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Grant Files Suit to Remove Borough Attorney, Claims 'Pay to Play'

Grant petitions the court to invalidate the appointment of Marc Leibman as Borough Attorney citing conflict of interest and 'pay to play.'

Councilwoman Hedy Grant has filed a lawsuit against Councilman Austin Ashley, Mayor Ann Subrizi and the Borough of New Milford petitioning the court to invalidate the appointment of Borough Attorney, Marc Leibman of the law firm Kaufman, Semeraro, Bern, Deutsch & Leibman.

The complaint, filed in Superior Court in Hackensack, submits that as Leibman's client in the matter before the New Milford Zoning Board regarding the potential development of the United Water property by the S. Hekemian Group, 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.   

Had Ashley recused himself from voting on Leibman's appointment, the vote would have been 3-2 against the appointment. Instead, the vote resulted in a 3-3 tie, giving Subrizi the tie-breaking vote.

Supporting documentation contends that Grant believes Leibman's appointment to be nothing more than 'pay to play' whereby Ashley's nomination and vote for Leibman as Borough Attorney represents payment for Leibman's legal services provided to Ashley.

Prior to filing this lawsuit, Grant had placed a motion before the Mayor and Council at the Jan. 14 work session requesting that Leibman's appointment as Borough Attorney be rescinded. With Ashley voting, the vote to rescind was 3-3 with Subrizi again casting the tie-breaking vote not to rescind.

In petitioning the court, Grant is also asking for a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction pending a full hearing of the matter. The court has issued a date of Feb. 22 for a hearing on that motion.

Prior to referring all comments to her attorney, Grant said, "If you're asking why I'm doing this, I'm trying to right a wrong."

Douglas C. Anton, of The Law Offices of Douglas C. Anton in Hackensack, is representing Grant. He said that Ashley's nomination of his private counsel to the position of Borough Attorney, and his refusal to recuse himself from voting on that appointment, "is a clear violation of New Milford's codes, as well other codes."

"Hedy Grant, on behalf of her constituents, and as a taxpayer, sees this as the only avenue to right a wrong," Anton said.

Ashley and Subrizi had not yet seen the court papers and offered no comment at this time.

 

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A.S.Otero February 06, 2013 at 01:02 PM
Where is the "LIKE" button!!!
robin commerford February 06, 2013 at 01:02 PM
Well said, John! PS. Joe, why do our kids have to play on geese feces laden fields? Can't the fields be properly maintained by our town or the bd. of ed workers??
Lori Barton February 06, 2013 at 01:20 PM
As usual John, you hit all the right points and said it beautifully. Your solution takes the politics out of the equation. I'm not a fan of the former borough attorney but I feel that it would be in our town's best interests to move forward in that fashion. I can't see any reason that this plan would not work. To our Mayor & Council: Listen to your constituents! This is a win-win for this community.
EmperorWearsNoClothes February 06, 2013 at 01:23 PM
Less than 3 weeks since the democrats take control of the town and ALREADY therr is a corruption charge being leveled at one of them FROM the other!! Congratulations SOD, you picked some real winners in the council, when does your quid pro quo kick in? Before or after the attorney's? The more things change the more they stay the same sometimes. So Austin is this the lesser or the greater of 2 evils...
Darlene February 06, 2013 at 03:02 PM
John DeSantis for Mayor :-)
Darlene February 06, 2013 at 03:07 PM
It's interesting that you are accusing SOD of having the power to have "picked" the winners of the Council election, yet others who share your point of view also claim that SOD is really only a small handful of people, the minority voice in town on the UW issue. You can't have it both ways.
Darlene February 06, 2013 at 03:09 PM
A valid point....
miriam pickett February 06, 2013 at 03:32 PM
Joe, would that mean the UW application would be held up while a new attorney familiarizes himself with the UW proposal?
John DeSantis February 06, 2013 at 05:06 PM
Hello Joe, Either you misunderstood what I was suggesting or I didn’t state it clear enough. I am not suggesting that the choice of the other three Democrats be voted in as attorney. What I am suggesting is that the attorney of last year, Mark Madiao (not sure of the spelling), be reappointed as borough attorney. He is familiar with all that has transpired over the past year and is certainly qualified. Scott would also be a good choice. The truth is there are plenty of good attorneys. What is important is to select one who is not involved with this debacle.
robin commerford February 06, 2013 at 05:10 PM
Yes, I second it, John for mayor!
Lori Barton February 06, 2013 at 05:15 PM
Joe, a point of correction: John is suggesting that the former Borough counsel from 2012, Mark Madaio, be reinstated, not the other applicant. This is truly brilliant.
karen February 06, 2013 at 05:48 PM
they cannot even remove a tree that fell down summer of 2011 off the deo field , it is rotting away
John DeSantis February 06, 2013 at 07:59 PM
Hello Joe, Either you misunderstood what I was suggesting or I didn’t state it clear enough. What I am suggesting is that the attorney of last year, Mark Madiao (not sure of the spelling), be reappointed as borough attorney. He is familiar with all that has transpired over the past year and is certainly qualified. Scott would also be a good choice. The truth is there are plenty of good attorneys. What is important is to select one who is not involved with this debacle. The purpose of my original comment was to challenge the council to do what is right for the town, not what benefits their respective political parties. In my suggested solution I tried to give each of them something to encourage them to agree with my proposal. I offered Austin a way to clear any suspicion surrounding his decision to nominate Mark Leibman. I offered Hedy and the other two Democrats partially what they wanted, a yes vote on rescinding Leibman, but not the attorney of their choice. I offered the Republicans the attorney that they chose last year. Some might say that the Republicans would vote to keep Leibman just to continue the rift that exists between the Democrats. Having their choice as attorney might persuade them from choosing that path and instead do what’s best for the town. I believe it is very difficult for all of them, Democrats and Republicans, to avoid playing party politics.
John DeSantis February 06, 2013 at 08:04 PM
Sorry that I partially repeated myself it took a long time for the comment to appear.
miriam pickett February 06, 2013 at 08:12 PM
John, you have suggested a very reasonable solution to this situation. All parties involved can walk away with their dignity intact.
DeDMaNsHaNd February 06, 2013 at 11:13 PM
So let me get this straight, either SOD, a 501c3, accepts willingly a donation from someone accused of corruption or they allowed them into the fundraiser for free, which would invalidate their not for profit status... Your call SOD, will you give back money from someone that has corruption around their neck or accept that you are in the dems pocket by allowing them in for free. You can't have it both ways...
NotSoCalm February 07, 2013 at 12:27 AM
Hey people lets take a look at the real issue! It seems as though one of the council people didnt get her way ...TWICE..... or what she was asked for or to do ... TWICE!!! So .........being an attonrey she filed suit ! THATS REAL PROFESSIONAL !!!!! If I cant play...I will take my ball and go home. Lets look at what she is claiming; (i) Pay to Play..........I suggest one looks up the defination. (ii) Leibman no good.....CONFLICT ....... but mayors wife good ??? (iiI) Mayors wife didnt even apply for the job (iv) If the issue is with Austin then why did they drag the poor mayor into it ????? HELLO.............Because she didnt vote the way Heidi and Co. wanted them too !!! OPEN POLITICAL SYSTEM ??????? I think the real conflict here seems to be in those hiding behind the law suit...........the only winners are the lawyers...........The only losers are those like Austin trying to do the right thing and the taxpayers of New Milford. Ones opinion may suggest that there seems to be more deep rooted issues here than choosing Leibman as an attorney.........Maybe there is resentment for Austin standing up against development ?????
Tom February 07, 2013 at 07:30 PM
I've known Hedy a long time and she has more integrity than just about anybody else I've ever met. If she says Mr. Ashley did the wrong thing, he did the wrong thing. No question in my mind. Leibman should resign and Ashley should apologize to the people of NM for causing so much trouble. Bring back Mr. Madaio until a new Boro attorney can be selected.
miriam pickett February 07, 2013 at 07:51 PM
I have never understood why our small town elected council members based on party affiliation. It makes no sense to me whatsoever.
John DeSantis February 07, 2013 at 08:35 PM
Hello Joe, I can’t speak for her, but I do believe at this point Hedy would vote for Mark just to put this issue to rest. Scott Sproviero would also be an excellent choice, not only a good attorney, but also entertaining. I would be concerned however about changing attorneys at the zoning board in the middle of the hearings concerning the UW property, but I am sure that any difficulties that arose from changing could be overcome. There are a lot of good attorneys out there. What is important now is to select one who is capable and doesn’t cause a controversy. I tried to suggest a course of action that could have this matter settled in the first ten minutes of the next council meeting and we could be done with it.
John DeSantis February 07, 2013 at 08:45 PM
The follwing is something folks might consider. 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.
Darlene February 07, 2013 at 08:54 PM
Do you happen to know when the next Council meeting is and if it's open to the public?
John DeSantis February 08, 2013 at 05:07 AM
Hello Joe, I don’t believe Leibman would just step aside. I think it would take another motion and vote to rescind him. 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. continued....
John DeSantis February 08, 2013 at 05:08 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.
Michelle February 08, 2013 at 05:25 AM
Since I too am refraining from weighing in on these issues, all I have to say is, if we lose Sproviero from sitting at our ZB hearings, though I would wish him well, I would cry. A lot. : (
miriam pickett February 08, 2013 at 11:47 AM
Darlene, the next meeting is Monday night. I have a feeling that the discussion of Hedy's lawsuit will be closed.
Mark flores February 11, 2013 at 02:25 AM
Mark Flores I agree with John. This was an obvious unethical appointment and should not have been made. If we, the residents see it why did the council approve it? Hedy is right on the issue. The lawsuit goes away if the council does the right thing.
newmilford1967 February 11, 2013 at 10:57 PM
This just making our little town look bad.
NewMilfDadMakinEndsMeet February 11, 2013 at 11:34 PM
Pitiful is more like it dad of 3. And we are all going to pay for this internal fight because the democrats couldn't get their appointments straight. And what will our town have to lose to fight this embarrassing battle created by Frank and his minions? What services will the town lose? Will that two year old tree at DEO ever get picked up? What will it be?
Sandcastle February 12, 2013 at 03:34 AM
I agree that this is exactly the issue this matter rests upon, Ulises. If Liebman gave free or discounted services to Ashley - even if not explicitly anticipating some future benefit - it would appear to be a re-payment of those services (in the form of a retainer at public expense) for Ashley to recommend him for Boro atty.

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