PATERSON, NJ – Mohammed Akhtaruzzaman will remain a City Councilman for at least another month.
The trial in former Councilman Aslon Goow’s lawsuit to have Akhtaruzzaman removed from office ended early Tuesday afternoon and Superior Court Judge Thomas Brogan said he would render his ruling in the case on September 7.
Akhtaruzzaman stunned political leaders in May when he defeated Goow, a three-term incumbent, by about 460 votes in the 2nd Ward Council election. In many ways, Akhtaruzzaman’s win was seen as a triumph for Paterson's emerging Bengali community as much as it was a victory for the man who became the first person from Bangladesh to be elected to public office in North Jersey.
But Goow quickly challenged the election, asserting that Akhtaruzzaman had not fulfilled the requirement that he live in the 2nd Ward for at least a year before the election. Goow maintained that Akhtaruzzaman had moved from Totowa too late to comply with the residency requirement.
In the course of the trial, which started on July 23, Goow’s lawyer, Michael DeMarco, tried to undermine Akhtaruzzaman’s credibility by highlighting contradictions and inconsistencies in various official documents the councilman filled out or signed during the time he was supposed to live in Paterson. That included an emergency food stamp application Akhtaruzzaman submitted in September 2011 that said he lived in Totowa, his daughter’s school registration information that said she lived in Totowa at that time, and a voter registration form from March 2011 that listed an inaccurate Paterson address for him.
But Akhtaruzzaman’s lead attorney, Joe Garcia, had asserted during the trial that there was no evidence presented by DeMarco that confirmed the councilman had lived in Totowa other than innuendo and inference. Garcia said election law set the standard for residency as “a candidate’s intent manifest by some credible action.’’ Garcia maintained that the evidence in the case showed Akhtaruzzaman intent was to live in Paterson and that it was manifest by a variety of actions.
Brogan said on Monday that testimony in the case had raised a “question of doubt” about where Akhtaruzzaman lived. But whether the judge believes those doubts were strong enough to have him removed from office won’t be clear until September 7.
At first, there was no one from the Bengali community at the trial. But in recent days, the crowd of Akhtaruzzaman supporters grew and grew to the point that he had about two dozen backers behind him. It was Bengali community leaders who two weeks ago decided to cover Akhtaruzzaman’s legal expenses and helped him remain the services of an additional lawyer, Curtis La Forge, to help on the case.