Jul 28, 2014
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Possible Attorney Conflict of Interest Spurs Heated Debate, Called a 'Debacle'

The original motion calling for John Inglesino's resignation amended to seek advice from another attorney.

Possible Attorney Conflict of Interest Spurs Heated Debate, Called a 'Debacle'

There was a lengthy and heated discussion between Mayor Jamie Barberio, the council and township attorney John Inglesino over possible conflicts of interest between Councilmen Paul Carifi Jr. and Louis Valori. 

Carifi's motion originally called for the resignation of Inglesino, but after much debate, he amended it and the council passed 3-2 a motion that will request the conflict attorney—Michael B. Lavery, of Courter, Kobert & Cohen, PC—to investigate whether the "conflict of interest goes both ways," that Inglesino has a conflict of interest with council members and vice versa. Councilman Michael dePierro, who called the debate a "debacle" and an "embarrassment," and Councilman Brian Stanton voted against the motion.

“This is ridiculous,” said dePierro. Before the vote, dePierro asked Carifi and Valori if upon receiving Lavery’s opinion, “are you going to abide by the decision when it comes back? Or is this debacle of a public meeting going to continue every month. I think this is an embarrassment to the township to have this kind of debate go forward.”

Carifi said he wasn’t going to answer the question, to which diPierro said, “the motion is meaningless if he’s not going to abide by it."

At last week's meeting, Barberio surprised the council with a letter right before the council was about to vote on a resolution to appoint Inglesino to township attorney. In the letter, Lavery states Valori and Carifi have a conflict of interest "in voting for or against the township attorney," said Barberio. The introduction of the letter ultimately tabled the resolution, which was also tabled at Tuesday night’s meeting.

In Lavery’s letter, Valori’s conflict of interest allegedly stems from a 2013 incident involving the creation of a $ 50,000 position that is at-will and demands “loyalty” to the mayor.

Carifi’s alleged conflict of interest is from his  brother’s lawsuit against the township, which is currently ongoing.

Barberio said Carifi is “using (his) position to squash the litigation against (his) brother,” to which Carifi said, “I’m not using this meeting to squash anything” and that he wanted to make a motion to “direct the clerk to file a written complaint to both the NJ Department of Community Affairs Division and District of Ethics committee in reference to Mr. Inglesino so we can receive an opinion on if there in fact exists a conflict of interest on both sides.”

Inglesino said the council can only file a complaint if there are charges to be filed on the basis of conduct. “Your motion does not sense. You should get an opinion from your conflicts counsel and provide some basis for your allegations that I have a conflict with (Carifi) or with Mr. Valori.”

On Tuesday night, Carifi began the discussion by making the motion that Councilmember Stanton may also have a conflict of interest, and therefore, Inglesino must resign due to the fact that he now has a possible conflict of interest with the majority of the council.

Due to the “apparent conflict of interest of Mr. Inglesino” and the duties of the elected council members, the council must “demand that Mr. Inglesino resign immediately based upon his conflict as found by conflicts attorney” and in accordance with local government ethics law and rules of professional conduct, said Carifi.

"It is logical that since Mr. Inglesino, Valori and Stanton as well as the Mayor were part of the same incident … Inglesino has the same conflict with (Stanton) as well," said Carifi. 

Inglesino responded that Lavery made no assertion that Stanton has a conflict of interest, adding that it’s “absurd” and “certainly there is no conflict that I have with my conflict, which is the governing body. He said there needs to be more evidence before “making such motions.”

Later in the meeting, Carifi asked Stanton if he believes there is a conflict of interest between him and Inglesino.

“I’m not making any comments, if we’re going to go forward, then … we’re going to move forward,” said Stanton.

Carifi added that if “Inglesino refuses to resign, then I will ask for a motion to direct the clerk to file tomorrow, a written complaint to both the New Jersey Community Affairs Division of Local Government Services and the district ethics committee against Mr. Inglesino and his law firm for his knowing and reckless disregard for this conflict and his attempt to continue representation of this governing body of Parsippany-Troy Hills.”

Inglesino said that Lavery’s opinion letter was “mischaracterized” because it did not say that Inglesino himself has a conflict with the council, rather, it’s the council that has a conflict with Inglesino because of “public comments that you (Carifi) made concerning the lawsuit that has been brought against your brother. Mr. Valori has a conflict with me because of the slanderous statements that he made relative to meeting that Mrs. Petaccia had discussed.” The meeting referred to here is a Sunday night meeting from January last year at which Valori said Inglesino, Stanton and Barberio bribed him with the $50,000 township position.

Seek Opinion from Lavery

Carifi said that he came to these conclusions after having “attorneys look into it,” and Barberio asked Carifi who was his attorney, to which Carifi declined to answer.

In the midst of the debate, Carifi raised the question of how much Lavery was paid to investigate the allegations in his letter.

Inglesino said his opinion was that the council make use of the township’s conflicts counsel and “seek an opinion” from Lavery to avoid running the risk of official misconduct and to avoid “potential consequence particularly to (Carifi) and Mr. Valori.”

“That would be the prudent way to approach the issue

If you have a conflicting opinion letter from another attorney, it would seem to me that in order for your view to have credibility in the legal sense, that you should provide that, but in the absences of that, you should ask conflicts council to render an opinion,” said Inglesino. He later clarified that the conflicts attorney is appointed by the mayor and approved by the council.

Carifi said he would like to “ask for an outside opinion. I don’t need to accept your opinion or the conflict attorney’s” opinion.

Later in the meeting, Peluso also said that he “would like to see an independent determination, one that is transparent, one that is not appointed by any of the parties that were mentioned here today”

However, Inglesino noted a problem because “the council does not have the authority to appoint a professional attorney. Only the mayor has the power to appoint” someone.

Peluso suggested an arbitrator, adding that he “would like to see here is a harmonious council and the mayor and legal representation working together as one.”

Carifi said that the problem he sees with seeking an opinion with Lavery is that Lavery “is appointed by the mayor. That’s the issue that we have here.”

Valori also said an independent person needs to be brought in, citing concerns that the conflicts of interest will impede Inglesino’s judgement.

“Judges are appointed by governers. They’re professional and there for their professional opinions. If you’re implying that the mayor’s appointment would compromise his professional integrity, I think that is very far-fetched,” said Inglesino.

Carifi then amended the motion to get an opinion from Lavery.  

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