Law

Genova Burns promotes 2 to counsel

Genova Burns announced Thursday it has promoted two associates to counsel.

The Newark-based law firm said Erica M. Clifford and Maria R. Fruci have been named to the position of counsel.

“Maria Fruci and Erica Clifford are both accomplished law professionals and have repeatedly brought distinction upon themselves and on the Firm,” Angelo J. Genova, chairman and managing partner of Genova Burns, said. “Both of these attorneys are a strong voice for their specific specialty areas, and these promotions are an acknowledgement of their professional knowledge and skills, and their contributions to the Firm’s service and success on behalf of our clients.”

Clifford is a member of the Employment Law & Litigation and Human Resource Counseling & Compliance Practice Groups. She advises clients on employment matters, Genova Burns said. Her primary role is as a litigator, defending clients against claims of discrimination, harassment, hostile work environment and more.

Fruci is a member of the Complex Commercial Litigation, Class Action Defense, Intellectual Property, and Mediation and Alternative Dispute Resolution Practice Groups. She represents clients in complex commercial disputes, trademark protection and litigations, and mediations and arbitrations.

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CSG creates Family Law Group with 7 new attorneys

Chiesa Shahinian & Giantomasi P.C. has added seven lawyers from the former Budd Larner P.C., creating a Family Law Group in the process, it announced recently.

The West Orange-based CSG said the new team will be chaired by Susan Reach Winters, who joins the firm as a member. She has more than 30 years of family law experience, including working in areas such as divorce, prenuptial agreements, custody and more.

To accommodate the new group, CSG will open a Short Hills office in the fall that can serve as a mediation and meeting space. The facility will be the firm’s fourth location, adding to its West Orange headquarters, Trenton site and New York City site.

“Our strategic plan has called for the formation of a family law practice to facilitate continued one-stop shopping for clients, and required that we onboard a robust, experienced group of attorneys to ensure a seamless integration,” Managing Member Daniel A. Schwartz said in a prepared statement. “We were thrilled when the opportunity arose to have a group of this caliber — led by Susan, a stellar attorney and renowned thought leader in the space — and its clientele join the CSG family.”

Others on the team, which began at CSG on Monday, include:

  • Thomas D. Baldwin, member;
  • Philip C. Chronakis, member;
  • Deborah E. Nelson, member;
  • Tremain L. Stanley, member and practice group leader;
  • Stephen J. McNamara, associate;
  • Patricia Tuckman, associate.

CSG now has 156 attorneys after this and other recent hires, it said.

“The sheer volume of first-class talent that has joined CSG since the beginning of 2019 is a testament to the firm’s staying power in the marketplace, and speaks to the thoughtful planning and foresight on behalf of the firm’s leadership,” Francis J. Giantomasi, a member of the firm’s executive committee, said in a statement.

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Archer Public Affairs expands footprint with new office in Pa.

Trenton-based Archer Public Affairs LLC, the government and external relations affiliate of Archer & Greiner P.C., announced Wednesday it has opened a new office in Pennsylvania.

The new space, located at 1007 North Front St., Suite No. 302A in Harrisburg, will serve as APA’s Pennsylvania headquarters, it said.

 “As our government affairs practice expands and the needs of our clients evolve, having an established presence in the Harrisburg community is key to our business development efforts,” John Taylor, director of the Pennsylvania practice of Archer Public Affairs, said. “The decision to open a new office allows us to magnify our presence in the region and be at the heart of government in Pennsylvania.”

In addition to the new office, APA announced that Eric Bugaile is joining the team as a government affairs specialist. He will lead the business and policy objectives alongside Taylor in Harrisburg.

Taylor, who serves of counsel to Archer & Greiner, was named director of APA’s Pennsylvania practice in January. Before that, he served in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives for 17 consecutive terms.

“John and Eric have nearly 70 years of combined experience in government affairs, and are committed to a client-centric approach in Harrisburg. This new office should enhance our team’s opportunities and allow us to be better suited to serve all of Pennsylvania,” Christopher Gibson, president and partner of Archer & Greiner, said

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Scarinci Hollenbeck names Crisis & Risk Management chair

Scarinci Hollenbeck, a Lyndhurst-based law firm, announced that Raymond M. Brown, partner, has been named chair of the firm’s Crisis & Risk Management Practice Group.

“I am thrilled by the opportunity to lead the firm’s Crisis & Risk Management Practice Group,” Brown said.  “This is an area of law for which I have great passion, and I look forward to working with the firm’s clients.”

Brown, who joined the firm in March, represents clients in matters of criminal defense, complex commercial litigation and corporate compliance. He also has significant experience in international human rights issues and compliance.

“Strong leadership is a key principle of Scarinci Hollenbeck’s firm culture,” Russell Ascher, executive director of Scarinci Hollenbeck, said. “Considering this, Ray Brown is an excellent choice to lead the firm’s Crisis & Risk Management Practice Group.  I feel that Ray’s skills and experience will not only benefit the firm’s clients, but also the attorneys he will lead.”

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Brach Eichler adds two members to its cannabis practice

Roseland-based law firm Brach Eichler LLC announced Thursday it has added two new members to its cannabis practice in anticipation of the passing of a new expanded medical marijuana bill in the state.

Brach Eichler said Matthew M. Collins, who’s been a member at Brach Eichler since 2003, and Susan R. Rubright, who’s been a member since 2005, have been named to the team.

Collins has extensive experience working with clients about labor and employment issues including discrimination, reasonable accomodations for disabled employees and discipline and discharge. He also represents clients in state and federal court.

Rubright is involved in matters of real estate and real estate development, representing both developers and planning boards at several municipalities.

“Mark’s labor and employment and Susan’s real estate knowledge will help us respond more comprehensively to the needs of our Cannabis Practice clients,” John D. Fanburg, managing member and co-chair of the cannabis practice, said. “Medical Marijuana is still an emerging industry for New Jersey, and we want to provide our clients with creative solutions that will come from utilizing team members with varying backgrounds.”

Since creating its cannabis practice in 2017, the firm has distributed two white papers with observations and recommendations for New Jersey legislators related to medical and adult-use marijuana bills, it said.

“Almost every week there’s new medical marijuana legislation proposed with the newest permutation touching both criminal and employment law issues for those looking for expungement for crimes that would no longer be considered illegal,” Charles X. Gormally, managing member and co-chair of the cannabis practice, said. “It shows how important it is to have a balanced integrated practice that encompasses many different expertise so that our clients can address potential issues from any angle with equal effectiveness.”

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Murphy administration hires N.Y. attorney to fight Norcross’ suit

Gov. Phil Murphy’s administration announced Thursday that it has hired attorney Ted Wells to serve as its counsel in a lawsuit brought by lawyers representing South Jersey powerbroker George Norcross and others over the EDA Task Force established by Murphy.

“In light of the comptroller’s concerning findings regarding insufficient oversight of the Economic Development Authority’s corporate tax incentives, the governor properly and lawfully established the task force to provide the public with a full accounting of these awards,” Matt Platkin, Murphy’s chief counsel, said in a prepared statement. “Given the importance of the task force and the fact that the lawsuit is a clear attempt to shut it down, we thought it important to hire one of the nation’s best litigators to defend the governor and the task force, and to ensure the investigation continues unhindered.”

Wells, of Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP in New York, is a litigation specialist.

“I look forward to representing the governor in this matter, to vindicating the right of the governor to establish the task force and to demonstrating that the task force has acted appropriately in conducting its highly important investigation,” he said in a statement.

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Legitimacy of EDA Task Force questioned by lawyers representing George, Philip Norcross

A team of six top lawyers representing George Norcross, Philip Norcross and their business interests questioned the legitimacy of the task force Gov. Phil Murphy set up to look into allegations of abuse by the Economic Development Authority in the administration of the state’s tax incentive programs, in a six-page letter that was released late Monday.

The letter, which was sent by email and hand-delivered to the New York City offices of special counsel James Walden, questioned the authority of the task force and complained about the inability of “targets” of the hearings to provide a counterpoints or statements against witness and whistleblower statements. The letter registered complaints against Walden and the committee chair, Ronald Chen:

“On behalf of our respective clients, we write to object to the unlawful process you are conducting on behalf of the Task Force on the Economic Development Agency’s Tax Incentives. For the reasons set forth herein, the Task Force’s chair, Mr. Chen, lacks statutory authority over the Economic Development Agency, which is an independent authority not subject to the gubernatorial powers set forth in N.J.S.A. 52:15-7.

“Moreover, the arbitrary restrictions you imposed on our clients’ rights to respond to false accusations against them denies each of them the opportunity to exercise their First Amendment rights as well as their right to publicly confront accusers within the same public forum. Given your stated intention to publicly adduce ‘adverse’ evidence against our clients, these restrictions are particularly noxious. We therefore demand an opportunity to submit a public presentation to the Task Force at its next scheduled hearing.”

The letter was signed by Chris Porrino, Michael Critchley Sr., Herbert Stern, William Tambussi, Michael Chertoff and Kevin Marino.

The letter was in response to the most recent meeting of the task force, held last Thursday, when incentives given to companies that relocated to Camden were heavily criticized.

Jersey City-based World Business Lenders, which also was under scrutiny, previously complained about not being able to respond to allegations against it.

The letter cites a statute that allows the governor to investigate the management “by any state officer of the affairs of any department, board, bureau or commission of the state. It does not extend to independent authorities like the EDA.”

The EDA was created by statute in 1974, the letter said, and is in “but not of,” the Department of the Treasury.

Neither the Governor’s office nor the task force had an immediate response to the letter.

Earlier Monday, Chen responded to a similar line of questioning from Camden County officials about the validity of Chen running the task force since he, Chen, is a professor at Rutgers University, which has benefitted from the state’s tax incentives.

“The governor has full constitutional and statutory authority to investigate any entity within the Executive Branch, including the EDA, either by himself or through a delegate,” Chen said in a statement.

“If anyone wishes to challenge that authority, they should bring an appropriate action in court and we are ready to defend it vigorously.”

Last week, Critchley questioned the validity of Walden, a lawyer in New York, being appointed special counsel and practicing law in New Jersey.

See a copy of the letter, addressed to Walden, below.

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Ex-employee testifies financial firm used false info to obtain incentives

World Business Lenders recently made a splash in the New Jersey business sphere by aggressively pursuing legislation to govern its operations and creating a partnership with the Statewide Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of New Jersey to help minority small businesses overcome obstacles of access to capital.

But, on Thursday in Newark, WBL made headlines for a different reason: A former employee said the company used false information to obtain and then sell a Grow New Jersey tax credit — which rewards companies for creating and retaining jobs in New Jersey with tax credits ranging from $500 to $5,000 per job.

In her testimony at the second EDA Task Force hearing, Kerrie-Ann Murray said her company made a sudden move from New York City to Jersey City in 2016, and hired and fired about 80 people just to meet the requirements of the Grow NJ tax credit it was awarded for its move.

WBL, in a statement provided to ROI-NJ, vehemently denied Murray’s allegations, saying they came from a disgruntled former employee.

“Before today, World Business Lenders conveyed to the Task Force on the Economic Development Authority‘s tax incentives that there were numerous and serious reasons to believe Kerrie-Ann Murray would not testify truthfully,” the statement said.

“We are bitterly disappointed that the task force has, nevertheless, allowed Kerrie-Ann Murray to provide her biased and unreliable testimony without also allowing World Business Lenders the opportunity to have a witness testify. Kerrie-Ann Murray is a disgruntled former employee of WBL.”

Murray’s allegations are noteworthy.

Doug Naidus, center, is CEO of World Business Lenders.

When it was located in New York, WBL had 80 employees, and needed to hire 100 to 125 more in a two-month timespan, between May and July 2016, after the staff knew it was moving to Jersey City.

Murray said staff were instructed to create a relationship with the New Jersey Department of Labor & Workforce Development to fill the positions, and in that process also benefitted from DOL incentive programs to encourage hiring of individuals on welfare, who live in specific zones, or are veterans, and the company was also reimbursed for half of the hourly wage per employee it hired from a certain pool of unemployed individuals.

WBL then hired the more than 100 people, paid them $10 per hour and created a new department to cold-call small businesses to see if they were interested in and qualified for a loan.

“It wasn’t a role or positions that the company previously used,” Murray said.

“The company does subprime lending, if I can say that, so you would have to be very experienced in sales, experienced in selling, experienced in getting borrowers to actually borrow money at the high percentage rate.”

Murray also told the task force members that the company kept a monthly spread sheet, entitled Grow New Jersey, which tracked the number of employees. It included information such as employee names, positions, hours worked, annual salaries and earned pay per month.

If an employee didn’t meet the full-time hours, managers were asked for reasons. If no reason was provided, Murray said, the company would backfill the hours as paid time off, or PTO.

That went on for about six months, and, in January 2017, the entire department was eliminated.

When employees who were left asked why, they were told it was because the tax credit had been sold.

In a recent interview with ROI-NJ, WBL CEO Doug Naidus said there is a cold-calling department whose operations matched those described by Murray.

The statement also addressed the tax credit being sold, and the rehiring of the cold-calling department.

“In accordance with the Economic Opportunity Act, WBL voluntarily sold (and was not forced to sell) its tax credit for 2016,” according to the statement.

“Under the Act, this is a permissible practice employed by many companies across the state. The reasons for WBL’s decrease in payroll in 2017 is one that would be familiar to anyone who follows industry trends. In the second half of 2016, the fintech credit bubble began to deflate, which led to downsizing across the industry. WBL was forced to reduce its payroll count the following year, even as many of our competitors went out of business altogether. Since then, our industry has recovered and we have begun to hire again.”

But Murray also told the task force Thursday that other falsified information was used to boost the jobs numbers, such as keeping an employee on the payroll even though they had already been terminated while in New York, and the severance pay was kept on the books, just to help maintain the needed number of employees for the grant.

From July to December 2016, Murray said, staff were instructed to, despite constant turnover, maintain a minimum of 225 employees.

The statement from WBL does not address this claim. Instead, it claims Murray was responsible for falsifying information.

“During 2016, Ms. Murray reported incorrect employee headcount information to WBL’s chief financial officer, which was intended to be sent to the Economic Development Authority,” the statement said.

“Ms. Murray proceeded to argue her incorrect data was, in fact, correct despite being proven wrong by management employees. In the end, the numbers submitted to EDA for 2016 exactly match the payroll numbers from ADP, the company’s payroll provider. This well-documented data is clear, transparent and unimpeachable.”

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Task force could be preparing case against ‘special legislation,’ experts say

James Walden, a special counsel for the EDA Task Force, questioned several witnesses about special legislation in referencing changes made to a draft version of the 2013 Economic Opportunity Act at a hearing Thursday in Newark.

The hearing, the second held by the task force that is investigating the state’s Economic Development Authority over potential violations, focused heavily on the $1.1 billion in incentives that went to companies that relocated to Camden.

During the hearing, there were suggestions of falsified job numbers, phantom alternate sites and questions about the access a private lawyer had to the draft bill.

But whether Camden was able to take advantage of the legislation — or whether the legislation was written solely to benefit Camden — was one line of questioning Walden pursued.

Legal experts, speaking on the condition of anonymity, suggested to ROI-NJ that Walden could use the questioning as a basis for a future lawsuit.

Walden asked several questions about how or why lines added to the bill by Kevin Sheehan — a real estate attorney at Parker McCay, a firm run by Philip Norcross, the brother of South Jersey power broker George Norcross — were put in.

There were lines about the U.S. headquarters of an auto company, which Walden suggested pointed to Subaru, and specific requirements for a grocery store, which Walden suggested would match the project specifics of a Sheehan client.

Special legislation has to explicitly name or identify a company or group that it is benefiting and is not constitutional.

There are ways to avoid directly naming places or people.

For example, without naming Camden, a piece of legislation could describe it by its population size, demographics or location. Similarly, a type of business can be described but not named.

Walden raised the issue of special legislation to Tim Lizura, the former president and chief operating officer of the EDA — even though the EDA does not participate in the crafting of legislation.

Walden: Do you know whether or not this provision was added for a specific company?
Lizura: I do not.
Walden: Do you know what special purpose legislation is? Explain it for us, please.
Lizura: It’s a colloquial term that lawyers would use that would describe a certain kind of legislation.
Walden: Is it the kind of legislation that benefits a single purpose or company?
Lizura: That is what I … understand.

Lizura and the EDA, it should be noted, have no power to interpret any legislation that is given to them.

Avni Patel, a lawyer at Walden’s firm, Walden Macht & Haran, followed a similar line of questioning to Brandon McKoy, who recently was elevated to president of New Jersey Policy Perspective:

Patel: Historically, and generally, did the NJPP get called upon … for bill drafting?
McKoy: Yes, we provided comments and helped legislators.
Patel: From a policy perspective … what is your reaction of a private law firm having access to the draft language of a bill and the impact it would have?
McKoy: I don’t think it is uncommon for legislators to ask for outside expertise in crafting a bill. So, seeking that assistance and input is perfectly normal and proper. For an individual or entity to directly edit and write a bill, particularly if that individual has opportunity to benefit financially, I would consider that improper.

NJPP also did not participate in the drafting of the Economic Opportunity Act.

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EDA Task Force member opens incentives hearing by reiterating need for consistent requirements

Strong words from attorney Jim Walden began the second hearing on state tax incentives Thursday at Rutgers Law School in Newark.

Walden, a member of the EDA Task Force created by an executive order from Gov. Phil Murphy early this year, explained the requirements that needed to be met by Economic Development Authority tax incentive applicants who were threatening to move jobs out of the state.

“You only get the money if the application over the years is a net benefit to the state,” Walden said.

That meant moving within the state, which has regularly happened, can only be approved if there is a threat to move out of state — and proof of potentially making good on the threat, such as a site selection.

“For what it’s worth, on that last point on the net benefit test, we have found some evidence that at least one important consultant was giving the same advice to program applicants,” Walden said.

He read a February 2015 memo from Biggins Lacy Shapiro & Co., which explained that showing an out-of-state location is a material piece of evidence the EDA could use toward awarding a tax credit or grant.

“Qualifying and disqualifying requirements of a multibillion-dollar tax program should be clear,” Walden said.

“And they should be clear so that they can be properly understood by business and enforced by whatever authority is responsible for vetting the applications and enforcing the rules.

“If there was an ambiguity in the rules — and, by the way, we are not taking a position on that, we don’t necessarily agree that the statute is ambiguous on this — the EDA as the administering agency really should have one interpretation, not two.”

While the task force is not charged with understanding the lack of uniformity, it is searching for how the applications were certified and what processes were used.

“Applications are submitted under penalties,” Walden said.

If an application has false statements, the grants are subject to suspension, termination and recapturing of funding or credits, as well as potential criminal enforcement.

On the latter point, Walden warned that the task force is still at an early stage in the proceedings and it remains to be seen what can and will be done.

The task force is chaired by Ronald Chen, former New Jersey public advocate and dean of Rutgers School of Law-Newark. Thursday’s group also included Walden, Georgia Winston and Milton Williams of Walden, Macht and Haran LLP, and Pablo Quinones of Quinones Law PLC.

The hearing is ongoing Thursday and will include testimony from former EDA Chief Operating Officer Tim Lizura, as well as two other witnesses. The hearing began at 10 a.m. and resumed at 1 p.m. after a lunch break.

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