HACKENSACK, NJ – Former Police Chief Ken Zisa, who is awaiting sentencing for official misconduct and insurance fraud, won’t get help from the state police union to pay his legal bills, under an appeals court ruling released Thursday.
The decision reversed an earlier Superior Court ruling that Zisa was entitled to the benefits of a State Policeman’s Benevolent Association legal defense fund – up to $40,000 for a criminal case.
The court was wrong to intervene in what should have been a union matter, the appellate panel said. “This question is one that is reserved to fraternal and social organizations,” it said.
Kevin Lyons, the administrator of the PBA’s Legal Protection Plan, applauded the decision.
“We don’t think it should have been dealt with in court,” he said. “It’s an internal matter.”
Lyons said Zisa could still appeal through the union. He said he did not think he had seen a request for reimbursement from Zisa and had had no recent correspondence with him.
John Hermann, president of PBA Local 9 in Hackensack, said the union is looking forward to moving on from a dispute that has hung over it for several years, he said.
“We have turned the page on this matter,” he said. “We really have not even been dealing with former Chief Zisa at all at this point. … That stuff is all ancient history to us.”
Zisa sued the union in 2010, after his lawyer sent a request for legal aid and was informed that Zisa was not eligible for it. But the appellate court said Thursday it would not issue an opinion on the union’s obligations toward Zisa because any court involvement in the dispute would be inappropriate.
The legal protection benefit is available to all active members at a cost of $156 per year, Lyons said. Current coverage includes up to $40,000 for criminal cases and $20,000 for administrative hearings.
It is unclear how much Zisa has spent to fight the criminal charges since his 2010 arrest, but his attorney, Patricia Prezioso, told a judge after he was convicted that he has depleted his assets. Prezioso did not return a request for comment Thursday.
Hackensack is not paying for Zisa’s defense, but the city and its insurer have spent at least $2.5 million fighting civil cases filed against him by more than 20 current and police officers during the last three years of his tenure, according to city officials.
Zisa is awaiting a ruling on his request for a Superior Court judge to overturn his conviction. Prezioso has said that, if that motion is denied, she will appeal. His sentencing is scheduled for Aug. 30.
From The Record