Government

Council votes to pay legal fees for Mayor's brother and two other top city officials

Newark city council voted today to pay up to $200,000 in legal fees for top city officials Credits: Elana Knopp

Taxpayers will be footing the legal bill to the tune of $200,000 for Newark Chief of Staff Amiri “Middy” Baraka, Jr. and two top city officials after council members voted today to approve contracts for their legal defense at a special meeting of the city council.

Legal fees stemming from a pending lawsuit filed against Middy Baraka were approved, along with fees for Personnel Director Kecia Daniels and Business Administrator Jack Kelly.

Central Ward Councilwoman Gayle Chaneyfield Jenkins was the sole council member to vote against the measure.

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Payments in the amount of $125,000 were authorized to be paid out of the 2017 and 2018 city budgets to the law offices of Greenbaum, Rowe Smith and Davis, attorneys representing Middy Baraka, along with up to $75,000 for legal fees to Tompkins, McGuire, Wachenfeld and Barry, attorneys for Daniels and Kelly.

Former city attorney Willie Parker filed suit in June against the city, Mayor Ras Baraka, Middy Baraka, Daniels and Kelly for alleged discrimination and retaliation after Parker refused to sign off on a multi-million-dollar development deal.

The suit alleges that after Parker refused to execute a contract between the city and a developer, the chief of staff showed up at Parker’s home with an armed security detail. Parker later suffered a heart attack and was ultimately fired.

Parker is suing for punitive damages between $1 million and $5 million.

A vote last week to cover the fees was put on hold after Chaneyfield Jenkins cited a 1981 ordinance establishing procedures for the processing of claims and lawsuits against elected municipal officials, with a policy established to reimburse elected officials for the costs of defending civil and criminal charges.

Chaneyfield Jenkins had noted that under former Newark Mayor Kenneth Gibson, the 1981 ordinance called for reimbursement of counsel fees at a “reasonable rate,” warning council members that agreeing to foot the bill for the administration’s legal fees would be setting an unwanted precedent.

North Ward Councilman Anibal Ramos Jr. asked for the opinion of Elmer Hermann, counsel for the city council, and to hear an overview of prior cases in which the city has provided defense.

Kenyatta Stewart, corporation council for the City of Newark, said that based on his research of prior cases involving elected officials and employees, the city should pay the fees.

Stewart brought up cases involving former Newark elected officials and employees, including former Newark Mayor Cory Booker, also telling Chaneyfield Jenkins that he found an applicable case involving the councilwoman and stated that her legal bills were paid by the city.

Chaneyfield Jenkins was named in a lawsuit in 2006, along with the city and rest of the city council, but was no longer on the council at the time the suit was settled.

Chaneyfield Jenkins noted that she was not on council during the time Stewart referenced.

“You entered my name as evidence,” she told Stewart. “I was not an elected official at the time.”

Stewart responded that the city did what it was supposed to do.

“They continued to defend you and represent you,” Stewart told Chaneyfield Jenkins. “Past practice has always been to pay for representation of elected officials and employees. This is a simple matter. I think these employees are entitled to representation and we should go forward.”

Hermann said that he had obtained the old legislation that Chaneyfield Jenkins had cited at last week’s meeting.

“I see no impediment to that,” Hermann said. “I see no prohibition in any legislation I’ve reviewed. In my opinion, it is legally permissible.”

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