On Wednesday September 15, 2021, a Westchester County jury awarded millions of dollars to a Mount Vernon small business owner who was wrongfully shut down by City officials in 2016. Five years ago, when this happened, there was an entirely different cast of characters involved – Richard Thomas, Lawrence Porcari, Joe Spiezio, etc. – they bear their fair share of blame, for sure, but this case was lost by the current administration and its inability to recognize basic legal realities. Why does it matter? Because this is not the only case of its kind, and this type of incompetence, if allowed to continue, will sink our City.
In this series, we’ll examine how terrible lawyering has cost this City millions over the last five years, how bad management continues to place this City in jeopardy to lose millions more, and the inevitable consequence of this is bankruptcy. I’ve been telling everyone for three years this was coming. Comptroller Reynolds has said the same thing. If we cannot elect people who know what they’re doing, this City is doomed.
Yesterday’s case wasn’t an aberration, and there are many more cases just like this on the horizon, with many more millions of dollars at stake. Based on what I know from my time as Mayor and as a City Council member, the City should be prepared to lose a lot more. Not for any reason except rank incompetence on the part of this administration, the City’s Law Department, and a City Council that consistently fails to listen to qualified legal counsel opinions. More disturbing, this administration has engaged in petty personal politics to avoid doing what is needed to protect this City from these kind of budget-killing verdicts. This is how incompetence costs the City millions. It’s a luxury we cannot afford.
When I was Mayor, just for full disclosure, my Corporation Counsel Lauren Raysor negotiated a settlement in 2019 of the case that lost millions yesterday. It was rejected by the City Council outright. She attempted to hire competent trial counsel to protect the City, and the City Council flat-out rejected that proposal also. We could have saved over $3 million by settling, but, instead, be prepared for a tax increase that we will have to pay for to make up for the loss. You don’t have to believe me. Read for yourself the letter from the City Council in 2019 here, as a bunch of non-lawyers decided to gamble our tax dollars on a losing case – because they didn’t want me to succeed. That’s what incompetence looks like. If you want to know what Ms. Raysor had to say about this case, you can review her own statement here.
I wish that were the only example, but it’s not. Remember the Key Foods judgment against the City for over $4.5 million? We could have settled that case for $600,000. Instead, our former Corporation Counsel, Lawrence Porcari, probably committed legal malpractice in that case on top of the other criminal activities he was already engaged in. The Kela Tennis case, which is still ongoing, could still cost the City tens of millions of dollars and could have been settled for far less when I was Mayor if I had any support from the City Council to make it happen. There are many others, too.
When I was Mayor, I brought in qualified lawyers who were laser-focused on stopping the never-ending train of lawsuits, to send a message to the rest of the world that Mount Vernon was going to fight – and win – these big cases, and that we were not going to be a huge target for every ridiculous case that comes down the pipe. But, they didn’t get the chance to see that through. The current administration fired them and re-hired the same idiots I replaced and, worse, appointed a Corporation Counsel who doesn’t know what he’s doing. Then, they wasted hundreds of thousands of dollars on new lawyers whose sole qualifications appear to be that they are friends, neighbors, and associates of current City employees. We’ll address more of that later in the series.
I’m not a lawyer. But, I am a business owner, and I’ve been involved in my fair share of legal disputes. I’m fortunate to say that I’ve been far more successful in those cases than others have. Why? Because I surround myself with competent lawyers and people who know what they’re doing. I immerse myself in the details of these cases and know the difference between winning a battle and losing a war. I have learned that there are things I don’t know and don’t profess to know. It is the mark of idiocy – and really expensive – to pretend otherwise.
When I was in office, I convinced my personal legal team to drop everything in their practice and come help the people of this City. I literally told them, “There are one hundred thousand people in this City depending on you. Don’t f*** it up.” They came to help and relished the challenge to represent this City against overwhelming odds. And, despite their successes, they were dismissed and derided by the same incompetent City “leaders” who lost the case yesterday, the same idiots who thought they knew more. Those lawyers are still owed a bunch of money because the current administration wants to punish me by punishing them. But, they saved this City way more money than they cost. That’s how you measure success. Want to know why Mount Vernon keeps losing millions in lawsuits? Chasing away talented people like these guys is the primary reason. Hiding incompetence under the veil of “experience” is another. Pretending your position in City government gives you the benefit of wisdom you don’t have is another.
I’ll dive deeper into all of this over the next two articles. I’ll name names. And, I’ll tell you how all of this will end. It’s not going to be a pretty picture that gets painted. I promised you that, in these articles, I would always tell you the truth about what was going on in your government. Sometimes, that truth is uncomfortable. Sometimes, it means we need to call out the incompetence and demand a better level of service for the People of this City. Maybe it’s painful, but the alternative is far worse.
If you have thoughts or comments about this issue or any other, reach out to me at Andre@andrewallace.com.