Monday, April 15, 2013

City ordered to pay $12,000 to resident's attorney

Donald Burke, Esq. appeared in front of the Honorable Peter Doyne in Hackensack on Friday, April 12, 2013.  Mr. Burke was representing plaintiff Steven Gelber, of the Hackensack Scoop, in an effort to recover legal fees from the City of Hackensack in the amount of $13,975.  These legal fees were accrued as a result of the city's denial of an OPRA request for a copy of the DPW (Blue Collar) and Sanitation Worker's collective bargaining agreements.

The matter began on December 5, 2012 when after questioning why the city's holiday decorations were assembled, a seemingly routine task, on holidays where the worker's were paid overtime, Gelber submitted an OPRA request seeking further information.  See Gelber's OPRA request below.

Ms. Heck, the City Clerk and custodian of records, responded with a denial of all items other than the white collar collective bargaining agreement.

Mr. Burke followed up by way of letter, in an effort to avoid litigation, requesting that the documents be provided.  Joseph Zisa, city attorney, had subsequent conversation with Mr. Burke and advised that a search for the documents would be conducted and said documents would be produced.  

When the blue collar and sanitation worker's collective bargaining agreements were not provided there was no alternative but to file suit.  As hard as it may be to believe, the two documents in question are readily accessible and in the position of all city DPW and sanitation workers.

Through the course of litigation Judge Doyne advised the city to provide the documents and the city complied thereby making Gelber a prevailing party entitled to legal fees.  Mr. Burke asserted that despite attempts to negotiate the payment of fees, and avoid further costly litigation, Mr. Zisa was uncooperative and failed to partake in a good faith negotiation.

Judge Doyne identified Burke as an expert in matters of OPRA and noted that though some would consider Gelber a "gadfly" he would identify Gelber as a concerned citizen with good intentions.  Doyne awarded $12,000 in legal fees to Mr. Burke.

It is a shame that the taxpayer must take the brunt of this matter having absorbed $12,000 of fees for Gelber's attorney and also having to pay Zisa's firm for their handling of this matter.  Though today is a "victory for the little guy" there is only one winner here, the firm of Zisa and Hitscherich.  Zisa and Hitscherich protracted this matter and carried on an unnecessary litigation racking up the hourly meter at the cost of the taxpayer.

The city legal meter just keeps ticking, and Joe Zisa keeps collecting!

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