2012-06-29 / Top Stories

Merit Matters: Garaufis 'Dripping With Arrogance'

By Howard Schwach

A firefighter’s advocacy group, Merit Matters, is locked in a battle with federal judge Nicholas Garaufis over his ruling that the hiring practices of the city’s fire department violate federal law and need monitoring by the federal court.

This week, the group took its charges to another level, saying in a prepared statement that Garaufis is “Draped in a robe and dripping with arrogance.”

The latest skirmish is over the way FDNY Special Monitor Mark Cohen was hired as well as the fact that only the court has the right to review his bills before ordering the city to pay the fare.

“Federal Judge Nicholas Garaufis seems to be prepping his line and baiting his critics with his over-the-top actions he has taken and the rulings he has issued on the FDNY lawsuit,” says Paul Mannix, the organization’s head and a fire officer.

“For example, Cohen was hired by Garaufis under exceedingly curious circumstances.

He was never suggested as a candidate by any of the parties. In fact, the Vulcan Society [of black firefighters] objected to him.

His law partner has long and close ties to Garaufis and Cohen’s law firm signed a real estate deal [with Garaufis] one week before the announcement [of Cohen’s appointment].”

Mannix adds that the city is being forced to pay large amounts of money to Cohen without the right to review his bills to ensure they are correct.

Garaufis has told city attorneys, “Cohen works for me and not for the city.”

“Judge Garaufis has the bills under seal,” Mannix charges. “Even the city’s lawyers are not allowed to see them, and that’s strange. If the city’s appeal is not upheld, then this arrangement will go on for the next ten years.”

Mayor Michael Bloomberg agree with Mannix, at least on the idea of the city not being able to see the bills.

Bloomberg has ordered the city’s Law Department to fight the judge’s ruling.

City attorneys argued last week that Cohen was padding the bills he was sending to the judge and that the city had no way of knowing whether that was true.

Cohen has already charged the city more than $600,000 for four months work – $150,000 a month.

And, two weeks ago, Cohen submitted another bill for a two-month period, this one for more than $350,000.

“There appears to be a great deal of wastefulness,” the city said in its court papers.Garaufis, who made the original ruling and who picked his former co-worker Cohen for the monitor’s position, told reporters for the New York Post, “The court is satisfied that the monitor has been working diligently, efficiently and successfully on a wide range of issues.”

City lawyers had suggested that the monitor’s bill indicates that there may be a good deal of duplication. The Daily News reported that the city was unhappy about the fact that the attorney hours are being billed at $650 an hour, rather than the lower $425 an hour court-approved rate.

On Tuesday, a city lawyer, at a hearing of the federal Second Circuit appeals panel argued that Garaufis went way beyond his authority by effectively taking over the department’s hiring process.

Brenner said the judge ignored key evidence.. A lawyer representing minority applicants reportedly said the judge was well within his authority to act as he did. A federal government lawyer agreed.

A decision is unlikely for months.

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