Council Authorizes $199,500 More for Legal Services
“We have a need to increase our appropriation for legal services in our operating account, in our general fund account, to carry us to the latter part of this year." ~ Lawrence Township Manager Richard Krawczun
Resolutions authorizing up to $199,500 more for legal services were approved by members of Lawrence Township Council during their meeting on Tuesday (July 17).
Those resolutions – five in total – amend the township’s contracts with two law firms: Sterns & Weinroth of Trenton, for whom the current township attorney, David Roskos, works; and Genova Burns Giantomasi & Webster of Newark, which is providing labor counsel services to the township.
(Copies of the five resolutions can be found in the media box to the right, together with full audio from Tuesday's meeting and a copy of the meeting agenda.)
The increases included in those resolutions bring the maximum authorized amount of the contract with Sterns & Weinroth to $190,500, and increases the maximum of the contract with Genova Burns Giantomasi & Webster to $99,000. Another $5,000 authorized by the resolutions was left unassigned to either firm.
Two of the resolutions draw upon funds already available via previously approved 2012 appropriations or trust funds. The remaining three resolutions involve up to $125,000 the township intends to “borrow” from next year’s budget.
Township Manager Richard Krawczun advised council that the increases were needed due to increased activity on existing legal matters, from insurance and escrow dealings to the lawsuit filed against the township by seven police officers. The township has also begun preliminary labor contract negotiations with the unions representing rank-and-file police officers and police superior officers.
The first of the five resolutions amended the contract with Genova Burns Giantomasi & Webster by $14,000. “There is funding left in the 2012 appropriation and we are increasing the upset amount, the maximum amount, of their contract for the performance of legal services as it relates to labor matters here in Lawrence Township,” Krawczun said in regard to this resolution.
An increase of $60,500 to the maximum amount of the contract with Sterns & Weinroth was the subject of the second resolution.
“Resolution 8-N uses existing funding to amend the professional services contract of the township attorney, Mr. Roskos, for the purpose of providing general legal services here in Lawrence Township,” Krawczun explained.
“I want to point out that in the case of the amendment for Mr. Roskos’ contract, though the amount is $60,500, some of the funding comes from trust funds, which are set aside for a specific purpose,” he continued. “Part of this increase is a $23,000 increase for insurance matters which are charged to our self-insurance fund for the purpose of claims… There’s also an increase to escrow funds. There was some work that needed to be performed on some old matters that were carried forward when Mr. Roskos was serving as Planning Board attorney. And there is a small amount being charged against the Open Space fund as there is a purchase of open space that we are supporting… And the balance comes from the operating budget for general legal services.”
The third resolution authorized an “emergency appropriation” of $125,000 for legal services.
“We have a need to increase our appropriation for legal services in our operating account, in our general fund account, to carry us to the latter part of this year and we anticipate that need to be an additional $125,000,” Krawczun said.
“Now, I think the first question I’m going to be asked, is how much of this additional funding is needed due to the pending litigation by the seven police officers against myself, the chief and the deputy chief. To date, we’ve been billed, in May, $10,756. We don’t have the June bill… So that legal work did not cause this. That’s not to say future legal work won’t use some of that $125,000…”
The lawsuit was filed in federal court in Trenton on April 18 by seven veteran township police officers who allege that their First Amendment-protected civil rights have been violated by the township, Krawczun, Police Chief Daniel Posluszny and Deputy Police Chief Joseph Prettyman. An attorney from Genova Burns Giantomasi & Webster, on behalf of the defendants on May 25 filed a motion, with supporting documentation, asking a federal judge to dismiss the lawsuit.
Additional legal maneuvering by both sides has taken place since then, with the police officers’ attorney on June 18 filing with the federal court a 35-page “brief in opposition of defendants’ motion to dismiss,” and the defendants’ attorney on June 25 filing another lengthy brief again arguing why the lawsuit should not proceed.
During Tuesday’s meeting, Krawczun advised council, “It’s important to note that we have filed the motions for dismissal and I’ve been advised that now it’s a kind of ‘wait and see’ for purposes of when the court will rule. Labor counsel advises it could be a matter of weeks or it could be a matter of months. There’s no definitive timetable at this juncture.”
The fourth resolution assigned $45,000 of the $125,000 “emergency” authorization to further increase the maximum of the contract with Genova Burns Giantomasi & Webster, and the fifth resolution assigned $75,000 of the $125,000 to further increase the contract maximum for Sterns & Weinroth, while leaving the remaining $5,000 from the $125,000 unassigned.
Of the $125,000 “emergency” amount, Krawczun said, “If it was not to be fully utilized, we would cancel [the unused] portion prior to the end of the year. If the full amount is required to be utilized, we would then need to raise that $125,000 as an appropriation in the 2013 budget, similar to what we did with Hurricane Irene: we agreed to the emergency appropriation to respond to the hurricane, we utilized what we needed, we funded some through an ordinance, the balance we cancelled, and then we appropriated the remaining amount – what we call a deferred charge – in the 2012 budget. And that’s what would occur with the $125,000.”
Krawczun further noted that he has had “a few lengthy conversations” with Roskos and representatives of Genova Burns Giantomasi & Webster. “I think that it’s fair to say that this is not necessarily an increase in legal matters; it’s an increase in the servicing of those matters that are open. And I think I can say this, quite frankly, that I think one of the differences is we are now using a large firm for both general and for labor, and there’s just more activity, but not necessarily more legal activity.”
The five resolutions regarding increases for legal services were part of a package of 19 resolutions that were unanimously approved by Mayor Jim Kownacki, Councilmen Greg Puliti and David Maffei and Councilwoman Cathleen Lewis. The fifth member of council, Michael Powers, was absent and said to be out of town on business.