UNION COUNTY — The county freeholders recently allocated tens of thousands of additional dollars to battle two lawsuits, including one suit in which $85,000 has already been spent and another that is one of three complaints filed by women corrections officers in less than 18 months.
At their July meeting, the freeholder board approved paying $15,000 to the law firm of Kologi and Smith of Linden to represent county police Lt. John Kaminskas.
He is named as a defendant in a federal lawsuit filed by Emmanuel Mervilus, a man who was wrongly convicted in 2008 of first-degree robbery and assault. Mervilus was released after serving more than three years in prison.
In his lawsuit, Mervilus alleges that Kaminskas improperly administered a polygraph test and gave false testimony during the trial that resulted in the conviction.
This is at least the fifth time freeholders have increased funds for lawyers representing Kaminskas in the lawsuit. The county originally allocated $20,000 for legal costs in this case but approved additional funds four times. With this latest $15,000, the county has spent a total of $100,000 for lawyers.
In a separate action, commissioners in July also approved payment of $10,000 to the DiFrancesco Bateman law firm, of Warren, to defend the county in a lawsuit in which a former county corrections officer claims she was wrongfully fired.
Wadlyne Stelus, who was a corrections officer at the Union County Jail from June 2008 until May 2019, filed a lawsuit last April alleging she was dismissed in retaliation for her complaints of harassment.
In the lawsuit, Stelus claims she suffered harassment from other officers and supervisors after reporting that another corrections officer, DeAndra Wallace, had come to work late and had failed to file the paperwork required for being late.
Stelus claims she was disciplined for calling Wallace a “bitch” and was falsely accused of writing and distributing a lewd rap song about Wallace.
Stelus was fired three months after Wallace had filed her own lawsuit against the county, in February 2019, alleging she was the victim of harassment from Stelus.
Wallace said the harassment created a hostile workplace and that corrections officials failed to address the repeated “sexual conduct, contact, advances, commentary and harassment.”
Wallace’s and Stelus’ lawsuits are two of three legal actions filed women corrections officer against the county over a period of 14 months.
In the third case, Monique Hall filed suit in December 2019, saying she was subject daily sexual harassment from her supervisor, a sergeant at the jail. Hall claims that from 2013 to 2014, the sergeant made numerous sexual comments, including “I like Black women,” and said that Hall should “test a mattress with me.”
Hall, according to lawsuit, complained about the alleged harassment, but two internal investigations, one in 2015 and another in July 2019, concluded that the complaints were unsubstantiated.
As a result of the complaint, Hall was subjected to retaliation from the sergeant, and was suspended without pay for four weeks in May 2019, according to the suit.
The freeholders approved paying $15,000 to the law firm of Renaud & Deappolonio, of Cranford, to represent the county in the suit.
Union County spokesman Sebastian D’Elia this week said the county does not comment on pending lawsuits.