Lawsuit settled without trial

| 28 Sep 2011 | 02:51

    WEST MILFORD-It was a case of one down, two to go for resident Martin O'Shea last week as he settled his long standing lawsuit with the township council. This still leaves legal action by O'Shea against the Planning Board and Board of Education ongoing but with the council action now at an end there is hope that at least with the Board of Education that a settlement is also close. At the end of the council's regular meeting last Thursday the council concluded their executive session and announced their agreement to the settlement to which O'Shea responded "It's over, at least with the council." The settlement was brokered by O'Shea and township attorney Fred Semrau in the form of a council resolution. The resolution highlights the council's intent to adhere to the state's Open Public Meetings Act. The settlement requires no concession or admission of blame by the council and allows the town government to move forward with a clearer definition of it's responsibilities to the act. One of the key elements to the resolution is the council's resolve not to hold "pre-meetings" — when council members discussing public matters in private. O'Shea alleges this has been a long standing practice in West Milford, not only by the current council, but by "every council since people can remember." The resolution states that "…no more than three elected township officials of the township may meet or congregate to discuss township business." Also in the resolution is an agreement that the council will review the minutes of its closed meetings semi-annually to determine how much of these private sessions can be disclosed to the public. In a year which has seen much acrimony over the lawsuits, O'Shea was quick to praise at least one action by the council, the appointment of township attorney Fred Semrau. "He [Semrau] brought sanity to the situation and was a catalyst for reaching the settlement," said O'Shea There were less laudable plaudits from O'Shea for township Mayor Joseph DiDonato and council member Joseph Elcavage. Both DiDonato and Elcavage were highly critical of O'Shea's actions and regularly accused him of initiating "frivolous lawsuits" and of burdening local taxpayers with over $100,000 in attorneys fees. Asked for comment, Elcavage responded, "Despite many good faith efforts by the township early in this litigation, Mr. O'Shea only began to negotiate in good faith when he began to feel the anger of the taxpayers when they were informed as to just how much money he had cost them with this questionable action." O'Shea said of the actions still pending, "The board of education and I are ninety-eight percent along the way toward a settlement and I can't imagine we won't settle it. The planning board is a different story and we could be heading to trial."