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