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In the first settlement of a civil suit seeking damages for state police racial profiling, New Jersey has agreed to pay $340,000 to a Hispanic cab driver who was arrested on drug possession charges following a turnpike stop. The settlement cuts short the possibility that New Jersey Supreme Court Justice Peter Verniero, who as attorney general denied the existence of racial profiling until late in 1998, would be subpoenaed to give deposition testimony in the case, Baez v. Weeast. Moorestown, N.J., sole practitioner William Buckman, who represents Jose Baez, had already extracted damaging testimony from a high-level adjutant of the former state police superintendent, tending to show Verniero’s early and active participation in the state’s efforts to head off federal intervention in the profiling scandal. Buckman was planning to depose Verniero and First Assistant Attorney General Paul Zoubek when the state decided to settle. Chuck Davis, a spokesman for Attorney General John Farmer Jr., denied that the testimony by Sgt. First Class Thomas Gilbert, the state police liaison with the Attorney General’s Office on racial-profiling issues, played any part in the decision to settle the case. “The Attorney General has been looking at each of these cases individually,” says Davis. “He’s settling the cases that should be settled and he will [try] the cases that should be tried.” Baez was arrested on the turnpike in Burlington County in February 1998 after being pulled over by Trooper Joseph Weeast. The passenger fled from the scene, and a small amount of cocaine was found in the back seat. Weeast failed to tell a judge that Baez insisted that any drugs belonged to the passenger, not to him. Held 18 days in jail until a judge learned about the passenger and the fact that the cocaine was found in the back seat of the cab, Baez was released. He sued Weeast, his supervisors and the state police, alleging that his civil rights were violated and that troopers targeted him because he is Hispanic. Gilbert, in his deposition testimony in the case, said troopers were using race as a factor as early as the mid-1990s, well before Gloucester County Superior Court Judge Robert Francis ruled in March 1996 that racial profiling was being practiced. The sergeant also testified that he met with Attorney General Verniero on May 20, 1997, along with Executive Assistant Attorney General Alexander Waugh, now a Superior Court judge; Deputy Attorneys General George Rover and John Fahy; State Police Superintendent Carl Williams; and Lt. David Blaker, now the acting prosecutor for Cape May County. Gilbert said that they discussed data showing a high number of traffic stops and searches involving minorities, and that Verniero opposed signing a consent decree with the U.S. Department of Justice, which was investigating New Jersey and other states’ use of race in deciding whether to stop motorists.

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