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Sex and the Single Priest — A clergyman who allegedly had an affair with the wife of a couple he was counseling wants the church to provide him with a defense and indemnity — even though the policy excludes sexual misconduct claims.

According to court papers, in March 2009, Michael Doerr, a parishioner of The Abbey of Delbarton in Morristown, sought marital counseling from the priest, Henry Drew, after his wife asked for a divorce. Drew told Doerr he should accept his wife’s decision, but that May, Doerr learned his wife had been consorting with Drew since before counseling began.

In a suit filed in Essex County, Doerr claims Drew violated his fiduciary duty in not disclosing the affair and in failing to send Doerr to another priest for counseling. Doerr also claims intentional or negligent infliction of emotional distress.

When the abbey’s insurer, Church Mutual Ins. Co. of Merrill, Wis., balked at coverage, Drew filed his own suit in state court, which the company removed to federal court in Newark on Tuesday.

The complaint says that even if Doerr’s suit is interpreted to include a sexual misconduct claim, breach of fiduciary duty is its "dominant theme," so the exclusion should not apply.

Drew’s lawyer, Parsippany solo Noel Schablik, did not return a call. Neither did the insurer’s lawyer, Andrew Lusskin of Braff, Harris & Sukoneck in Livingston, or Doerr’s lawyer, Barry Kozyra of Kozyra & Hartz in Roseland.


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Penmanship 101 — A scribbled signature and otherwise hasty handling of a search warrant led an appeals court to order vacatur of a defendant’s guilty plea.

The warrant authorizing the 2010 search of Jermain Riles’ New Brunswick home and vehicle was time-stamped, signed in New Brunswick and apparently based on a police officer’s affidavit. But it "bears a signature that is wholly illegible scrawled over a signature line" and fails to identify the court that issued it, the Appellate Division said in State v. Riles.

Riles, charged in connection with cocaine allegedly found in the house, moved to suppress because it was unclear whether the warrant was signed by a judge with proper jurisdiction — or signed by a judge at all. Prosecutors claimed the document is presumed valid, and Middlesex County Superior Court Judge Lorraine Pullen denied Riles’ motion.

He pleaded guilty to a lesser charge and served two years’ probation, but appealed the evidentiary ruling. On Wednesday, Judges Jane Grall and Allison Accurso reversed, citing "the fundamental and apparent defect and … the absence of any effort by the State to establish that the error was technical."

Riles’ lawyer, Jack Venturi, says prosecutors now should dismiss the charge. As for the signature, "You couldn’t discern a letter. … I’ve never seen anything as terrible as this before," says Venturi, who heads a New Brunswick firm.

Assistant Middlesex County Prosecutor Brian Gillet, who handled the appeal, did not respond to a call or email Friday.


Eric Katz
(Photo: Carmen Natale)

Hot Bench for a Tepid Case — Same-sex marriage had the spotlight at the U.S. Supreme Court last week, but a more obscure case argued Monday by a New Jersey lawyer making his first appearance could have an even broader impact.

Eric Katz of Roseland’s Mazie Slater Katz & Freeman, represents Dr. John Ivan Sutter, who alleges that a health insurer denied, underpaid and delayed reimbursements to a putative class of about 20,000 physicians. Oxford Health Plans challenged an arbitrator’s decision that the arbitration agreement authorized class arbitration although not mentioning it.

That decision survived review by the U.S. District Court in New Jersey and by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, which also denied Oxford’s request for rehearing en banc. The question is whether the arbitrator exceeded his power, and the Supreme Court’s ruling could affect not just doctors and insurers, but consumers, employers, employees and others.

Katz says he faced a hot bench, with Antonin Scalia the first to jump in. He was peppered with questions by all of the justices except Elena Kagan and Clarence Thomas.

It was the 65th argument for his adversary, former U.S. solicitor general Seth Waxman of Washington, D.C.’s Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale & Dorr. He could not be reached for comment.

New Prosecutor for Middlesex — Assistant U.S. Attorney Andrew Carey has been tapped to become Middlesex County’s top law enforcer. Gov. Chris Christie nominated him on Thursday to replace Bruce Kaplan, a Democrat whose second term as prosecutor expired on Jan. 14.

Carey, chief of the U.S. attorney’s narcotics unit and the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force, has been with the office in Newark since 2005, when Christie was U.S. attorney.

From 1996 until 2005, Carey was an assistant district attorney in Manhattan, becoming deputy trial bureau chief. Carey graduated from the Dickinson School of Law at Penn State University in 1996 and American University in 1993.

Carey will have to be vetted by the Senate Judiciary Committee and confirmed by the Senate. He also will have to resolve a residency issue. He lives in New Providence in Union County, and Christie said he is moving to Middlesex. His party affiliation was not immediately available, though governors usually choose members of their own party as county prosecutors.

— By Charles Toutant, David Gialanella, Mary Pat Gallagher and Michael Booth