The agreement to settle a lawsuit by the American Humanist Association (AHA) filed against Roselle Park for $14,950 was obtained through an Open Public Records Act (OPRA) request.
The lawsuit was filed by Charlene Storey and her husband Gregory Storey along with the AHA against the Borough of Roselle Park and Mayor Carl Hokanson on September 30th of last year. Although Mrs. Storey is the borough’s current Council-At-Large, the lawsuit was filed as a private citizen and member of AHA.
A timeline of pertinent events regarding the lawsuit is provided below:
- July 29, 2016: Carl Hokanson, in his capacity as mayor, directs the Department of Public Works (DPW) to place a “Kneeling Solider At Cross” silhouette memorial in front of the Roselle Park Veterans Memorial Library. The Kneeling Solider At Cross memorial was donated to the borough by Carl Hokanson, acting as a private citizen.
- August 2, 2016: Gregory Storey sends Mayor Hokanson a letter requesting to have the display removed.
- August 11, 2016: The Apagnani Humanist Legal Center (AHLC) – the legal division of the American Humanist Association – send the Borough of Roselle Park a letter demanding the display be removed on the grounds that it is unconstitutional.
- August 18, 2016:Council, by a 3-2 vote, retroactively accepts the Kneeling Soldier Memorial donation at the Roselle Park Veterans Memorial Library.
- August 24, 2016:The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) sends a letter dated to the borough asking that council reconsider its vote approving the placement of a “Kneeling Soldier At Cross” memorial at the Roselle Park Veterans Memorial Library.
- September 30, 2016: APLC along with Charlene and Gregory Storey file a lawsuit in United States District Court against the Borough of Roselle Park and Mayor Carl Hokanson in his official capacity challenging the constitutionality of the borough’s approval of the Kneeling Soldier At Cross memorial.
- October 4, 2016: The Kneeling Soldier At Cross memorial is removed at the behest of Mayor Carl Hokanson.
- October 6, 2016: Council votes to revoke its previous decision to accept a donation of the Kneeling Soldier At Cross memorial and its placement in front of the Roselle Park Veterans Memorial Library.
- May 4, 2017: Council approves to settle the lawsuit.
- May 25, 2017: All parties sign and agree to conclude litigation with a settlement.
In addition to the close to $15,000 payment, a stipulation of the agreement mandates that the Borough communicate to all employees, volunteers or agents that the Kneeling Soldier At Cross display – or substantially similar display – will not be placed on borough-owned property.
“This is a victory for the Constitution and its Bill Of Rights,” said Charlene Storey when reached for comment, “It’s unfortunate that some people tried to paint this as something other than a Constitutional matter. We all respect and honor all veterans.”
With respect to the awarded sum, Mrs. Storey stated, “As for the financial side, my husband and I didn’t ask for any money and we didn’t get any money. All the money is going toward legal fees incurred because the borough knowingly chose to violate the Constitution. We got something we think is much more important than money. We got to see the Consitution upheld in Roselle Park.”
Mayor Carl Hokanson remarked, “I think it should have never happened because it was removed before the lawsuit was even filed so, therefore, I feel that it should have never gone through.”
Although the lawsuit was filed before the mayor removed the memorial, the borough did not receive the papers for litigation until after it was removed. Mayor Hokanson found out about the lawsuit being filed through the newspaper. The mayor did state at the time that he would “temporarily remove the ‘Kneeling Soldier’ while the Storey lawsuit plays out in court.” (link). It was the use of the word ‘temporary’, according to David Niose – the legal director of the Appignani Humanist Legal Center – that was a factor in continuing with the litigation. M.r Niose stated, “I think the mayor made it pretty clear that he’s just removing it temporarily, for some reason; presumably due to the litigation. He has every intention of putting it back up and he thinks it belongs up so the issue still needs to be resolved in the courts.”
The payment for the settlement was covered by the municipality’s insurance carrier New Jersey Intergovernmental Insurance Fund (NJiiF).
A copy of the Settlement Agreement & Release is available below:
Download Settlement Agreement & Release For AHA Lawsuit