'Tis sure is the season for lawsuits - all funded by the Lakewood taxpayers, of course!

Except this time the parties have reversed. The Lakewood Zoning Board has filed legal action seeking a Court Order due to allegations that Board member Mordy Gross has a conflict of interest with Lake Terrace's Use Variance appeal.

At the Board's initial hearing on the application, Attorney Rob Shea Esq. representing 1650 Oak Street LLC, requested that any Board member who has a conflict with Lake Terrace recuse themselves from the application. At that point, Meir Gelley and Moish Lankry recused themselves.

Following the meeting, Mr. Shea wrote a letter to the Board advising that Moshe Gleiberman who sat in on the application, and Mordy Gross who was not present, also need to recuse themselves.

Mordy Gross represented Table Linen in 1650 Oak Street LLC's contentious litigation against Bnos Brocha. That litigation included numerous site plan violations including the illegal use of a banquet hall. As Bnos Brocha's property is part of the Lake Terrace application, and both matters involve the illegal use of a banquet hall, Mr. Gross should now recuse himself.

Moshe Gleiberman is the Vice President of Administration of Beth Medrash Govoha, and he has been quoted in the Asbury Park Press making public statements regarding BMG's planned purchase of a portion of GCU as well as BMG's planned campus expansion on that land purchase.

The APP article indicates that "Mr. Gleiberman spoke as to the uses... and failed to address whether or not it would be used as a banquet hall." This is significant as the architectural plans do appear to show a banquet hall, which is not even a permitted use in the zone.

Scott Kennel and Brian Flannery both testified on behalf of BMG's campus expansion application. As Mr. Gleiberman holds a prominent position in BMG and earns most of his money from that job, Mr. Kennel and Mr. Flannery were in essence working for him. As such, Mr. Gleiberman cannot now, such a short while later be expected to be unbiased in the face of two of his own experts now testifying before him.

See Mr. Shea's full letter below.

It appears that in response to this letter, Mr. Gleiberman has recused himself from the Lake Terrace application. Mr. Gross has not recused himself, however, especially as he is an attorney, he is hesitant as to whether or not to recuse himself.

In response, Zoning Board Conflict Attorney John Jackson Esq. on Friday filed a Verified Complaint on Summary Action seeking an order declaring that there is no conflict of interest with respect to Board member Mordy Gross to Lake Terrace's Use Variance appeal.

Mr. Jackson wrote to the Court:

Counsel for the Board has provided an opinion that there is no conflict of interest with respect to this Board member. The Board member in question is an attorney at law and does not want to take a risk that a legal body may make a determination that he sat on a case wherein there was a conflict of interest. This application is made to request that the court declare, pursuant to NJS 2A:16-52, that
there is no conflict of interest.

The alleged conflict of interest arises because the Board member in question served as legal counsel to Table Linen, Inc., the defendant in an action also involving the Defendant, 1650 Oak Street, LLC, captioned “1650 Corporate Road West, LLC v. the
Township Committee of the Township of Lakewood, et als.,” bearing Docket Number OCN-L-74-21. The matter has been resolved as between Defendant and Table Linen.

The Board member’s client was one of approximately eight defendants and the issue with respect to the Board member’s client was whether his client, a tenant of the Applicant’s neighbor, KBS Mt. Prospect, LLC Bnos Brocha, was properly occupying the space within the building in question and whether his client had the proper permits to operate its business. The Board member’s involvement in this litigation should have no bearing on his ability to hear the Application, which is unrelated to the subject of the litigation.

New Jersey Municipal Land Use Law provides that: “No member of the board of adjustment shall be permitted to act on any manner in which he has, either directly or indirectly, any personal or financial interest.” See N.J.S. 40:55D-69.

The Local Government Ethics Law (the Ethics Law), N.J.S.A. 40A:9-22.1 to -22.25, creates a statutory code of ethics that governs when a disqualifying conflict of interest arises for a local government official. The Ethics Law and the common law guide courts in evaluating when conflicts arise. "The overall objective 'of conflict of interest laws is to ensure that public officials provide disinterested service to their communities' and to 'promote confidence in the integrity of governmental operations.' "


The Ethics Law provides:
[n]o local government officer or employee shall act in his [or her] official capacity in any matter where he [or she], a member of his [or her] immediate
family, or a business organization in which he [or she] has an interest, has a direct or indirect financial or personal involvement that might reasonably be expected to impair his [or her] objectivity or independence of judgment . . . See N.J.S.A. 40A:9-22.5(d).

Counsel for the Board has opined that there is no conflict of interest for the following reasons: (1) the Board member has no direct financial interest in the outcome of the application, (2) the Board member has no direct personal interest in the outcome of the application, (3) the Board member has no indirect financial interest in the outcome of the application or in the applicant, (4) the Board member has no indirect personal interest in this matter, and (5) the Board member has confirmed that his objectivity and/or independence of judgment with respect to the Application would not be impaired as a result of his involvement in the litigation involving Defendant.

Notwithstanding this advice to the Board, Mr. Shea continues to allege a conflict of interest with respect to Mordy Gross, which decreases the number of eligible members that may hear and vote on the Application.

Due to the fact that a conflict has been formally alleged, and because the Board member does not wish to risk being involved in a conflict of interest, the Board asks that the Court make a declaration that there is no conflict of interest.

Several Board members have stepped down from this application and the Board needs all eligible members to participate in order to have the ability to provide the Applicant with a full Board.

The matter before the Board is a use variance, which requires five affirmative votes. If the Board is unable to provide the Applicant with all seven members, then the Applicant is put at a disadvantage because it must achieve a higher percentage of positive votes than would otherwise be required under the law. For example, if only five members hear the case, then the Applicant must obtain five affirmative votes, which means it would need 100% of the voting members to vote positively. In contrast, five out of seven members would require only 71% of the voting members to vote positively.

The Board does not want one of its members to step down if there is not actually a conflict of interest and seeks the Court’s determination.

Mr. Shea has not yet filed any Opposition to this filing.

The legal filing seeks an emergent hearing. Judge Hodgson did not yet schedule a hearing.

The Zoning Board has not yet announced whether Monday's scheduled public hearing will be cancelled due to the pending litigation.

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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

It's strange that John Jackson is spending so much time and the board's money to fight so that Mordy Gross should sit as a board member on the Lake Terrace application. After all, the guy hasn't showed up in over a year to any of the Planning board meetings. If he does show up - which would be uncharacteristic - it would only be because Lake Terrace and Bnos Brocha asked him to come - so that he could exact revenge for them.

But what's even more troubling, is that Mordy Gross is not even needed for the hearing. John Jackson already said last time that due to the several conflicted zoning board members, they'll just borrow some members from the planning board to get 7 people. This has already happened with other applications in the past.

So, this begs the question again; Why is the board attorney being directed to fight so hard for Mordy Gross and Moshe Glieberman?? What's really going on behind the scenes?