The attorney representing Angel Alicea, the former Hoboken public safety director who is suing Mayor Dawn Zimmer for discrimination after his 2011 resignation, filed a motion last week that alleges that Zimmer committed perjury and obstruction of justice. The main purpose of the motion, filed Aug. 28, is to force her to keep participating in a July deposition relating to Alicea’s case.
The deposition, which was supposed to focus on Zimmer’s decision to ask for Alicea’s resignation, contained a substantial section in which Louis Zayas, Alicea’s attorney, questions Zimmer about her husband’s involvement in local politics, which Zimmer’s lawyer said had no relevance to the case.
Zimmer’s lawyer, Gerald Krovatin, alleges that the line of questioning was meant to gain evidence in a separate lawsuit recently brought against the mayor by Hoboken Housing Authority Executive Director Carmelo Garcia that alleges “ethnic cleansing” and a grand conspiracy to drive minorities out of Hoboken. At the time, Zimmer called the lawsuit “despicable.”
Zimmer, who was at home last week celebrating Rosh Hashana when news of the suit broke, did not return a call for comment. But Krovatin called the motion “nonsense” in an interview on Thursday, saying Zayas’ accusations were “out of context, and completely distorted and unfair to the mayor.”
"It was clear [Zayas] was trying to get testimony in [the Alicea case] to help Garcia and he was questioning in a harassing and inappropriate way.” – Gerald Krovatin, Zimmer’s attorney
But Krovatin said that on Monday he would file a counter-motion to have Zimmer’s deposition removed entirely from the Alicea proceedings.
“The questioning was improper in form,” he said. “He was being aggressive with the mayor, making his own points about things, and then he started arguing with her when she didn’t take the bait.”
Zayas has a history of representing clients opposing the Zimmer administration, including at least two clients who currently have open lawsuits against the city.
Krovatin said that he believed the questions directed at Zimmer during the deposition were an effort to gain evidence for Garcia’s suit against the Zimmer administration, which had not yet been filed at the time of the deposition. It was revealed during the Alicea deposition that Garcia had secretly taped an informal January lunch conversation between himself and Grossbard. Zayas had a transcript of the conversation.
During Zimmer’s deposition in the Alicea matter, Zayas began asking questions about Grossbard’s involvement in City Hall, finally quoting the transcript of the lunch meeting directly, leading Zimmer’s attorney to demand a copy.
Zimmer says in the deposition she vaguely recalled the lunch meeting taking place, but did not remember details.
According to the deposition, Arnold Gerst, Zimmer’s then-attorney in the case, objected to Zayas’ line of questioning on multiple occasions.
But Zayas said his questions for Zimmer were perfectly reasonable.
“The mayor was not being forthcoming in describing her husband’s role in her administration,” he said in a recent interview. “Our position is that he is the de facto chief of staff and that he advises her politically and legally. We used the transcript to demonstrate that, not to introduce it into evidence.”
Zayas would not say at the time if Garcia had given him the transcript to use in other cases.
“I’m not going to discuss what Carmelo did or did not do,” he said. “I used the transcript in a deposition to refresh the mayor’s memory.”
‘You should know what’s coming’
Krovatin said in an interview on Thursday that he didn’t think depositions should involve the type of aggressive questioning Zayas used with Zimmer, and said he believed that New Jersey discovery laws, “some of the most liberal in the country,” will support him in court when he tries to have the deposition invalidated.
“The discovery process in a civil case, especially in New Jersey, is supposed to be a process where both sides put all their cards on the table, so no one feels like they don’t know what’s coming at them from the other side of the barn,” he said. “In this situation, it’s clear that Zayas is trying to lay the groundwork for Garcia’s suit, which is unrelated and hadn’t even been filed at the time.”
Since the deposition, Krovatin has taken over handling the city’s defense against both Alicea and Garcia, and is being paid by the city through its Joint Insurance Fund. Before he was brought on, the city was being represented against Alicea by Gerst. The case has been in its discovery phase since it was filed (including the deposition) and is set to begin in December.
In Alicea’s original lawsuit, he claimed that Zimmer forced him to resign because of his Hispanic heritage and complaints he made about allegedly improper practices in the Police Department.
Zimmer has said that she asked for his resignation following the revelation that he had met with Solomon Dwek, an FBI informant who helped authorities bring down officials accepting bribes, during Alicea’s run for City Council in 2009. Alicea was not accused of any wrongdoing, but Zimmer said he had not admitted the lunch to her, and asked for his resignation.
Other termination lawsuits
Since Zimmer took office in 2009, the city has been sued in at least five suits alleging either discrimination or wrongful termination, and they haven’t all been from longtime Hoboken political players.
Jennifer Meier, a former Director of Environmental Services, filed a lawsuit against the city last July alleging that she was terminated simply because she mentioned to Alicea that she thought Zimmer had decreased her workload. Zayas represents Meier, whose case is still ongoing. Meier was originally hired by Zimmer from the township of Plainfield based on her qualifications.
In addition, Paul Drexel, a former city spokesman who alleged that someone posted his Social Security number on the internet along with a “taunting message” on the day he was terminated, reached a settlement in July 2012 for $23,500. Drexel’s suit alleged discrimination and made reference to the Conscientious Employee Protection Act, a law designed to protect whistleblowers. When asked a year ago whether the Zimmer administration was investigating who might have leaked an employee’s personal information on the web, city spokesman Juan Melli said he wasn’t sure.
Another former city spokesman, Bill Campbell, sued the city after being fired in 2010 on grounds of political discrimination. The city successfully defended itself against the suit, but Campbell appealed. Catherine Elston, Campbell’s attorney, said that briefs were submitted to the appellate division last week, and that the appeal could last until next year.
At the time, 3rd Ward Councilman Michael Russo, an opponent of Zimmer’s, said he thought there was a pattern in the terminations. “I think it’s a concerted effort by the administration to single out individuals who don’t support the mayor politically,” he said.
The mayor defended herself against Russo’s comments, saying she didn’t think the number of lawsuits brought against her administration was necessarily higher than any previous administration.
Dean DeChiaro may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org