While many municipalities in New Jersey are struggling with dramatic cuts in state municipal aid, the City of Hackensack has particularly felt the effects within the last two years. The City of Hackensack’s legal bills have risen over the past two years to astronomical numbers, particularly because of the glut of legal problems generated by police-related cases. In 2010, over $1.4 million was paid by the city in legal fees, and in 2011, an estimated $1.7 million was paid out, though the 2011 figures are subject to change as we near the end of the fiscal year.
Although the city’s insurance company covers a portion of the legal costs, the city itself has remained responsible for shouldering nearly two-thirds of the costs over the last two years. Needless to say, Hackensack residents were disturbed over the news. Taxpayers expressed their frustration at a city council meeting, while City Attorney Zisa defended his philosophy on combating lawsuits brought against the city. “The message I want to send out is that if you sue us, you’re going to trial. There is no free ride in Hackensack. I’ll put that on a Goodyear blimp,” Zisa said.
While settlement of some cases could potentially cost the city more money than going to trial, developing a strategy on a case-by-case basis seems to be a more prudent philosophy. Moreover, an independent review of the legal bills, as one city resident had suggested, could reveal indiscretion with respect to legal judgment. Naturally, the biggest fear of city residents is how this kind of spending will affect their taxes and other publicly funded institutions, such as the education system.