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City To Hire Forensic Accountant To Review Legal Bills

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PATERSON, NJ – City officials are in the process of hiring a forensic accountant to audit some of the legal bills submitted by an attorney who represented Paterson police officers in civil and criminal cases.

At issue are requests by attorney Patrick Caserta for a total of more than $50,000 in payments submitted on Jan., 26 2012 and March 14, 2012.

“Those bills have been sent to the Administration for an audit,’’ City Corporation Counsel Paul Forsman said in a July 11 letter to Superior Court Judge Philip Mizzone. “Without that audit, it is impossible to tell if any payments have been made at any time against those bills. It appears that these assignments may date back to the period of 2008 to 2010.’’

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PatersonPress.com obtained the letter through a New Jersey Open Public Records Act request. In a subsequent interview, Forsman said the city was looking to hire a forensic account to do the audit and had received permission from the state Department of Community Affairs to do so.

Mizzone is the judge handling a civil lawsuit between Caserta and his former law firm, Hunziker, Jones & Sweeney, a firm that also includes Forsman’s predecessor as Paterson’s law director, Susan Champion. As part of the settlement of that lawsuit, Caserta is paying the Hunziker firm $75,000 through fees he says are owed to him by the City of Paterson.

In his letter to Mizzone, Forsman raises concerns about the bills submitted by Caserta. In one, instance, Forsman writes, Caserta has billed Paterson for $11,731 on a case for which $7,500 was authorized.

“We have not been presented with a Council resolution approving these expenditures or for permission to exceed authorized limits, if any,’’ Forsman wrote.

But Caserta, who has been representing Paterson police officers for 20 years, said it was common for legal costs to sometimes exceed the amounts originally authorized.

“Paterson can do whatever they need to do,’’ Caserta said. “I don’t quite understand why they need a forensic accountant. But it’s up to them.  They can look at all of my bills with a fine-tooth comb if they want.’’

The review of Caserta’s bills comes as part of another issue that Forsman wants investigated. In a June report to City Council members, Forsman has raised questions about whether Champion was benefiting from legal work her one-time law partner, Caserta, was doing for the city.

Champion has said that there was only a brief period of several months when she was Paterson’s Corporation Counsel between 2002 and 2010 that she and Caserta were members of the same law firm. Moreover, she has pointed out that it was the individual police officers who picked Caserta to represent them, not her.

But Forsman’s report says it was Champion’s responsibility to review the bills submitted by Caserta before they were paid.

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