Port Authority – 42nd Street & 8th Avenue (Rick Kopstein)
A former top in-house lawyer for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey admitted he created a bogus retainer agreement from Weil, Gotshal & Manges promising discount legal services.
Christopher Hartwyk, 53, of Newark, pleaded guilty in New York County Criminal Court on Friday to a second-degree misdemeanor count of offering a false instrument for filing.
In March 2009, Hartwyk, then deputy general counsel, had been instructed to obtain discounts from all firms serving as outside counsel when he provided the retainer letter to the Port Authority’s Law Department, according to New York County District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr.
The document stated that Weil Gotshal would bill at a 15 percent discount, though the firm had made no such offer. Hartwyk also forged the signature of a Weil Gotshal partner, Vance said.
Vance, in announcing the plea, said: “Lawyers must always be honest in their dealings.”
Port Authority Inspector General Robert Van Etten said Hartwyk “chose to violate his public trust to the detriment of his employer, and the public at large.”
Hartwyk’s lawyer, Marc Agnifilo of Brafman & Associates in New York, did not return a call Monday. Weil Gotshal spokesman Robert Lennon did not provide a comment by press time.
Hartwyk was appointed to the bistate agency in 2003 by New Jersey Gov. James McGreevey, initially as deputy solicitor in the Law Department. He ascended the ranks and, as first deputy general counsel, was behind only the general counsel.
In January 2012, Hartwyk was replaced by outgoing New Jersey Attorney General Paula Dow, who was appointed deputy general counsel by Gov. Chris Christie.
In March 2012, Hartwyk joined Newark’s Genova Burns Giantomasi Webster, where he handled complex commercial litigation as well as infrastructure, transportation and logistics.
He made partner that August but left the firm in June 2013. According to managing partner Brian Kronick, “Published reports indicate that the activities at issue in Mr. Hartwyk’s circumstance predated his employment with this law firm.”
Genova Burns spokeswoman Penny Paul declines to state where Hartwyk went in June 2013 or whether the firm was aware of the pending criminal case.
An online attorney registry maintained by the N.J. judiciary lists Hartwyk’s license as active but provides no firm or contact information.
Hartwyk had other legal troubles during his Port Authority tenure.
In January 2012, The Record of Hackensack reported that he had pleaded guilty in August 2004 to a disorderly persons offense for making dozens of sexually harassing phone calls to a recent Rutgers University graduate who was vying for a job at the Port Authority. Hartwyk was sentenced to a year’s probation was ordered to undergo counseling. He said he had been dealing with alcoholism and depression when the 2004 incident occurred, according to the newspaper account.
Hartwyk also was named in at least two civil suits.
In one, former Port Authority staff attorney Sam Stanton claimed Hartwyk and General Counsel Darrell Buchbinder suspended and later fired him for blowing the whistle on fellow staff attorney David Hood for advancing a frivolous defense in tort-claims case against the agency. The case settled confidentially in June 2012.
The other suit was by Donald Burke, Hood’s supervisor, who claimed he was removed from the tort-claims case for reporting Hood’s conduct, was subjected to retaliation and was forced to retire. The suit was ongoing as of Monday, though counts under the N.J. Law Against Discrimination and the federal Age Discrimination in Employment Act previously were dismissed.
Hartwyk is peripherally involved in a developing fee dispute between the city of Newark and its now-defunct utility, the Newark Watershed Conservation and Development Corp.
The city is refusing to pay Genova Burns’ legal fees connected to advising the dissolution of the agency, in part because of an alleged conflict: Hartwyk previously represented Newark Watershed in a suit against the city council over a proposed ordinance that would have abolished the agency.