PATERSON, NJ – The City Council is seeking dismissals of the lawsuits filed by Community Development Director Lanisha Makle and former Chief of Staff Charles Pettiford on the grounds that the complaints are frivolous.
That was the response from the city council’s attorney, Michael DeMarco, in papers filed in Superior Court on November 1. DeMarco argued in the court papers that the disciplinary actions taken by the council against Makle and Pettiford conformed with state law, as did the council’s overtime hearings conducted by its “Committee of the Whole,” which provided the basis for the discipline.
In their lawsuits, Makle and Pettiford are asking the court to overturn the city council’s decisions in June to suspend Makle for 90 days and to fire Pettiford. The two Cabinet appointees of Mayor Jeffrey Jones are maintaining the council violated state law that designates the separate powers of the administration and legislative body in municipal government. The suits also argue that the council violated Makle and Pettiford’s “due process” rights by not providing them proper notice of the proceedings and violated the state’s Sunshine Law by banishing them from the council chambers during the overtime hearings.
Philip George, the Warren-based attorney who is handling the lawsuits for Makle and Pettiford, said there was nothing frivolous about the charges against the council. “The Committee of the Whole proceedings were not done in accordance with state law,’’ George said.
The lawsuits target not only the council as a body, but the seven individual members who participated in the proceedings – Council President Anthony Davis, former councilman Aslon Goow and members William McKoy, Kenneth Morris, Rigo Rodriguez, Andre Sayegh and Julio Tavarez.
In the late summer, Tavarez’ personal attorney, Franklin Soto, filed court papers contesting the lawsuit on his behalf. In fact, all seven councilmen could seek to have their own individual lawyers represent them on the case at the cost of city taxpayers, officials said.
But Morris said that’s not likely to happen. “I believe Mike DeMarco can represent everyone because the issues are relatively the same,’’ said Morris.
Morris said he expected the lawsuits to be dismissed. “In my opinion, these are frivolous at best,’’ he said. “The council was 100 percent within its authority based on our system of government.’’
The courts have scheduled a case management meeting on the lawsuits on Friday, said George. The session will address scheduling and not substantive issues in the case, he said.