New Jersey Supreme Court, Law Division: Middlesex County/Direct

William Buckman; Neil Mullin/Smith Mullin; Lawrence S. Lustberg, Risa Kaufman/Gibbons, Del Deo, Dolan, Griffinger & Vecchione

In 1996, a lawsuit was filed against the State Police on behalf of two individuals who were stopped on the New Jersey Turnpike. The ACLU-NJ became involved in the case and filed an amended complaint including a total of 12 named plaintiffs and alleging a class action lawsuit on behalf of all non-white drivers who have been stopped on the New Jersey Turnpike pursuant to a policy of racial profiling. We argued that the State Police have a policy of stopping drivers based on their race in violation of New Jersey's Law Against Discrimination and the New Jersey Constitution. We sought changes in policy for stops along the Turnpike, the compilation of data on all stops indicating the race of the driver, the reason for the stop, whether a search was conducted and the result of any search, oversight by an independent monitor, a civilian complaint review board, and damages on behalf of those who have been stopped pursuant to this practice of racial profiling.

Current Status: In October 2000, the trial court denied our motion for class certification. We appealed, to no avail. We therefore entered into settlement negotiations regarding our twelve named plaintiffs. In December 2002, the parties all reached settlement. The state agreed to pay $775,000 to the plaintiffs. Among those plaintiffs: Felix Morka, who was choked by a trooper, and Laila Maher, who had a gun put to her head, each received $200,000. Elmo Randolph, a dentist who was stopped countless times while driving his luxury automobile, received $75,000. And Herb Morton, a pilot who was pulled over for speeding even though his cruise control was set at the speed limit, received $50,000. The case also helped keep the issue of racial profiling on the Turnpike in the public consciousness. In 1999, then-Attorney General Peter Verniero acknowledged that racial profiling on the southern end of the Turnpike was "real...not imagined."