Ashley Responds to Grant's Lawsuit Seeking to Invalidate Borough Attorney's Appointment

Ashley responds to Grant's lawsuit naming him as one of the defendants in her claim seeking to invalidate the appointment of Leibman as Borough Attorney.

Editor's note: In response to Councilwoman Hedy Grant's lawsuit naming him as a defendant in her claim petitioning the court to invalidate the appointment of Borough Attorney, Marc Leibman, of the law firm Kaufman, Semeraro, Bern, Deutsch & Leibman, Councilman Austin Ashley has issued the following statement:


We are in desperate need of leadership that isn't motivated by political bossism. That is why, this January I voted with the New Milford Republicans to appoint a Borough Attorney that is qualified to represent the borough on all fronts. That has not gone over well with the current Democratic political organization and frankly, I don't care.

Each council person is sworn into office on the Holy Bible and swears to uphold the constitution of this country, this state and the bylaws of the Borough of New Milford. This is a responsibility that I don't take lightly. And it is exactly what I have done and will continue to do. But there is more to this oath than the constitution and our bylaws. We have a responsibility to the people whom we represent.

This week, I (a Democrat) along with the mayor (a Republican) and the Borough of New Milford have been named in a politically motivated lawsuit by Councilwoman Hedy Grant. Our supposed violation was the appointment of a well qualified Attorney against the wishes of Councilwoman Hedy Grant (and her political boss) and their wishes to install the Mayor of River Edge's wife as Borough Attorney, who had not applied for the position. Instead of accepting the defeat of their political machine, she chose to file a lawsuit that will ultimately cost our borough tens of thousands of dollars.

Who is best served by this lawsuit? The people of New Milford? The ego of Councilwoman Hedy Grant? The interests of the current Democratic political organization? 

There are real issues in this town but because of Councilwoman Grant's actions they will be put on hold to settle a political score. These issues should be settled at the ballot box and not at the cost of the tax payers in the court room. Councilwoman Grant should focus on the needs of our community and not the wants of her political boss. We need to move forward for the people of New Milford. That's our job and should be our number one priority, not politics.

Councilman Austin Ashley


John A. D'Ambrosio February 07, 2013 at 09:10 PM
I agree completely..., if we need to spend money in the courtroom lets make sure that it's a battle that will serve the best interest of New Milford and the needs of the taxpayers who are footing the bill.
Dan Hulahan-LaFaso February 07, 2013 at 09:15 PM
If this isn't just for the appearance of bipartisanship I wholeheartedly agree.
Tom February 07, 2013 at 09:52 PM
The only question raised by the lawsuit is whether Mr. Ashley's personal and professional relationship with Mr. Liebman required him to recuse himself from nominating and voting for Mr. Liebman. Interestingly, Mr. Ashley does not respond to this question.
Frank Appice February 07, 2013 at 10:15 PM
Ashley said at nominations that there was no conflicts If you can't trust someone you voted for then why did you vote for him And why is he in your political party Are you telling us we can't trust your Democratic Party
Ulises February 07, 2013 at 10:28 PM
The battle continues... I commend Ashley's independent stance and his valid points concerning Grant's motives. My question remains the same, is there an ethic violation here because he voted for an attorney who worked for him? Did he pay the attorney who worked for him? Should he have recused himself from such a vote because of a possible conflict of interest? I wish an 'I'ndependt party will emerge to eliminate the political posturing that consumes our small town and our great nation. 'I'magine all we could do if we were all 'I'dependents.
miriam pickett February 07, 2013 at 11:03 PM
There is an appearance of impropriety here. Once again the chatterers are trying to make this a "them against us"scenario. I voted for Councilman Ashley because I believed and continue to believe that he will represent the interests of the residents in an open and honest way. By refusing to recuse himself from the vote on Boro attorney, he has opened himself up to a lawsuit like Ms. Grant's. He has not addressed her reasons for filing the lawsuit. Instead he writes in general political terms that leaves me with many questions. I hope he will answer them and then we can move on.
NewMilfDadMakinEndsMeet February 07, 2013 at 11:14 PM
Who appointed Ms. Pickett the authority on everything New Milford? I am the first to admit I swiped at the young Councilman. He found his voice. Kudos to him. Anything that is grossly spending our precious tax dollars I vehemently appose. Enough posturing, grandstanding, and waste Ms. Grant.
John DeSantis February 08, 2013 at 05:40 AM
Hello Joe, When you comment on the patch Joe, you do so rationally, without a lot of ranting or off the wall comments. You are a perfect example of how this forum should be used. I would like to suggest something to you, to just think about. Hedy has taken some serious abuse and criticism for initiating this law suit. What would you do Joe if you believed that a fellow board member had done something unethical in connection with the office or position that he held? That he received payment in one form or another for making a motion and voting for a political appointment. What would you do? You would probably first talk to him and try to convince him to adjust his questionable behavior. Then you might attempt to convince your colleagues on the board to help you correct the situation, you might try that a couple times. When all that fails and yet you are still convinced that some sort of wrong doing has occurred, what would you do? Do you walk away and give up on righting the wrong? Do you let the unethical behavior pass? Or do you suck up your guts and take it to the next level? These are the questions that Hedy had to ask herself.
John DeSantis February 08, 2013 at 05:43 AM
Hedy had to know that filing this suit would result in her receiving the wrath of many. Yet she mustered up the courage and did it anyway because she believes that some sort of collusion has taken place. Hedy is a stickler for the rule of law. She is not going to turn her back when she feels that someone has violated a law or code of ethics. She believes it is her duty and responsibility to right a wrong, to protect the public from unscrupulous acts. What would you do? I don’t know what transpired between Austin and his attorney. Only Austin and Leibman know for sure. I do know this; the appearance of possible wrong doing is there. As a public official and an attorney they both should have known and seen this fact. When the question was first raised Austin should have recused himself and Leibman should have declined the position. Austin could put an end to this now. The council could put an end to this now by selecting a different attorney. You tell me Joe, Why is it so damn important that Leibman to be the borough attorney? One final note Joe, you said you would be surprised if Hedy would vote for Madaio. The simple truth is it was Hedy who first suggested it to me. P. S. I've posted this same comment on both Patch articles that address this issue.
Adam February 08, 2013 at 02:20 PM
For Pete's sakes, there is clearly an appearance of impropriety in the appointment of this attorney,based on Liebman's prior representation of Austin, and Mr. Ashley should have recused himself from the vote. What is so difficult to grasp of this concept? That Ms. Grant has to go to court to remind the Borough of the concept of good governance and ethical practices is not something that should be condemned but rather applauded. Good job, Ms. Grant. You have restored my and a majority of this town's faith in good governance!
Darlene February 08, 2013 at 05:19 PM
All of this infighting is such a turnoff. Makes me want to vote them ALL out :-( Focus please, Council members, Focus.
scooby doo February 08, 2013 at 09:19 PM
crawl back in your hole jimmy. your polluting the air with your comments.
Jon Bartell February 08, 2013 at 11:47 PM
mellie February 09, 2013 at 02:25 AM
I agree Darlene.
miriam pickett February 09, 2013 at 01:46 PM
I'd like to know how this will cost the taxpayers money. From what I understand Ms. Grant pays for her lawsuit, not the Borough. And, Ashley and Subrizi have to pay for their lawyers as this suit was brought against them, not the Borough. If I am misinterpreting the situation, please delineate (man, I wish Patch had spell check) what I've got wrong. Before answeing, however, please understand this is a sincere question and I'd appreciate your keeping your answer to the point with no personal attacks. I am just asking a question; there is no political intent involved.
John DeSantis February 09, 2013 at 02:07 PM
Hello Miriam, I believe the lawsuit is filed against Austin, the Mayor and the Borough. I also believe that this was the only possible way for Hedy to bring the suit. The borough will have to defend itself that will cost money. I could be wrong; maybe Ann P. could clarify this for us. If it is to cost the town money, I would think our council, all of them Democrats and Republicans, would choose to find an alternative solution that cleared the air of any perception of impropriety and avoided the cost of a court battle and that they do it quickly.
miriam pickett February 09, 2013 at 02:22 PM
Thank, John. As always you make sense.
John DeSantis February 10, 2013 at 06:52 PM
Hello 67, You are right that this is an unfortunate waste of time and money. That is why I hope the council chooses to rescind Leibman and select a different attorney. Not the choice of the Democrats, but last year’s Republican choice. That course of action would eliminate this entire debacle quickly. I must however disagree that what is taking place is some kind of joke. I am neither a lawyer nor a judge but if laws have been broken, then that fact needs to be addressed. What I have suggested as a solution in itself skirts the law because it does not address the fact that a law or code of ethics may have been broken it only eliminates the consequences of the possible illegal or unethical act. It would however save New Milford the cost of defending herself in a lawsuit. I cannot tell you how much I wish that none of this had ever occurred. I know and care for both Austin and Hedy. The whole situation strikes me as tragic for all concerned Austin, Hedy, the town, and for those of us who comment here. It may be wishful thinking, but when this is all said and done, I hope the strains that this has put on friendships will not be lasting. I would not have commented at all on this topic except for the fact that some folks were unfairly blasting Hedy for doing what she believes is right. To have remained silent would have been wrong. Continued....
John DeSantis February 10, 2013 at 06:54 PM
Below I have pasted a couple of statutes that address the very issue we have all been discussing. 52:13D-12. Legislative findings The Legislature finds and declares: (a) In our representative form of government, it is essential that the conduct of public officials and employees shall hold the respect and confidence of the people. Public officials must, therefore, avoid conduct which is in violation of their public trust or which creates a justifiable impression among the public that such trust is being violated. 52:13D-14. State officer or employee or member of legislature; acceptance of thing of value to influence public duties No State officer or employee, special State officer or employee, or member of the Legislature shall accept from any person, whether directly or indirectly and whether by himself or through his spouse or any member of his family or through any partner or associate, any gift, favor, service, employment or offer of employment or any other thing of value which he knows or has reason to believe is offered to him with intent to influence him in the performance of his public duties and responsibilities. This section shall not apply to the acceptance of contributions to the campaign of an announced candidate for elective public office. L.1971, c. 182, s. 3, eff.Jan. 11, 1972. Continued....
John DeSantis February 10, 2013 at 06:56 PM
N.J.S.A. 40A:9-22.5 Code of ethics for local government officers and employees No local government officer or employee, member of his immediate family, or business organization in which he has an interest, shall solicit or accept any gift, favor, loan, political contribution, service, promise of future employment, or other thing of value based upon an understanding that the gift, favor, loan, contribution, service, promise, or other thing of value Was given or offered for the purpose of influencing him, directly or indirectly, in the discharge of his official duties. This provision shall not apply to the solicitation or acceptance of contributions to the campaign of an announced candidate for elective public office, if the local government officer has no knowledge or reason to believe that the campaign contribution, if accepted, was given with the intent to influence the local government officer in the discharge of his official duties;
John DeSantis February 11, 2013 at 06:11 AM
Hello Jimmy, I hope all is well with you and yours.You spoke of people at the recent festivities as enjoying themselves, mingling with each other and interacting and conversing with the Austin, knowing that the lawsuit was pending. From my perspective I knew of no specifics but was sure that the controversy over the borough attorney appointment was not over. Knowing that and knowing where I stood on that issue, I still enjoyed conversing with Austin and was glad that he was there. I have always liked Austin very much. I don’t think there was any sinister malfeasance going on. The atmosphere was pleasant and all who attended seemed to enjoy themselves. Austin, Michael and I have often talked about ideas that if implemented my help some of the folks in town. We have discussed possible ways of protecting low income seniors in the apartments from annual rent increases. Some of these older folks are making difficult choices between buying food, medicine, and paying their rent. We want to do something to help. There were discussions about creating a town wide emergency reaction group. We wanted volunteers to be on a call list. After a flood event we would gather and help folks clean up. We understood that the professionals would conduct the rescues and take charge of the emergency during and immediately after the event. Continued....
John DeSantis February 11, 2013 at 06:13 AM
But after the waters recede and the event is over and everyone who remained high and dry has returned to a normal life, the folks who flood are just beginning to deal with the devastation that has fallen upon them. Put yourself in their shoes. Imagine how alone and desperate you would feel. How large the task before you might seem. Now imagine how you might feel if you turned around and saw coming down the street 40 or 50 folks from town coming to help you clean up. If nothing else it might lift your spirits and give you hope. Ideas were discussed about how the town might be able to help folks who are facing foreclosure; we were trying to figure out some way to keep them in their homes. We wanted to figure out ways to bring some of these ideas to fruition without increasing the tax burden on the town’s folk. These are ideas that Austin has supported. Of course some of these ideas might be flawed or very difficult or almost impossible to accomplish. But it gives you an idea of some of the things your Councilman cares and thinks about.
John DeSantis February 11, 2013 at 06:14 AM
I have taken a stand against Austin’s position on this issue of the borough attorney. I find no enjoyment, or satisfaction in doing so. I do not stand against Austin the man. He is my friend and I’m sure I have hurt him. I’ve tried to consider how Austin must feel. He had somehow used poor judgment made a bad decision and now for whatever reason he feels that he is in a position where he can’t back down. That must weigh on him heavily. On top that, people who are his friends have spoken out against him. I am one of them. He must feel betrayed. It was difficult to defend Hedy and speak against Austin. They are both friends. But knowing what little I do about the situation, after reaching out to all four of the Democratic council people and hearing their opinions, and witnessing the abuse Hedy was taking from people on the patch, I felt it would be wrong if I did not speak out. I am not in favor of portraying Austin as a villain, nor ostracizing him. When a friend sails off course, one should try to help him find his way and hope that his rudder and keel steer him straight again, one should give him much leeway to find himself, but be there to greet him when he does.
miriam pickett February 11, 2013 at 06:49 PM
John DeSantis for council. I can't imagine a more caring, thoughtful individual in that position.
Ulises February 11, 2013 at 09:20 PM
I agree, I think John DeSantis would be a great member to the council.
newmilford1967 February 11, 2013 at 11:02 PM
Tax dollars being wasted for child like games boo hoo we didnt get our pick.Maybe the judge will be honey booboo
NewMilfDadMakinEndsMeet February 11, 2013 at 11:27 PM
Are we all supposedly sitting here wearing blinders and don't realize the posturing that Mr. DeSantis is doing (for himself, his party) to fix the horrendous fiasco the very NON FISCAL DEMS of New Milford created? This is proof positive that Frank DeBari is alive and kicking and RULING the roost. How many more voters have to make the same mistakes? I am appalled that these politicians (seated and non-seated) assume it's going to be “ok” to fight out their internal party disagreements on our tax payer dollars. Unmistakably, because one didn't listen to the other, nor conform to the DeBari directive, once again New Milford pays. And now what a fine mess they are all in. The smeared egg is evident a mile away.
NewMilfDadMakinEndsMeet February 11, 2013 at 11:27 PM
John’s eloquence may make him a good choice for council versus the four democrats currently sitting, but make no mistake, we see your motive. Unfortunately, either way, at the end of the day, New Milford and its tax payers will be paying heavily for this lawsuit shoved down our throats because of this very fiscally irresponsible act by Frank DeBari and his minions. And we will all have to lose something very important on the already extremely tight budget to do so. What will it be? What will the citizens lose to have this sickening internal, democrat fight end? What services will the people of New Milford have to lose since there is no slush fund to dip into (thanks for that Austin)? Keep your party's infighting OFF of the Council. This town cannot afford the very expensive DeBari method. We couldn't before and we certainly CANNOT NOW!


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