A group of Englewood Cliffs residents and officials are asking a judge to stop the borough from continuing to pay a law firm that has amassed nearly $1 million in legal billings.
The group also wants the court to make the mayor and three councilors personally liable for some of the costs.
Their motion is part of a lawsuit they filed in January against Englewood Cliffs, Mayor Mario Kranjac and councilors Timothy Koutroubas, Mark Park and Ramon Ferro.
That lawsuit charges the four with violating state law by hiring and paying New York-based Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft to handle affordable housing litigation for Englewood Cliffs.
The company was originally hired in July for an amount not exceeding $100,000. Since then, Cadwalader has billed the borough nearly $1 million at an hourly rate of over $1,000 an hour.
However, the law firm was never licensed to practice in New Jersey and was unable to obtain court permission to do so.
The plaintiffs group is made up of 10 residents, including Councilors David DiGregorio and Glenn Luciano and former Councilor Deborah Tsabari.
Plaintiffs’ attorney Albert Wunsch said the motion prevents the city “from doing anything stupid.” He said it was illegal to use the services of the law firm because the attorneys doing the work for the borough were not licensed to practice in New Jersey.
Wunsch alleged that hiring Cadwalader violated criminal and administrative codes. Under the administrative code, municipalities can only contract with agencies licensed to operate in the state, while the penal code, he said, says an entity cannot end up in a situation where it perpetuates the idea that a place has a license when it does not.
EARLIER:10 Englewood Cliffs residents sue city for hiring unlicensed law firm in New Jersey
FOLLOWING:Englewood Cliffs council calls an emergency meeting to fire a lawyer. He defends himself
CLIFFS OF ENGLEWOOD:A $100 million lawsuit and $900,000 in legal fees: Here’s how it ended for Englewood Cliffs
The attorneys, Nicholas Gravante and Karen Dyer, were denied “pro hac vice” status, which would allow them to work in the state with another company as a sponsor, on four occasions.
Wunsch accused the mayor and three council members of “conspiring” with the law firm at a cost to taxpayers of $1 million.
Kranjac would not comment on the merits of the case but accused The Record and NorthJersey.com of working in coordination with the local Democratic Party.
The motion would prevent Englewood Cliffs from continuing to use and pay the law firm’s bills and would hold Kranjac, Ferro, Park and Koutroubas personally liable for $300,000 in payments and other costs and fees.
The defendants are scheduled to appear in Bergen County State Superior Court on February 16.
Kaitlyn Kanzler covers Essex County for NorthJersey.com. For unlimited access to the most important news from your local community, please subscribe or activate your digital account today.
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