New Mayor Stacey Jordan insisted there won’t be any conflicts of interest after township council’s decision to hire an attorney who also represents Moorestown’s largest taxpayer.
Town council voted unanimously last week to appoint Capehart Scatchard attorney Anthony Drollas, replacing former solicitor Tom Coleman. Drollas also represents PREIT, owner of the Moorestown Mall.
PREIT and the township have been tied up in a longstanding appeal over the mall’s assessment for a few years. The property is valued at more than $110 million. PREIT CEO Joseph Coradino has previously stated the company believes the property is worth closer to $80 million.
Tax assessor Dennis DeKlerk said a settlement conference date has been scheduled for September of this year, with a preliminary trial date slated for January 2014.
Council appointed attorney Douglas Heinold as special counsel Monday night, specifically to handle tax appeals, negating any potential conflict of interest associated with Drollas’s appointment, according to Jordan.
She acknowledged the obvious issue of having Drollas represent the township in any matters that also involve PREIT, saying, “It is a conflict … That’s why Doug’s there. You always have another attorney there when conflicts come up.”
Jordan explained that she didn't want to have an open-ended contract with Heinold, so his appointment will expire on March 31. However, she said council could bring him back later in the year to handle the PREIT appeal, as well as any other legal matter involving the owners of the Moorestown Mall.
Heinold is a partner in the Raymond Coleman Heinold & Norman firm, along with former solicitor Coleman.
Council also raised some eyebrows when it appointed Drollas because of his firm’s ties to the Burlington County Republican Party through Capehart Scatchard partner, Glenn Paulsen, who formerly served as party chairman, according to the Burlington County Times.
But Jordan denied politics had anything to do with the appointment, insisting that the township simply went with the firm that had the most experience and the deepest bench.
“What it comes down to is that there were several members on council who wanted a bigger firm,” she said, adding that the fact the township had an especially litigious year in 2012 could have played into the decision as well.
Although Drollas’s contract calls for a rate of $150 an hour—$25 an hour more than Coleman’s old rate—Jordan said the legal services provided by Drollas and Capehart Scatchard are still a value because of the expertise, and efficiency, of the firm.
“We’re looking forward to working with Tony … and there’s no ill will with Tom. If there was, we wouldn’t be bringing back his firm,” she said. “We’re doing what we think is best for the town.”
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