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“Pay to play” seems to have paid off for firms retained to represent New Jersey in lawsuits arising out of the racial profiling scandal. Nine law firms employed by the state and the New Jersey Turnpike Authority to defend the suits were paid $6.9 million, in addition to the $19.5 million going to plaintiffs and their attorneys. Eight of those nine firms made political donations to gubernatorial election campaigns or party coffers. The one firm that made no donations received the least amount of work. Put another way, all but about $19,000 of the $6.9 million went to politically connected firms. The billing breakdown was provided to the Law Journalby the state Law Division and the turnpike’s executive office. [See chart.] The bills were then compared with records provided by the Election Law Enforcement Commission. The apparent correlation between the fortunes of law firms that made political donations and those that received contracts creates the appearance of “pay to play,” where donors receive state contracts. Gov. James McGreevey has pledged to end the practice, and his office is working on legislation to achieve that. Topping the list is DeCotiis, FitzPatrick, Cole & Wisler in Teaneck, which billed $3.2 million. Of that, $2.8 million was for defense of the state Attorney General’s Office and $385,122 was for the turnpike authority. Unlike the firms below it on the list, DeCotiis donates roughly equal amounts to both Democrat and Republican election campaigns. The policy appears to have paid off: The firm was retained by the administrations of Republican Christine Todd Whitman and Democrat McGreevey. In the two years before the last couple of gubernatorial elections, which covers the period in which profiling litigation began to heat up, members of the DeCotiis firm gave a total of at least $119,060 to McGreevey and the state Democratic committee, and $106,339 to the Republican Party and its gubernatorial candidates, Whitman and Bret Schundler. The No. 2 firm was Riker, Danzig, Scherer, Hyland & Perretti in Morristown, which billed $2.9 million solely for the turnpike. Riker Danzig donated $120,750 to the Republicans during the two years prior to each election, but just $61,000 to the Democrats. The firm was given the much-coveted turnpike business under Whitman but lost it under McGreevey to Wilentz, Goldman & Spitzer. The Woodbridge firm, which donated $273,750 to Democrats during the past two elections but only $23,900 to the GOP, billed the turnpike $164,942 in 2002 alone for racial profiling defense. Wilentz appears to be on track to overtake Pitney, Hardin, Kipp & Szuch of Florham Park as the third-highest biller. The latter has cost the turnpike $205,855, entirely for its defense of state troopers in Morka v. New Jersey, L-8429-97. Election commission reports show that the firm donated only $9,450 to Democrats and $2,200 to Republicans for gubernatorial campaigns in the periods examined. The dollar amounts for donations do not include those donated to local and county candidates, and their associated committees and funds. STILL A BARGAIN FOR STATE Nevertheless, lawyers who handled much of the litigation say the total $26.3 million tab — including all settlements and legal fees — was cheap at the price. DeCotiis’s Michael Cole notes that in Morka, plaintiffs at one point asked for $10 million to $12 million. “Don’t forget that when these cases started their value was dramatically increased . . . you had legislative hearings, the Gormley hearings involving Justice [Peter] Verniero [a former attorney general], all of those things I think served to enhance the value of various cases,” he says. “There was obviously discussion about a class settlement that would have resolved all the claims, even those which were not yet in the suit, and that had some potential benefits,” Cole says. The firm, however, chose to wait to see whether Morkawould gain class status. It was Cole’s position that the injuries suffered by plaintiffs — which ranged from minor inconveniences to beatings — were so diverse they did not form a class. His gamble paid off. Middlesex County Superior Court Judge Amy Piro Chambers denied class status in October 2000 and eventually, in January of this year, the case settled for $775,000. “The resolution was probably millions cheaper than it would have been in a class action suit,” Cole says. It did not always look so good for the state. At the height of the scandal, the state and its lawyers were the focus of fury over the turnpike troopers’ policy of stopping motorists based on skin color. The largest single payment in the scandal was $12.95 million to four unarmed men who were shot at by troopers in a road stop gone wrong. The Star-Ledgerof Newark published a cartoon in March 2001 of a trooper with his uniform darkly stylized in the fashion of a Nazi S.S. officer. “I’m not sure anybody could have predicted the cost to the state in dealing with this issue,” says Robert Mintz, a partner at McCarter & English in Newark. “It was an issue that placed the state in an extraordinarily difficult situation and I think the various attorneys general who have had to handle it have done the best they could under very difficult situations with tremendous outside political pressures,” he says. Mintz represented Verniero in Davis v. New Jersey Department of Law and Public Safety, MER-2229-97. The case settled for $4 million, split among 13 plaintiffs, and a $1 million plaintiff’s counsel fee, split among Red Bank’s Linda Kenney, the Appleseed Public Interest Law Center in Newark and Roseland’s Lowenstein Sandler. “The state did a very good job of trying to contain the costs here, given the intractable nature of this litigation,” says Mintz. “My normal hourly rate is $375 an hour, but I billed in this case $140 an hour. That’s a standard rate that the state reimburses outside counsel.” Indeed, the state got a lot of discounted billing from some of the most prestigious firms in the region. Cole says he charged the Attorney General’s Office $125 to $130 an hour. “It’s the same thing everybody gets, the Attorney General’s Office requires it.” Cole’s normal fee is $325 an hour. At the turnpike, Wilentz got $150 an hour, says Blair Zwillman, counsel at the firm. Typical rates for Wilentz partners are $240 to $425. Attorneys at Pitney Hardin and Riker Danzig did not return calls. The price of racial profiling is not completely paid off. Moorestown solo William Buckman, the attorney who first proved in court that profiling existed, is nursing two more cases. “It will cost taxpayers a lot more if they [state troopers] don’t behave themselves,” said Neil Mullin earlier this year. Mullin, of Montclair’s Smith Mullin, was part of a team of lawyers with Buckman who secured the Morkadeal. Retired Appellate Division Judge John Keefe has yet to decide on a fee award for the plaintiffs’ lawyers in that case. As Zwillman says, “It’s not over yet.”

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