In an election year decision laying bare the underbelly of Orange politics, Superior Court Judge Christine Farrington ordered former Orange Deputy Business Administrator Willis Edwards III to pay back to the city $268,750 for the three years that he worked in city hall without the consent of the city council.
The judge’s decision, rendered on February 18th, comes as the Essex County post-industrial city sizes up the reelection prospects of Edwards’s ally, Mayor Dwayne Warren, whom Edwards on the stand cited as the man responsible for giving him the job in question.
A former Democratic assemblyman, Edwards repeatedly unsuccessfully requested that the court grant his motions to dismiss the case. But Farrington cited the council’s directive to the mayor to order Edwards to not appear before the governing body as deputy business administrator, which Edward apparently tried to skirt by presenting himself as the mayor’s chief of staff.
No ordinance created the position of chief of staff, the judge noted.
Upon cross-examination, Edwards was combative, argumentative and not credible, Farrington said in her decision.
He essentially blamed the mayor for giving him the job.
“The court finds that the mayor is not a necessary party, but a potentially adverse one, as it is the council whose right of advice and consent to the mayor’s appointment is at stake as well as the rights of the taxpayers of the City of Orange,” Farrington wrote of Warren, who is facing Councilman Kerry Coley and former Zoning Board Member Janice Morrell in the May nonpartisan election.
The case has a tortured history, in the words of the judge, who’s not the first jurist to assess the intransigent Edwards.
Following his resistance to the council’s wishes concerning his deputy business administrator, and a letter affirmed by Councilwoman Donna K. Williams, Warren contravened a judge’s initial order to have Edwards removed from City Hall and stripped of his salary.
In her Feb. 18th decision, the judge said Edwards was entitled to his salary as acting director of administration up to October 2012, the day the council failed to enact his permanent appointment to the position. But he must return everything the city paid him after that date, which the judge listed as $268,750.
See the full decision by clicking the link below:
Former Orange Mayor Eldridge Hawkins said he didn’t expect the ruling to finish off Warren, who defeated him four years ago.
“Orange politics is always a battle,” Hawkins said. “Each time I was elected Democratic chair it was a battle as were each of the council candidates’ races we ran and won. Each mayoral race was a battle as well, I don’t see why this round would be any different.”