[UPDATE] Sticker shock: The reality of litigation costs start to arrive in time for the holidays

[UPDATE – new appropriations have been added to the agenda for tomorrow]
[UPDATE #2 – This email chain shows that while the current litigation contract ($50,000) goes through January, 2018, the next contract is already being prepared]
A mere several hundred have packed Town Council chambers since early this spring, demanding that ordinances be enacted to prevent an Eruv (see our FAQ here for information about an Eruv) from being established in a small section Upper Saddle River, Mahwah & Montvale (see map here).  That is a fraction of the approximately 40,000 people currently living in those Bergen County towns, which are now embroiled in litigation.

Of the many States (and towns across NJ) that have an Eruv, some have welcomed it.  Some haven’t, but realized the error of doing so years later, when fears never materialized.  None have prevented one, as it’s an innocuous thing, that is barely noticeable, and designed not to be seen.

But for all the hate and vitriol, the few hundred people packing Town Council chambers have, at least consciously said they accept the costs of this battle, they will most likely lose.

It’s the residents that chose to sit at home not caring about the issue, that may suddenly find that they are very much affected by the bills, which have started to creep up.

To see what these costs look like, here’s an example from Mahwah:

Back on August 24th, the Council set aside $100,000 of taxpayer money that they assured residents would be plenty and take them into the new year.  Via The Bergen Record:

“The township will pay each firm up to $50,000 for legal services under the agreements approved Thursday. The long-term legal costs, however, could reach $250,000 if the case is litigated fully, Township Attorney Brian Chewcaskie said.”

In the video above, the Township’s attorney states: “The projections are that we have not evaluated a loss. We would expect  if we have to litigate this completely it would be roughly a quarter of a million dollars” (at time index 1:07:08).

That was not true.

This Thursday, November 30th, the Mahwah Township Council will be voting to approve an “Emergency Appropriation“.  That’s a fancy legal way of saying you need to cough up more tax money.

An EXTRA $175,000 (for a total of $275,000) will now be appropriated, before the first motion has even been filed.  A letter from one of the firms associated with the litigation has already requested an additional $40,000.  The others will certainly be doing so as well, if they haven’t already.

Mahwah currently pays three firms: Gittleman, Muhlstock, & Chewcaskie, LLP (general Township counsel and advising on Eruv related litigaion), Holwell, Shuster & Goldberg, LLP (eruv litigation counsel), and Cleary Giacobbe Alfieri Jacobs, LLC (eruv litigation counsel). That list doesn’t include counsel to handle the AG lawsuit that will require significant additional funding.  Nor does the current tally include the Plaintiffs litigation costs which may be borne by residents as well (see our FAQ on who pays for Eruv Litigation costs)

This scenario will likely repeat itself in Upper Saddle River and Montvale (as soon as up-to-date appropriation numbers are available, this post will be updated). But with fewer than half the residents, those towns will feel the price much more acutely.

Mahwah, Upper Saddle River and Montvale are at a crossroads.

The decision is theirs to make, as to whether continuing this costly litigation for such a de minimis issue, is in their best interest.

But the decision will be a costly one. They should check with the residents sitting at home who will be sent the bill.  This may come with sticker shock.

In Mahwah, the next council meeting begins at 7:30pm on Thursday November 30th and there will be two opportunities for the public to speak.  The agenda may be found here: http://www.mahwahtwp.org/uppages/AGENDA%20AND%20DOCS%201130171.pdf

Mahwah Agenda_2017-08-24 (appropriation of $100,000)
Mahwah Agenda_2017-11-30 (Emergency Appropriation $175,000)
Mahwah Agenda_2017-08-24 (HSG LLP contract & Appropriation)
Mahwah Agenda_2017-08-24 (Cleary contract & Appropriation)
2017-11-09 Cleary Letter re $40k additional payment

UPDATE: New Appropriations have been added to the Agenda of November 30th, 2017

Agenda_2017-11-30_Resolution 400-17 (Cleary Giacobbe Alfieri Jacobs LLC)
401-17 Resolution re BREA v. Mahwah (HSG)
Agenda_2017-11-30_Resolution 404-17 (Methfessel & Werbel)
2017-11-09 Methfessel Letter re Hourly rates and anticipated needs through 2017-12-31
2017-11-28_email re HSG contract

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