"Lots & Lots of Work" Thank You At Center of Zarbetski ChallengeOct 26, 2022
On Tuesday, October 25, 2022, an Oral Argument was heard by Honorable Judge Jeffrey Jablonski in the matter of Anselmo Millan v. Paul J. Zarbetski. The case centers around the action that Paul Zarbetski took in the Primary Election in 2018 when then-Councilman Anselmo Millan ran against incumbent Mayor James Fife in the Democratic Primary Election. Zarbetski is the Town Clerk in Harrison and he is also Harrison’s Town Attorney. In a New Jersey Ethics opinion the New Jersey Supreme Court held that one person should not be the Town Attorney and the Town Clerk at the same time because it creates a conflict of interest. Zarbetski has been however both for over 20 years.
In April of 2018, Anselmo Millan filed an Order to Show Cause against Zarbetski alleging that he granted challenges of James Doran on behalf of the James Fife campaign and rejected a challenge made by local Attorney John Pinho on behalf of the Anselmo Millan campaign. At the center of the controversy was the fact that Zarbetski refused to consider Certifications provided to establish the residency of council candidates and county committee party affiliation. Ultimately, the parties reached an agreement to allow all challenged council candidates to run for office. The allegations made in the Complaint alleged that Zarbetski was biased by accepting the challenges from the James Fife campaign but rejecting one challenge made by Millan’s campaign.
As Councilman James Doran stated at the Fife Victory Party, captured by Editor & Reporter Kevin Canessa from The Observer newspaper, the 2018 campaign had been a "brutal campaign" and it was at that time the hardest campaign Doran had experienced in all the years that he had been involved in Politics. The video gave a glimpse into the workings of the James Fife Campaign. Mayor Fife was happy to have pulled out a victory after a very difficult race. Fife proud of his victory pointed out how he made sure to control the message of the campaign. He also was so elated at having had help. Thirteen minutes into the Victory Party celebration, Mayor Fife went out of his way to thank several Hudson County Board Workers and Paul Zarbetski for his assistance in the campaign. Mayor Fife called up Zarbetski so that he could recognize him but Zarbetski had left the party. Mayor Fife stated "Where is Paul... wrapping up the books. Paul Zarbetski did lots and lots of work for us". An audience member than says "He is still working." and Mayor Fife jokes " He is working on the hot dogs.". At the Superior Court oral argument before Judge Jablonski, the video was referred to but not played in court. The video link is in the Complaint filed with the court and we have embedded the YouTube video above.
Judge Jablonski asked questions of the attorneys dealing with the appearance of impropriety which is a difficult standard to apply. When does a town official violate the appearance of impropriety in conducting their official duties? Attorney Gregory Castano, Jr., an attorney retained by the Town of Harrison to represent Zarbetski, argued that in the General Election, the Town Clerk does not perform what attorneys termed “quasi-judicial duties”. Castano admitted that Zarbetski did perform quasi-judicial duties during Primary Elections. The General Election on November 8, 2022, is however not a Primary Election. Castano argued that the alleged violations by Zarbetski were four years ago and should not prevent him from performing his duties now. Castano played down what Zarbetski does with respect to the November election but the Judge focused on the appearance of impropriety to the average person and also how Zarbetski’s dual role as a Town Clerk and Town Attorney created an appearance of impropriety. Castano also argued that if the Judge removed Zarbetski that his removal would be used by his opponent as an election issue and thus the court should not remove Zarbetski.
At the hearing, as previously stated, nobody played the video of the Harrison Victory Party where Mayor Fife thanked Zarbetski. The video is mentioned in the verified complaint and a link is printed on the Complaint.
If you consider the fact that Mayor Fife, at the Victory Party, went out of his way to call Zarbetski up for special recognition and stated that “Paul Zarbetski did lots and lots of work for us" and an audience member states "He is still working" and "Where is Paul. Wrapping up the Books" and "He is working on the hot dogs." indicates had given him lots and lots of help” and that an audience member joked that “he was still helping” one has to wonder why the best evidence to establish at a minimum an appearance of impropriety was not shown in court.
Judge Jablonski was concerned about the perception of Zarbetski being both the Town Attorney and the Town Clerk. But nobody directly mentioned that Zarbetski worked on the Team Fife Campaign on behalf of the Mayor and four Council candidates. He disqualified Anselmo Millan candidates and he rejected a challenge based on party affiliation by Anselmo Millan. Mayor Fife and Paul Zarbetski’s offices are on the Third Floor of Harrison’s Town Hall. Mayor Fife’s statements indicate that Zarbetski was actively working for the Fife Team while simultaneously conducting his duties as an election official (Town Clerk). Can an election official for the County of Hudson work directly for a campaign that his or her office has to make determinations about the validity of a person's right to vote or Petitions to run for office? What Zarbetski did in 2018 was so egregious that one cannot understand how nobody showed the video to the Judge.
Take a look at video above in the photo section of this article. It starts a little before Mayor Fife thanks Paul Zarbetski. and then you can watch the entire video if you wish. It is a very important video if you are an undecided voter. The comments about Anselmo Millan Challengers who came into Harrison to assist in maintaining the integrity of an election is telling. Tell us in our Discussion Board whether “the average Joe” walking the streets of Harrison would call into question election results after learning that the Town Clerk / Town Attorney for Harrison worked so hard for Team Fife in 2018 that the election results are questionable. Why would an incumbent Mayor make such flattering statements about Zarbetski's “lots and lots of help” at the Victory Party if it was not true? The audience member shouting “he is still working” shows how extensively Zarbetski worked for the Team Fife campaign. The Town Clerk is supposed to be impartial. The Town Clerk is protected with tenure for that reason. The Town Attorney is not protected with tenure. There is no other local Town in Hudson or Essex County where the Town Attorney is also the Town Clerk. It may be the case that there is no other Town or City in a similar circumstance.
Zarbetski stated in a Certification in response to the Complaint brought against him that “I categorically deny the allegations and insinuations in the verified complaint and supporting brief that I have done — or would do — anything wrong, unethical or illegal in the performance of my duties as Town Attorney or Town Clerk.” If you worked on a political campaign while employed as the Election Official (Town Clerk) with quasi-judicial powers and are thanked at the Victory Party for “lot and lots of work”, isn’t that “wrong, unethical or illegal” and wouldn’t the average Joe walking the streets of Harrison think that having done it once, you would do it again. Even if you did not do anything this time around, would the average Joe believe you?
Video and Photo Credit. The Observer newspaper