Court Decision on Grant's Lawsuit Coming Next Week
Councilwoman Hedy Grant's lawsuit to remove Borough Attorney Marc Leibman went before Superior Court Judge Joseph Conte on Friday afternoon.
Listening to arguments from several attorneys, Superior Court Judge Joseph Conte announced that he will issue a decision sometime next week on Councilwoman Hedy Grant's lawsuit to remove Marc Leibman as the borough attorney.
Grant's lawsuit, which was filed in February, called for the court to invalidate the appointment of Borough Attorney Marc Leibman on the basis that his prior representation of Councilman Austin Ashley regarding the potential development of the United Water property by the S. Hekemian Group created a conflict of interest.
Her suit further stated that Ashley was "disqualified by self-interest" from voting for the appointment of Leibman as Borough Attorney. Grant seeks a judicial determination that Ashley had a "disqualifying conflict of interest" by nominating and voting on the appointment of Leibman. Mayor Ann Subrizi was also named in the suit, claiming that she allowed the process to advance rather than allow for more investigation to be completed prior to Leibman's appointment.
"Irreparable harm was raised by the decision of granting rights and approval contracts, things that Mayor Subrizi allowed to take place within the governing body," attorney Douglas C. Anton argued. Anton represents Grant in her suit. "It does harm to the town because every decision is now suspect to reversal and would undo everything that has been done on the council since January 7."
The crux of Grant's suit is that during the January 7 reorganization meeting, Ashley nominated Leibman to serve as borough attorney although Lisa Aljian's name had appeared on the agenda. Leibman had been representing Ashley during the ongoing Hekemian hearings before the Zoning Board of Adjustment. Since his appointment to borough attorney, he has withdrawn from serving as Ashley's attorney in the matter of the United Water property.
"The easy way to resolve this method is for the defendant to provide billing statements from Mr. Leibman's firm to Mr. Ashley," Anton argued. "That would show he had hired an attorney and paid for it. That would resolve the pay-to-play issue."
However Kenneth McPherson who represents Ashley counter-argued that he would be willing to provide copies of the bills to Conte even though he objected to the idea as it was a private business matter.
"Nothing precludes an attorney from taking a position with the borough so long as he is not involved in any private matter that comes before the council," McPherson said. "Mr. Leibman could recuse himself from the council if a developer came before the governing body that he had dealt with before. We have a municipal body that had full disclosure of my client's representation that has since been terminated. The council knew this, deliberated on this and decided it did not constitute a conflict."
Ronald Mondello, who represents the borough, stated that the Grant's claim of an appearance of impropiety no longer exists as Leibman resigned as Ashley's attorney for the Hekemian hearings.
"The plaintiff has not come close to show that Leibman's employment is not in the best interest of New Milford," Mondello said. "There is no conflict of interest."
Conte stated that he will issue a written decision sometime next week.