In the latest chapter in the long, bitter feud between the Hoboken Housing Authority and their former Executive Director Carmelo Garcia, the two sides are now sparring over where the agency’s suit against Garcia should be heard.
By John Heinis/Hudson County View
Louis Zayas, Garcia’s attorney in the HHA litigation (which includes a complaint from both sides), said that the HHA’s suit against Garcia was successfully moved to Newark federal court last month.
“A federal subpoena will give us a better chance to get witnesses to testify,” Zayas explained over the phone this morning, noting that the HHA’s lawsuit contains numbers references to U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) regulations, so therefore, it is better suited for federal court.
Expectedly, the counselor hopes the court matter doesn’t get that far, as he’s currently in the process of filing a motion to dismiss, he also said.
As Hudson County View first reported, the HHA’s claim alleges that Garcia violated the agency’s procurement policy by entering into agreements with at least eight vendors, four of which whom made contributions to his Assembly campaign.
Garcia served one term as a District 33 Assemblyman between 2013 and 2015.
Joseph Manfredi, special labor and litigation counsel for the HHA, said Zayas’ logic for moving the case makes no sense, which is why the agency is asking to have the case moved back to superior court.
â€œHe only removed the HHAâ€™s case against Mr. Garcia to federal court. He didnâ€™t remove his own, just ours. We feel that as a matter of law, that removal is improper,” Manfredi responded.
“We filed a case to remand to state court and that motion will be heard on September 6. He removed it claiming there were references to HUD regulations, but his own complaint has numerous references to HUD regulations as well.”
Zayas also slammed the HHA since the four current board commissioners named in the suit: David Denning, James Sanford, David Mello and Dana Wefer, the latter being the sitting board chairwoman who was instrumental in having Garcia terminated, have refused to accept service of the complaint.
“Theyâ€™re playing games. Theyâ€™re hiding from service. Iâ€™ve never seen a government official do this,” Zayas exclaimed.
“A professional processor was sent to serve the commissioners, but no one at the HHA would accept it … thatâ€™s how pathetic they are. It is the most shameless thing Iâ€™ve seen in the past 20 years. This is an embarrassingly stupid situation.”
Manfredi seemed legitimately perplexed when informed about Zayas’ remarks about serving the plaintiffs.
“Thereâ€™s no ducking of service here at all. I am not aware of anyone trying to serve them at the housing authority. We had a long public meeting last night and thatâ€™s how we served them last time, but no one showed up [to serve the papers].”
When Zayas was asked why he hadn’t sent a processor to one of at least three public meetings that had occurred since Garcia’s lawsuit was filed, he responded “that’s not the way at works,” also calling such a suggestion “unprofessional.”
Garcia’s complaint alleges that his termination was due to refusing to engage in the “unlawful efforts” of Mayor Dawn Zimmer to control the HHA, which were being carried out by political supporters on the board.
Zimmer and former HHA commissioners Judy Burrell and Jake Stuiver, a former board chairman, are also named in the suit, as is Stan Grossbard – the mayor’s husband.
Finally, while Zayas said he was not received any proof from the HHA that HUD granted them approval to file a claim against Garcia, standard procedure in housing authority cases, Manfredi said the authority indeed received HUD approval before moving forward.
This is the third complaint Garcia has filed against his former employer, while it is the first time the HHA has sued Garcia.
The latest two court filings essentially restarted the legal process from scratch as far as the courts are concerned, so the war of attribution between Garcia and the HHA has the potential to last for years.
Garcia unsuccessfully sought the 6th Ward Council seat against incumbent Jen Giattino, a Zimmer ally, back in November and has largely kept a low profile politically ever since.