathy Waldor allowed Molinelli and others to obtain Harrington’s communications with Martin regarding her application for disability benefits.