One of the state's top criminal defense lawyers who represented Bridget Anne Kelly in the Bridgegate trial was retained by Newark Mayor Ras Baraka to defend him in a civil suit brought by the city's former attorney.
Baraka filed a motion this week in U.S. District Court in Newark to replace attorneys Carmagnola and Ritardi with Michael Critchley of Critchley, Kinum and Denoia.
In addition to defending Kelly in the Bridgegate trial, Critchley has defended such notables as Michael "Mad Dog" Taccetta, high-ranking member of Luccese crime family, former financier Robert Brennan; and former Essex County Executive James Treffinger.
The high-profile attorney will defend Baraka against former city attorney Willie Parker, who filed a discrimination and retaliation suit against the mayor and three co-defendants in June.
Parker filed the suit against the city, the mayor, his brother and chief of staff Amiri “Middy” Baraka, Jr., Business Administrator Jack Kelly and Personnel Director Kecia Daniels, claiming that he was retaliated against after he refused to sign off on a multi-million-dollar development deal between the city and a developer.
In his suit, Parker claims that he advised the administration not to go forward with the deal after he discovered an added contractual provision that would have cost the city millions of dollars a year.
Soon after, city officials allegedly began a campaign of discrimination and retaliation against Parker, with Middy Baraka allegedly going to Parker’s home with armed body guards and accusing him of “snitching” to the mayor.
Parker later suffered a heart attack but returned to work once his medical leave expired. Upon his return, Parker claims that termination proceedings had begun and that he was allegedly locked out of his office, blocked from email access and ultimately fired.
Parker is suing for punitive damages in the amount of $1 million to $5 million.
A call to Critchley was not returned.
Both the mayor and his brother were originally represented by Carmagnola and Ritardi. On August 25, Middy Baraka filed a motion to replace the firm with Raymond M. Brown from the law offices of Greenbaum, Rowe Smith and Davis.
Brown serves as co-counsel for U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez, who is currently facing trial in federal court on a slew of federal corruption charges including bribery, fraud and conspiracy.
“I find it interesting that the interests of the mayor and the city are unaligned to the degree that these two defendants require separate counsel,” said Jack White, Parker's lawyer.
Middy Baraka's hiring of Brown came just three days before Domenick Carmagnola filed a response to Parker's suit on behalf of the mayor and the city. As part of the response, Mayor Baraka filed a cross claim against Middy Baraka and the other two defendants, effectively pointing the finger at his co-defendants, claiming that he should not be penalized for the actions of others named in the suit.
“If any of the employees of the city engaged in any wrongful acts toward plaintiff, said acts were outside the scope of their employment with the city defendant and were independent, intervening and unforeseeable acts that were not ratified, confirmed or approved by the City Defendant and therefore cannot be attributed or imputed to the city defendant,” Carmagnola wrote in the cross claim.
Just days ago, Newark’s city council authorized payment of $200,000 legal fees to attorneys for Middy Baraka, Kelly and Daniels. A payment in the amount of $125,000 will go to the law offices of Greenbaum, Rowe Smith and Davis along with up to $75,000 for legal fees to Tompkins, McGuire, Wachenfeld and Barry, attorneys for Daniels and Kelly.
The council previously authorized a payment in June of $60,000 towards Mayor Baraka's legal fees.
Frank Baraff, a spokesman for the city, responded to a question about whether the City Council would need to authorize payment to Critchley with a one word answer: "Yes."
Critchley, who has been described as a “tiger,” has also represented failed presidential candidate John Edwards’ mistress, along with Ridgefield Mayor Anthony Suarez on bribery charges.
Critchley has tried more than 100 cases in federal and state courts involving securities fraud, anti-trust violations, tax fraud, and official misconduct and has made it onto several who's who lists of attorneys. He formerly served as an Assistant Prosecutor in the Essex County Prosecutor’s Office and later served as assistant counsel to Governor Brendan Byrne.
"Michael Critchley is one of the best and most ethical layers in the state," said Joseph Hayden, another top criminal defense lawyer with the law firm of Pashman Stein Walder Hayden, located in Hackensack, New Jersey.
TAPinto Newark editor Mark J. Bonamo contributed to this report.