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Jersey City Ward Commission defends its controversial map

The commission calls the lawsuit ‘full of sound and fury, signifying nothing'

John Minella was the chairman of the Jersey City Ward Commission and is also Mayor Steven Fulop's Chief of Staff. Photo by Mark Koosau.

In a brief that includes quotes from “Macbeth” and claims that the plaintiffs are “hoodwinking this court and using this proceeding to grab headlines[sic]”, the creators of Jersey City’s controversial ward map are digging in and defending it against a lawsuit seeking to overturn it.

The Jersey City Ward Commission, which was in charge of drawing the boundaries of the city’s six wards following the 2020 Census, are seeking dismissal of the lawsuit in Hudson County Superior Court back in March brought against them by a coalition of community groups and Councilman Frank Gilmore.

The commission includes six members from the Hudson County Board of Elections and City Clerk Sean Gallagher. The six members from the Board of Elections include John Minella, the chairman of the commission and also Mayor Steven Fulop’s Chief of Staff, Janet Lawra, Peter Horton, Daniel Miqueli, Daniel Beckelman, and Paul Castelli.

The lawsuit argues that the map, which was adopted by the commission despite public outcry, violated state law and the state Constitution, and that it was political retaliation against Gilmore, who had unseated an incumbent backed by Mayor Fulop in the 2021 city elections.

The commission is being represented in court by Jason Orlando and John Bartlett from Murphy Orlando LLC, a politically-connected law firm that was appointed to represent them following a resolution agreement by the City Council back in May.

The firm is run by Michael Murphy, a former Morris County Prosecutor and former Democratic gubernatorial candidate in 1997. Orlando is a former deputy attorney general for New Jersey, and Bartlett is also currently a Passaic County Commissioner.

In many instances in the motion to dismiss, Orlando argued that the courts should not get involved in the case due to a recent decision regarding New Jersey’s congressional redistricting.

Back in December of last year, the New Jersey Redistricting Commission had enacted a congressional map drawn by Democrats that helped shore up the reelection chances of multiple House Democrats seen at risk. Republicans on the commission had sued to overturn the map, but the state Supreme Court dismissed their lawsuit and kept the map in place.

The justices said at the time that the courts cannot intervene in redistricting unless a map is unlawful, to which Orlando writes that the plaintiff’s complaint “brings to mind Macbeth’s utterance after he learns of Lady Macbeth’s death: ‘full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.’”

“Plaintiffs reveal the essence of their misbegotten lawsuit[…]when they ask this court to pursue the very exercise our Supreme Court has repeatedly refused to undertake: to compare and contrast plaintiffs’ purported map with the Ward Commission’s duly authorized and statutorily required map, and to choose plaintiffs’ map instead,” he wrote.

Orlando claims that the plaintiffs are asking the courts to implement a map that they created, although the plaintiffs had said in their lawsuit that they want the courts to order the commission redraw the map to comply with state law and the state Constitution.

The plaintiff map that Orlando refers to, which was provided in the initial lawsuit, was drawn to demonstrate that the commission “could have redrawn the wards” on multiple counts, including being compact and having “better” population deviation, not “significantly” split areas of interest and be more “respectful” to natural boundaries and topography.

Orlando continues to argue that the commission didn’t violate the state Constitution’s Equal Protection clause and freedom of speech, that they did not violate the Open Public Meeting Act, and that they did not violate Gilmore’s civil rights.

The Hudson County Superior Court is scheduled to hear on the defendants’ motion to dismiss on July 22.

For updates on this and other stories, check hudsonreporter.com and follow us on Twitter @hudson_reporter. Mark Koosau can be reached at mkoosau@hudsonreporter.com or his Twitter @snivyTsutarja.