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Attorney Flavio Komuves. Photo courtesy of Facebook.

South Jersey wants progressive challengers to pay legal fees

Camden county counsel: ‘Justice requires that the taxpayers be reimbursed the public funds spent to defend such a frivolous claim’

By David Wildstein, April 23 2020 9:50 pm

Four county clerks and the Camden County Democratic organization want to recoup legal fees after South Jersey progressives suddenly dropped their lawsuit seeking to reverse the rejection of their nominating petitions.

Now some of the candidates who filed to run against the organization candidates could be personally on the hook for the costs of defending the lawsuit.

John M. Carbone, who represents the Cape May and Gloucester county clerks, also wants Superior Court Judge Mary Jacobson to impose monetary sanctions and costs against the lawyer for the progressives, Flavio Komuves, and his law firm, Weissman & Mintz.

“The scurrilous and unsupported allegation in the complaint and as were placed before the Court by counsel and his firm are strangers to the truth if not false,” Carbone wrote in a letter filed with the court.  “Plaintiff’s counsel cannot stand before this Court and state he met that professional obligations and engaged in mandated due diligence in the drafting, filing, and prosecution of this matter.”

The lawyer for the Camden County Democrats, William Tambussi, accused Komuves of “repeatedly represented to the Court that he has in his possession ‘time stamped documentary evidence’ with underlying meta data that supports the strongly worded allegations … that certain elected and appointed officials ‘botched’ the nomination petition filing process.”

According to Tambussi, Komuves didn’t produce “a single document in support of the allegations.”

In his letter to the court dismissing the lawsuit late Wednesday – one day before depositions of two witnesses were to begin – Komuves attributed the dismissal to his “inability to obtain the electronic discovery materials from Google.”

Tambussi wasn’t buying that, saying that Komuves “now suggests that they are unable to collect the information that plaintiffs’ counsel  represented to the court that he had seen with his own eyes.”

“One would expect that plaintiffs’ counsel would have had those documents in his possession at the time his representations were made to the Court, especially since the documents plaintiffs’ counsel claimed to be in possession of were Google files,” Tambussi wrote.  “This calls into question whether such evidence exists at all, as well as whether the representations of plaintiffs’ counsel were accurate at the time they were made.”

Tambussi also accused the plaintiffs in the case of making “knowingly false public statements.”

“(Camden freeholder candidate) Roberta Reavey, who never even signed any verification to support her claims, went so far as to allege that the clerks were engaging in voter suppression,” Tambussi told the judge. “To make these public statements, and to allege these claims – and to support such claims on verifications — only to withdraw them — constitutes an abuse of process at a minimum.”

Camden County Counsel Christopher Orlando said that the progressive candidate lawsuit “focused on baseless allegations against Clerk Ripa.”

“In defending these frivolous allegations, Camden County spent money and numerous hours preparing our defense, retaining experts to review discovery and ultimately produced over 1300 documents in response to plaintiffs’ discovery demands,” Orlando told Jacobson.

“Justice requires that the taxpayers be reimbursed the public funds spent to defend such a frivolous claim,” Orlando said.

Gregg L. Zeff, an attorney representing Cumberland County Clerk Celeste Riley, is also asking for reimbursement of legal fees for a lawsuit he said was initiated ”without any reasonable investigation.”

He said that Freeholder Jack Surrency and his two running mates, Donna Pearson and Tracey Wells-Huggins, who were plaintiffs in the lawsuit against Riley, “were placed on the ballot without any question or issue by the (county) clerk.”

According to Zeff, petitions for Sheriff candidate Dennis D ’Augustine were rejected because he didn’t submit 100 valid signatures.

Zeff said he hoped Jacobson would take into consideration that when D’Augustine submitted a Google drive with less than 100 signatures on it, Riley’s office called and wrote to him.  He says no response was received and nobody from his campaign contacted them to cure the defects.

“Instead, a lawsuit was filed on his behalf without his personal certification alleging facts that cannot be proven, that required significant time and resources by attorney’s, the clerk and Cumberland County staff at this difficult time,” Zeff said.

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