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New Jersey has settled the last major piece of litigation to arise out of the racial-profiling scandal of the 1990s. The final piece of the puzzle was Morka v. New Jersey, L-8429-97. The state and the New Jersey Turnpike Authority agreed to pay a total of $775,000 to 12 plaintiffs who claimed they were subjected to varying levels of harassment from state troopers because of their race. A proposed settlement went to the plaintiffs a few weeks before Christmas, but the dotted lines were not signed until last week. Settlement talks, which involved more than a dozen lawyers from some of the state’s most prominent law firms, dragged on for at least a year. At one point, the plaintiffs persuaded the state to consider paying a single sum of $10 million to $12 million in a global settlement to end all the cases. That deal fell apart shortly after word of it became public. The plaintiffs originally had sought class status, but Middlesex County Superior Court Judge Amy Piro Chambers nixed that in October 2000. The case’s fortunes then rested with a similar suit before U.S. District Judge Joel Pisano, White v. Williams, No. 99-CV-2240). The federal case was linked to the state matter by Moorestown, N.J., solo practitioner William Buckman, who represented plaintiffs in both. When the White team lost its class action motion in June 2002, prospects for a massive multimillion-dollar payday fell apart. Still, the latest settlement brings the total legal budget of the decade-long scandal to more than $19.5 million, the bulk of which went to plaintiffs. That figure includes the awards in four separate cases, but does not include all the legal fees incurred by plaintiffs or the state’s outside counsel. As the settlements took years to resolve, the final cost to taxpayers is likely to be several million dollars more. Retired Appellate Division Judge John Keefe, of counsel to Red Bank, N.J.’s Lynch Martin, will hear fee applications from the plaintiffs and act as a binding arbitrator, says Law Division Director Douglas Wolfson. “Given the strides that this administration has made, and our very good compliance efforts with the consent degree [signed with the Department of Justice], we’re making this a thing of the past. This was a priority for me when I came in here,” says Wolfson, who had hoped to get rid of all the profiling cases by the end of 2002. Deborah Jacobs, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey, which had provided lawyers to the Morka plaintiffs, was less upbeat. “We have a long way to go,” she says. “We need to do away with the wink-and-nod culture that has allowed for abuses like this discrimination to take place. The state police are just the beginning.” Representing the 12 plaintiffs in Morka with Buckman were Neil Mullin of Smith Mullin in Montclair, N.J.; partner Larry Lustberg and associate Risa Kaufman of Newark, N.J.’s Gibbons, Del Deo, Dolan, Griffinger & Vecchione; and ACLU-NJ legal director Ed Barocas. With Buckman on the White case were Alan Yatvin of Popper & Yatvin and David Rudovsky of Kairys, Rudovsky, Epstein, Messing & Rau, both in Philadelphia; Stefan Presser, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania; Seth Kreimer, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania School of Law; and Justin Loughry of Loughry & Lindsay in Moorestown. For the defense in both Morka and White were partner Eric Marcy of Wilentz, Goldman & Spitzer in Woodbridge, N.J., for the turnpike; partners Michael Cole and Benjamin Clarke of DeCotiis, FitzPatrick, Cole & Wisler in Teaneck, N.J., as counsel to the attorney general; partner John O’Reilly of Pitney, Hardin, Kipp & Szuch in Florham Park, N.J., for the state troopers; George Fisher of Zuckerman & Fisher in Princeton, N.J., for Carl Williams, the former state police superintendent; and partner Robert Mintz and special counsel Adam Saravay of McCarter & English in Newark for state supreme court Justice Peter Verniero, the former attorney general.

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