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Trenton Votes Not to Pay Law Firms
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The City Council of Trenton, New Jersey, rejected measures to pay two law firms who work for the city. The rejection was at the behest of Mayor Tony Mack’s administration. The law firms continue to work for the city despite their contracts expiring back in the month of June. One of the law firms features former state governor Jim Florio as a partner. The law firms are owed more than $130,000 in unpaid bills from July 1 to the end of October. The City Council was asked to approve extensions for the contracts and make them retroactive to July 1, with them running through the end of the month.

The city was trying to secure new contracts for the law firms earlier in 2011 but a memo from acting city attorney Walter Denson revealed the following information:

  
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“The resolutions that were placed on City Council’s docket were either removed by administration or denied. Therefore the bids became stale.”

If the city had been able to acquire new contracts running through the end of 2011, the administration was going to seek new bids for legal services. Since the contract renewals were declined by City Council, the process for new bids seems to be on hold for the time being. Those who voted against paying the two law firms included city council members Zachary Chester, Phyllis Holly-Ward, George Muschal and Verlina Reynolds-Jackson. Councilman Alex Bethea decided to question the negative vote.

“How can we not pay for service that has already been rendered?” he asked. “Is that legal?”

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The two law firms in question are Florio, Perrucci, Steinhardt & Fader of Marlton and Zarwin, Baum, DeVito, Kaplan, Schaer & Toddy of Philadelphia. Trenton had recently been cited in an audit created by the Department of Community Affairs. The reason for the citation was that the city has authorized law firms to begin work and be paid without being approved by council.

“We’re going to pay them one way or another,” Denson said. “Whether it’s by lawsuit or voluntarily, we’ll have to pay. We’re in the midst of a multimillion-dollar settlement. The fact of the matter is they’re working without a contract and it’s their prerogative whether or not to cease work as of right now. Where it leaves you is at the mercy of the law firm.”



The Marlton-based Florio firm is currently trying to settle a case filed against the city by Westrum Development. The reason for the delay in contract extensions for the law firms is that the city’s law department has a high turnover rate. The department is currently working through two resignations and a reassignment. One of the resignations was that of its director.

“We want excellence, and that’s what we’re striving for,” Denson said. “Because there were problems or issues in the past, that’s where we’re trying to get to a baseline to make it correct. We need to work cooperatively together rather than pointing fingers.”



 

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