The lawsuit of Selecky vs. Borough of Roselle Park (UNN L-1171-13) that has been settled with the municipality paying $15,000 to Ms. Lorraine Selecky with no admission of wrongdoing by neither the municipality nor any of its employees.
This settlement avoids a civil court case where Ms Selecky claimed that the municipality – through Roselle Park Police Officer James Cantrell acting as an employee of the borough – wrongfully issued a summons for unlawful parking in a space marked for the physically handicapped and that she was subsequently, unlawfully prosecuted when she was found guilty in Roselle Park Municipal Court. The case was appealed by Ms. Selecky and the Superior Court of New Jersey Appellate Division concluded in its opinion that “the judge’s credibility determination was plainly improper” when he considered a hypothetical question she asked during testimony an admission of guilt. The Appellate Judges stated that they knew of “no precedent that would permit a hypothetical question posed by a pro se party during cross-examination of a witness at trial to be considered as substantive evidence in the proceeding.” and directed that the case be re-tried with a different judge. The parking ticket case was retried in Kenilworth and it resulted in an acquittal, according to court records.
The origins of the appeal and lawsuit stem from an incident on September 19, 2009 at the 7-Eleven parking lot on Locust Street. Ms. Selecky had pulled into the parking lot. As they walked to the Redbox video machine located outside the store, Ms. Selecky and her then 13-year-old daughter started arguing. Roselle Park Police Department (RPPD) Officer James Cantrell, who was off-duty at the time, and his children were already at the Redbox machine. An argument ensued between Ms. Selecky and Mr. Cantrell when she either commented on how long he and his family were taking in making their choice or because Mr. Cantrell commented on the argument between the mother and daughter. The incident escalated and even though Ms. Selecky threatened to call the police, she did not, nor did Mr. Cantrell identify himself as a police officer during the incident.
On September 21, 2009, Ms. Selecky received a summons in the mail, which was issued by RPPD Officer Cantrell, for illegally parking in a handicapped parking space.
Ms. Selecky represented herself in the October 15th trial and was found guilty based on what the Roselle Park municipal judge determined to be the credibility of Officer Cantrell’s testimony that he witnessed Ms. Selecky parked in the space illegally. Additionally, the judge took into consideration a hypothetical question asked by Ms. Selecky to officer Cantrell during cross-examination, where she asked “Let’s say I’m parked in the handicap spot such as Officer Cantrell is saying here that I’m parked there, and you see me coming out of the car and I approach the Redbox, why would you not stop me then and say, ‘Ma’am, you shouldn’t park there, move your car’? Why would you not do that if that were
the case as you’re suggesting?”
In his ruling, the judge, in part, stated, “The one thing that I did find interesting to your detriment is when you asked the officer, I guess it was a hypothetical, but you asked him, well even if a person had parked in that spot, would you not interject with the person and ask him to simply pull — basically pull out of that spot rather than issue them a summons . . . It made me think a little bit what would trigger that question and it made me think possibly, possibly that you were in that spot . . . I don’t know if that happened or not. But it made me have a thought process of why you would ask that particular question.”
The resulting appeal argued that no deference should be given to the municipal judge’s credibility finding, which was based upon his erroneous conclusion that consideration had to be accorded to the State and its police witness.
The $15,000 is to be paid by the municipality through its insurance provide NJIIF (New Jersey Intergovernmental Insurance Fund). No information has yet been provided as to how much – if any amount – the municipality will be paying from its operating budget for the settlement.
Although the matter was a closed session item and stated as still being in litigation during the May 15th Mayor & Council meeting, an OPRA request filed by John Paff, Chairman of the New Jersey Libertarian Party’s Open Government Advocacy Project, was satisfied by the Roselle Park Borough Clerk’s office on May 20th.
A copy of the lawsuit complaint, NJ Appellate opinion, and Confidentiality Agreement are provided below as three (3) separate documents:
Editor’s Note: John Paff is also an officer of NJFOG (New Jersey Foundation for Open Government)*