A $625,000 settlement has been reached in a suit that claimed former Bergen County Prosecutor John Molinelli sent an employee of his office for involuntary commitment to a psychiatric facility as a favor to the worker’s romantic rival.
Molinelli sought a 72-hour evaluation for Barbara Harrington, a data processing employee of the prosecutor’s office and 30-year veteran, in 2012, the suit claims. Harrington was taken by department employees to Bergen Regional Medical Center after a longtime friend of Molinelli, Patricia Speake-Martin, asked the prosecutor to fire her, the suit claimed.
But doctors discharged Harrington after three hours, finding she posed no danger to herself or others, the suit claimed. A month later, the prosecutor’s office ordered Harrington to undergo a fitness-for-duty evaluation with a New York psychologist, Azariah Eshkenazi. But that doctor likewise found she posed no danger to herself or others, the suit claimed.
Speake-Martin, a neighbor of Molinelli in Woodcliff Lake, New Jersey, and his former law firm colleague, resented Harrington because she was living with Speake-Martin’s estranged husband, David Martin, the suit claimed. Molinelli sought the evaluation of Harrington after she said in a text message to Martin’s three children that he had been in an accident, although there was no accident. Harrington sent the erroneous message because of a malfunction of the voice recognition feature on the mobile phone she was using, and she promptly straightened out the confusion, the suit claimed. But Speake-Martin called Molinelli to complain about Harrington’s actions on the night the message was sent.
“We believe this was at her bidding,” said Anthony Rainone of Brach Eichler in Roseland, New jersey, who represented Harrington. “What was undisputed was that Patricia picked up the phone and called John that evening. John only acted because she called,” said Rainone.
Molinelli and Speake-Martin both worked at the firm of Maycher & Molinelli from 1985 to 1991. Later, from 1996 to 2002, Molinelli worked as the borough attorney for Woodcliff Lake, a period when Speake-Martin did stints as municipal prosecutor and public defender. Molinelli served as Bergen County prosecutor from 2002 to 2016. He did not respond to a request for comment about the case.
Harrington was on paid suspension from her job until December 2012 and was on unpaid suspension until May 1, 2013, when she resigned. Her suit, filed in September 2014, brought claims under the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments, and claimed violations of her rights under the New Jersey Civil Rights Act.
The settlement, executed Monday, came after a conference with U.S. District Judge Stanley Chesler. Bergen County reached the settlement on behalf of the county prosecutor’s office, Molinelli and several other county employees. Speake-Martin was not party to the settlement but the suit against her was dropped.
”Ms. Harrington’s social and professional world for nearly 30 years was her employment at the Bergen County Prosecutor’s Office, where, by all accounts, she was liked and respected,” Rainone said. “The plaintiff alleged that Molinelli’s unconstitutional actions deprived her of most people’s basic desire—a place to go to work to every day.”
Bergen County Counsel Julien Neals confirmed the settlement, adding that the county made no admission of liability. The settlement was reached in consultation with the prosecutor’s office, which felt comfortable with the terms, Neals said.
Speake-Martin’s lawyer in the case, Fred Pisani of Ramp & Pisani in Tenafly, New Jersey, said the claims against his client in the case were “baseless,” and that she did not contribute toward the settlement. He added that Speake-Martin “vehemently denied and vigorously defended the claims from the beginning” and that she was “saddened that her family had to go through this.”