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Elliot Stomel convinced a jury that he was fired in 1999 as a part-time Camden City, N.J., public defender for ratting out the mayor to federal prosecutors, but he’ll have a hard time collecting. That’s because the man who fired Stomel, Mayor Milton Milan, was convicted of corruption and kicked out of office and is now indigent, and the city has been found not liable for his actions. Stomel had brought suit under the Conscientious Employee Protection Act (CEPA) against Milan, the city, the City Council and Milan’s successor, Mayor Gwendolyn Faison, tacking on civil rights counts. He alleged that he was fired for reporting to the U.S. Attorney’s Office that he was told to pay Milan a $5,000 campaign contribution if he wanted to keep his job. In 2002, Camden County Superior Court Judge Louis Meloni dismissed the CEPA count against Milan and let the other defendants out of the case. Meloni also ruled that the city was not liable for the only remaining count, the claim against Milan under 42 U.S.C. 1983. On Sept. 17, Superior Court Judge Michael Kassel entered a $316,464 judgment against Milan, based on a June 9 jury verdict, including $215,144 in attorneys’ fees, $6,551 in costs and $4,769 in prejudgment interest. “We’re not going to consider it a success until we get paid,” says Stomel’s lawyer, Alan Schorr of Cherry Hill, N.J. Stomel, a solo criminal defense attorney in Westmont, N.J., worked part time representing Camden Municipal Court defendants. He furnished his own support staff, received no vacation time or pension and reported the city’s payments on tax returns as client fees, not wages. Meloni found Stomel an independent contractor, and therefore unable to bring a CEPA claim. Further, Meloni found, the circumstances did not meet the standard set in Penbaur v. City of Cincinnati, 475 U.S. 469 (1986), which holds a city liable for a policymaker’s decision “where the acts or edicts of the municipal official may fairly be said to represent official policy.” Schorr filed an appeal on Sept. 24 to reinstate the CEPA claim, citing case law that seems to support allowing CEPA suits by independent contractors. He also seeks to reinstate Camden as a defendant, claiming the firing wasn’t a unilateral act. Milan’s attorney, Woodbury, N.J., solo Kevin Dowling, did not return calls. Cheryl Cooper and John Eastlack of Woodbury’s Holston, MacDonald, Uzdavinis & Ziegler, who represent the city, Faison and the council, plan to file a cross-appeal seeking attorneys’fees for successfully defending the civil rights and CEPA claims.

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