WRONGFUL-ARREST SUIT SETTLED
ALLENTOWN, NJ - Anthony Bruneio, a disbarred attorney, has agreed to settle after filing a suit against the city of Allentown for wrongful arrest after a federal judge refused to limit testimony about his professional and personal background.
Anthony Bruneio filed the suit in 2001 after he was charged with setting fire to his home but cleared by a jury. He alleges authorities conspired against him, inflicting deep emotional distress.
Bruneio and the city settled the suit Monday as lawyers prepared to give opening arguments to the jury. Neither side has disclosed details of the settlement because of a confidentiality agreement.
Before the settlement, Bruneio's lawyer had urged a judge to prohibit the city from presenting evidence about Bruneio's disbarment, his financial and family troubles. The lawyer, Gerald Mullaney Jr., argued that those matters would be irrelevant to the civil rights case.
But U.S. District Judge Gene Pratter of Philadelphia denied those requests.
In 1996, a fire damaged Bruneio's home, burning out two second-story rooms and filled two adjacent homes with smoke. An 81-year-old woman who lived next door had to be rescued. Bruneio did not have renter's insurance and lost almost all of his possessions.
In 1997, police charged him with arson and related offenses. But Bruneio alleged that police did not have probable cause to arrest him, a legal standard requiring a minimum amount of evidence before someone is arrested.
Bruneio alleged that police targeted him and other criminal defense lawyers because he was involved in high-profile criminal cases and had represented a client in a brutality suit against the police force.
He also alleged that the fire marshal investigators failed to preserve the crime scene and contaminated it, according to Bruneio. An air conditioner, which might have caused the fire, could not be found for use as possible evidence because investigators failed to secure it as evidence, he alleged. Bruneio also raised the possibility that the fire started because he was careless with cigarettes and that the investigators overlooked that possibility.
In 2002, Bruneio surrendered his law license after allegations were raised against him about professional misconduct. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court's Disciplinary Board declined to disclose details about his disbarment.
But New Jersey officials, who suspended his license for five years based on the Pennsylvania misconduct case, reported that the misconduct involved six client matters. Those cases involved bankruptcy, drunken driving and other matters.
According to the New Jersey Disciplinary Review Board, Bruneio failed to communicate with clients, failed to appear at court hearings, engaged in a conflict of interest, failed to return unearned legal fees, abandoned his clients and engaged in other misconduct.
He did not provide evidence to support his defense, according to the New Jersey board. Instead, he wrote a short story about his alleged mistreatment by the police and fire departments and the Lehigh County district attorney's office.
The city agreed in writing to keep the settlement confidential, according to Bruneio's lawyer.