The Paterson Art Factory has hired an attorney specifically to represent dozens of its tenants accused of operating businesses without the needed occupancy certificates.
David Garsia, owner of the Great Falls Industrial Park which owns the series of Spruce Street building called the Art Factory, hired Wayne-based attorney Joseph Afflitto to represent the tenants.
“The conflict has been eliminated,” Afflitto told roughly 30 tenants in the courtroom on Tuesday afternoon. Municipal prosecutor Vincent Stampone told Garsia his attorney Michael Rubin could not represent the tenants and the landlord back in February.
Stampone saw a “blatant” conflict of interest, he told a judge in a February court hearing. Afflitto took questions from the tenants.
One woman asked Afflitto how many court appearances the tenants have missed. He told the tenants they missed only a single court appearance. The tenants did not receive the summonses mailed to them at the Art Factory.
Another tenant asked Afflitto who will pay the penalty if Garsia loses the case. Garsia is paying Afflitto to represent the 65 tenants, according to the attorney. It’s not clear whether Garsia will pay for their penalties if the city prevails in the case.
Garsia did not take any questions following the court hearing. Rubin, who has been constantly complaining about the coverage his client has been receiving, also did not take questions.
David Gilmore, director of Community Improvement, whose vigorous code enforcement targeted the Art Factory, wondered whether the tenants will cry foul play if the judge imposes jail time or community service on them in the event the city prevails.
“These folks at this point are comfortable with my representation,” Afflitto told judge James Sieradzki of the Clifton Municipal Court. He said he has told the tenants they have the right to hire their own legal representation at any time in the case.
Afflitto also represents public works supervisor Imad Mowaswes who was indicted with two of his colleagues and mayor Jose “Joey” Torres for corruption. When briefly asked about that case, Afflitto said his client has not yet decided whether to take the state’s no prison plea deal and testify against the mayor.
Sieradzki heard the case at the Paterson Municipal Court. Stampone said Garsia’s side requested a non-Paterson court judge hear the case.
The lawyers and the judge spent more than an hour in the judge’s chamber. The judge told both sides to file briefs in August and early September and scheduled a court date for September 26th, 2017 at 1:30 p.m.
The city issued 210 summonses to Garsia and his tenants at both the Spruce Street and the Totowa Avenue buildings in late 2016. The city alleged Garsia needed certificate of occupancy papers for both buildings.
Garsia disagrees. His lawyers argue the Spruce Street building is a historic structure and does not require a certificate of occupancy.
Garsia’s business was widely viewed as a positive for the city. He has been providing cheap space to artisans and artists for their craft. He also hosts the annual Paterson Art Walk. However, much of that changed when it emerged he owed hundreds of thousands of dollars in taxes to the city.
The Art Factory owes $910,000 in property taxes on its 70 Spruce Street site. Some city officials have said Garsia is profiting at the expense of taxpayers; he continues to collect rent from tenants while paying nothing in taxes. The cash-stripped city plans to sell tax liens on the property to generate tax revenue.