Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

State Senator in Gwb Probe Has Ties to Pa Suit

Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

State Senator in Gwb Probe Has Ties to Pa Suit

Article excerpt

A partner in the politically connected law firm hired by Jersey City to sue the Port Authority is also a state senator on the legislative committee investigating the George Washington Bridge lane closures.

State Sen. Nia Gill, D-Essex, a partner at Weiner Lesniak LLP, is not involved with the lawsuit, according to the firm. The suit alleges that the Port Authority is not giving Jersey City enough financial assistance in exchange for dozens of tax-exempt properties the agency owns in the city.

But even though the litigation is unrelated to the lane closures, Gill's dual roles put her in the position of examining -- and possibly helping to reform -- a public agency that her firm is challenging in court.

Gill did not respond to a message left at her law office Friday.

Raymond Lesniak, a founding partner of the firm and also a Democratic state senator, said there is no conflict of interest and pointed out that his firm had represented a city in a lawsuit against the Port Authority in the past.

The lawsuit was filed in federal court in Newark on Thursday. It seeks $400 million from the Port Authority for what the city says it would have received in property taxes if the 40 agency-owned parcels were in private hands. The Port Authority has said it will vigorously fight the suit.

The city hired the firm in November. Gill joined the committee in January.

Lesniak has been critical of the Port Authority and last month proposed legislation that would overhaul the board that governs the agency.

His firm was chosen by Jersey City officials, led by Democratic Mayor Steven M. Fulop, who is seen as having statewide political ambitions. Regardless of its merits, the lawsuit could carry political benefits for Fulop, one observer said, noting that the Port Authority has been widely criticized since the lane closures.

"I think it's a pretty smart move because going after the Port Authority is good politics," said Jeff Tittel, director of the Sierra Club of New Jersey and a close observer of state politics who is also familiar with the law firm and the Port Authority. …

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