Reverse Gallipoli ruling that KO'd pay-to-play suit

Reverse Gallipoli ruling that KO'd pay-to-play suit

Thursday, January 10, 2008 Jersey Journal

A Hoboken watchdog group has the right to sue the city in an effort to enforce a municipal "pay-to-play" ordinance, a state appeals court said yesterday.

The court slapped down a prior decision by Hudson County Assignment Judge Maurice J. Gallipoli, who ruled in April 2006 that People for Open Government had no legal standing to bring a lawsuit - filed just before the June 2005 municipal runoff election - challenging what it saw as a failure to enforce the ordinance.

A three-judge panel of the Appellate Division of Superior Court said yesterday it disagreed and sent the matter back to the lower court.

"The individual plaintiffs in this case of great public interest have sufficient private interest to confer standing to prosecute this suit," the panel ruled.

POG claims in the lawsuit that a slate led by Hoboken Mayor David Roberts collected more than $1 million in campaign contributions from businesses that had no-bid professional contracts with the city, in violation of the "Hoboken Public Contracting Reform Ordinance," which voters approved by a 9-to-1 margin in a 2004 ballot initiative.

Gallipoli had reasoned that the only people who should be able to sue were unsuccessful candidates or vendors who believed they had missed out on a contract because of another company's contributions.

An attorney for POG, Renee Steinhagen, executive director of the New Jersey Appleseed Public Interest Law Center in Newark, said yesterday's appellate ruling lends support to groups across the state who have pushed local pay-to-play laws.

"We thought it was pretty outrageous that the very people who tried to get the ordinance passed and tried to enforce it were denied standing," Steinhagen said. "The trial court decided to evade the hard political and legal issues raised in the lawsuit."

Gallipoli declined to comment yesterday.

Stephen Edelstein, an attorney representing the city, said the appellate ruling was simply a procedural one that takes the lawsuit "back to square one."

"We still have many arguments to make that the lawsuit should be dismissed on the merits," he said.


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