The bloom of spring hasn’t been particularly rosy for Jersey City’s lawyers, as the city will be forking over $137,000 in legal fees following a double dose of bad news at the courthouse.
The first setback happened just as the calendar turned to May and stems from the blockbuster Federal lawsuit filed by Kushner Companies last year. The case alleged that anti-Trump bias from the city was the root cause behind the company’s stalled One Journal Square project, and Kushner had filed a request for records from the city regarding various tax abatements that were granted to other developers at the time.
After the city told Kushner their request was “overly broad,” the company filed an Open Public Records Act (OPRA) lawsuit and won a favorable ruling from Judge Francis Schultz in Hudson County Court. The city will have to turn over the requested records and is liable for legal expenses because Kushner was the prevailing party, and Schultz ruled on April 29 that Jersey City will have to pay Kushner’s legal fees of $95,000.
On the heels of that ruling, another OPRA lawsuit has not gone the city’s way. This one stems from a legal challenge over the Sixth Street Embankment, an abandoned elevated freight line that the city wishes to turn into a park. The land is owned by Steve and Victoria Hyman, who filed a lawsuit in 2016 over an ordinance that the city passed that was meant as a step to acquire the land.
The Hymans were seeking bills, invoices, vouchers, and communications between the city and outside parties as part of their case and filed a separate OPRA lawsuit looking to obtain them. Last week, a two-judge appellate panel affirmed the city violated OPRA for not turning over the records and ordered they pay the Hyman’s legal bills of $42,000.
OPRA requests in Jersey City have skyrocketed recently, as The Jersey Journal reports that the city received a whopping 3,335 OPRA requests last year. That was up from 657 the previous year and partially stems from an avalanche of litigation over various issues, several of which are still pending.
Active lawsuits against the city include the Village Neighborhood Association’s case looking to void approvals for development at 141 Brunswick Street and another legal challenge from Pegasus Properties over the planning board’s failure to hear changes to their 100 Colden Street project. HAP Investments also filed a lawsuit last year that claims the city is stalling their 500 Summit Avenue development, and a property owner filed another suit challenging last year’s creation of the West Side Avenue Special Improvement District.
Several other legal matters that have emerged since the start of 2018 have been settled, including one that was filed over the city’s plans to move Exchange Place’s Katyn Memorial. Another case emerged over Mayor Fulop’s demolition moratorium that was issued last year, while a legal challenge to Downtown’s chain store ban led to the city council repealing the ordinance earlier this month.
Yet another lawsuit from Mecca Properties that saw the company looking for the right to develop their own land was settled last month, while a legal challenge to the city’s 1% payroll tax that was enacted last year was recently ruled as constitutional.