Judge rules against Hoboken mayor in civil rights lawsuit, but Zimmer’s lawyer says case is far from over

HOBOKEN — Depending on which lawyer you ask – Hoboken Mayor Dawn Zimmer’s attorney, or the attorney for her longtime political foe, state Assemblyman and Hoboken public housing director Carmelo Garcia – you’ll get a very different opinion of the status of a civil rights lawsuit Garcia filed against the mayor last summer.
On May 9, a judge ruled that Zimmer and her co-defendants – husband Stan Grossbard and former housing board chairman Jake Stuiver – did not respond to a complaint by Garcia by a set deadline, and thus by default lost the case. A court order written by Hudson County Superior Court Judge Mary Costello states, “Default is entered against all defendants for failure to file and answer to the complaint.”
But the ruling is likely to be short-lived, and appears to be the result of a clerical error. Another hearing in the case is scheduled for this Friday.
Garcia’s feud with Zimmer and her allies dates to last summer, when Garcia filed a lawsuit against the mayor accusing her administration of a campaign of “ethnic cleansing” in Hoboken. The mayor’s allies had been at odds with Garcia for some time, in a struggle over management of the low-income housing projects in town. A judge tossed out Garcia’s case in January of this year, saying there was no evidence of the “ethnic cleansing” campaign, but allowed Garcia to re-file his other charges, amongst them political harassment and civil rights violations. Garcia re-filed the case without the “ethnic cleansing” language.
Garcia is the paid executive director of the Hoboken Housing Authority, but he is overseen by a seven-member Board of Commissioners, which contains several Zimmer allies.
Despite the May 9 ruling, the case isn’t over. Reached by phone on Monday, attorney Gerald Krovatin said that he had filed a joint motion in lieu of a response to the complaint by a different deadline set by a different judge.
“Somehow this case came before Costello, we think there was a mix up in the county clerk’s office because Maron had already agreed to hear the case and had set deadlines on the motions,” he said.
Krovatin provided The Reporter with a copy of a letter dated May 15 summarizing the motions Krovatin says were already before the judge.
But Garcia’s lawyer, Louis Zayas, seems unconcerned with Krovatin’s position, telling NJ.com on Friday that he’s already entered a request for a hearing to determine the amount in damages to which Garcia is entitled.
If Garcia wins and the judge agrees with Zayas’ recommendation, Zimmer and her co-defendants could be faced with a whopping $1.8 million settlement.
“What kind of price can you put on being tormented for a year unless you support the mayor?” Zayas said on NJ.com on Friday. “That is the kind of environment he was subjected to. I leave it in the hands of the judge to decide on damages but I will ask for at least $5,000 per day for the year [Garcia] was subjected to harassment.”
Krovatin said Zayas’ statements are premature.
“That’s classic Zayas nonsense,” he said. “The case is not over, it’s still pending, and frankly for him to be discussing possible settlements is inappropriate.”
Krovatin says that a hearing before a second judge, Lawrence Maron, is scheduled for this Friday. – Dean DeChiaro

© 2000, Newspaper Media Group