Law & Justice

South Brunswick Files Suit To Vacate Judge’s Affordable Housing Rulings

973e79ac2c77790b37f1_C3rxax0VcAQ5VfK.jpg
Retired Middlesex County Superior Court Judge Douglas Wolfson Credits: Middlesex County Bar Association Twitter Page photo
973e79ac2c77790b37f1_C3rxax0VcAQ5VfK.jpg

SOUTH BRUNSWICK, NJ – The township is suing retired Middlesex County Superior Court Judge Douglas Wolfson to throw out his affordable housing rulings last year that could bring almost 3,000 Council On Affordable Housing (COAH) units to the municipality.

According to the 67-page complaint filed on March 28, the township seeks Wolfson’s rulings and opinions vacated due to his connections to builders while deciding the cases.

In two separate rulings last year, Wolfson eviscerated the township, scolding it for not being “compliant” with the court’s attempts to define a satisfactory affordable housing plan, and then denying it immunity from builder’s lawsuits that could bring thousands more market units to South Brunswick.

Sign Up for E-News

According to his October 2016 decision, the units would be to cover a 16-year “gap period” of need in the community in addition to the “current” obligation of 1,533 units he ordered in August to be built during the next 10 years, for a total of 2,907 units.

“I am entirely satisfied that a significant affordable housing need arose during the gap period (1999-2015),” Wolfson wrote in that decision. “This need is a necessary component of South Brunswick’s fair share calculation.”

This decision came as the second part of a trial in which the township sought to be spared judicial intervention in its plans to implement affordable housing in the community.

The first part of the trial took place during the summer and Wolfson decided in August that the township, despite having a plan to address the issue, had not acted “in good faith.”

Wolfson said, at that time, that the township would lose any say in what parcels could be developed to meet the current 1,533-unit obligation, as determined by the court.

He said the testimony of the township’s expert, Dr. Peter Angelides of the Econsult consulting firm, to be “flawed” and not credible.

Wolfson, instead, went with the findings of one of the town’s opponents in the lawsuit, the Fair Share Housing Center.

"This decision demonstrates that towns can't use gimmicks to exclude tens of thousands of working families, seniors and people with disabilities from safe neighborhoods and access to good schools and employment," Fair Share Housing Center Executive Director Kevin Walsh said in a press release at the time announcing the decision. "These families have waited 16 years for New Jersey's housing laws to provide them the opportunities promised by our Constitution. It's time to reject these extreme arguments so that we can get to work building homes for New Jersey families."

The suit filed March 28 asking to have Wolfson’s rulings and opinions vacated and a new trial on the matter claims that he retired from the bench on December 31, 2016 only to reappear representing a major developer, Edgewood Properties Inc., of Piscataway, just four days later, on Jan. 4. 2017.

South Brunswick contends that Wolfson’s decisions in the case were prejudiced toward the developers because of his long history working with those firms prior to taking the bench in the affordable housing cases.

It is this appearance of bias that the town is basing its legal argument on to throw out his decisions and have a new trial on the matter.

When reached for comment by cell phone Monday, Wolfson hung up without saying a word.

The complaint points to Wolfson’s various associations with builders during his career as an attorney before being appointed to the bench in 1992.

He served until 2002 and then served a year as an assistant attorney general for the state before returning to the bench a second time from 2013-2016, primarily hearing COAH cases, according to his resume online.

He also authored several books on affordable housing and land use during his career, according to the resume.

South Brunswick claims that Wolfson was predisposed against its case and that his decisions now benefit the builders, one of which, he now represents.

The town also claims, in the court documents, that Wolfson and his family took luxury jet rides on the builder’s plane to various vacation outings during the years.

According to the suit, Wolfson should have recused himself from these cases due to the appearance of bias from his history with the builders.

State officials in the New Jersey Courts division said that they would not specifically comment on the new lawsuit against Wolfson, but that if charges are brought against a judge, it is something they may consider.

“We don’t have a comment on this, it is before the court,” Spokesman Winnie Comfort said Monday. “Every case is different. If we have a case where someone has filed charges against a judge, that case is handled in due course, the way it is supposed to be according to law.”

South Brunswick is not looking for a disciplinary action, but wants the earlier rulings vacated and a new trial on the matter assigned to a different court in the state, according to the complaint.

Such a decision could impact several municipalities in the state, according to the complaint, because many settled cases through Wolfson’s court.

If the township wins the current suit, it is not clear if that would impact those settlements.

Did you like this story?

Give us your feedback at ckim@tapinto.net or nwells@tapinto.net and click here to express your support for local news today.

If you did like it, please share with your friends and followers on Facebook and Twitter, and don't forget to "Like" our Facebook Page!

Download the TAPinto App!   Click here for Android - Click here for iOS .

TAP Into Another Town's News:

You May Also Be Interested In

Sign Up for E-News

Edison

East Brunswick School Board Member Arrested on Prostitution Charges

April 20, 2018

EAST BRUNSWICK, NJ - Robert Cancro, 66, a member of the East Brunswick Board of Education, was one of numerous men arrested and charged with engaging in prostitution as part of an ongoing investigation by the Hazlet Police of a location on Route 36. 

Cancro was elected to the Board last year.  He has served as a teacher and an administrator for many ...

Stories About Juvenile Death Row Inmates Featured in New “Docu-play”

April 13, 2018

HIGHLAND PARK, NJ - The United States is apparently the only country in the world where children are given death sentences.

A new documentary play by Elizabeth Weill-Greenberg titled Life, Death, and Life Again: Children Sentenced to Die in Prison is being performed with coLAB Arts at the Reformed Church in Highland Park. The play will tell the true stories of people who committed violent ...

Somerset Patriots Pitcher Scott Copeland's Contract Purchased By New York Mets

April 21, 2018

The Somerset Patriots have announced that right-hand pitcher Scott Copeland’s contract has been purchased by the New York Mets. He is expected to report to Double-A Binghamton.

The 6’3” righty broke into the big leagues in 2015 with the Toronto Blue Jays. That year, Copeland went 1-1 over five games (three starts) with six strikeouts. He had gone 11-6 with a 2.95 ERA over 21 ...

'The Sting' shimmers and shakes at Paper Mill

‘The Sting ‘slithers and shakes at Paper Mill Playhouse

By LIZ KEILL

MILLBURN, NJ – In a premiere production of “The Sting,” Harry Connick Jr. commands the Paper Mill Playhouse stage in Millburn.

Based on the sensational Paul Newman/Robert Redford film in 1973, the 1930s plot centers on a con game and gambling, sometimes on a train between New York and ...