Thursday, February 25, 2021

Wayne settles lawsuit filed by city manager

John Rhaesa           Lisa Nocerini           Chris Sanders
Wayne City Manager Lisa Nocerini will receive an estimated $25,000 to $50,000 as a settlement of her civil lawsuit against former City Councilman Christopher Sanders. The settlement amount will be paid by the city insurance carrier as the actions cited in her claim occurred during Sanders' tenure on city council.

The settlement amount, according to a representative of the insurance carrier, is an amount “less than or equal to” anticipated legal fees to defend the city against Nocerini's claim. The settlement, approved by members of the city council during a closed session last week, includes a non-disclosure clause preventing either side from discussing the particulars of the negotiation but, the insurance carrier attorney cautioned, is not an admission of guilt or fault by anyone involved.

The suit alleged the damages were incurred during Sanders' term from November 2015 until May 2018 on the Wayne City Council.  Nocerini claims, through her attorney Scott Ruark, she suffered damages when Sanders, 52, and Wayne resident Jimmie Lee Chandler, conspired, attempted and made a false report of a felony to the Wayne Police Department after stealing her keys and planting a starter pistol and drug paraphernalia in her car on Oct. 16, 2017.

She claims that Sanders paid Chandler $500 to conspire against her by planting the items and then reporting the crimes to the police. 

She filed her suit on Oct. 15, 2020, three years after the alleged incident, although it was not referred to city council members or the city insurance carrier for consideration until last month.

Following approval of the settlement amount by a unanimous vote of council members Mayor John Rhaesa emotionally apologized to Nocerini.

“I am so sorry this happened to you,” he said. “I think it is outrageous.  Thank you for being the professional you are and sticking with us.

“Mr. Sanders, it is time for you to move out of the city of Wayne,” he added.

While Rhaesa called Sanders' actions “outrageous,” other residents felt that Rhaesa's remarks and Nocerini lawsuit better fit that description.

“As the city manager, she knows how the system works and exactly how this would be handled by the insurance company and, right or wrong, she would get a check. She is constantly reminding us that the city has no money while she hacks retirement health care and pensions, but she didn't hesitate to line her own pocket. This was just a money grab,” one long-time resident said.

A second resident noted that Rhaesa's comments suggesting Sanders leave the city were “way out of bounds” and that the animosity between the two goes back nearly a decade. “They despise each other. It's like a blood feud.”

 “This is what residents in Wayne have come to expect from the triumvirate of Rhaesa, Nocerini and Ruark,” Sanders said. “This was unethical at best.”

Sanders said he had no idea what the amount of the settlement was but felt it was unfair that he did not have a chance to respond to Nocerini's charges which he called “scurrilous and false.”  He noted that the criminal charges filed against him had not yet been adjudicated and that he has not had the opportunity to defend himself.

Both Sanders and Chandler were criminally charged on June 16, 2020 with conspiracy to file a false felony report, filing a false felony report and attempting to file a false felony report. Chandler entered a guilty plea on those charges and was sentenced early this month to 18 months probation on reduced charges after implicating Sanders during a police interview on a separate warrant.

Sanders' criminal attorney, John Cahalan, said that he expects the outcome of the jury trial will be favorable to Sanders. Cahalan said that Sanders vehemently denies all the allegations in the criminal complaint and his innocence will be clearly established. He said that Nocerini's allegations in the civil suit were “simply that, baseless allegations.”