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Judge: Fire District Insurer Must Release Settlement Agreement

A settlement agreement involving a township Fire District and a former fire commissioner must be turned over to the township resident who requested it, a state Superior Court Judge ruled on Feb. 20.

Judge Yolanda Ciccone, sitting in Somerville, also ruled that the Pennsylvania-based insurance company, Volunteer Fireman’s Insurance Services, Inc., must pay the to-be-determined legal fees of the resident, John Paff.

Paff, chairman of the New Jersey Libertarian Party’s Open Government Advocacy Project, filed a suit in November 2014 against the insurance company and township Fire District 3 over the insurance company;s refusal to release the settlement agreement of a defamation lawsuit.

It was Paff’s contention that the public had a right to know the details of the settlement agreement because the insurance company was paid with public money.

“I’m happy that the court agreed with my position,” Paff said in an email after the decision was announced. “Had the individual defendants paid the settlement with their own money then I could understand the insurance company’s argument that it was a ‘private matter’ that the public wasn’t entitled to know about. But the individual fire officials were defended and indemnified in the suit by an insurance carrier that was paid for with taxpayer money. Therefore, the public has every right to know the settlement terms and amount.”

Former township Fire Commission Michael Gilliam sued “Fire District No. 3, Commissioner Douglas Krushinski, East Franklin Volunteer Fire Department Chief Daniel Krushinski and President Christopher Fischer and Community Volunteer Fire Department Chief Richard Ries and Board Chairman Herman Calvo …” because “Gilliam alleged that the defendants falsely claimed that he engaged in illegal or immoral liaisons with minors,” Paff wrote on his Web site.

Gilliam settled with the remaining defendants after the suits against the fire district and two fire companies were dismissed.

Two requests for the settlement agreement were denied in July and August 2014 by District 3’s lawyer, who, Paff said, told him that the insurance company refused to release the documents because of a confidentiality clause.

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