LINDEN – Though he was elected under the slogan “Democrat for Change and Action,” Linden Third Ward Councilman Peter Brown seems intent on preserving the status quo in municipal government.
Tuesday night, Brown and five council allies voted against replacing municipal court Judge Louis M.J. DiLeo with Daniel Roberts, an attorney backed by the city’s independent Mayor Richard Gerbounka. Appointing Roberts would have saved the city nearly $52,000, according to the mayor. DiLeo makes $127,000 per year for his part-time job.
This week, The Star-Ledger reported that DiLeo both prosecuted and presided over a case against two Elizabeth men who were convicted of attempted burglary. Their lawyer, with support from the Union County Prosecutor’s Office, is attempting to overturn the conviction because of the “troubling conduct by the trial judge.”
DiLeo’s actions represent “one of the more egregious violations of constitutional rights in municipal court that we’ve seen in a long time,” according to Alexander Shalom, the policy counsel at the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey.
This is not the first time that Brown and his allies have gone against the mayor and a group of reform-minded council members who ran on the Democrats for Change line. During the city’s annual re-organization meeting, Brown, Christopher Kolibas, Richard Koziol, Richard Puschel, Robert Sadowski, and Michelle Yamakaitis voted to re-appoint politically-connected lawyer John Hudak without public input or discussion.
Gerbounka had previously vetoed Hudak’s appointment, saying that he believed there was “an excessive amount of lawyers” in Linden’s legal department. Linden taxpayers spend over $100,000 in salary and benefits for Hudak’s part-time job.
Brown is also behind an apparent movement to usurp the power of the elected council president. Since the mid-1970s, Linden voters have had the power to directly elect a council president, a post filled by political insiders in most other New Jersey communities.
After Brown raised the issue with Hudak, the assistant city attorney submitted a seven-page memorandum to the mayor and council that concluded “the legitimacy of the current Council President position can only be determined by the Superior Court.”
In response, Council President James Moore noted that Hudak has been Linden’s assistant city attorney for 16 years and wrote, “I have some concerns that this issue has never been addressed until a month into my council presidency.”
For years, Robert Bunk dominated the council as the elected council president. Last year, Bunk unsuccessfully set his sites on the mayor’s office and Yamakaitis, the council president candidate backed by the regular political organization, lost to Moore running on the Democrats for Change line.
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