Mayor Fulop and his running mates received substantial donations from two lawyers and their families before they were chosen to fill vacancies on the Jersey City Municipal Court. One of the nominees may not live in Jersey City as required by the city code.
On April 1, the mayor announced the appointment of Rahat Chatha and Paul Scalia to two open positions on the Municipal Court following the elevation to Superior Court of Judges Carlo Abad and Margaret Marley.
In making his decision, the mayor’s spokesperson stated that Chatha has “experience with both the courts in Hudson County and the community by way of her legal and social service work in Jersey City.” Scalia has worked as an Assistant Municipal Prosecutor for Jersey City since 2001.
According to the New Jersey Election Law Enforcement Division, between 2012 and 2019, Ms. Chatha and family members all living at the same address, made a total of $19,880 in contributions to Fulop or his election slate, known as “Team Fulop.”
Scalia and a family member made a series of smaller but significant donations to Fulop and his team totaling $3,525.
The Municipal Court handles motor vehicle and parking tickets, minor b-type offenses, municipal ordinance offenses and other minor offenses. Serious criminal cases, such as robbery, auto theft, or assault, may start out as complaints filed in the Municipal Court but are transferred to the Superior Court.
While the appointments following the donations may appear distasteful to good government groups, there’s no evidence at this time that they were illegal. “It is not uncommon to see lawyers make contributions to people in their district” says Seton Hall University School of Law Professor Brian Sheppard. If, however, there was a quid pro quo involved, a judicial appointment would be illegal, notes Sheppard. “Once you have the payment becoming the prime mover of an official act, that’s when you’re talking about basically something like a bribe.” Nonetheless, Sheppard cautions that “there are appearances and there is reality. In the world of politics, appearances of impropriety can be a killer, even if there’s nothing behind them.”
Paul Scalia’s residence has also been called into question. According to an anonymous source, he does not live in Jersey City, a requirement for municipal court judges. Jersey City Times could not definitively establish where Scalia resides.
Accurint, “the most widely accepted locate-and-research tool available to government, law enforcement and commercial customers,” has Paul Tony Scalia living in a house owned by Rosanne Scalia, in Cranford, New Jersey. Multiple other online services have him living there as well. In 2015, the Township of Cranford appointed Scalia as “Alternate Municipal Prosecutor.” Scalia’s Mercedes SUV was seen parked at the Cranford house yesterday afternoon.
For purposes of his donations to the mayor, Scalia gives a pizzeria on Central Avenue in Jersey City and an apartment right above it. Both Scalia’s law practice and a company run by Alberto Scalia called Spincube are listed as occupants of that same apartment. In several filings, Scalia has given the apartment as his home address. He is registered to vote in Jersey City.
The administration did not respond to Jersey City Times’s request for information on the process by which the two judicial nominees were chosen. Nor did it respond to a request for a clarification of Scalia’s residence. A call and a text to Scalia on the subject of his address went unanswered.
Asked about the donations from the two candidates and the confusion surrounding Scalia’s address, Ward E Councilman James Solomon responded, “I am deeply concerned, however not surprised, to learn about this ‘process’ to award judicial nominations. This apparent pay-to-play arrangement is how the Jersey City Political Machine operates. It is even more concerning to learn of the allegation that Mr. Scalia may not live in Jersey City. These two nominations should be withdrawn and instead the City Council should work with the administration to develop a transparent process through which every qualified candidate can submit their resume for vetting by an independent panel of community leaders.”
The City Council will vote on the nominations on April 15, 2021.