Tren­ton coun­cil’s fired at­tor­ney bows out of le­gal drama over ter­mi­nated con­tract

The Trentonian (Trenton, NJ) - - NEWS - ByIsaacAvi­lucea iav­ilucea@21st-cen­tu­ry­media. com @IsaacAvilu­cea on Twit­ter

TREN­TON » The head­li­nesquab­ble be­tween Mayor Reed Gus­ciora and fired coun­cil at­tor­ney Ed­ward Kologi ap­peared headed for court.

Un­til thep­art­ner atKologi Simitz bowed out grace­fully Thurs­day.

“I won’t char­ac­ter­ize it as ‘ throw­ing in the towel,’” Kologi told The Tren­to­nian in a phone in­ter­view.

Want­ing to avoid a lengthy and costly court bat­tle that could drain Tren­ton city cof­fers, Kologi in­formed coun­cil mem­bers in let­ter he ac­cepted the mayor’s de­ci­sion to end his law­firm’s con­tract.

He still be­lieved only coun­cil, not the mayor, could ter­mi­nate the deal.

But the mayor now claimed the con­tract that coun­cil rat­i­fied in July hadn’t ever been ap­proved the Depart­ment

of Com­mu­nity Af­fairs, which signs off on the city’s fi­nan­cial and per­son­nel de­ci­sions un­der aMe­moran­dum of Un­der­stand­ing tied to state aid.

“The events of these past weeks have made any work­ing re­la­tion­ship­with the City At­tor­ney’s of­fice ab­so­lutely un­ten­able,” Kologi wrote. “It is clear that theLawDepa­rt­ment­would not longer rec­og­nize us, and that our ac­cess to in­for­ma­tion and doc­u­men­ta­tion would be elim­i­nated.

“The le­git­i­macy of our ad­vice and ser­vices has been ir­repara­bly com­pro­mised, and we would sim­ply be un­able to pro­vide Coun­cil with mean­ing­ful rep­re­sen­ta­tion un­der the cir­cum­stances. Thus, while not legally ter­mi­nated, we have clearly been con­struc­tively ter­mi­nated, as we can­no­longer dowhatwe were hired to do.”

Coun­cil pres­i­dent Kathy McBride did not re­spond to a phone call seek­ing com­ment.

The con­tract ran through June 30, 2021, but Gus­ciora ter­mi­nated the deal early, claim­ing Kologi breached terms of the deal by “uni­lat­er­ally” ad­vis­ing coun­cil on mat­ters when he was sup­posed to work un­der the di­rec­tion of city law di­rec­tor John Morelli.

Ad­di­tion­ally, the mayor took Kologi to task for not step­ping in and shut­ting down a Sept. 3 ex­ec­u­tive ses­sion.

Coun­cil met il­le­gally with re­de­vel­oper John Liu of Elite Spi­ders LL Ct oh ear his pitch to buy the his­toric Roe­bling Wire Works build­ing for $200,000.

The se­cret ses­sion ap­pears to have vi­o­lated the Open Pub­lic Meet­ings Act. Gov­ern­ing bod­ies can meet among them­selves to dis­cuss con­tract ne­go­ti­a­tions but not with in­ter­ested par­ties.

The Tren­to­nian and Gus­ciora wrote to AG Gur­bir Gre­wal ask­ing he in­ves­ti­gate and hold coun­cil mem­bers ac­count­able if they vi­o­lated the Sun­shine Law.

The in­ves­ti­ga­tion has been turned over to the Mercer County Prose­cu­tor’s Of­fice, which is separately prob­ing un­re­lated claims of bid rig­ging and wire tap­ping.

Kologi told The Tren­ton ian last week his firm was be­ing made the“scape­goat” for the OPMA vi­o­la­tion.

He blamed Morelli for not in­ter­ven­ing toshut down­the ex­ec­u­tive ses­sion say­ing his firm was never asked to re­search whether the closed­door meet­ing was le­gal.

“I am ab­so­lutely be­ing made a scape­goat,” Kologi said. “Why didn’t [Morelli] get up and say any­thing? ... It’s ab­so­lutely lu­di­crous.”

Kologi the­o­rized thatMorell­i was re­ally up­set that he didn’t standup­for thecity­at­tor­ney when McBride for at­tempted to ex­clude him­from the ex­ec­u­tive ses­sion.

Leg­is­la­tors also planned to dis­cuss the al­leged breach of con­fi­den­tial fire­fighter can­di­date in­for­ma­tion that im­pli­cated the law depart­ment.

Morelli said an em­ployee ac­ci­den­tally at­tached his memo to coun­cil’s packet.

The coun­cil-ap­pointed at­tor­ney texted Morelli apol­o­giz­ing for not say­ing some­thing toMcBride.

He said his apol­ogy should not be mis­con­strued to sug­gest he was apol­o­giz­ing for any­thing to do with the OPMA con­tro­versy.

Gus­ciora said he was happy Kologi opted not to fight his de­ci­sion in court af­ter claim­ing the mayor de­famed the firm in an ear­lier mis­sive.

“That’s one less law­suit,” he said.

The mayor said he re­gret­ted the com­pro­mise with coun­cil that led to the hir­ing of Kologi, believ­ing it didn’t im­prove re­la­tions be­tween leg­is­la­tors and the ad­min­is­tra­tion only deep­ened di­vi­sions.

He felt some coun­cilmem­bers used Kologi’s ad­vice to un­der­mine Morelli.

“I think part of the prob­lemwas that it en­abled coun­cil to not­work to­geth­er­with us,” he said. “I don’t think [Kologi] is a bad man. He was in a tough po­si­tion, al­ways caught be­tween dif­fer­ent per­son­al­i­ties on coun­cil. I think he was just as frus­trated as the rest of us.”

If he was, Kologi didn’t ex­press that in his let­ter to coun­cil.

“I can­not suf­fi­ciently state how ap­pre­cia­tive I am for your con­fi­dence in al­low­ing our firmto rep­re­sent you,” he wrote to leg­is­la­tors, “and for the sup­port youhave shown, par­tic­u­larly dur­ing this past week. You have ex­tremely dif­fi­cult jobs, and al­though dif­fer­ences are in­evitable, I gen­uinely be­lieve that each of you has the best in­ter­ests of your con­stituents and the City at heart. I wish you noth­ing but the est as you ad­dress the many chal­lenges which lie ahead.”

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