Tabakin- 1, Old Guard- 0 *UPDATED*

This entire piece has undergone a substantial rewrite- not because the original erred, but a lawyer friend (not Not-Stempler) contacted me to say there was MORE, MORE, MORE to this story. That I'd left out some details. So he added them, and now gets a co-writer's credit.

by GA and Not Not-Stempler

GA's legal department, Not-Stempler is too busy for me these days, and at $850/hour who can blame him?

But we did chat last night.  I had forwarded Zimmer's letter on next Wednesday's Special Meeting and wanted his drive-by opinion. This was it:

"Brilliant strategy by Tabakin"

Of course he was referring to Corporation Counsel's legal strategy.  Not to put words in Not-Stempler's golden mouth, but the notion of forcing City Council members to pick and choose which suits the City will walk from indeed puts their backs against the wall, and accountability for the City's losses to settle squarely on them.

Because one can assume that walking away may cost the City more than the fight.

GA can't offer a legal opinion.

But on the politics of this 'Special Meeting' I will repeat Not-Stempler: brilliant strategy.

Because for an administration whose mission is disinfecting City Hall- no accident that Zimmer gave our data banks to the F.B.I.- this is a brilliant way to cast sunlight on the rumored institutionalized corrupt partnership between the entrenched outside counsel, some of whom engaged in collusive practices with prior administration legal departments  and the beneficiaries of frivolous lawsuits.

Here's how it allegedly worked  for many years: a 'friend' sues the City for some alleged infraction, often frivolous (example: Flo Amato's recent attempt to sue Hoboken for an illegal campaign loan to Peter Cammarano), the City attorney would hire an “outside counsel” (read “politically connected law firm”) and that outside counsel would allow  the suit to drag on and on and on and on, billing hourly.... ka-ching ka-ching. (with the benevolent approval of the city attorney) 
 All this time the politically connected outside counsel is making campaign donations and wining and dining the various politicos whose approval was needed to get and keep the “outside counsel” designation. 
 After enough money has been sucked from the city’s coffers, a suitably generous “settlement” is EVENTUALLY arranged with the assistance of the plaintiff’s attorney.  (There is no coincidence that the same plaintiff’s attorneys keep showing up time and again – they are in on the game as well, as they know that taking a case against the City is a sure thing). From the “settlement” pot: (i) the plaintiff’s attorney gets his cut of the settlement for his fees, as the case was taken on a contingency basis; and (ii) the “friend” gets his slice; and (iii) and the various politicos that make this merry game keep churning all get a taste; and (iv) the outside counsel gets a new case and the game begins again.  
This was risk free litigation, with the costs of the litigation essentially funded by the City. There was no hurry to bring the case to resolution, legitimately, when the billing is hourly and the results are guaranteed by the City’s coffers.  The rules of the game make sure that everyone gets paid in the end.
Use your imagination who these 'friends' are and if some are elected officials.  Invented lawsuits were not unheard of, as in I will issue a violation which I know to be bogus, you sue, and the City eventually settles for a handsome amount.  Or, we demote you and then you sue and get back your job as well as back pay and lifetime tenure in your position for which were not qualified for to begin with.  The variations were endless.

Well, that’s the rumor as to how the game was played.

And that the buzz about Hoboken in the legal community was that it was a 'soft target'.  Easy money.  Our money.  

But then comes Zimmer.

She brings in Michael Kates, a new Corporation Counsel with the directive to 'wrap up' the City's dragging litigation.

Which cuts off an Old Guard revenue stream.

And the Old Guard doesn't LIKE that, doesn't like him. So the Old Guard City Council members make his life hell, obstruct him at every turn, berate him publicly and you know what happened next.  Kates quits.  Which was their goal, hoping the City's next hire would 'play ball'.
Michael Kates: All Ground up

That didn't happen. The new Corporation Counsel Mark Tabakin and Assistant Mellissa Longo were not 'with' them. Instead, the City begins demanding that lawsuits actually are defended and advises adversaries that the City is not caving in on friendly settlements. See what happened to Pa Russo’s worker’s compensation claim as an example.

What is the Old Guard to do to stop this insanity?

In response, the Old Guard decides to attack the revenue stream that is funding this horrendous attempt to cut off the gravy train. If we can’t get paid like we always did, then we will cut off the money to fuel this new-fangled and idiotic campaign to handle the City’s litigation in a professional manner on the merits of each case. If the cases are not actually funded for defense, then the City may go into default or lose an undefended motion and the “payday” is then secured.   

The incredible irony of complaining about excessive litigation by those who have historically manufactured litigation as part of a scheme for their own profit... well, you know it's got to be infuriating for those outside counsel, whose livelihoods are under attack, as well as the “friends” and politicos who have counted on their taste of the hourly fees generated by the unsupervised litigation and the ”settlements”, both funded by the City, to supplement their income.

So that's why GA thinks the letter is absolutely brilliant.

Because the 30 pending lawsuits are now dragged into the sunlight and subjected to public scrutiny as a collective.  In other words, you can't 'see' a whole painting if you're only looking at one stroke of the brush. And because the City Council minority has forced his hand, Tabakin's put them ALL out in the public and we get to ask questions. See the pattern. See connections.

These lawsuits were supposed to fly below the radar- percolate aimlessly until people needed an actual payday. Now we get transparency, thanks to the Old Guard's petulance. 

Now, don't forget there's Old Guard talk of a COMING lawsuit- with no less than Bush's Florida attorney on board- to challenge the movement of School Board elections to November... while they shout about excessive legal bills.

You follow?

Here's what Eric Kurta said on Patch:

As for Wednesday's Special Meeting, GA believes much of it will happen in closed session; obviously,  public discussion of ongoing litigation would not be in the City's interest.

And that's part of the brilliance of Tabakin's strategy, because...

If a tree grandstands in the forest but there's no one there to hear it did it make a sound?


  1. cant the city, county, state combine all of the same lawsuits and class action trenton LOL

    takes years in a class action.....just wondering since it is tax payer money and most are civil service employees????

    just wondering

  2. We should start a petition to recall the MORTes.

    It requires 25% of registered voters to sign on within 160 days.


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