Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Former Hoboken Chief Public Defender fined $100 for failing to publicly disclose financial information.

On December 14, 2017, the Local Finance Board adopted an Administrative Law Judge's recommendation that a former chief public defender for the City of Hoboken (Hudson County) violated the Local Government Ethics Law by failing or refusing to file a Financial Disclosure Statement for 2016.

According to Judge Thomas R. Betancourt's October 10, 2017 written decision, Esther Milsted, who was appointed to her public defender position on January 4, 2016, "undertook her own review of the relevant law regarding the filing of financial disclosure statements and determined that she was not required to do so."  Judge Betancourt rejected Milsted's argument and held that she "was a local government officer in 2016 and required to file a financial disclosure statement.  "[Milsted] was aware of the requirement to file a financial disclosure statement and chose not to based upon her determination she was not required to do so," Betancourt wrote in upholding the violation and the $100 penalty.  "[Milsted] had options to pursue other than filing. She could have resigned. She could have requested she be listed as inactive. She did not do so prior to receiving the notice of violation."

Ocean County fire commissioner fined $100 for holding incompatible offices.

On October 19, 2017, an Administrative Law Judge upheld a $100 fine assessed against an Ocean County fire commissioner who was found to have violated the Local Government Ethics Law (LGEL) by serving as president of his volunteer fire company at the same time he served as fire commissioner.  The judge upheld the fine even though the fire commissioner had received an opinion from the fire district's lawyer that it was permissible for him to hold both the president and commissioner positions simultaneously.

According to filed documents, David Mizrahi was the president of Station 64, a volunteer fire company in Lakewood Township (Ocean County), when he took office as a fire commissioner of the Lakewood Fire District No. 1 on March 3, 2015.  On March 30, 2015, Mizrahi sent an e-mail to Norman Douglas Smith, the fire district's lawyer, following up on a previous conversation they had regarding a possible conflict of interest that might arise if Mizrahi simultaneously held both the president and commissioner positions.  In a May 6, 2015 e-mail, Smith wrote that it was permissible for Mizrahi to hold both positions provided that he "abstain from voting or participating in discussion about any issue dealing with the volunteer fire department" and "vocally express" his abstentions and ensure that his abstentions were recorded in the meeting minutes.

In its May 11, 2016 Notice of Violation, the Local Finance Board, the principal enforcer of the LGEL, found that offices of fire commissioner and fire company president were inherently incompatible and that Mizrahi violated LGEL by holding the two offices simultaneously.  The Board relied upon a February 8, 1995 Advisory Opinion in holding that Mizrahi's dual office holding "might reasonably be expected to prejudice his independence of judgment in the exercise of his official duties [and] might reasonably be expected to impair his objectivity or independence of judgment."  The Board assessed a $100 penalty and Mizrahi exercised his right to an administrative hearing.

In her October 19, 2017 decision, Judge Sarah G. Crowley upheld the finding and penalty and noted that Mizrahi's reliance on Smith's advice might have been a valid defense had Mizrahi received Smith's advice prior to taking office.  She noted that he "did not receive advice from counsel until two months after his dual service began" and did not even request advice until March 30, 2015. "Thus, he is not entitled to a defense on that basis," she wrote.

The case against Mizrahi was initiated by a June 15, 2015 complaint filed by Middletown attorney Larry S. Loigman.  According to a letter from the Fire District's Business Manager, Loigman served on the Board of Fire Commissioners from March 2012 to February 2015.

Former municipal prosecutor says that on-line financial disclosure filing requirement violates his privacy.

A lawyer who served as Dunellen Borough's (Middlesex County) alternate municipal prosecutor is contesting a $100 fine levied against him for failing to file his Financial Disclosure Statement (FDS) electronically.  The lawyer, who filed his FDS on paper--which was rejected by state officials--claimed in a March 2, 2017 letter that "it is a violation of my rights to privacy to force me as a Municipal Prosecutor to register my private financial affairs online."

The attorney in question is Paul R. Garelick of the Edison law firm of Lombardi and Lombardi.  As a Local Government Officer, as defined by the Local Government Ethics Law (LGEL), Garelick is required to file an annual statement setting forth basic financial information such as his family's real estate holdings and sources of income in excess of $2,000 per year.  Disclosure of this information helps citizens detect and report conflicts of interest.  According to a February 17, 2017 letter to Garelick from Timothy J. Cunningham, who chairs the Local Finance Board--the lead agency enforcing the LGEL--the state transitioned from paper FDS filings to an on-line filing system in 2012 and that paper filings were no longer acceptable.

When Garelick refused to submit an electronic filing, Cunningham issued a February 24, 2017 Notice of Violation and assesses a $100 fine.  Garelick exercised his right to appeal and that matter is presently pending in the Office of Administrative Law awaiting a hearing.

Garelick no longer serves as Dunellen's alternate municipal prosecutor.  His March 2, 2017 letter states that he was required to resign his position when a member of his law firm became a municipal court judge in Middlesex County.

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Former Washington Councilwoman found to have violated ethics law, $100 fine waived.

On January 2, 2018, Administrative Law Judge Edward J. Delanoy, Jr. affirmed a December 17, 2016 ruling by the Local Finance Board, the primary enforcer of New Jersey's Local Government Ethics Law, that found that a former Washington Township (Gloucester Township) Councilwoman violated the ethics law by voting  "aye" on a resolution that awarded a contract to a law firm in which her sister was a shareholder.

According to Judge Delanoy's decision, former Washington Councilwoman Michelle Martin, at the Township's January 6, 2014 reorganization meeting, seconded and voted in favor of a resolution to engage the services of a law firm in which her sister, Prudence M. Higbee, was a shareholder.  While neither Judge Delanoy's decision nor the underlying Notice of Violation identify Higbee's firm, the website of the Mount Laurel law firm of Capehart & Scatchard notes that Higbee is a shareholder in that firm and the minutes of the January 6, 2014 meeting show that Martin did second and vote in favor of Resolution 16-2014 that authorized a contract with Capehart & Scatchard "for legal services as labor counsel."  According the decision, after the motion was passed "Higbee executed the professional services agreement on behalf of the law firm."

Judge Delanoy found that Martin was conflicted from voting on the matter because she had "a direct or indirect financial or personal involvement that might reasonably be expected to impair [her] objectivity or independence of judgment." "Higbee has a responsibility to bring in business to the firm and will benefit from adding the Township to the firm's book of business," he wrote. "This appears to be a straightforward example of an 'indirect pecuniary interest.'"

For reasons that were not stated, the Board fined Martin $100 but waived the fine.

Pennsauken Mayor fined $1,000 for ethics violations.

On November 13, 2017, the Local Finance Board, the chief enforcer of the Local Government Ethics Law, issued two Notices of Violation to Pennsauken (Camden County) Mayor John F. ("Jack") Killion with each imposing a $500 fine.

One Notice of Violation states that between 2008 and 2012, Killion, while a member of the Township Committee and the Township's Director of Public Safety, attended and participated in meetings related to police matters when his son, Michael Killion, served as a Pennsauken police officer.  According to the Notice, Mayor Killion participated in four meetings in 2012 regarding the implementation of 12-hour police work shifts at which Michael was present in his capacity as a member of the police union's executive board.  According to the violation notice, Killion's participation at these meetings "constituted the use or attempted use of his official position to secure unwarranted privileges or advantages for himself or others, and constituted actions in his official capacity in matters where he had a direct or indirect financial or personal involvement that might reasonably be expected to impair his objectivity or independence of judgment."

The other Notice of Violation charged Killion with using "his official position [as Deputy Mayor] to secure the placement of an unused police vehicle in front of his personal home for multiple days when he was away from that home for an extended period."  In making its determination, the Board found that Mayor Killion secured an "unwarranted privilege" and noted that the "the general public does not have the same access to the privileged use of that public resource."

Both Notices of Violation stated that Killion "opted not to respond to the Board's Notice of Investigation or the subsequent Final Notice of Investigation."  Both also invited Killion to request an administrative hearing within 30 days if he contested the penalties.  Two other complaints against Killion were dismissed in the investigative stage.

Friday, January 12, 2018

Burlington County Xmas tree seller suing town and police for not enforcing zoning laws against competitors.

On January 8, 2018, a Willingboro Township (Burlington County) Christmas tree seller filed a lawsuit against Edgewater Park Township and its police department seeking to compel Township officials to enforce zoning ordinances against two competitors.

In his lawsuit and accompanying brief, Frank E. Woolman, Jr. said that Edgewater Park Police Chief Gene DiFilippo told him that "he has no intention of enforcing [zoning] ordinances" against Dunphy Landscaping and Edgewater Stone and Garden which both compete with Woolman's Christmas tree sales.  Woolman claims that he complies with all local zoning codes while his two competitors violate various codes that regulate parking lots, safe customer ingress/egress and signage.

Woolman claims that he has suffered economically because he has been made to "endure unfair business competition from illegal business operations."  He seeks a court order forcing the Township to enforce its zoning ordinances against the two competitors.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Lawsuit alleges that Buena Regional BA gave a secretary a $10,000 raise to become his secretary/lover.

On March 8, 2017, Phyllis Boehm, a confidential secretary for the Buena Regional School District (Atlantic County), filed a hostile work environment lawsuit claiming that Business Administrator Pasquale Yacovelli gave a $10,000 raise to a secretary who worked "on a different side of the building" so that she would become his secretary and ultimately his lover.  Boehm claimed that the secretary, who is referred to in the lawsuit as "Jane Doe," was her friend and that Yacovelli asked her talk to Jane Doe about his interest in her.

According to Boehm, Yacovelli would say things to her such as "Hook a brother up" and make comments about Jane Doe's body "and say that he wanted her sexually."  Jane Doe was apparently not averse to Yacovelli's interest because, according to the complaint, when Yacovelli allegedly asked whether "it's a red light, green light or yellow light," Jane responded "Perhaps yellow light."

When Yacovelli asked Jane if she wanted to be his secretary, she reportedly "laughed and said, 'If you get me a $10,000 raise, I'll be your secretary.'"  According to the lawsuit, Jane became Yacovelli's secretary in September 2015 and Yacovelli "used his influence as Business Administrator to get Jane the ten thousand dollar raise she wanted."

Thereafter, according to the complaint, Yacovelli and Jane Doe would regularly "steal school time" to have sex in Yacovelli's office.  After one sexual encounter, Yacovelli allegedly "lifted one arm and pumped his fist" in Boehm's presence and said "I wrecked it, Philly."  The pair also reportedly went to the Tropicana in Atlantic City and the Holiday Inn Express on Route 322 to have sex.  According to the suit, Jane Doe told Boehm that Yacovelli was "a machine" and "would make comments about [his] sexual performance."

Boehm said that she "was very uncomfortable with the whole situation" and that the Yacovelli's and Jane Doe's sexual activity and comments created "an environment that was hostile for women to work in [and] was in violation of [the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination]."

Readers should keep in mind that allegations in a lawsuit are just that--allegations.  Nothing has been proven and both the school district and Yacovelli have filed responses to the lawsuit.  Boehm is burdened with proving her case before a jury.  The case is currently in the discovery phase.

Before working for Buena Regional, Yacovelli served as business administrator for the Ocean City Board of Education until his October 7, 2014 resignation. Until recently, Yacovelli served as a member of the Audubon Board of Education.