In 2014, after Newark Mayor Ras Baraka won his bid for mayor, his brother and chief of staff, Amiri “Middy” Baraka, Jr. said, “I’ve got my brother’s back.”
But the mayor may not be returning the favor.
In response to allegations of discrimination and retaliation by former city attorney Willie Parker against Baraka, “Middy” Baraka and two other top city officials, the mayor responded in court papers Monday by denying the allegations and suing his brother in a cross-claim.
Parker filed suit in U.S. District Court for New Jersey against the city, the mayor and his brother, along with Personnel Director Kecia Daniels and Business Administrator Jack Kelly in June, after he was allegedly retaliated against, and then fired, for refusing to sign off on a multi-million-dollar development deal.
The defendants responded on Monday in three separate responses.
The mayor, who announced his bid for reelection in June, offered little in the way of a defense, denying many of the allegations and 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,” Baraka said in his response.
Jack White, attorney for Parker, noted that the mayor was the only defendant making a cross-claim.
"The mayor and the city are suing the mayor's brother and chief of staff," he said. "There was only one person who pointed the finger, and that was the city and the mayor against his brother," White said. "That is very telling. If the defendants are found liable for any misconduct, then Middy either has to indemnify or contribute to lessen the burden on the city."
Cross claims from Baraka demand monetary compensation “from any and all co-defendants for any judgment against them,” with the mayor asking for full indemnification and stating that any negligence or liability on his part “were merely passive and secondary in nature, while the negligence and liability of any and all co-defendants was active and primary in nature.”
Middy Baraka, who served as his brother’s chief of staff when Baraka was South Ward councilman, offered no defense and denied the allegations, claiming that he did not have sufficient knowledge of the allegations.
Daniels and Kelly, too, denied most of the allegations and claimed little or no knowledge of the rest.
A spokesman for the Baraka administration said the city as a matter of policy does not comment on pending litigation.
Parker, who formerly served as Newark’s chief municipal prosecutor, was hired in February 2015 as corporation counsel and was responsible for negotiating and reviewing contracts on behalf of the city.
In his suit, Parker alleged that one of these contracts -- which struck a multi-million dollar development deal between the city and a developer -- included a provision that was added after approval of the contract, a provision that Parker alleged would result in the city losing millions of dollars while simultaneously benefiting private commercial interests.
The commercial interests were not named in the suit.
After Parker refused to sign off on the contract, the suit alleges that he was “commanded” by Middy Baraka to execute the contract on behalf of the city during an Aug. 25 meeting.
Parker reported the chief of staff’s demands to the mayor, which resulted in a confrontation outside Parker’s home when Middy Baraka showed up with an armed security detail to accuse the attorney of snitching, the suit alleges.
The suit claims that Middy Baraka told Parker to “tell the mayor that you didn’t hear what you say you heard or that you misunderstood what you heard.”
The incident marked the beginning of an alleged string of retaliatory measures, with Parker claiming that he was chastised by the mayor in front of other employees and accused of making side deals with developers and their lawyers.
In October, 2016, Parker suffered a heart attack and requested leave under the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA).
White said that Middy Baraka's actions seem to directly correlate with Parker's health issues.
"If you have the chief of staff come to your house at night with armed guards, you might just have a heart attack," White said.
In December, city officials allegedly asked Parker to resign. Parker alleges that that he later faced another round of retaliatory tactics, claiming the city cut off his email access, changed the locks to his office and refused to let him use his granted sick and vacation leave time for 2017, all of which allegedly caused him to suffer further health issues.
"Mr. Parker took his leave, which is his right under medical leave, and the day that ended, he showed up for work," White said. "By that time, they had already started the process of firing him. Mr. Parker was very loyal to this mayor and he still is and would be to this administration. This is very personal for him; he planted himself in Newark for decades and this is how the city is treating him."
Claims in Parker's suit include interference with entitlements and retaliation under FMLA and discrimination and retaliation under the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination, among others. Parker seeks punitive damages between $1 million and $5 million.