North Bergen responds to comptroller’s findings

A spokesman for the city of North Bergen today denied allegations from the state comptroller that its township attorney may have violated ethics rules and said a county prosecutor investigation revealed no wrong-doing associated with the city’s payment of an attorney for a no-work job.

Spokesman Paul Swibinski said allegations that attorney Herbert Klitzner violated ethics rules by passing on legal work to a firm where he acted as Of Counsel were unfounded, citing a 1995 ethics panel ruling and a more recent attorney’s opinion that the arrangement was above board.

“We strongly object to the charge that Township Attorney Herb Klitzner is violating the state ethics law and has a conflict of interest,” Swibinski said. “Mr. Klitzner is deeply offended by these allegations and intends to defend his position vigorously.  At Mr. Klitzner’s request, the State Supreme Court issued an opinion on this specific matter in 1995 and found absolutely no conflict of interest.   Earlier this month, the Township received an independent legal opinion from former State Supreme Court Justice Roberto Rivera-Soto on this very same issue. Justice Rivera-Soto issued a report stating that there is no conflict of interest; that the original Supreme Court opinion is still valid and that the allegations made by the Comptroller’s Office are, ‘unwarranted.'”

Swibinski provided copies of both opinions.

However, a spokesman for the comptroller said the 1995 opinion was cited by the comptroller in his report and does not apply to the audit finding.

Spokesman Pete McAleer said in questioning the potential violation of ethics rules Comptroller Matthew Boxer was referring to the rules governing municipal employees and not ethics rules governing attorneys.  The 1995 opinion from the Advisory Committee on Professional Ethics opinion governs Klitzner’s actions as an attorney but does not cover actions taken as a municipal employee, McAleer said.

As for the allegation that the township had paid an attorney more than $18,000 per year for the past several years for a job in which he did no legal work, Swibinski said the Hudson County prosecutor’s office notified the township that it believes no illegal action took place.

“Regarding the charge of a ‘no work’ attorney on the township payroll, the Hudson County Prosecutor’s Office has already investigated this matter, at the request of the Township,  and formally notified our Law Department that they found no evidence of any wrongdoing,” he said. “We are confident that after reviewing the facts, the State Division of Criminal Justice will reach the same conclusion.”

Swibinski did not provide any documentation from the prosecutor and did not answer a request to provide the attorney’s name.

A call to the prosecutor’s office was not immediately returned. North Bergen responds to comptroller’s findings