The school board awarded $455,000 in contracts to five law firms on Wednesday night. Of the five awards, the largest was given to Bob Murray, who has served as the district’s outside legal counsel since the dissolution of the in-house law department in 2016.
Murray’s contract is for $200,000. He serves as the board’s general counsel at public meetings and handles grievance cases.
Other contracts were awarded to the following firms:
- $75,000 to Apruzzese, McDermott, Mastro & Murphy of Liberty Corner
- $75,000 for Barto & Barto of Hackensack
- $75,000 to Florio, Perrucci, Steinhardt & Fader of Rochelle Park
- And $30,000 to the Law Offices of Abdelhadi and Associates.
Some school board members wanted a report on the district’s legal expenses to see whether the school system is saving money by getting rid of its in-house legal department.
“I have no idea what that situation is,” said longtime school board member Jonathan Hodges. He and his former colleague Errol Kerr opposed dissolving the law department in 2016. Both, at the time, worried legal expenses would spiral out of control.
“Is this the right way. Is it saving us money?” asked board member Emanuel Capers.
School board president Oshin Castillo called for a report to be produced and provided to board members.
Board member Flavio Rivera said a report was presented to his fiscal committee. However, he said some of the numbers were outdated. He said the board will get a report on Thursday.
“The district spent $400,000 less last year than when you had the full-time employees and you had outside lawyers,” said Murray.
Murray said at this point in this school year that saving is estimated to be $200,000.
- There has been a “sharp increase” in special education litigation, said Murray, that has been taken on by the Barto law firm. He said the firm is in middle of a series of cases.
- The Apruzzese firm handles insurance defense and tenure cases.
- Florio handles tenure and civil litigation, said Murray. He said this firm is moving towards handling state and federal court cases having to do with whistleblower and discrimination cases.
- Abdelhadi’s firm is handling real estate matters as the district tries to sell some of its properties.
Abdelmageid “John” Abdelhadi serves as a judge at the Paterson Municipal Court. He was appointed in 2014 by ex-mayor Jose “Joey” Torres.
“I think they are reasonable and they win,” said Murray of the law firms.
Murray of Shrewsbury highlighted his Paterson credentials prior to the vote. “I’m very proud to represent Paterson because this is where I was born and raised. Right here in South Paterson,” he said.
Hodges wanted to delay voting on the contracts. He wanted to see a report on the district’s legal expenses over the years in light of the massive budget gap.
“The cases are ongoing. If there’s no approval they’ll never get paid,” said Murray. He urged the school board to approve the contracts.
“I’m very uncomfortable with that,” said Hodges. “What if we said no? These things should be discussed in great details. If you are under the gun being forced to vote then you are going to make the wrong vote sometimes.”
Hodges voted against the contracts. Capers abstained on some and voted against others.
Some school board members have expressed a need for in-house lawyers.
“An operation this big. We should have lawyers in-house,” said Rivera.