It turns out the heavyweight law firm of Zazzali, Fagella, Nowak, Kleinbaum, & Friedman of Newark is representing the NJEA’s Sean Spiller in the Montclair Kids First suit that alleges a conflict of interest. That suit stems from his participation on the Board of School Estimate despite his role as a senior union official since the BoSE deals with issues that impact the union members he represents. We’ve written about this issue extensively in the past, detailing the different issues he’s touched on in this role that might constitute conflicts of interest.
Baristanet reported that the law firm tried to have the case thrown out, but they were unsuccessful.
We wanted to know more about the law firm that represented Spiller and it turns out they serve as the big guns for the NJEA. Recently, they also represented the NJEA on a different front: suing the state, Gov. Christie, the treasurer and the state senate and assembly on the grounds that the state’s budget did not include the $1.57 billion pension fund payment.
That’s quite an ambitious case for this law firm to take on. But this isn’t a unique instance of this law firm representing the NJEA. In fact, Zazzali has represented the NJEA since at least the 1980’s in multiple cases.
And most recently, the law firm (this time representing both the NJEA and the Camden Education Association) filed a motion to have the Commissioner of Education David Hespe reconsider his determinations in granting the application of the State Superintendent of Camden City School District to close some schools.
In fact, the NJEA’s highest paid contractor (according to their 990s) is Zazzali, Fagella, Nowak, Kleinbaum & Friedman. At a price tag of $1,655,198, the NJEA is shelling out a pretty penny on this law firm. And with the recent cases – suing the state and fighting Hespe on school closures, we’ll likely see this cost increase. It turns out this is the NJEA’s go to firm.
Given that the complaint against Spiller focuses on the intersection of his role with the NJEA and his board service, it seems pretty interesting that it’s the NJEA’s legal team leaping to his defense. Are they paying for the lawyers, or is he? It’s particularly interesting because thus far, a big part of their defense seems to revolve around the argument that there isn’t NJEA involvement on his part in this role. So if that’s the case, why are the NJEA’s lawyers involved here?