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City Hires Six Law Firms to Handle Lawsuit From 2010 Fatal Fire

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PATERSON, NJ – Municipal officials have hired six different law firms with contracts worth a total of $130,000 to defend the city and its employees against a lawsuit filed by the mother of one of the four victims in the fatal June 2010 fire at 465 E. 31st Street.

The lawsuit targets the city’s enforcement of code violations at the building. The Passaic County prosecutor’s office has determined that faulty wiring caused the blaze and has filed manslaughter charges against the landlord, Florence Brown of Clifton. The city had filed code violations against Brown in January 2010, according to a northjersey.com story.

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At first, Paterson officials retained one law firm, Hunt Hamlin and Ridley, to handle the lawsuit filed by Hazel Hamrick, the mother of Darrell Hamrick, who was killed in the fire, according to City Corporation Counsel Paul Forsman. But in taking depositions and performing other preliminary research in the case, that firm decided that some of the information that was unfolding might put various municipal employees in conflict against each other, Forsman said.

As a result, Forsman said the city law department decided it would be wise to retain separate lawyers for the various employees involved. Moreover, he said, Hunt Hamlin and Ridley had to be removed from the case because of conflicts that might arise from the fact that it originally represented all the city employees involved.

Here’s the breakdown on the six firms:

  • Sciro & Marotta of Paterson has a maximum $40,000 contract to represent the city itself
  • Lite, DePalma, Greenberg of Newark has a maximum $40,000 contract to represent Firefighter Louis Iandoli Jr., Deputy Fire Chieg Thomas Hirz and Deputy Fire Chief Michael Muccio
  • Grieco, Oates & DeFilippo of West Orange has a maximum $20,000 contract to represent the city’s electrical inspector, Robert Bierals
  • DeYoe, Heissenbuttel & Buglione of Wayne has a maximum $10,000 contract to represent the city’s construction official, Salvatore Ianelli
  • Chasan Leyner & Lamparello of Secaucus has a maximum $10,000 contract to represent Ana Cancel, a clerk typist in the city’s community improvements division
  • Mohamed S. Jalloh of Cranford has a maximum $10,000 contract to represent Fran Ragucci, a secretarial assistant in the community improvements division.

Family members of the other three victims - Latita Buckerman, Betty Johnson and Mark Smith – have not filed lawsuits against the city, Forsman said.

The City Council approved the contracts for the six law firms at its July 31 meeting.

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