Former Police Chief Files Lawsuit Against Town Administrator, North Castle and Town Board
November 26, 2014 North Castle’s former Police Chief Geoffrey Harisch has filed a summons against Joan Cavorti Goldberg, North Castle’s Town Administrator, the Town of North Castle, and the North Castle Town Board. The complaint was filed with the New York Supreme Court and delivered to the Westchester County Clerk’s office on November 19, 2014.
"This lawsuit, unfortunately, was necessary to protect me from the continued harassment and retaliation I have endured over the past year-and-a-half from Joan Goldberg – all with the Town Board's knowledge and acquiescence,” Harisch, who is a 27-year veteran with the North Castle Police Department, says on November 25, 2014. “Joan Goldberg has continued to target me even after I stepped down to the union-protected position of lieutenant, compelling the PBA to file grievances on my behalf. The only place for me to find refuge and seek true justice now is in a court of law."
Harisch was appointed as probationary Chief of Police after passing the required exam in March 2013. Harisch was the only lieutenant, out of three sitting lieutenants who took the exam, who qualified to be Chief of Police.
Goldberg was hired as North Castle’s first Town Administrator in September 2012 by former Supervisor Howard Arden’s administration. She was then fired in December 2013 by the majority of the Town Board under Arden’s administration. At the time, Arden released a statement that said, “it is the view of the majority of the Board that [Goldberg’s] performance has been lacking. Project management, interaction with residents, and information provided to the Board are among the areas in which Ms. Goldberg has fallen short of expected performance….”
After Mike Schiliro was sworn-in as North Castle Town Supervisor in January 2013, Goldberg was rehired. Shortly thereafter, several notices of claims were filed against the Town, Goldberg and the Town Board.
Harisch’s complaint was not the first legal action in which Goldberg has been involved. She was hired by North Castle while she was still employed as Yorktown Town Comptroller, a job she held for 16 years. The lawsuits filed by her and against her by Yorktown alleged that Goldberg paid herself an unauthorized amount of $80,000 in overtime payment prior to her leaving the comptroller's job. That case is still pending in the New York Supreme Court.
Harisch’s lengthy complaint includes multiple claims against Goldberg, the Town of North Castle and the current North Castle Town Board. The allegations of the summons are highlighted below, but are not limited to:
• Goldberg attempts to harass Harisch and to destroy his career.
• Harisch alleges his reputation and character were injured by Goldberg’s continued attempts to illegally create a police commissioner position to have authority over him in a calculated effort to diminish his power and leadership within the North Castle Police Department.
• Goldberg’s attempt to retain the former provisional chief who preceded Harisch in a position of power despite her knowledge of the alleged prior corruption.
• Goldberg made untrue statements in an attempt to induce North Castle’s Town Board to refrain from working with Harisch in the future by looking for his replacement.
• Goldberg interfered with the business relationship between North Castle's Town Board and Harisch’s professional capacity as Chief of Police.
• Goldberg’s bullying, harassment and attempts to diminish Harisch’s power and authority were seen in her efforts to promote an alleged corrupt police commissioner over Harisch (i.e., the former provisional chief). This action was interpreted as an attempt to force Harisch out of his job and was allegedly solely motivated by malice without excuse or justification.
• False statements by Goldberg were made to attempt to deprive Harisch of the economic advantage of continuing on in his role as the Chief of Police.
• Action was taken by the defendants as retaliation for Harisch’s threat to disclose long-standing corruption within the North Castle Police Department.
• Goldberg and the North Castle Town Board allegedly violated Harisch’s constitutional right to freedom of speech by retaliating against Harisch, by way of reducing his compensation commensurate with his position as Chief of Police.
• Retaliation was taken for Harisch’s involvement in Goldberg’s firing in December 2013 by illuminating her transgressions to the prior Town Board who fired her.
• Goldberg’s e-mail to North Castle's Town Board members and the Westchester County Human Resources Department stated that Harisch was unhappy in his position and planned to leave his job. These alleged and untrue statements were made with malicious and deliberate falsification and with ill will towards Harisch.
• Claims of withholding reimbursement for submissions, failing to pay for Harisch’s training sessions, reputation assassination, and forcing his resignation from his position as Chief of Police.
The summons was filed by Jason Berland of Beys Stein Mobargha & Berland LLP. Berland was Harisch’s attorney when Harisch filed a claim against the same three defendants on January 16, 2014. Berland is the husband of the former Town Comptroller Faith Berland who resigned on January 6, 2014. After resigning, Ms. Berland also filed a Notice of Claim against Joan Goldberg, the Town of North Castle and the North Castle Town Board. The claim alleged Goldberg repeatedly engaged in bullying, torment and discrimination against Ms. Berland.
The complaint requests a jury trial to recover actual, incidental, and consequential damages from the defendants in an amount to be proven at trial. The summons also asks for punitive damages from defendant Goldberg. In addition, the claimant requests attorneys’ fees and costs of suit from all the defendants to the extent available by law.
Westchester DA Says Past Police Overtime Dispute Is An Administrative Issue, Not A Criminal Matter
February 15, 2014 At the February 13 North Castle Town Board meeting, Supervisor Michael Schiliro read a letter from Westchester’s District Attorney to a partner of Town Attorney Roland Baroni.
The February 6th letter involved a Notice of Claim filed by North Castle’s Police Chief, Geoffrey Harisch, on January 16, 2014 against Joan Goldberg, and also against the Town of North Castle and the North Castle Town Board. The attorney for Chief Harisch is Jason Berland of Beys Stein Mobargha & Berland LLP. Berland is also the lawyer handling two other claims against the Town, the Town Board and Town Administrator Joan Goldberg: a racial discrimination case and a case of gender discrimination against Faith Berland, Jason Berland’s wife, who resigned in January as North Castle’s Town Comptroller.
At a special meeting on January 17, the North Castle Town Board had referred the Notice of Claim to the Westchester District Attorney’s office. The DA’s letter says a dispute concerning overtime in North Castle’s police department should be handled as an administrative manner.
February 6, 2014
Gerald D. Reilly, Esq. Stephens, Baroni, Reilly & Lewis LLP 175 Main Street, Suite 800 White Plains, NY 10601
Re: Complaint # PI2014-0013 - Lt. William Fisher, North Castle PD
Dear Mr. Reilly:
I am writing to acknowledge receipt of your complaint, and to follow-up our recent telephone conversation. After meeting with Chief Harisch and his attorney, Jason Berland, and reviewing the response by Lt. Fisher to Chief Harisch’s request for supporting documentation relating to the compensatory time Lt. Fisher awarded himself in 2011, it is our determination that this matter should be handled administratively by the Town of North Castle. Most importantly to point out is that nothing wrong is happening now in reporting overtime hours in the North Castle Police Department.
Accordingly, we are referring this matter back to the Town of North Castle for whatever administrative action is deemed appropriate. Thank you for bringing this matter to our attention.
Very truly yours, Janet DiFiore District Attorney
Brian J. Conway Assistant District Attorney Deputy Chief, Public Integrity Bureau
Attorney Jason Berland says that he and his client, North Castle’s Police Chief Geoffrey Harisch, met with a Westchester District Attorney investigator for two hours. “Harisch explained that Lt. Fisher had reported overtime and logged hours over the past ten years,” says Berland. Allegedly, officers of the North Castle Police Department were paid thousands of dollars for overtime work they never did. The DA requested records from Lt. Fisher to substantiate and explain some of the reported large blocks of overtime pay and sick pay. “Fisher’s lawyer provided 16 pages of documents. The DA’s office then decided to not take the case,” says Berland.
The DA’s office did not determine if there was any wrongdoing by Lt. Fisher. However, the Town will ask for an investigation by Keane & Bean, says Supervisor Schiliro. An investigation was initiated prior to the DA’s letter and Keane & Bean was waiting for information from the DA’s office. A deposition of Chief Harisch is being scheduled.
The DA did not say whether there was any wrongdoing, only that they are not pursuing the case, and therefore sent the claim back to the Town Board, which will handle the claim administratively.
Jason Berland released the following statement, “Nobody has stated that the abuse did not take place. To the contrary, the abuse occurred many years ago and has been eradicated, much to the credit of Chief Harisch.”
Harisch says he has initiated a system of checks and balances that will prevent any further erroneous overtime reports.
Berland says when he and Chief Harisch met with the investigators from the DA’s office, the DA said there were some egregious practices that had taken place, but because they have been eradicated in large part because of Chief Harisch, and because of statutes of limitations of the events over ten years ago, they weren’t going to pursue criminal actions against the Lt. William Fisher of the North Castle Police Department.
Berland says the claim filed by Harisch is not a criminal matter even though attempts at grand larceny can be “cuffable abuses.”
“Based on my conversations with the DA's Office, I fully expected that they were not going to prosecute anyone in connection with the allegations of past abuse in the North Castle Police Department,” says Berland.
The question remains, given that Town Administrator Joan Goldberg was informed by the then-Lt. Harisch of the alleged inaccurate overtime scheduling and missing information in the overtime logs by Lt. Fisher during a three-hour meeting with Chief Harisch in December 2012, why did Goldberg want to appoint Fisher as Police Commissioner? This was after Fisher became ineligible to qualify as police chief after the results of the police chief’s examination qualified only Lt. Harisch to be North Castle’s Police Chief.
North Castle’s Town Board members are also police commissioners, and Goldberg proposed to create a new police commissioner who would have replaced the Town Board. But the prior Town Board choose not to create a new police commissioner postion to serve over the newly appointed Police Chief, Geoffrey Harisch, because the position would have been in violation of current law.
Why Goldberg wanted to appoint Fischer will most likely never be known to the public, but this leads to another question: will Lt. Fisher retire now?
The District Attorney determined that there was not enough wrongdoing to warrant a prosecution of Fisher because the events happened long ago and the problem has been eradicated.
But Berland says, the Town Board should have a full sense of what took place in North Castle’s Police Department, and says the DA’s office did suggest that the New York State Comptroller’s office should audit North Castle’s Police Department records.
Chief Harisch says he had reported the overtime issues to the New York State Attorney General’s office in 2007, prior to the time when he rectified the department’s record-keeping methods and ended any further overtime abuse in the police department. Harisch says that the Attorney General told him it was not big enough case and that he should keep collecting information.
Berland says his focus is on the civil lawsuits. “At the end of the day, Chief Harisch's Notice of Claim and likely lawsuit is a pure civil matter. His rights were violated by Joan Goldberg and the Town Board, and he will look for vindication in a civil Court."
Former Comptroller Files a Notice of Claim For Discrimination by Administrator
January 27, 2014 On January 27, 2014, the former North Castle Town Comptroller, Faith Berland, filed a Notice of Claim against the North Castle Town Administrator, Joan Cavorti Goldberg, the Town of North Castle, and the North Castle Town Board.
The claim alleges that Goldberg repeatedly engaged in bullying, torment and discrimination based on gender and on Berland's pregnancy. The violations allegedly began when Goldberg was hired in September 2012, shortly after Berland began working for the Town, and continued until the time of Goldberg's dismissal on December 20, 2013.
The claim says there were many confrontations between Ms. Berland and Ms. Goldberg where "Goldberg would shout and yell at Berland in an overly aggressive manner."
Goldberg's alleged harassment of Berland in the workplace was said to have created a hostile work environment, diminishing Berland's capacity to work as Town Comptroller to the Town Board, which caused repeated economic damage and mental distress. In addition, there was an alleged violation of Berland's privacy when Goldberg read Berland's emails without proper authorization from the Town Board, with the intent to drive Berland from her job in retaliation for bringing the alleged abuses to the public in a cease and desist letter by Berland filed with the Town on November 6, 2013.
The Notice of Claim alleges that Goldberg most likely discovered that Berland was in the early stages of a pregnancy by reading Berland's personal emails. Berland allegedly had not shared this information with anyone in Town Hall. The claim states that in late April of 2013, Goldberg recommended to former Supervisor Howard Arden that "North Castle fire Ms. Berland because she was pregnant," and the Town would be "stuck with her" if she were not promptly fired. This is "a clear violation of both the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) law and the New York State Human Rights Law." Yet, the claim also states that it wasn't until October 25, 2013, six months later, that Goldberg requested and was granted unauthorized access to Berland's email accounts.
Furthermore, the claim alleges in detail that the two North Castle Town Boards that served during Goldberg's and Berland's short tenure of 16 months, "have knowingly allowed this bully to run rampant directly under their noses."
After several months of correspondence between the three parties, Goldberg, Berland and the former Town Board, Goldberg was fired by the majority of the Town Board. Although she was terminated without cause, the reasons in a statement released statement on December 20, 2013 by former Town Supervisor Howard Arden, cited Goldberg's job performance as lacking, allegations of misconduct, and violation of Town rules of conduct.
The former Town Board authorized an investigation into Berland's allegations and subsequently fired Goldberg. The outgoing three Town Board members (Supervisor Howard Arden, Councilman John Cronin and Councilman Diane Roth) voted in favor of firing Goldberg, while the remaining two Town Board members (Councilman Michael Schiliro and Councilman Steve D'Angelo) were opposed to firing Goldberg.
The Notice of Claim says that Berland met with Schiliro and D'Angelo on June 11, 2013 to discuss the bullying and harassment allegations, but Berland claims that Schiliro and D'Angleo did not follow up on her concerns. Further allegations claim that Berland was assured that Goldberg was going to be fired, and cite an undated email from Cronin informing Berland, "Don't sweat it - she's gone."
Correspondence cited in the claim may indicate that Berland's and Goldberg's future employment was directly tied to the results of the November 2013 local election.
The claim states that after Goldberg was terminated and ordered off of Town Hall property on December 20, 2013, Arden discovered Ms. Berland's personnel file, which included a termination checklist and some COBRA health benefits forms.
The comptroller and town administrator are appointed positions voted upon by the Town Board. On December 28, 2013, Berland was notified that she would be held over as Town Comptroller while the new Town Board interviewed other candidates for the position of Comptroller. Subsequently, Berland resigned on January 6, 2014.
One of the first actions taken by the newly elected board was to rehire Goldberg as Town Administrator at the Town Board meeting on January 8, 2014. Given all the circumstances outlined in Berland's claim, Berland's claim concludes that actions taken by the current Town Board to rehire Goldberg "were reckless and grossly violated their fiduciary duty to Town employees and to the Town."
After the filing of the January 27, 2014 claim, Supervisor Michael Schiliro released the following statement: "the Town Attorney has referred the matter to the Insurance Carrier. I can advise further once the Town Board discusses the matter."
Berland's Notice of Claim ends with a statement demanding adjustment and payment, and unless policies are adjusted and Berland is paid within the time provided by the law, the Claimant, Faith Berland, intends to commence an action to recover damages to be determined by a trial.
A lawsuit may be filed 30 days after a Notice of Claim, but must be filed within one year and 90 days of any incident in question.
Jason Berland, Faith Berland's husband and an attorney from Beys Stein Mobargha & Berland LLP, signed the notice as Attorney for the Claimant. Berland also signed the Notice of Claim filed against the same parties by North Castle Police Chief Geoffrey Harisch. In addition, a town employee, and her husband who was a looking for part-time seasonal work with the Parks Department, filed a racial discrimination claim with the EEOC against the Town of North Castle on December 24, 2013. In doing so, they were assisted by Jason Berland.
In a statement, Jason Berland said, "Joan Goldberg's illegal actions and the Town Boards' gross negligence will soon be in the hands of the Court. I have no further comments at this time."
Town Administrator Joan Goldberg also said that she has no comment at this time. When we spoke to her on January 14, 2014, she said, "The Town carries a public officer’s policy. We are covered under New York Municipal Insurance Reciprocal (NYMIR) and they have been notified of Faith Berland's claims and allegations. The public officer insurance policies that the Town has, covers the Town and any action taken by any public officer; an elected official; an appointed official; and department heads. There are dollar limitations of whatever the policy maximum amount is. I think the insurance company is responsible for the defense and the bills will get submitted to them."
As of now, the EEOC claim filed on December 24, 2013 has not yet been received by the Town.
Claim Filed Against the Town of North Castle and Administrator is Referred to Westchester District Attorney's Office
January 17, 2014 North Castle's Chief of Police Geoffrey Harisch filed a 17-page Notice of Claim with the Town Clerk's office on January 16, 2014. The claim is against Joan Goldberg, the Town of North Castle and the North Castle Town Board. The attorney for Geoffrey Harisch is Jason Berland of Beys Stein Mobargha & Berland LLP.
"This case is about corruption and fraud and one rogue Town Administrator's efforts to destroy the business reputation of a highly respected Chief of Police and violate his Constitutional right to speak freely without fear of retaliation," the claim reads.
"I agonized over this," Harisch said. "I gave this a great deal of thought and the decision did not come easy. I'm very concerned about this town. I'm the Police Chief and have worked in this town for 27 years."
Procedurally, New York State requires a Notice of Claim be filed with the a municipality 30 days prior to filing a lawsuit against a municipality. The Town has 30 days to investigate the claims and to conduct a deposition of the claimant.
Supervisor Michael Schiliro's office released a statement on January 17th: "We convened a special emergency meeting last night and adjourned into Executive session. We thoroughly reviewed the matter with the town attorney [Roland Baroni] and took the decisive action to refer the matter to the Westchester County District Attorney's office. The Town Board cannot comment further at this time."
The District Attorney's office may determine an investigation is necessary for Harisch's allegations of deprivation of rights, damage of reputation, negligent hiring, and retaliation against him for "illustrating corruption within the North Castle Police Department in the form of diminished salary."
Harisch's claim says, "This case is also about a brand new Town Board that negligently re-hired the Administrator into her position as chief operating officer despite the fact that they had full knowledge of her egregious misconduct."
Harisch's lawyer is the husband of the former North Castle Town Comptroller Faith Berland who resigned on January 6, 2014 after she filed a Cease and Desist letter, signed by a legal associate of Mr. Berland, requesting Goldberg stop her behavior of bullying and harassment. Another claim was filed against the Town on December 24, 2013, alleging racial discrimination by Goldberg towards a job applicant.
Harisch's claim has nothing to do with these other two allegations. The notice mentions corruption in the North Castle Police Department. In January 2013, five months after Goldberg was hired, Police Chief Robert D'Angelo retired after 40 years of service, including 21 years as police chief. Lieutenant William Fisher, who was hired in 1979, was appointed as provisional chief. Harisch's claim alleges that before Lt. Fisher's appointment, Harisch discussed with Goldberg, at a secret meeting, the "rampant abuses in the North Castle Police Department." Furthermore the claim says that Goldberg was made aware of "the corruption that transpired in connection with the soon to be provisional chief." The public and the Town Board were not aware of this alleged misconduct. However, the claim reads, with this knowledge, Goldberg would have "leverage over the provisional chief. Goldberg was well aware of egregious abuses, including attempted theft of overtime compensation, at the hands and direction of the newly selected provisional chief."
"The legal claim that I have initiated, after a great deal of thought," says Harisch, "has nothing to do with the past egregious abuses within the Police Department. The reason for my legal claim is because of the misconduct of one particular person who bullied me and threatened my career, and a Board who turned a blind eye to her actions and hastily re-hired her despite disturbing information brought to their attention. My legal claim will not affect the quality of life of residents or public safety in our community."
On March 23, 2013, Harisch was the only North Castle Police lieutenant to have passed the police chief examination given by Westchester County; three North Castle lieutenants took the exam at that time. As a result, Lt. Harisch was the only police officer eligible to become Police Chief. Subsequently, Harisch was appointed Police Chief, but at a salary less than a detective-sergeant.
The claim states that, "Respondent Goldberg's reduced compensation was a retaliatory measure in response to the Police Chief's exposure of long-standing corruption in the police department." Also Harisch is the only Chief of Police of North Castle who has not had the use of an "around-the-clock emergency response police vehicle used to travel to and from home."
The claim goes on to say that to dissuade Harisch from accepting his rightful position, Goldberg attempted to illegally create a superior position over the Police Chief. In July 2013, the North Castle Town Board considered a local law to establish the position of Police Commissioner with the intention to allegedly appoint Lt. Fisher to this position to execute administrative activities of the Town's police department; however, the Town Board determined that a police commissioner would not serve the Police Department well.
The claim further states that Harisch would have fought Goldberg if she tried to circumvent the law in attempt to limit Harisch's power and authority. The claim says that Harisch felt he was "forced to accept Goldberg's terms or he simply would not get the job."
Furthermore, the claim reads, around December 19, 2013, Goldberg sent an e-mail to the North Castle Supervisor, Howard Arden, and the Supervisor-elect, Michael Schiliro, copying the Westchester County Department of Human Resources.
"As our current Chief (Harisch) has indicated he does not plan to remain in the title past the probationary period, the Town needs to be included in the upcoming (March) police exam."
"Respondent Goldberg blatantly and with malice lied to superiors about Claimant's business intentions without Claimant's knowledge," reads the claim, "with no other intention other than to cause him significant reputational and economic damage."
At the December 20, 2013 North Castle Town Board meeting, Joan Goldberg was fired "without cause" by the majority of the outgoing board of Arden as well as Councilman John Cronin and Councilman Diane DiDonato-Roth. The claim reads that "on December 26, outgoing Board member John Cronin wrote in an email to Harisch, I regret the 'crap' (for lack of a better word...) that Joan Goldberg put you through, but please keep pushing forward. Know that I have a lot of respect for you and enjoyed working with you."
At the December 20th, Town Board meeting, Schiliro and Councilman Steve D'Angelo voted to not fire Goldberg. But at the January 8, 2014 Town Board meeting, Goldberg was hired back by the new town board with the same contract that expires in eight months, and at the salary of $135,000 with a six-month severance payment clause.
In re-hiring Goldberg, the Town Board determined that she should not have been fired merely on allegations. The Board had hired a private investigator who reported that there was no wrong doing in the prior allegations of harassment and racial discrimination against Goldberg.
"I want to assure the public that the North Castle Police Department is running at an all-time high level," says Harisch. "Since I have taken over, and with the assistance of the majority of police personnel, morale and productivity levels are up, overtime expenditures have been greatly reduced, and abuses of any kind have been eradicated.
"Though my claim is a matter of public record, I have no further comment at this time and will continue to focus my energies on protecting and serving our community."