May 20, 2006

County employee harassment will cost upwards of 2.5 million $$

A law suit against the County of Union which was brought by a former decorated Union County sheriff’s officer is about to be settled. The legal bills alone, stemming from this arrogant and petty case of employee harassment, will cost a total of $2,463,753.82.

Virginia Fanelli's lawyer is applying for $,1523,452.34 ($1,487,078.80 for fees and $36,373.54 in cost and disbursements). The county will be paying her $1,340,000 ($500K now an $70K a year for 7 years, subject to reduction if she gets disability) PLUS $6K a year for her individual health care until plaintiff is eligible for retirement health coverage or other group health insurance.

As for the County's legal fees – We’ll wait a few months for all the bills to be submitted and then we’ll get the adding machine tape out! All the usual gang of county pay to play attorney’s made out big time. To view preliminary settlement document click here. To view county resolutions pertaining to this case click here.

Fanelli's suit was tied to one brought by sheriff's officer James MacDonald. This suit was settled in 2001 for $70,000. The county attorney’s fees alone for this were approximately $128,000. The Union County Watchdog Association has filed several OPRA requests and is waiting for documents that will show MacDonald’s legal fees and settlement.

The county sued their insurance company because they refused to cover this claim. Apparently the county didn’t report it properly. The UCWA is also waiting for documents that would show the attorney’s fees stemming from what appears to have been a pathetic attempt at a cover-up.
The county managed to keep this out of the press since 2001, since then the legal bill meter has been tick, tick, ticking out of the public view….Maybe, just maybe, if the media had kept some light on this the county would have stopped harassing Fanelli and settled this case before the legal bills mounted to over (3) THREE MILLION DOLLARS.

It’s a shame that Fanelli didn’t get a bigger settlement. She deserved that and more for what these arrogant bastards did to her.

Virginia Fanelli is still listed on the county payroll with a salary of $67,700. William Malcolm currently has a salary of $77,960. James MacDonald is no longer employed by the County of Union. Sheriff Ralph Froehlich, who is the longest serving law enforcement official in the U.S., still enjoys a stellar reputation.

December 12, 2001
A highly decorated Union County sheriff's officer who was once considered a rising star in the department is suing five of her bosses over her involvement in a colleague's lawsuit against the office.
Touted by Sheriff Ralph Froehlich as one of his department's outstanding officers, Virginia Fanelli went from the fast track of moving up the ranks to being the victim of a campaign to fire her, according to the lawsuit she filed last month.
Named as defendants in the lawsuit, which was filed in Superior Court in Elizabeth, are Froehlich, Undersheriff William Malcolm Sr., Lt. Anna Buckley and Capts. Vincent DiTrolio and Barry Migliore.
Fanelli, a 14-year veteran of the sheriff's office, claims the effort to oust her was the result of her refusal to back her bosses' allegations against a fellow officer who was accused in 1998 of falsifying an overtime report.
County officials, however, insist their actions against the former detective came from her failure to follow department rules.
Fanelli's suit is tied to one brought by sheriff's officer James MacDonald, who was charged with falsifying a report that showed he was working overtime when he was actually at Fanelli's house in Roselle Park on June 7, 1998.
During the investigation, Fanelli insisted that MacDonald showed up at her house after he had finished his overtime duty. She supplied MacDonald's attorney with a copy of a credit card receipt indicating she was not even home at the time Malcolm alleged MacDonald was visiting her, according to court papers.
According to the lawsuit, DiTrolio told Fanelli not to give the information to MacDonald's attorney. It also claims that DiTrolio, Malcolm, Migliore and Buckley, a good friend of Fanelli's, tried to get her to change her statement. The suit, filed by attorney Bruce P. McMoran of Tinton Falls, alleged that when Fanelli refused, her superiors had employees concoct stories that she was having an affair with MacDonald.
"They pulled out all the stops here," McMoran said. "In our view, they expected her to support the statements they made about MacDonald, and when she didn't do that, they went after her. She knows what the truth was and told them up front from the first day. Nevertheless, they went forward with the action."
According to court papers, Fanelli was barred from going into the administrative area of the sheriff's office. She was demoted from her job as a detective who had worked undercover narcotics investigations to an officer who provided security at the front doors of the Union County Courthouse in Elizabeth. Her service weapon was confiscated and she was ordered to undergo psychological counseling, the court papers said.
Initially, she was charged with conduct unbecoming a public employee, insubordination and neglect of duty for filing a false report. She eventually pleaded guilty to conduct unbecoming and received a 30-day suspension in return for the rest of the charges being dropped. She did not admit to filing a false report.
However, the rest of the charges were not dropped, her attorney said. In July, she was charged with similar offenses. The outcome of her disciplinary hearing is pending. She has been out on medical leave since around October, McMoran said.
Froehlich said there was no campaign to oust her. He said she violated the rules and regulations of his office by failing to inform him that she was providing information to MacDonald's attorney.
"Our rules and regulations specify certain procedures that an officer's supposed to go through," Froehlich said. "She did not do that."
He declined to discuss details of the case, but said he has worked hard to be fair with all his employees.
"I have a reputation with the men and women in uniform and civilians that will withstand any of these allegations," he said. "I do the best I can to see that everyone is treated fairly and impartially."
He initially was named as a defendant in MacDonald's suit but the allegations were dismissed against him. In May, MacDonald accepted a $70,000 settlement after a jury found Malcolm defamed him by bringing those allegations. _____________________________________________________________________________________________ MaryAnn Spoto covers the Union County Courthouse. She can be reached at or (908) 527- 4011.