A plaque flanking the Central Avenue entrance to Hackensack City Hall.
By VICTOR E. SASSON
A week after Hackensack agreed to pay former Police Chief Ken Zisa nearly $3 million in back pay and legal fees, his defense attorney says he has been cleared of all criminal charges.
"All the witnesses were discredited," attorney Patricia Prezioso said. "There is no credible evidence that he did anything wrong."
"He's been cleared. They [Hackensack officials] are paying him what they owe him," Prezioso said in a telephone interview this morning.
That view clashes with some members of the City Council, which wasn't advised before the city attorney and the city manager, on his final day in the job, signed off on the agreement with Zisa last Friday, as reported by The Record today (A-1).
At least two members of the council say privately no court has ever said Zisa "didn't do it."
Ex-Hackensack Police Chief Ken Zisa, right, listening to defense attorney Patricia Prezioso during oral arguments before Judge Susan Steele on Feb. 4, 2016 (photo from BergenDispatch.com).
Trial in 2012
At a 2012 trial in state Superior Court in Hackensack, the ex-police chief faced a nine-count indictment, and a jury found him guilty on five of those charges.
Joseph Conte, the judge at the time, dismissed three of the guilty verdicts, leaving only official misconduct and insurance fraud.
Those verdicts grew out of a 2008 incident in which Zisa as police chief was charged with improperly removing his then-girlfriend, Kathleen Tiernan, from the scene of a car accident before she could submit to a sobriety test.
"The first officers to respond to the scene reported smelling alcohol and observing drunken behavior, prosecutors said," according to Staff Writer John Seasly (A-6).
Prosecutors also said Zisa filed an insurance claim for $11,000, claiming Tiernan, who was driving the chief's private vehicle, swerved to avoid an animal.
An appeals court dismissed the insurance fraud conviction, and in August, Superior Court Judge Susan Steele dismissed the remaining charge, official misconduct.
She said trying Zisa again would violate his constitutional protection from double jeopardy.
Prezioso called the appeals court decision "scathing."
The panel cited prosecutorial misconduct as well as missteps by the trial judge.
In The Record today, Mayor John Labrosse lashed out at Zisa and the legal system:
"This man and the rest of the Zisa political machine [show] nothing but greed and contempt for Hackensack taxpayers.
"The level of damage that they have done to our city is tragic," Labrosse said. "The way that this entire matter was handled by our legal system was extremely disappointing" (A-6).
Prezioso told The Record, "Those harsh words about my client have been replete in the media over the last six years and are a reflection of what now has been judicially determined to have been an unfair prosecution."
$8M in legal fees
Labrosse likely was referring to the more than 20 lawsuits police officers filed against Zisa for his actions while he was chief and also served as a Democratic state assemblyman.
In one-four year period, the city paid $8 million in legal fees to defend the chief, city officials say.
And the mayor also is anticipating next May's municipal election, when the Zisa family -- under the banner of Team Hackensack -- is expected to field a slate of City Council candidates to challenge Labrosse and the other reformers elected in 2013.
'Eye on The Record'
Today's story in The Record follows by two days an Eye on The Record post.
Seasly, The Record reporter, quotes a city press release, but errs at one point when he calls Judge Steele's 110-page decision in the Zisa case a "brief" (A-6).
Which reminds me of a hearing I covered in federal court for The Record in the early 1980s.
Judge Lawrence A. Whipple was listening to arguments from a female attorney, when her legal papers fell off the lectern she was standing behind.
Turning to the court stenographer, the judge said, "Let the record reflect that Miss Smith dropped her brief."