Jersey City mayor Steven Fulop’s personal political vendetta against the family of President Donald Trump’s son-in-law has suddenly become expensive for Jersey City as a Superior Court Judge ordered the city to pay nearly $96,000 in legal expenses after losing a records dispute with Kushner Companies last year.
Kushner Companies filed suit after Jersey City failed to release documents the company requested under the New Jersey Open Public Records Act.
The Jersey Journal first reported the fee award.
That amount will likely go even higher as the Fulop administration appeals the ruling, according to Joseph B. Fiorenzo, an attorney for Kushner.
“They’re fighting awfully hard on public records,” Fiorenzo told the New Jersey Globe. “There’s something they don’t want us to see. Eventually we’ll get the documents.”
He told the Globe he plans to ask the court to reimburse the Kushner’s for additional legal fees tied to the appeal.
Fiorenzo said the appeal could take up to a year, but that won’t affect the judge’s order unless the appellate division stays last December’s order by Judge Francis Schultz to provide the Kushner’s with the documents.
Shultz already refused to issue a stay on the document production.
If Fulop refuses to pay, Fiorenzo said he could go through a collection process that could include a levy on city assets or the city’s bank accounts.
“Eventually they’ll pay,” said Fiorenzo.
The squabble involves the construction of a 66-story residential tower at Journal Square. The Kushners, who supported Fulop’s 2013 bid for mayor, believe the mayor cancelled the project because of Jared Kushner’s role in the Trump campaign and administration. Kushner Companies has filed a lawsuit in federal court based on those allegations.
Preventable and self-inflicted costs associated with the violation of state government transparency laws could cause political problems for Fulop at home.
“Voters usually give their elected officials leeway for their extracurricular activities as long as it doesn’t cost them anything. But their patience runs dry pretty quick when they’re being stuck with the bill,” said Micah Rasmussen, the director of the Rebovich Institute for New Jersey Politics at Rider University. “Ask taxpayers in Raritan Borough and Roxbury how they liked forking over tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars in preventable OPRA damages.”
If Fulop admitted to punishing the Kushners for political reasons and then ignored the OPRA request that offered some confirmation, that could create legal problems for the mayor in advance of his 2021 bid for a third term.
In his ruling, Schultz said that “no real effort was made by the defendants to locate the requested documents.”
Schultz ruled that the testimony of Jersey City Deputy Clerk Irene McNulty “reflected an unwillingness to attempt to retrieve those documents because it required too much time in her opinion.”
Failure to respond to OPRA requests is a common frustration for journalists, but it is relatively rare for that offense to be so egregious that a judge awards six-figures in legal fees. Fulop’s stubborn refusal to produce the documents has fueled suspicions that the documents include candidate conversations between Fulop and other Jersey City officials.
Fulop’s office did not immediately respond to a 10:25 AM call seeking comment.Judge Schultz Kushner Fulop