Legislatin’ Lawyers and the Columnists Who Love ‘Em

I did you a favor and read Paul Mulshine so you don’t have to (oh, lighten up already! I kid because I love…):

Christie then went on to mention another perk that the legislators grant themselves: Time off with pay from public jobs when they’re in Trenton.

“People in the private sector are not getting that benefit, so I don’t know why people in the public sector should,” Christie said.

Neither do most people, I suspect. And if I were one of the legislators taking advantage of this loophole, I’d hope the issue would just go away before anyone asked me about it.

Crazy Uncle Paul, off on one of his anti-public employee jihads, blasts House Speaker Sheila Oliver for working in the Essex County administration at a salary of $83,047. Paul, I know you specialize in resentment toward high five-figure salaries for public servants, but I think even you would admit that Oliver’s salary is hardly a king’s ransom.

Mulshine conveniently forgets, however, to mention Assemblywoman Celeste Riley, who rakes in a whopping $50,774 as a teacher in Greenwich Township. Wow – call Robin Leach…

The fact is that middle-class public servants like Riley would never be able to serve in the Legislature were it not for this law. Are people like Nick Sacco abusing it? Yes, of course, and that needs to stop. But conflating  Riley and Sacco is absurd.

Crazy Uncle Paul, however, goes a step further: he contrasts the “greed” of the legislator who is a public-employee with the “virtue” of the legislator who works in the public sector:

There are a couple of dentists in the Legislature, but so far neither has pushed to have the statute extended to oral surgery.

“When I leave my dental office, none of those patients want to pay me when I go to the Legislature,” said state Sen. Gerry Cardinale, a Republican from Bergen County. “I never had anyone say, ‘You don’t have to do my fillings but I’ll pay you anyway.'”

The same goes for accountants, he said.

“That accountant is not getting paid for the time he spends in the Legislature, but Sheila Oliver is getting paid for it,” he said. “For all of us who are employed in the private sector, it’s a sacrifice to serve in the Legislature.”

But when it comes to the public employees, all the sacrifice is on the taxpayer’s side.

Really? It’s a “sacrifice” for private sector employees to serve in the Legislature? Is it a sacrifce for, say, Senator James W. Holzapfel (R), the Senior Managing Partner at the law form of Citta, Holzapfel, & Zabarsky? It sure didn’t sound like a “sacrifice” in this 2007 profile of the senator:

Holzapfel has made a career of public service. His Toms River law firm holds 30 legal service contracts, with 25 public agencies, worth $721,434.

The firm holds many of the municipal prosecutor’s posts and labor counsel positions in Ocean County.

[…]

Holzapfel eventually became a partner in Citta’s Toms River law firm, now known as Citta, Holzapfel, Zabarsky, Leahey and Simon. Today, the firm holds public contracts in municipalities from Island Heights to Dover Township, mostly for municipal prosecutor and labor counsel positions, according to a Gannett New Jersey review of public records.

Holzapfel said the law firm had at least a dozen public contracts before he became an assemblyman. He said his firm’s reputation — not his status as a lawmaker — is what attracts and keeps clients.

“If you do municipal work, which we did long before I came here, the question is, ‘Are you doing a good job?’ ‘Are you billing properly?’ ” Holzapfel said. “Should we not prosecute in towns because I’m an assemblyman?”

Timothy E. Ryan, a Democrat who sought the 10th District Senate seat in 2001, said he believes many public contracts are awarded to Holzapfel’s firm because Holzapfel is a county Republican leader.

“I think that Jim Holzapfel is a fine man,” Ryan said. “(But) he certainly is part of the good ol’ boys network that runs the county. I think if you look at all the municipal accounts he has, you will see how successful politics has made him.

The firm continues to give strong financial support to Ocean County Republicans, contributing $12,500 to the county’s Republican Finance Committee in 2002 and an additional $5,500 to the Dover Township Republican Municipal Committee.

It would be silly to say in the state of New Jersey that connections don’t mean anything,” said Terrence P. Farley, who became director of the state Division of Criminal Justice after a recommendation from Holzapfel. “But (the powerbrokers) have to get a return on their money. If you don’t cut the mustard, you’re not making it anywhere.” [emphasis mine]

It certainly would be silly, wouldn’t it? I doubt even Mulshine could say with a straight face that James Holzapfel’s firm “sacrifices” due to his time in the Legislature.

And how about Senator Christopher J. Connors (R), partner at Dasti, Murphy, McGuckin, Ulaky, Cherkos & Connors? According to the firm’s website:

Dasti, Murphy, McGuckin, Ulaky, Cherkos & Connors is an Ocean County, New Jersey law firm with 8 attorneys and over 11 in staff. The largest law firm south of Toms River to Pleasantville and west to Marlton, our firm is experienced in serving the legal needs of a diverse range of clients in both the private and the public sector. The combined experience of our attorneys and the size of law firm enables Dasti, Murphy, McGuckin, Ulaky, Cherkos and Connors to manage virtually every manner of legal issue. [emphasis mine]

There’s Senator Kip Bateman (R), Senior Partner at DiFrancesco, Bateman, which has many public and private clients in New Jersey. Assembly Republican Leader Jon Bramnick’s firm certainly must like his connections when they’re dealing with a deportation case. I’m sure Erik Peterson’s (R) clients also appreciate the juice he brings as the Policy Co-Chair of the Assembly. And it doesn’t look like Assemblyman Sean Kean’s (R) firm lacks for municipal clients; I think they are happy to continue having him “sacrifice” his time in the Legislature.

The fact is that many law firms are thrilled to have a partner serving in the Legislature; there are few better ways to make rain. And it’s not just lawyers: Assemblyman Robert Clifton (R) is Director of Local Government Affairs for Comcast Cable.  Senator Joe Kyrillos (R) is a commercial real estate broker. Assemblyman Declan O’Scalon (R) is a consultant to municipalities, which got him into some hot water back in 2005. All of these folks have private sector careers that benefit from their service in Trenton.

So let’s not pretend that these poor folks are beleaguered by the demands of their Senate and Assembly seats, Paul. And let’s not equate their ability to cash in on their connections with a teacher making $50K a year like Riley, who gets it exactly right here:

“Diversity is what the framers of the New Jersey state constitution intended when they created a part-time Legislature, so that citizens could elect people who encompass the very spirit of New Jersey and who understand the issues we face,” she said. “New Jersey is meant to be represented not just by those who are wealthy, but by teachers, police, fire fighters, health care practitioners, social workers, labor representatives, et cetera.”

I’d just add one thing: we need legislators from the private sector, but ones who come from the middle-class. I don’t know the answer to that (Full-time legislators? Publicly funded campaigns?), but I do know giving public employees paid time off to serve in the legislature is one of the few mechanisms we have to stop the state house from being taken over by lawyers and plutocrats.

Comments (7)

  1. William Weber (WjcW)

    time off.

    But you shouldn’t be paid twice for the same time.

    There are a number of ways to make it more logical without excluding people from the pool of candidates.

    Take the $49,000 salary and divide by days in session, give them a stipend for every day they spend there and/or let them choose to paid at the higher rate, (the per diem legislative rate, or their other empolyment), but just pick one.

    Reply
  2. Carl Bergmanson

    Increase their salaries and cut their staff funding to pay for it.

    Own a law firm? Don’t want to leave it? Don’t run for the legislature! Owning a law firm that practices in NJ is a conflict of interest.

    Reply

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