Middlesex County News

Middlesex Ethics Board Dismisses Complaint Filed Against Its Attorney

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ce6358ae64343cd7bd9f_MiddlesexCountyAdminBldgCourtHouse.JPG

NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ — Middlesex County’s ethics board has thrown out a complaint that claimed the panel’s attorney violated state law by not filing a financial disclosure statement.

The board made the decision this afternoon during a special meeting in the county freeholders’ meeting room on Bayard Street in New Brunswick. In doing so, it cleared its attorney, Anthony Vignuolo, following a recommendation included in a report compiled by the county’s legal counsel.

“There’s just no reasonable basis to sustain the ethics violation alleged against Mr. Vignuolo,” the ethics board’s chairman, David Himelman, said before the unanimous vote.

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Vignuolo didn’t attend the meeting. He didn’t immediately return a call to his office from TAPinto New Brunswick.

Charlie Kratovil, a city resident and the editor of the activist community newspaper New Brunswick Today, filed the Jan. 31 complaint against Vignuolo. Kratovil said he plans to take the allegations to the Local Finance Board, which oversees ethics issues for the state.

The complaint alleged that Vignuolo violated the county code of ethics and a state law that requires “local government officers” to formally disclose various sources of incomes and financial assets.

At issue, according to the county’s investigation, is whether Vignuolo qualifies as a local government officer in his role as attorney for the ethics board.

After a “thorough” search of state laws and opinions, county lawyers concluded that Vignuolo doesn’t provide “regular legal advice and representation to the ethics board, which meets only occasionally, and isn’t a local government officer. That means he didn’t need to file a financial disclosure statement last year, according to the report.

Middlesex attorneys also found no that the county code of ethics doesn’t require financial disclosure statements from people who serve in a capacity similar to that of Vignuolo.

“I don’t see any justification that you’ve mentioned to entertain the complaint,” said Albert Muzikar, a county ethics board member, citing the “comprehensive” review by Middlesex County lawyers.

Few people attended the 3 p.m. meeting, which ran exactly 30 minutes. But Kratovil was in attendance and argued his case prior to the board’s dismissal of the complaint.

He pointed to a state law enacted on March 6 that appears to consider contracted attorneys like Vignuolo “managerial executives” who must require financial disclosure forms.

Niki Athanasopoulos, senior deputy counsel to Middlesex County, said the new law isn’t retroactive—and Kratovil’s complaint pertained to 2016. What’s more, she called into question whether the statute applies to Vignuolo, given the infrequency with which the ethics board meets and and his “special,” limited role in county government.

Middlesex officials plan to review the new law and decide whether Vignuolo should submit a financial disclosure statement for 2017. The deadline to file has yet to pass.

While Kratovil intends to bring his complaint to the state level, he told TAPinto New Brunswick that the decision today sets a bad precedent.

He also filed a similar complaint against Vignuolo with the New Brunswick Ethics Board, which Vignuolo also represents. The status of that matter is unclear at this moment.

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