Saturday, August 1, 2015

Zisa nearly broke Hackensack; now, he claims he's broke

Charles "Ken" Zisa was the police chief in Hackensack from 1995 until he was suspended without pay in 2010, pending his trial. He also served as a state assemblyman.


Long-suffering Hackensack residents have little to salvage from the stunning appeals court decision freeing former Police Chief Ken Zisa from house arrest and a pending 5-year prison sentence. 

But the smug look on his face in a photo on The Record's front page today likely will generate more anger and resentment toward a family dynasty that transformed the city into a North Jersey laughing stock called "Zisaville" (A-1).

Isn't it rich?

After Zisa was indicted in 2010, he was suspended without pay, and about two dozen Hackensack police officers sued him and the city, alleging corruption and intimidation (A-6).

"Most of the lawsuits stemmed from a bitterly contentious relationship between Zisa and police officers who accused him of engaging in campaigns of retribution and harassment as paybacks for their refusal to go along with his political demands [as a state assemblyman]," The Record reports.

(Sounds a little like the political retribution Governor Christie visited on the mayor of Fort Lee and other Democrats for not supporting his election to a second term.)

The city resolved the last of the Zisa lawsuits in April 2014, racking up more than $8 million in legal fees.

That doesn't include the cost to the city and insurer of settling the cases. 

Zisa was formally fired after a jury found him guilty in late 2012 of official misconduct and insurance fraud, the convictions that were thrown out on Friday.

Broken city

Also on Friday, defense attorneys got the $50,000 bail released, claiming Zisa hasn't been able to work, and "needed the money to buy food and pay his mortgage and other living expenses" (A-1).

Unmentioned are the high legal fees Zisa faces for his trial, appeal and possible retrial.

But taxpayers also have been stunned by the financial impact of the litigious Zisa years, and now they face the possibility the former police chief will prevail at a retrial, and demand back pay totaling about $1 million.

That's the million-dollar question, not, as Columnist Mike Kelly asks, whether Zisa "deserves to return" as police chief, a position the city abolished (A-1).

Zisa was paid about $193,000 a year as police chief.

Lazy reporting

The burned-out Kelly and his assignment editor are so lazy they didn't bother interviewing any ordinary Hackensack residents about the appeals court unexpectedly throwing out the guilty verdicts.

Instead, Kelly quotes the same Zisa allies and critics he has had on speed dial for years, including Richard Salkin, the Board of Education attorney who is described as a close friend and vocal supporter of Zisa.

Salkin served as city attorney and municipal prosecutor, but lost the latter position in 2013, after voters picked a reform slate for City Council over Zisa family allies.

Since then, Salkin and school board members who ran unsuccessfully for council have appeared at nearly every council meeting with a massive case of sour grapes to criticize the reformers. 

Meanwhile, Salkin hasn't responded to charges that in 2014, he over-billed the school board by about $58,000 for legal services.

Nor does Kelly mention that in his column today (A-1 and A-6).

If Kelly bothered to ask city residents, I'm sure a majority would say Zisa has no legitimate claim on running a Police Department he nearly destroyed.

Court criticism

The Record's Zisa coverage today reports the three-judge appellate panel harshly criticized the conduct of the trial prosecutor, Daniel Kietel, and the trial judge, Joseph S. Conte, who left Superior Court to join a Hackensack law firm, Nowell Amoroso Klein Bierman.

The appeals court said:

"The trial was 'tainted from the outset,'" when the assistant prosecutor improperly said in his opening statement to the jury that "Zisa's family was like royalty who thought they were above the law, but they were not" (A-6).

The appeals court said Zisa "was not on trial for being politically connected and his family was not on trial."

Meanwhile, "the judge did not forcefully tell the jury that the prosecutor's remarks as to those matters were improper, and he did not unequivocally tell them that the improper information must be disregarded," the ruling stated.

See the ruling:

State of New Jersey v. Charles K. Zisa

Zisa at crash

But the appeals court ruling didn't resolve the insurance fraud charge, which could be retried.

That comes down to whether Zisa acted improperly after his girlfriend allegedly was driving while intoxicated when she crashed his SUV into a telephone pole on Feb. 11, 2008.

She called Zisa, who went to the scene, put her into his car and drove her away from the accident.

Conte, the trial judge, "concluded the defendant's actions [Zisa] were unauthorized regardless of whether K.T. [the girlfriend] was intoxicated, because he interfered with the on-scene officers' investigation of the accident," the appeals panel wrote.

"The judge also found that defendant used his position as police chief to enable to remove K.T. from the scene," according to the ruling.

DWI involved?

On an insurance questionnaire, Zisa and his girlfriend said a cat ran in front of the vehicle and she "swerved to the right [and] hit a telephone pole," the appellate judges noted.

They also checked a box "No" to the question, "Was there any evidence of intoxication?"

The insurance company paid the claim, issuing checks totaling $11,391.88, the court said.

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