AG Lawsuit Update and Invoices for Northern Bergen County related litigation
Mahwah was in court this week having settlement talks with lawyers from the NJ Attorney General’s office. The township council was charged with discrimination after passing an ordinance aimed at banning Hassidim from their parks & trying to prevent the final segment of the Rockland Eruv from running through a corner of the township. These actions have cost Mahwah dearly, both monetarily and in terms of reputation. Bordering Upper Saddle River has also rung up high legal costs, while nearby Montvale emerged relatively unscathed overall.
Eruv Litigation has obtained invoices from each town. These invoices are presented below, but in general reveal a few interesting facts:
- The three towns were in communication from the beginning, and spent time analyzing each other’s legal filings and developments.
- All three towns received subpoenas from the NJ Attorney General’s office around the same time, but in the end only Mahwah was sued by the State.
- Special counsel worked on auxiliary items such as reviewing OPRA requests and advising on police reports (a number involving Facebook Group “Citizens for Better Upper Saddle River” founder, Erik Friis).
Mahwah unleashed its actions amidst an outpouring of hate and bigotry, egged on by their council. To defend against the two federal court cases (see here and here) that it faced as a result, Mahwah hired a bevy of law firms with random specialties.
The eruv case was handled by three separate law firms, who together never made a single filing or motion in court for any of the cases against the Township:
The still ongoing Attorney General suit, currently in settlement talks, is being handled by two firms:
When including the $10,000 paid by Mahwah to cover the eruv association’s legal costs in a settlement, this is a total of $221,395.37 spent on litigation (to date) due to the town’s actions. Note that this number will increase as the Attorney General lawsuit progresses, and may include a penalty paid if the case is lost or settled. Mahwah’s request to file for dismissal of the suit was denied this week and the case is currently set for fact discovery which is to be completed by September 30th, 2018.
Upper Saddle River
In addition to having the best case (see here), USR had a veritable anti-eruv dream team working their defense:
- Bruce Rosen, hired as lead attorney, is the only person to ever have any measure of success against an eruv; his legal arguments won the first round in 2001 in favor of the town of Tenafly before the ruling was reversed on appeal. His firm billed USR a whopping $402,521.48 (invoice), which included writing extensive legal briefs and a few appearances in court.
- Joining as adviser was Marci Hamilton, professor of constitutional law, and the lawyer who had the predecessor to RLUIPA declared unconstitutional. She billed only $5000 (invoice) for her involvement, although she tried to cash in on the esteem of her University.
- Finally, Joel Kurtzberg from Cahill Gordon provided auxiliary support to the USR litigation team, billing $97,958.80 (invoice)
After a disastrous preliminary hearing, Upper Saddle River settled, agreeing to allow the eruv to remain if moved as close to the NY border as possible, and pay $75,000 of the eruv associations legal costs. This brings their total costs to $580,480.28.
Among the three municipalities, Montvale took a different path. The town administration signaled their willingness to settle their case first, with Mayor Mike Ghassali holding a two hour town hall where he said they will “accommodate their neighbors to the north”. The town used only their usual township attorneys, Boggia and Boggia, who billed just $8,148 (invoice) to negotiate an agreement.Combined with the $10,000 settlement they paid, they spent only a fraction of what the other towns did at a total of $18,148. Montvale’s settlement was essentially the same terms, if not better, then the others, but they paid far less and really did not end up caught up in the controversy at all.