July 17, 2024
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Teaneck Council Members Call Lawsuit “Frivolous” and “Election Ploy”

Two candidates running for open seats on the Teaneck Township Council have filed suit against local officials including the mayor, four council members–three of whom are running to keep their seats, the town clerk and the town manager.

Jason Castle and Alan Sohn, running partners for the May 13 election, filed a complaint with the Hackensack Superior Court on April 17 stating that, despite repeated requests under the Open Public Records Act, they had not been given requested municipal information.

The defendants, Jamie Evelina (clerk), Mohammed Hameeduddin (mayor), Adam Gussen (deputy mayor), Yitz Stern (councilman), Elie Y. Katz (councilman), Mark Schwartz (councilman), and William Broughton (town manager), are being sued both personally and as employees of the town. Gussen, Stern and Katz are all running against plaintiffs Sohn and Castle.

Stanley Turitz, township attorney, responded to the suit saying, “We intend to prove that this lawsuit is without legal merit and filed solely for political advantage. Despite the requests being overly broad and burdensome, the Clerk’s office supplied hundreds, if not thousands, of documents to the Plaintiffs or their representatives.”

Turitz added, “We anticipate that we will prove that the timing of the OPRA requests and the timing of the filing of this lawsuit were politically motivated and intended to disrupt the workings of the Clerk’s office. This will be a time consuming and expensive lawsuit dealing with thousands of pages of documents.”

Judge Peter E. Doyne signed a show cause order for May 18th and a hearing has been set for May 30, almost 3 weeks after the election.

Mr. Turitz will be representing all the defendants in their official capacity, though they also each need separate legal representation for the suits laid against them in their individual capacities

The suit took Councilmen Yitz Stern by surprise; as he explained it, he turned over any documents he had to the township clerk after the initial request. Additional time was needed by the clerk to gather everything to avoid overtime cost to the taxpayers in gathering the large quantity of requested files, Stern added.

“Messrs. Castle and Sohn were fully aware of the process and the campaign shenanigans of a frivolous lawsuit can’t change that.  Unfortunately, this suit will now cost the Teaneck taxpayer many thousands of dollars in legal and overtime fees and do nothing for the betterment and advancement of our town,” said Stern.

“The Sohn and Castle camp have aligned themselves with personalities that for many years have attempted to stymie the growth of Teaneck on many different levels.  If this is any indication of how they would govern should they ever be elected, the residents of Teaneck have much to worry about.”

Dr. Alexander Rashin, also running for council against the incumbents, had publically backed Sohn and Castle at an April 24 forum, but at the April 29th council meeting withdrew his support due to their failure to drop the lawsuit.

“Any and all documents I may have in my personal possession were turned over. Additionally, I gave written authority to the township to have my township emails searched. Much of the OPRAs related to matters before myself and Dr. Pruitt were on the Council and are of public record,” Councilman Schwartz said. “I am quite confused as to why only select councilmen received the OPRA and lawsuit. Lastly, I was quite distressed to turn my phone on right after Pesach to see I was sued over the holiday with no chance for two days to comment.”

Castle filed requests for documents on Jan. 31, Feb. 14, and March 3. Sohn also filed requests on Feb. 10 and March 14. Under OPRA, access to certain documents and information is to be supplied within seven business days of a request for the records. On Feb. 6 and Feb. 18, Evelina requested and was granted one- month extensions to provide the records to Sohn and Castle respectively. The documents were due on March 26, yet the lawsuit wasn’t filed until April 21, three weeks prior to the election.

Councilman Katz stated, “I feel this is a political stunt and witch hunt being orchestrated by Sohn and Castle and paid for by every Teaneck taxpayer. I personally spent several hours researching all of my emails and key words to comply with the records request. Some of their information requested dated back to 2007. Ironically, Mr. Castle acknowledged to me in a conversation two weeks earlier that he knows I worked diligently to fulfill the request. Yet, I was still sued personally because of their dirty politics.”

Sohn and Castle did not respond to a reporter’s requests for comments.

“The suit is clearly an election ploy that is backfiring, and the voters are not fooled,” said Councilman Gussen. He continued, “I will not be surprised when the suit is withdrawn next week and they make some outrageous claim of taking the high ground to save the taxpayer money while forgoing their rights. This trick will also fall flat because it’s literally a day late and a dollar short.”

By Aliza Chasan

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