Trouble Again in Trenton

Three Trenton city councilwomen who have been at war with the city’s law department, have been appointed to investigate the handling of a lawsuit brought by a former fire captain. Councilwomen Kathy McBride, Marge Caldwell Wilson and Robin Vaughn were appointed last week by the full council to serve as an investigative sub-committee into how the law department has handled the defense of a suit brought by former captain Michael Strycharz.

Strycharz filed suit in 2017 claiming he was forced to retire after years of harassment by superiors. Among those he accused was a former battalion chief, Steve Coltre, who operates a promotion-preparation company. Strycharz claims Chief Coltre wrongfully filed a disciplinary complaint against him over an incident that occurred in July, 2014.  Strycharz claims Chief Coltre, who also was union president, was using his company as part of an illegal promotion-for-cash scheme, and was pressuring him to leave.

Coltre, who has since retired, publicly referred to Strycharz’s allegations as “bullshit”, and was quoted by The Trentonian as saying:

  • “Those that know the case know it’s bullsh*t.”
  • “The guy is a COWARD and left a probationary FF in a building fire alone. It’s not my fault the city can’t ever win a lawsuit.”

Last month the three councilwomen voted to reject a proposed $1.8 million settlement in the Strycharz case. The city’s cost would have been $800k with their insurer paying the other $1 million. The 3-2 vote to reject the settlement was viewed as another example of the trio questioning the judgment of city law director John Morelli.

Here is more on the city council investigation.

About Curt Varone

Curt Varone has over 40 years of fire service experience and 30 as a practicing attorney licensed in both Rhode Island and Maine. His background includes 29 years as a career firefighter in Providence (retiring as a Deputy Assistant Chief), as well as volunteer and paid on call experience. He is the author of two books: Legal Considerations for Fire and Emergency Services, (2006, 2nd ed. 2011, 3rd ed. 2014) and Fire Officer's Legal Handbook (2007), and is a contributing editor for Firehouse Magazine writing the Fire Law column.

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