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Another court hearing challenging the validity of Lakewood Township's "banquet halls in schools" ordinance is set for next Friday, January 5, 2024.

Currently, the question of validity of the ordinance is hinging on whether or not the Township Clerk mailed the 2022 annual meeting notice to two newspapers or only one newspaper.

Township officials are heavily flip flopping on their claims in the matter.

Bizarrely, this very issue was also the subject of a decades old published court ruling for which a judge voided another highly contentious Ordinance enacted by Lakewood's Township Committee!

The saga began when, as the news was first broken here on FAA News, just before Rosh Hashonah last year, Judge Ford shut down Bnos Brocha's banquet hall on the legal basis that the Township's ordinances did not permit banquet halls in schools and Bnos Brocha never received a Use Variance from the Township's Zoning Board for the banquet hall.

In response, as previously reported here on FAA News, back in December 2022, Lakewood's Township Committee adopted an Ordinance legalizing banquet halls in schools.

Therefore, as previously reported here on FAA News, back in January 2023, 1650 Corporate Road West LLC, an industrial park property owner and a party to lawsuits filed against Lake Terrace and Bnos Brocha which allege that they were operating banquet halls without Township approval, represented by Attorney Rob Shea Esq., filed a lawsuit seeking to overturn the new ordinance.

The original complaint cited 15 counts.

Subsequently, as previously reported here on FAA News, in July 2023, Judge Hodgson granted Mr. Shea's Motion to Amend the Complaint, to add two additional counts.

The additional counts involve violations of the New Jersey Open Public Meetings Act (OPMA) on the part of the Township Committee and Planning Board, resulting in the lack of jurisdiction for either party to have held any of the meetings at which the Ordinance was discussed and adopted.

NJSA 10:4-18 mandates that a public body must publish an annual notice of all public meetings for the coming year in two official newspapers with 7 days of their annual re-organization meeting.

The Committee held their 2022 re-organization on January 3, 2022.

The resulting annual notice was published only in the Star Ledger on January 5, 2022.

Under NJSA 10:4-8, all meetings which are not contained within the annual notice must be noticed as special meetings, with said notices published in two official newspapers at least 48 hours prior to the meeting.

Neither the October 20, 2022 meeting nor the December 8, 2022 meeting were noticed as special meetings (nor are they accounted for in the annual notice as that was only delivered to one newspaper).

As such the Committee had no authority to take any action at either meeting.

Wherefore, Plaintiff demands the entry of an order against Defendants:

1. Finding that the Committee failed to properly adopt and publish their 2022 annual notice

2. Finding that the October 20, 2022 and December 8, 2022 hearings were ultra vires and void as a matter of law.

Count Sixteen argues that the Planning Board similarly failed to Reorganize for the 2022 term and had no authority to conduct the November 15 and November 29, 2022 hearings.

As previously reported here on FAA News, back in August 2023, Mr. Shea filed a Motion for Summary Judgement as to several counts of the complaint, including Count Seventeen.

As previously reported here on FAA News, Township Attorney Robin La Bue Esq. pushed back hard against this motion, arguing that as to Count Seventeen, the Township did comply with the notice requirements of OPMA  because actual publication of the notice in two newspapers is not required, all that is required is transmittal of notice to the appropriate newspapers at least 48 hours prior to the meeting. Worts v. Mayor and Council of Upper Tp.

In the instant matter, the Township Clerk transmitted the 2022 meeting dates to both the Star Ledger and the Asbury Park Press.

Regardless, even if the annual notice did not suffice, the meetings were also noticed as special meetings as the agendas for both meetings were mailed to both the Star Ledger and the Asbury Park Press at least 48 hours in advance of the meetings.

Mr. Shea opposed this claim, questioning if indeed the notices were sent to two newspapers.

In a written ruling, Judge Hodgson declined to grant summary judgement to either party, noting that there is no certification from the Township Clerk as to mailing the notice to two newspapers, and no mail receipts.

Judge Hodgson directed the parties to supplement the record by providing the mail receipts.

Subsequently, Mr. Shea sent a letter to the Township attorney asking her to send him the mail receipts. After not receiving any response, Mr. Shea submitted an OPRA request, seeking the "mail receipts" or "emails if they were sent electronically."

The Clerk responded to the OPRA request that "publication requests were sent electronically." She provided the emails for only one newspaper - The Star Ledger. This indicates that, as Mr. Shea previously argued, the notice was only "delivered" to one newspaper.

Quizzically, the Township attorney has now filed papers in court claiming that the notice was sent to two newspapers!

In fact, the attorney's filing included a Certification from the Clerk which claims that she "mailed the Annual Notice... to both the Star Ledger and the Asbury Park Press!"


Either way, Judge Hodgson specifically asked to see the proof (i.e. mail receipts) indicating that they mailed it to both newspapers. The new motion did not provide any proof (because apparently there simply isn't any....)

Though Mr. Shea is likely to prevail on this point, he will still need to overcome an additional hurdle - the 17th count was filed in the amended complaint, which was filed past the 45 days timeline.

To deal with this, Mr. Shea has just filed a cross-motion to extend the filing deadline on the basis of "public interest in the matter."

Judge Hodgson is set to hear oral arguments on the matter this coming Friday, January 5, 2024.

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