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A 17-year veteran of the Camden, N.J., city attorney’s office who was fired amid conflict-of-interest charges is suing his former employer, claiming the city violated his federal civil rights, the First Amendment and the Conscientious Employee Protection Act. Theo Primas, who filed suit last Wednesday, was given no reason for his Nov. 26 dismissal, which came five days after the city filed court papers charging that he improperly interceded in a racial discrimination case. That suit, Hailey v. City of Camden, 01-CV-3967, filed on Aug. 20 by two city firefighters, was served on the city clerk on Sept. 10. A default order was issued on Oct. 4 due to the city’s failure to respond. Another city attorney, Felix Gonzalez said in court that the complaint had been lost. U.S. District Judge Jerome Simandle of the District of New Jersey vacated the default order on Oct. 22 at the city’s request, citing “excusable neglect.” But Primas says that he had earlier seen the complaint on Gonzalez’s desk and that the complaint had been discussed in the office. Primas began asking questions. The city clerk’s office said it sent the complaint by inter-office mail to City Attorney Dennis Kille as soon as it was received. Kille’s staff claimed not to have seen the complaint until after the default. Primas contends in his suit that he had a duty under RPC 8.3, which requires lawyers to report other lawyers’ wrongdoing, to ask the clerk’s office when the complaint was received. But Kille says the inquiries were part of a well-conceived plan by the lawyers for the firefighters in Hailey, who also happen to be Primas’ lawyers. On Nov. 21, Kille asked U.S. Magistrate Judge Joel Rosen to disqualify Marlton, N.J.’s Frost & Zeff, contending that the firm instigated a conflict by asking Primas to undertake the routing inquiry and that Primas was the source of the information to Frost & Zeff that Gonzalez allegedly lied about what happened to the complaint. A hearing on the city’s motion is scheduled for Dec. 21. Kille and Gonzalez decline to comment on Primas’ case. Primas refers questions to his lawyer, Mark Frost, who denies Kille’s allegation that Primas questioned city staff at his firm’s behest. He declines to comment otherwise, citing attorney-client privilege. Frost & Zeff represents five other plaintiffs in a racial discrimination suit against the city attorney’s office. That case, Sunkett v. City of Camden, 99-CV-5371, alleges that two current and four former assistant city attorneys were passed over for promotions in favor of white candidates. The city has moved to dismiss.

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