Sunday, July 6, 2014

Emails Reveal Township Attorney Had Unusual Request to Hold a Judges Decision on a Lawsuit Until After 2013 Council Elections

As documents and emails in Paff v. Galloway et. al Lawsuit begin to be released by the Township and obtained by Galloway Township News, certain email conversations between Township Attorney Michael Fitzgerald and Attorney Walter Luers who represents John Paff in the Lawsuit against the Township, appear to be highly unusual. 
One email from October 28, 2013, just days before Galloway Township's Council Election appears to be the most interesting yet. 

Township Solicitor Michael Fitzgerald wrote in an email to opposing Attorney Walter Luers, "As you probably are aware, there are Galloway Township Council elections on November. Unfortunately, the partisan attacks back and forth and been unusually strong and often personal" Fitzgerald stated.  

"Every issue is being politicized. Would you be agreeable to a request by the Township to have Judge Johnson hold his decision until after the election? I don't know if he would be agreeable, it would be an unusual request, but I would prefer not to have this decision made an election issue by one side or another when we are so close to November 5," Fitzgerald said.

Luers declined Fitzgerald's request and stated if the Township motioned to have the decision delayed, he would further oppose same in court as the litigation had nothing to do with the Township's Election and would be an unwarranted exercise in judicial functions. 

The November 2013 election was highly publicized through-out the region. That same election placed Mayor Don Purdy back in office while defeating former Councilman Jim McElwee.

Galloway Township News requested of Fitzgerald an explanation as to why he would send such a request in 2013 to an Attorney involved in litigation with the Township. "I think that my email is largely self-explanatory" Fitzgerald  stated.  "I thought that it would be a good idea to avoid having politics unnecessarily injected into the case and having it become a political issue with the attendant posturing and sniping.  Of course, at the time I mistakenly thought that the case was straightforward and would be over relatively quickly," Fitzgerald said. 
Luers represents John Paff in a lawsuit that was filed earlier in 2013. Yet the decision wasn't made until after the Township went through a series of discovery and depositions. 
On Tuesday, June 10, 2014, the Township lost the lawsuit when Superior Court Judge Nelson Johnson issued an order against Galloway Township Clerk TC Kay and the Township and ruled in favor of the Plaintiff John Paff. 

The order was the result of a lawsuit filed in Atlantic County Superior Court on August 19, 2013, alleging the Township refused to provide Paff with "copies of emails logs that they are capable of producing and have produced in the past." 

The ruling orders the Township to provide the data and documents that Paff requested. After the ruling was issued Galloway Township News filed our own Open Public Records Request (OPRA) for the email logs the Township previously denied not only to this publisher, but also to John Paff. 

Township Solicitor Michael Fitzgerald immediately replied to our request and stated, "Judge’s Johnson’s decision is being stayed pending an appeal to the Appellate Division.  Accordingly, the Custodian will deny the request since no such record exists." 

The Township, through Fitzgerald and Galloway Township News Publisher have amicable resolved a dispute regarding Fitzgerald's denial in order to currently avoid litigation. 

The Township is still litigating the matter with Paff, more specifically Fitzgerald has stated the Township will appeal the Judges decision. The Township has already spent over $20,000 litigating the matter by paying Fitzgerald to defend the case. Now the Township faces currently a $14,000 bill from Walter Luers, Esq., since he was the prevailing party in this case. The Township has filed a motion to stay the decision and the fees until the appeal is heard by the Appellate Court. Luers has also filed his opposition to the Township's requests. 

Fitzgerald has also filed in Court requesting the Judge to Clarify the Order and Issue a Memorandum of Decision as it pertains to the release of the emails logs with or without redactions. 

Fitzgerald is arguing, "the Township never had the opportunity to address the need for specific redactions  and, even though a list of emails may contain only “sender/receiver/date /time” as stated by Judge Johnson (he omitted “subject”) that information alone may in some particular circumstances trigger confidentially concerns. For instance, the inclusion of an email on such a list may disclose the subject of an attorney client communication, the identity of a police informant, the existence of a confidential investigation, an employee’s medical or psychiatric information,  criminal victim information, domestic violence and so on.  Admittedly, the vast bulk of items on an email list would normally be innocuous, but there may nevertheless sometimes be the need to redact information such as the sender, recipient or subject of particular emails. I can’t believe that it was Judge Johnson’s intent to exclude that possibility."
However, Judge Johnsons opinion stated that "the Court concludes that Mr. Paff is entitled to receipt of the log of emails he has requested."  Paff requested a log showing sender, recipient, date and subject.
As the Township continues to argue the case in court, even prior to an appeal, the Township continues to expend funds in the defense and also be subjected to additional attorney fees by the plaintiff, above the already $14,000 requested. 


Anonymous said...

LOL. Lets hold a decision thinking it will tank the elections for the Repugs. This town is ridiculous.

Unknown said...

unbeleveable....only in Galloway ..

Anonymous said...

The solicitor's only concern was to protect the candidate that appointed him to his position.To try and delay the announcement of the judges decision only deprives the voting public of important information they could have used to make an informed decision before voting.Just like the Republican council knew they were facing a tax increase and had the Manager delay that announcement until election night after the polls closed! Just unbelievably wrong. But they now preach that they are all about open and transparent Gov't.

Anonymous said...

Why not just inspect the email account in box on site. That was no record needs to be created.

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