The city has so far incurred $62,533 in legal expenses to defend against a lawsuit filed by public works director Manny Ojeda, according to municipal records.
Ojeda filed his lawsuit in early 2014 alleging mayor Jeffery Jones’ administration retaliated against him after he was demoted from the director’s post for his ties to mayor Jose “Joey” Torres. He was subjected to ridicule from Jones’ director Christopher Coke as well as rank and file employees, alleges the lawsuit.
Council members refused to settle Ojeda’s lawsuit several times. Two weeks ago, the city council rejected a $175,000 settlement offer.
“It’s still less than the settlement,” said Kenneth Morris, councilman at-large, chairman of finance committee, when told of the legal tab so far.
The Torres administration presented the council with an initial $215,000 settlement to resolve the case. This number has been reduced to $175,000.
“There was a general consensus the offer was unacceptable,” said council president William McKoy.
Each time council members cited a negative precedent the lawsuit would set.
“If this case is not handled properly, it can open the door for other similar cases thereby exposing taxpayers to even more financial risk,” said Morris. “You have to consider the cost to dispose of this case as a cost to ensure cases similar to this do not see the light of day.”
McKoy and Morris are expected attend a settlement conference at the federal courthouse in Newark later this month to discuss the council’s unwillingness to settle the case.
A settlement conference was scheduled for July 12th, 2016, but that has to be rescheduled. Both sides may meet during the last week of July or the first week of August, according to federal court records.
Ojeda was elevated back to director’s post after Torres returned to office in July of 2014. His current salary is $117,600, according to government records.
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