The school board has awarded $420,000 in legal contracts to two politically connected law firms that submitted unsolicited proposals seeking the district’s business.
Inglesino, Webster, Wyciskala & Taylor of Parsippany and Hunt, Hamlin, and Ridley of Newark each received a $210,000 contract to handle cases for the 2018-19 school year, according to school district documents.
Prominent city resident Kenyatta Stewart is a partner at the Hunt, Hamlin, and Ridley firm which has an office in Paterson. Municipal business administrator Vaughn McKoy has ties to the Inglesino, Webster, Wyciskala & Taylor firm.
McKoy’s profile on the business social networking website LinkedIn states he is a partner at the Inglesino, Webster, Wyciskala & Taylor firm.
“The LinkedIn is wrong,” said Elnardo Webster, partner in the Inglesino, Webster, Wyciskala & Taylor firm. “He’s not a partner.”
McKoy works as what’s called “of counsel” at the firm, said Webster. He said McKoy works part-time on an as needed basis.
Webster explained lawyers who serve as “of counsel” are usually retired judges or prominent attorneys. He said the goal of having of counsels is generally to add to the prestige of a firm.
McKoy ran the state Division of Criminal Justice and served as assistant U.S. Attorney for New Jersey. He also worked for PSEG. Mayor Andre Sayegh brought him on as the city’s business administrator two months ago.
“Paterson is getting some really good kick-ass lawyers,” said Webster. He cited the $160 per hour rate as inexpensive and good for taxpayers.
Stewart said it’s not every day a kid, who attended School 13, 5, and graduated from John F. Kennedy High School, becomes an attorney for the district.
The two firms will take over almost all cases in a district effort to “consolidate legal representation,” according to school board members.
School board members voted 5-2-1 to approve both contracts last week. Board members Oshin Castillo, Nakima Redmon, Vincent Arrington, Emanuel Capers, and Kenneth Simmons voted in favor while Joel Ramirez and Jonathan Hodges voted against.
Jessica Schutte abstained. Manny Martinez was absent.
“I did not think the process was appropriate,” said Hodges, longest serving member of the Board of Education.
Assistant superintendent Luis Rojas said the district received “unsolicited proposals” from both firms stating legal services could be provided in more cost-effective manner.
Rojas said the two firms had a concept of providing an in-house counsel several days a week for “considerably less cost.”
The lack of in-house lawyers was cited by board members earlier in the year as an issue. Former school board member Flavio Rivera at the time suggested the board hire in-house lawyers. Some administrators have complained about slow response time from contracted lawyers.
The district dissolved its in-house law department in 2016.
School board member Emanuel Capers defended his vote by stating the contracts are going to firms with community connections. He cited Stewart’s firm.
Stewart’s firm, Hunt, Hamlin, and Ridley, received business from the municipal government until 2014, when former mayor Jose “Joey” Torres decided to nix the firm’s contract. Last year, the law firm and one of its former attorneys, Navarro Gray, had to pay the city government $60,000 for bungling a case in 2016.
School board president Castillo and vice president Redmon did not respond to calls for comment for this story.
An agitated woman answered a call to Redmon. She would not identify herself, but stated Redmon would not respond to requests for comment.
Redmon has not responded to calls for comments from the Paterson Times since three stories appeared about her mother, Carol Austin. Other outlets covered the Austin case, but did not have information establishing the two women’s relationship. Several local leaders identified Austin as Redmon’s mother.
Austin received a five-year probation sentence for stealing food stamp benefits from poor families. She worked for the Passaic County Board of Social Services and had access to electronic benefit cards.
Redmon also works at the Passaic County Board of Social Services.