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Friday, January 1, 2010

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Elizabeth police sergeant will keep $600K award from whistle blower lawsuit
The New Jersey Star-Ledger by Julie O'Connor - December 30, 2009

ELIZABETH, NJ -- An Elizabeth police sergeant who said he was punished after blowing the whistle on police corruption will get to keep his $600,000 jury award, an appellate court ruled today. The court upheld a 2006 verdict in favor of Sgt. John Guslavage, a decorated narcotics supervisor who said his bosses cast him into a demeaning desk job because he violated their code of silence, reporting a suspected drug-using cop to the Union County Prosecutor’s Office in 1999. Guslavage received a $600,000 award in a whistle blower lawsuit he filed against the Elizabeth Police Department and the city with harassment. Guslavage, now 67 years old and retired, referred requests to comment to his lawyer. Attorney David Ben-Asher said simply that his client felt vindicated for "the years of retaliation he experienced," and "we prevailed on all of the issues which the city raised." Attorney Edward Kologi, who represented the city of Elizabeth in the civil case with co-counsel Robert Varady, called the appellate ruling "totally erroneous." Kologi said Guslavage’s $600,000 award — plus more than $100,000 in interest — is an unfair burden on taxpayers, and the defense’s only recourse is to seek to take their case to the state Supreme Court. The defense attorneys had argued in their appeal that the sergeant didn’t qualify as a whistle-blower under state statute, since he suffered no loss or rank or pay, keeping his $100,000 annual pay check. The Conscientious Employee Protection Act, meant to protect whistle-blowers, does not apply "any time someone’s ego is bruised, because they might not get the perfect assignment that they want," Kologi said. He and Varady maintained Guslavage was disciplined for going outside the chain of command, but that was his only punishment. They said his allegations against the officer, who was never charged, were shown to be without merit. Guslavage, a 36-year veteran of the Elizabeth police department who once supervised the prestigious narcotics division, said he was buried in a basement desk job overseeing the evidence and property room just months after ratting out the suspected drug-using cop. The sergeant said he was belittled and driven into depression, suffering a nervous breakdown that led to 18 months of medical leave. Jurors in the civil case agreed he was targeted, harassed and punished by his superiors. The 1999 incident was the second of two claims Guslavage made against suspected dirty narcotics officers — in 1994, the sergeant went to the U.S. Attorney’s Office to report on cops he felt had cozied up to a reputed drug dealer. The jury ruled top officials at the police department acted appropriately in that earlier instance, when they chose to end their investigation into the matter. Those suspected officers were also never charged.

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