Lady Gaga

The Lady Vanishes — For once, Stefani Germanotta, p/k/a Lady Gaga, won’t be at center stage, and she’s fine with that, considering the venue is federal court.

U.S. District Judge William Martini has granted the singer’s motion to dismiss a third-party claim against her in a suit by a composer seeking to share in her success, Gaines v. Fusari, 11-4433.

Calvin Gaines sued Germanotta’s former collaborator, Rob Fusari, asserting he wrote four of her hit songs — "Paparazzi," "Beautiful, Dirty and Rich," "Disco Heaven," and "Retro Dance" — and seeking declarations under the Copyright Act that he is a co-author and co-producer. He also wants an accounting.

Fusari, alleging he paid Gaines $11,000, filed a third-party complaint seeking indemnification and contribution from Germanotta. But Martini found Wednesday that neither federal statute nor common law allow such causes of action in copyright cases.

"My client and Lady Gaga collaborated on these songs," Fusari’s lawyer, Parsippany solo James DeZao, said after the ruling. "We thought there was equal responsibility."

Germanotta’s lawyer, Sandra Crawshaw-Sparks of Proskauer Rose in New York, did not return a call.


Clarkson Fisher Jr.

No-Service Fee — An appeals court has upended a landlord-tenant ruling that allowed a Special Civil Part officer to charge a landlord an extra $50 to serve a warrant for possession.

Landlords typically pay a statutory $15, of which $5 goes to the clerk, plus mileage. A 2006 court directive, however, allows officers to charge up to $50 more if they perform extra, eviction-related tasks, such as changing the locks.

In 2012, property owner Leonard Rosenberg obtained a warrant for possession, paid $19 ($15 plus $4 mileage) and asked Millie Koon, a Special Civil Part officer in Essex County, to serve it on a tenant in Newark. When asked for the $50 surcharge up front, he paid it under protest, then sued to get it back, plus consequential damages for the delay and Consumer Fraud Act damages. A trial judge dismissed his case, and Rosenberg appealed.

He got half a loaf. Appellate Division Judges Clarkson Fisher Jr. and Alexander Waugh Jr. held on Friday that Koon, having provided no extra services, wasn’t entitled to the $50, but they affirmed dismissal of the other counts, saying officers can’t be sued under the CFA because their fees are closely regulated.

Rosenberg and Koon were pro se and neither returned a call.

It’s hard to gauge how prevalent the surcharge is. "The counties I deal with don’t charge that," says Brian Reagan of Mullen & Reagan in Cherry Hill. He typically pays $19 in such cases.


Richard Cordray (Image: Diego M. Radzinschi)

Too Much Too Soon — Two lawyers who allegedly collected $1.4 million in advance from debt-relief clients in violation of the law are facing federal court charges.

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau says in a complaint filed Tuesday that Michael Lupolover of Englewood Cliffs and Michael Levitis of Brooklyn induced clients to make payments to dedicated accounts with a payment processor, telling them the money would be used to pay down their debts.

Instead, the lawyers had the money transmitted to themselves to pay their fees before paying creditors. That violated the Telemarketing Sales Rule, which bars fee collection before a debt is renegotiated, the bureau alleges in CFPB v. Mission Settlement Agency, filed in the Southern District of New York.

The bureau claims Levitis, through the Mission Settlement Agency, collected $1.1 million and Lupolover, through the Premier Consulting Group, took about $300,000.

The lawyers’ operations were "designed to profit through unscrupulous and illegal business practices," bureau director Richard Cordray said. The suit seeks a permanent injunction, restitution, civil penalties and other relief.

Lupolover’s lawyer, Michael Bachner, who heads a Manhattan firm, says his "business activities have always complied fully with the laws, and we are confident that this is going to be resolved favorably for him."

Levitis, who is also facing criminal mail and wire fraud charges in the alleged scheme, could not be reached.


Chris Christie

False Penance Has a Price — The way Gov. Chris Christie sees it, people imprisoned for crimes they didn’t commit deserve compensation, but not those who plead guilty and then claim their pleas were coerced.

That was the governor’s message Thursday in conditionally vetoing S-1219, which would allow wrongly convicted individuals to recover — for each year behind bars — up to twice his or her income for the year before incarceration, or $50,000, whichever is greater. The current maximum is $20,000.

"Where errors have led to undeserved criminal punishments, it is the duty of the State to provide redress," but payment is not justified if someone enters a false plea, Christie said.

He also recommended ditching a provision increasing compensation every five years based on Consumer Price Index changes.

A sponsor of the measure, Sen. Richard Codey, D-Essex, says he has spoken with officials from the Innocence Project, an organization that is dedicated to exonerating the wrongly convicted and that supports the bill. He says he will go along with Christie’s recommendations.

Sen. Raymond Lesniak, D-Union, and Assemblywoman Bonnie Watson Coleman, D-Mercer, are co-sponsors of the bill, which also would allow judges to order vocational training, tuition assistance and housing counseling.

— By Charles Toutant, Mary Pat Gallagher, David Gialanella and Michael Booth