A defendant held for three years before charges were dropped did not show the extraordinary circumstances needed to warrant a deadline relaxation for a suit against prosecutors, a state appeals court held on Aug. 16.
The court, in Sickler v. Office of the Ocean County Prosecutor, A-1879-12, said his frequent relocation in custody, ignorance of the law, lack of access to a law library or loss of his eyeglasses were not enough to warrant a late filing of suit under the Tort Claims Act.
Leroy Sickler Jr. of Toms River was charged in October 2008 with swinging a meat cleaver at his wife, Gina. Later, Sickler allegedly plotted to contract his wife’s killing, but police intervened before she was harmed.
He was indicted on charges of attempted murder, aggravated assault, making terroristic threats, possession of a weapon for an unlawful purpose and conspiracy to commit murder.
He was unable to raise his $775,000 bail, so he remained in maxium security pretrial detention at the Ocean County Jail for three years.
In August 2011, he pleaded guilty to second-degree aggravated assault; the other charges were dropped in return. He was sentenced to five years in prison, with an 85 percent parole ineligiblity provision.
Sickler was transferred to the Central Reception and Assignment Facility in Trenton for 30 days, then moved to the Mid-State Correctional Facility in Wrightstown. There, he learned of the Tort Claims Act’s requirement that notice be filed within 90 days.
Sickler, who was pro se, filed his motion for leave to file a late notice on June 11, 2012.
The prosecutor’s office opposed the motion.
Ocean County Superior Court Judge Arnold Goldman said Sickler’s move from one jail to another, his limited access to a law library in prison and his assertion that “things in prison move at a snail’s pace” meet the sort of extraordinary circumstances permitting late filing.
The prosecutor’s office appealed, and Appellate Division Judges Victor Ashrafi and Jerome St. John found the circumstances were not extraordinary, as required by the Tort Claims Act.
They cited a case decided after Goldman’s ruling, D.D. v. Univ. of Med. & Dentistry of N.J., 213 N.J. 130, (2013). There, the court held a claimant’s assertions of medical problems and an attorney’s failure to file a timely notice were not extraordinary circumstances under the statute.
The D.D. court noted that while the statute gives discretion to determine which facts justify a late notice, it also permits a judge’s conclusions to be overturned if reached under a misconception of law.
In Sickler’s case, neither his “ignorance of the law nor his lack of access to a law library are sufficient grounds for excusing the passage of the limitation period, any more than was D.D.’s unfortunate reliance on an attorney who did not follow the law,” the appeals court said.
The bottom line is that Goldman misapplied the law, as clarified in D.D., the court said.
Sickler could not be reached for comment. The Ocean County Prosecutor’s Office was represented by Mary Jane Lidaka of Berry, Sahradnik, Kotzes & Benson in Toms River.
Supervising Assistant Prosecutor Samuel Marzarella, speaking for the prosecutor’s office, calls the suit “meritless.
He adds that Sickler’s confession of guilt, albeit to a lesser charge, waives any constitutional complaint related to the criminal proceedings.