Mayor Andre Sayegh’s new law director Farrah Irving was reprimanded by the New Jersey Supreme Court for misconduct last year, according to public records.
Irving was reprimanded for violation of four rules of professional conduct:
- Lack of candor to a tribunal
- Conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit or misrepresentation
- Conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice
- Failure to provide a contingent fee agreement, stating the method by which the fee is to be determined.
Irving admitted to the violations, according to the decision issued by the Disciplinary Review Board of the Supreme Court of New Jersey on May 23, 2018.
Reached for comments on Monday morning, Irving said she was heading to a court and that she would provide a response. No response came as of publication.
Sayegh appeared genuinely surprised when told of the misconduct on Saturday morning. He did not respond to a message seeking his comments for this report on Monday morning.
The mayor appointed Irving last week to replace outgoing law director Khalifah L. Shabazz. Shabazz, who had been confirmed by the City Council last year, suddenly resigned from her post.
Sayegh said Shabazz was brought on to serve a short stint in his administration.
Council members were surprised and shocked when told of the reprimand.
“Jesus!” remarked councilman Luis Velez when he heard the four violations.
“Oh, my God,” remarked councilwoman Lilisa Mimms.
“I was not aware of any of that,” said councilman William McKoy. “That’s something that will have to be explained.”
McKoy said he knows the Irving family to be public service minded. Irving’s brother was former school board president Christopher Irving. Her resume is impressive, said McKoy.
Sayegh highlighted her work and education in his announcement on Friday. Irving earned a bachelor’s in sociology from William Paterson University, a master’s in social work from Kean University, and juris doctorate from the University of the District of Columbia, David A. Clarke School of Law.
Irving works as assistant township attorney in Irvington. Previously she served as law director in Hillside, according to Sayegh’s public statement.
Mimms and Velez said the administration needs to vet and conduct background checks before hiring people.
“It’s a sad, bad report even before she starts,” said Velez.
“We have to vet them,” said Mimms referring to the confirmation hearing. “We have to do our due diligence.”
Sayegh hasn’t said when he plans to submit Irving’s name to the City Council for confirmation.
The reprimand against Irving stemmed from a case she took on in 2014. Rosalynd Smith, a special education teacher in Paterson, retained her to file a petition with the Office of Administrative Law to contest the district’s move to non-renew and not give her tenure.
Statute of limitation had expired on Smith’s claim, but Irving agreed to assert an alternative theory to expand the time frame. Irving never gave Smith an agreement setting forth fees and rates because she believed it was unnecessary in a fee shifting case.
Irving submitted a certification for Smith that stated the latter had read the petition and the facts contained in it were true to the best of her knowledge. Irving signed Smith’s name in the certification without stating her client had not personally signed the petition, according to public records.
Irving told the board she signed it for Smith to “simply to save time.”
Open government advocate John Paff learned about the situation from a lawsuit that had been filed in court. He recognized an ethics violation and forwarded the information to the ethics committee which ultimately led to the reprimand.
“I don’t think a reprimand is an automatic disqualifier for any type of job. It’s a warning to the person that’s doing the hiring that this person has a history. In the same way, I don’t think that a criminal conviction for something minor should bar public employment. People make mistakes; people move on,” said Paff.
Irving had no ethics history prior to the reprimand. “She was a relatively newly admitted attorney at the time of the misconduct,” reads the decision. She was “remorseful and apologetic for her conduct.”
Paff said the mayor and municipal officials should provide any explanation to the public as to why the city is hiring an attorney with a record of reprimand. “The people of Paterson deserve at least some sort of a plausible excuse,” he said.
The mayor’s announcement made no mention of the reprimand. His announcement stated Irving would start work on Aug. 5.
“That’s a big job. It’s probably the highlight of her career,” said Paff. “There should be some sort of a dialogue.”