Liability and the Mini Cooper

Posted by JJinPhila on February 17, 2009 

This type of spectacle doesn’t occur all that often.  The residents of Centre County have a chance to see their duly elected District Attorney, Michael Madeira, being sued for his conduct in some of his official duties.   The suit, while addressing the conduct of former Assistant District Attorney (ADA) Lance Marshall, states that Mr. Madeira “failed to take appropriate action to limit, remedy or protect members of the public, victims in the system, or employees of the Centre County Courthouse.”  http://www.centredaily.com/news/local/story/1118858.html

The suit doesn’t allege any misconduct in his courtroom activities (though a judge found that his office suppressed evidence in another case), but in his conduct as a supervisor.

            It is the second time during his still incomplete four year term that Mr. Madeira has been sued for official action.  The first was an age discrimination suit by former ADA J. Karen Arnold.  In terms of making the prosecutor’s office the defendant, in civil suits at least, Mr. Madeira is leading Mr. Gricar; I have never read of any accounts of the Centre County District Attorney’s Officer ever being sued during Mr. Gricar’s tenure (admittedly, I have not looked at all twenty years worth of records).

            Well, now Mr. Madeira is in a position where he is being sued.  Should he start putting his personal assets in someone else’s name?  Probably not, for a number of reasons, the most important one being Centre County carries liability insurance on many of its employees and public officials.  Yes you, the good taxpayers of Centre County, have already paid for some, if not all, of this.  You’ve been paying for it for decades, and, I recently found out, at least some other county employees, not associated with the District Attorney’s Office, are also covered.  That isn’t a bad thing; it ultimately helps preserve your tax dollars.

            I communicated with a source familiar with legal matters such as this, who noted that District Attorneys in Pennsylvania have a high degree of immunity from civil

prosecution in relation to criminal cases that they try.   With the exception of punitive damages, which are rare, the cost of settlement would be covered by insurance.  My source further noted that if assets were transferred to someone else, the courts could set those transfers aside and the creditor could claim them.  So Mr. Madeira really shouldn’t need to hide assets, or put vehicles in someone else’s name, in order to protect his own assets.  Neither would Mr. Gricar.

            Mr. Gricar did however.  We have this from Mr. Bosak’s excellent “Missed Leads” article: 

“When he bought his Mini Cooper, he paid cash and registered it in Fornicola's name. Zaccagni said Fornicola told him Gricar did this as a precaution in case he was ever sued for wrongful prosecution, or something of the sort, Zaccagni said.”

http://www.centredaily.com/news/ray_gricar/story/3802.html

            A number of people have found this strange, in light of how well Mr. Gricar’s personal assets would have been protected.  My source, who suggested that the dealer who sold the car should be asked if this reason was mentioned, for one.   Ms. Arnold raised this point in her “Ladies and Gentlemen of the Jury” saying: 

“I believe that Ray would have known that the chance of a successful suit based on any discretionary decision he made as DA was infinitesimal, and even then would be covered by the insurance policy.”

and,

“It simply seems to me very implausible that Ray would have considered that sort of lawsuit a serious or realistic risk to his personal property, and he would have had twenty years of experience to the contrary. “

http://gricar.disappearance.googlepages.com/gricardisappearance

            There is more.  Ms. Arnold thought that Mr. Gricar purchased the Mini Cooper in December of 2004 or January of 2005 as a gift.  Mr. Gricar’s nephew, Tony, posted on a message board that Mr. Gricar drove it on a visit in early July 2004.  When asked how often Ms. Fornicola drove the car, he said that but for the vanity license plate, no one would ever realize it was owned by Ms. Fornicola.  There is also the photo, on the Gricar family web site, of a beaming Ray Gricar standing beside the Mini Cooper, with one hand resting on it (and Ms. Fornicola absent, though she might have been the photographer).  http://www.raygricar.com/  Every account I’ve ever read refers to the Mini Cooper as “Ray’s,” or even “Ray’s beloved” car, one in which he would not permit smoking.  On top of this Ms. Fornicola had her own car.

            In all fairness to Ms. Arnold, I do not expect to be keeping notes on what car Ms. Fornicola was driving to the office.  I’d find it suspicious if she did.  I many times could not identify the cars of my coworkers, when I was working.

            So now it appears very implausible that the Mini Cooper was either put in Ms. Fornicola’s name as a gift or to protect it from a suit filed relating to Mr. Gricar’s official actions.  A personal suit?  It has never been reported or hinted at that Mr. Gricar had any business dealing apart from the office.  He wasn’t married, so he didn’t have to worry about getting a divorce.  He didn’t have to worry about someone falling on his front walk, because he didn’t have a front walk, or any other real estate.  A car accident?  He’d be covered by insurance.  In any event, if the Mini Cooper was put into Ms. Fornicola’s name, it would not necessarily protect it as an asset.

            So now this was the situation on April 15, 2005; the Mini Cooper, paid for in full by Mr. Gricar, primarily driven by Mr. Gricar, was registered in Ms. Fornicola’s name.  It is unlikely that the reason was to protect it in case of a lawsuit, and almost impossible that it was to protect it against a lawsuit involving Mr. Gricar’s official duties.   Mr. Gricar was a lawyer, and a good one, and he would realize this.

So, why was the Mini Cooper titled in Ms. Fornicola’s name?  The only reason I can come up with is that Mr. Gricar had it titled in Ms. Fornicola’s name so that it would be her car if he wasn’t there.  If he was murdered, committed suicide, died of natural causes, or walked away from his life, Mr. Gricar would be assured that Ms. Fornicola would receive the Mini Cooper, unfettered.  He did that more than nine months before he disappeared off the face of the earth.

            I will be interested in any alternative explanations.

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