Paterson Top Stories

School District Rethinks Legal Services As One Law Firm Gets Almost $900,000 in Fees During Past 30 Months



PATERSON, NJ – After spending a two-year total of about $1.8 million on legal services, city education officials are considering a reorganization of the school district’s law department.

More than a third of that money went to one firm, Schenck, Price, Smith and King, which collected about $670,000 during those years and has another $200,000 set aside for its bills for the current year.

Sign Up for E-News

The reorganization is supposed to reduce payments to outside firms by expanding the district’s in-house staff, officials said. It would include the creation of a new deputy law director’s position with a salary between $120,000 and $150,000, according to district officials.

At present, the district has one general counsel, Lisa Pollak, who makes $170,000, and one assistant counsel, Carol Smeltzer, who makes $120,531. Smeltzer has been out on medical leave since last spring.

Board of Education members have complained that they were caught off-guard by the administration's plans to hire a deputy counsel and they have demanded an explanation of the proposal. On Wednesday, city school officials are scheduled to discuss the legal department during a special meeting at 5 pm at the district offices at 90 Delaware Avenue.

“Paterson is a very large, urban district and our legal counsel provides us overall guidance while assisting us with the review of numerous contracts and lease agreements, Affirmative Action matters, HIB (Harassment, Intimidation and Bullying) processes, and attendance and tenure initiatives,’’ said district spokeswoman Terry Corallo. “By having an additional in-house attorney, we can improve efficiency while reducing the cost of legal services being rendered to the district.”    

Most of Paterson Public Schools’ recent legal expenses have stemmed from fees to outside law firms, according to district finance documents provided to under New Jersey’s Open Public Records Act.

In the 2010-11 school year, the district earmarked about $569,000 for outside law firms and $653,000 in 2011-12, according to the finance documents. For the current year, the district has set aside $499,000 for fees for outside law firms. But that number could rise. That’s what happened in the last two years, when district officials increased the allocation for law firms as the year went on.

The law firm of Schenck, Price, Smith and King, which has offices in Paramus, Florham Park and New York, has reaped the majority of those fees, with more than $870,000 set aside for the firm during the past 30 months.  The second highest total has been for the the lawyer who handles labor negotiations for the district, Robert Murray. The district has spent about $580,000 encumbered for his work during the past two-and-a-half years.

Meanwhile, the size of the district’s in-house legal staff has grown each of the past two years, according to the finance reports.

In 2010-11, the district’s payroll documents showed two law department employees with a total salary of $161,853. Those numbers did not include the $133,900 salary paid to former law director Mark Tabenkin, who was terminated in April 2010 but continued to receive his full salary until June 30, 2011 as part of a lawsuit settlement.

In 2011-12, the district’s law department expanded to four employees with a total of $325,258 in salaries. In 2012-13, the law department has grown to eight employees with $733,669 in salaries, not including the possible addition of a deputy director. Part of the law department’s increase in the 2012-13 results from the shift of two employees from the district’s labor relations office into the law department.

Pollak previously worked as general counsel for Newark Public Schools. Corallo said that Pollak said that Newark’s total legal expenses and its total legal staff were much larger than Paterson’s.

For instance, Corallo said, Newark had five lawyers, two paralegals, four or five staff members in their risk management area and another three in the labor department when Pollak was there. At present, Paterson has two lawyers, one paralegal, two people in risk management and two people in labor relations, along with two secretaries.



TAP Into Another Town's News:

You May Also Be Interested In

Sign Up for E-News


Upcoming Events


Tue, July 24, 11:00 AM

Paterson Courthouse Plaza, Paterson

Tuesdays in the Plaza


Wed, July 25, 5:00 PM

Barbour Park, Paterson

Graduate BBQ at Barbour Park



Thu, July 26, 6:00 PM

Vreeland Ave. Park, Paterson

Occupy Vreeland Ave. Park

Arts & Entertainment Community Calendar

Readers Says Let Developer Bring Paterson Back

July 13, 2018

Dear Editor: 

It is no secret that Paterson is in dire need of revitalizing, restructuring, rebuilding, and, quite frankly, rebranding. As a city, we have struggled to pay our municipal debt, to reduce crime substantially, to create sustainable employment opportunities for our youth and to provide assistance for our city’s most vulnerable residents. 

Today, we face an uphill ...

Open Enrollment for Free Preschool Program in Paterson for Low-Income Families

July 23, 2018

PATERSON -- Greater Bergen Community Action (GBCA) Head Start/Early Head Start preschool program has open enrollment for children ages 0 to 5 who come from low-income families. Early Head Start serves children from infancy through age 3, and Head Start serves children ages 3 through 5. The programs are available at no cost to the children and their families.

With three locations in ...

Murphy Administration Takes Action to Help Smokers Quit

Eliminates Prior Approval for Medicaid Tobacco Cessation Medications; Counseling Options to be Expanded

July 16, 2018

(TRENTON) – The Murphy administration on Monday announced new steps to help New Jersey Medicaid recipients quit using tobacco by making it easier to receive tobacco cessation medications and counseling.

“Tobacco use is the leading preventable cause of death ...

Newark May Get a Boost From Investors with New Federal Program

July 22, 2018

NEWARK, NJ - Newark could soon see a boost in long-term investments due to federal legislation that created certain tax exemptions for private investors.

In April, the federal treasury department approved low-income Opportunity Zones in 75 municipalities throughout New Jersey that were nominated by Gov. Phil Murphy. Thirteen of those zones are designated in Newark.

MORE: View a ...

Newark Lures Amazon With $1 Billion Payroll Tax Incentive

NEWARK, NJ - Amazon will get a payroll tax break at a cost of $1 billion to the city should the company open its second headquarters here.

It’s one of two ordinances that were approved by the Newark City Council council to sweeten the deal for the corporate giant and stand out among other locations vying for Amazon’s so-called HQ2.

“The City Council has brought Newark a ...

RU Ready for Rutgers Football? Tickets on Sale

July 18, 2018

NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ - There's a lot of promotions planned this fall as part of the Rutgers football season.

Single game tickets go on sale Thursday, July 12, with seven home games. There's matchups against Big Ten East opponents Michigan and Penn State, and a first-time cross divisional meeting with Northwestern.

If football is not your thing, there's plenty ...

Westfield to Hold 3-Day ‘AddamsFest’ Celebrating Charles Addams and His Creations This Fall

WESTFIELD, NJ — It’s creepy. It’s kooky. And it’s taking over Westfield from Oct 26 to 28. AddamsFest, a town-wide celebration honoring Westfield native Charles Addams and his most famous creations, The Addams Family, will be a destination event this fall with family-friendly activities, lectures, exhibits and film screenings, the town announced Thursday.

Watch the ...

Belmar Parasail: Soar Into Summer with a High-Flying Adventure Along the Beachfront

BELMAR, NJ — As Belmar finally basks in picture-perfect weather, it may be time to check off a summer activity on your bucket list. And for many, parasailing is one of those “must-do” experiences.

At Belmar Parasail, the season is in full swing, offering boat trips from the Belmar Manutti Marina to the beachfront where passengers are lifted 500 feet above the Atlantic Ocean ...