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An attempt to end all racial profiling suits in New Jersey with a global settlement worth $10 million to $12 million has collapsed, according to lawyers involved in the case. Negotiations are continuing, however, on a less ambitious trajectory. The state has received a proposal to settle with 16 plaintiffs represented by two teams of attorneys. Earlier this year, plaintiffs’ attorneys were optimistic that a new governor coupled with a budget crunch would persuade the state to settle — on the civil side at least — with a one-time payment. That payment would have been divided among a possible universe of hundreds of claimants. But the state has decided to take its chances plaintiff by plaintiff instead. “The state has withdrawn its offer to settle on a class basis, but it is exploring settling all the individual cases we have,” says Neil Mullin of Montclair, N.J.’s Smith Mullin. Mullin is the leader of a team that represents Felix Morka and Laila Maher, who allege in Morka v. New Jersey, MID-L-8429-97, that they were pulled over in 1996 on the New Jersey Turnpike and roughed up by a state trooper. Morka, a Nigerian national, is executive director of the Social and Economic Rights Action Center in Maryland. Maher, an Egyptian-American, is a New York poverty lawyer. Mullin says he does not know why the state’s attorneys backed away from the global settlement. “There had been an offer to settle a class piece of this, and they pulled it off the table and said they only wished to explore the individual cases.” McGreevey’s chief counsel, Paul Levinsohn, did not return a call seeking comment. State Law Division Director Doug Wolfson says through a spokesman only that he is looking at all the cases. The news came a week after the state announced it had filed a motion to dismiss 86 criminal complaints against 100 defendants who had alleged that their arrests resulted from racial profiling by the state police. “Contesting the profiling allegation in each case would require an enormous commitment of [the Department of Law and Public Safety's] resources,” state Attorney General David Samson said in a statement released April 19. The criminal and civil cases are not linked. The lead attorney on the team representing plaintiffs suing in federal district court, however, notes that dropping the criminal cases prevents information in those files from being used in the civil cases. “I don’t think they wanted to turn over the discovery that Judge Walter Barisonek had ordered them to turn over,” says William Buckman, a Moorestown, N.J., solo practitioner who represents Thomas White and John McKenzie. White and McKenzie filed a federal class action suit in 1998, White v. Williams, 99-CV-2240, alleging that they were pulled over and searched on the turnpike in 1997 and 1998 solely because of their race. “The settlement talks are moving at glacial speed,” says Buckman, who has become accustomed to the seemingly never-ending nature of racia profiling litigation ever since he established, in State v. Soto, 324 N.J. Super. 66, that the practice existed. The Soto case started in 1988 and was not resolved until 1995. “I wonder about the quality of the advice the governor’s getting,” Buckman adds. “This issue for the state of New Jersey has been an albatross around its neck. … I’ve thought to myself, ‘If I were on the other side … the prudent thing would be to settle this’” instead of setting a precedent, he says. Buckman notes, however, that “there are some vague settlement discussions in place. And we’re waiting to see whether or not they want to proceed with the hard-and-fast discussions.” Meanwhile, the parties are proceeding with discovery before Superior Court Judge Amy Piro Chambers and with class action status motions before U.S. District Judge Joel Pisano of the District of New Jersey.

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