SPARTA, NJ- A Sparta man who walked into the Sparta Police Department Headquarters after being stabbed and beaten by his then boyfriend and roommate on October 8, 2013 has been entangled in litigation with the township ever since. Most recently Scott Waselik took the township to United States District Court in a civil action looking to enforce a proposed agreement for a payout of about $37,000.
According to court documents, nearly five years later to the day after the initial incident, Waselik and his attorney, Tracey Hinson of Hinson Snipes LLP met in a settlement conference with Sparta Township’s insurance attorney Steven Parness of Methfessel and Werbel.
The October 2019 decision denied requests made by both Waselik and Sparta at that hearing. The sticking point of the proposed settlement was confidentiality. Hinson, Waselik’s attorney, did not want to be bound by the confidentiality agreement between her client and Sparta. She wanted to be able to publicize the settlement to advertise her law firm.
In a statement, Mayor Molly Whilesmith addressed accusations that the township was seeking to buy their silence.
“Contrary to a recent report in the local press [NJ Herald], Sparta Township did not try to bury its attempted settlement of Mr. Waselik's lawsuit, which the Township’s Joint Insurance Fund had agreed to settle for a modest sum which was expected to be lower than the cost to defend the case. This was a business decision by the Joint Insurance Fund which we had no desire to disturb. And because all settlement agreements involving public entities are public records, we had no expectation or desire that it be kept from the public.
“Rather we insisted, as parties to civil rights litigation frequently do, that all parties agree to make no further comment on the subject matter of the litigation beyond the fact that it was settled to the parties' mutual satisfaction.
“Apparently, this term was not agreeable to Mr. Waselik because it appears that he and/or his attorney wish to discuss the case further with others. While we respect their position, we do not agree with it,” Whilesmith said.
On October 8, 2013 Waselik was brought to the Sparta Township Police Department to get help after having been stabbed and beaten by Kevin Rios according to police. The police took him to the hospital and officers went to his home to follow up on the complaint.
The chief at that time was Ernest Reigstad. Officers Dan Elig, and Kurt Morris went to Waselik’s home where they found and arrested Rios in the backyard. The officers also checked inside the home as part of their investigation, according to police.
When they were inside, the officers found marijuana. They left and returned the next day with a search warrant at which time they seized the pot and drug paraphernalia found inside the home, police said in a report at the time.
Several days later Waselik turned himself in to Sparta police on the drug charges. Waselik said he was allowed to have the pot because he had a medical marijuana card. He said the police should have known that because his card was in his wallet that he had left at the police station when he initially went for help, according to the court document.
At the time, police said they did not believe Waselik got the drugs legally for several reasons including the pot’s packaging and that there was more marijuana than the two ounces per month allowed by law, along with a digital scale and other paraphernalia.
Predating the current governor’s push for legalization of marijuana, Waselik arranged for a protest at the time of his court appearance. On May 16, 2014 several people with medical marijuana cards showed up to smoke pot in a car, parked on the street in front of town hall.
Waselik said he had been a medical marijuana patient since 2011 for his Crohn’s disease, at the time of the court date. Then Lt. JP Beebe said, the pot had not been purchased legally at a state approved dispensary.
In January 2015, the charges against Waselik were dropped by Sparta after Superior Court Judge Thomas Chritchley deemed the evidence illegally obtained. The ruling was appealed but later upheld in December 2015. The three judge appeals panel ruled the police had no reason to go into Waselik’s home after arresting Rios in the backyard according to court documents.
“I am familiar with the case,” Whilesmith said. “I support the actions of our police officers who were diligent and professional in performance of their duties.”
According to court records pertaining to the October 2019 meeting, Hinson claimed this provision would violate “New Jersey Rule of Professional Conduct”…preventing a lawyer from “making an agreement in which a restriction on the lawyer’s right to practice is part of the settlement.”
The judge did not agree, finding “precluding Hinson Snipes from publicizing the specifics of the parties’ settlement on its website”… as part “of a marketing strategy is far from” restricting the law firm’s ability to represent future clients, according to court documents.
As the confidentiality was a key component of the township’s agreement offer, the judge said without confidentiality there was no enforceable agreement to settle the matter.
While any such agreement would be subject to an Open Public Records Act or OPRA request, the court said there was precedent to allow confidentiality to be part of a settlement “even if that information is later disclosed under OPRA,” according to New Jersey Intergovernmental Ins. Fund v Selecky.
Several issues surrounding this case were addressed in the October 30 ruling; Sparta Township and Waselik did not have a “meeting of the minds,” to bring the matter to conclusion. There was no settlement because the Waselik’s attorney did not intend to maintain confidentiality, the township required confidentiality to come to an agreement.
With the most recent development, it appears the township will no longer seek a settlement and go to trial.
“The township is continuing to pursue the case to conclusion through appropriate legal channels, where the press and the public will have full access to all publicly filed documents relating to same,” Whilesmith said.