A lawyer suing the Haddonfield school board for a 24/7 discipline policy that was triggered by the arrests of students, often for first offenses for alcohol or drug possession, says borough police used "vigilante justice" in not releasing the teens to their parents.
Matthew Wolf says a reprimand from the Camden County prosecutor in 2010 was needed to stop the policy. He said Haddonfield police should have offered teens with first offenses for alcohol or drug possession a "station-house adjustment." The station-house adjustment releases the teens to their parents and does not file a charge or court summons against them.
The formal charge by police triggered the 24/7 school discipline policy that often led to the student being denied participation in extracurricular activities, such as sports and band. Wolf says the policy also stripped honor students of participation in national honor societies and unnecessarily punished students.
The Haddonfield Board of Education suspended the 24/7 policy last week after a state Appellate Court ruled a similar policy in Ramapo, Bergen County, was illegal. That policy was so similar to Haddonfield's that the school board filed an amicus brief supporting Ramapo in the case.
Wolf says the Haddonfield police policy was driven by borough Commissioner Ed Borden, a former Camden County prosecutor who now oversees the police as the director of public safety. Wolf says Borden complained to a judge in 2007 after local teens who trashed a vacant borough home during a booze-filled party got off with a yearlong probation. The teens were convicted of defecating in a grand piano, ejaculating into stuffed animals and spraying a urine-filled "Super Soaker" water gun on furniture.
Shortly after that incident, Haddonfield police stopped offering station-house adjustments, Wolf says.
"Instead of complying with the law, the officials in the borough violated the law and resorted to illegal means to redress what they saw as a shortcoming in the criminal justice system," Wolf says.
Borden, one of three borough commissioners, dismissed Wolf's charges.
"I understand that's Mr. Wolf's very convoluted theory," Borden says. "The evidence doesn't support it. I think the courts will make that clear.
"It certainly is the case that I and many other parents were very concerned about alcohol abuse by minors. I do see an obvious role for the police department in addressing that. It's against the law for minors to consume alcohol or for adults to provide it to them in parties or where ever."
Wolf says 50 local teens were charged with alcohol or drug possession offenses from 2007 to 2010 and not given station-house adjustments. He is representing three former Haddonfield students in a lawsuit against the school board for the 24/7 policy.
"Haddonfield was embarrassed that a bunch of juveniles trashed a house and went in the wrong direction, adopted an illegal policy and went rogue," Wolf says. "I think the school board meant well, but the borough knew better."
He said his fee alone is already over $300,000 and a settlement or court verdict in the case could cost hundreds of thousands more.
Joe Betley, the school board solicitor, said the board's repeal of the 24/7 policy will not necessarily lead to a settlement or ruling against the board.
"I do not believe the Ramapo decision exposes the board to the Wolf attorney fees or damages," Betley says. "The board of education should be able to establish reasonable rules for extracurricular activities."
Get stories like this delivered in your inbox each morning with Haddonfield Patch's newsletter.