Booker says he has immunity in bid to dismiss negligence lawsuit

By Tim Darragh | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com
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on February 29, 2016

Linda Watkins-Brashear, the former executive director of the Newark Watershed Conservation and Development Corp. appears with then-Newark Mayor Corey Booker in 2010.

 

NEWARK — U.S. Sen. Cory Booker should be dropped from a lawsuit alleging he is partly responsible for the bankruptcy of the Newark Watershed Conservation and Development Corp. because he had immunity as a public employee and relied on its legal and financial professionals, his lawyers argue in a court filing. 

In the brief filed in U.S. Bankruptcy Court, Booker's legal team from Perkins Coie of New York said the law "unambiguously" states that public employees "are not liable for" legislative, judicial and administrative actions or inactions.

"The immunity is conferred in unqualified terms," it says.

Booker was named in the suit filed last year by the provisional trustees of the corporation, which slid towards bankruptcy while he, as mayor of Newark, served as an ex officio board member and chairman. The trustees filed suit against 18 former executives, employees, contractors, accountants and trustees, saying their mismanagement and lack of oversight led to the corporation's collapse. 

Their inattention, the lawsuit says, created the environment for former Executive Director Linda Watkins-Brashear and others to run the corporation into the ground through years of inept management and kickbacks.

The trustees are seeking to recover damages from Booker and the others. 

But in the court filing, Booker says he should not be held responsible because none of the legal or financial professionals hired by the corporation ever informed him of concerns about Watkins-Brashear. They also did not express concerns about Booker's ultimately failed effort to create a municipal utilities authority, which drained the corporation's bank account.

When Booker and others finally became aware of the corporation's dire state, they "acted quickly" to dissolve it. 

"Under these circumstances, there should be no question that Booker is entitled to dismissal of the claims against him," his brief says. 

A hearing on motions to dismiss the defendants, including Booker, will be held Friday. 

Meantime, Watkins-Brashear pleaded guilty in December to two courts of conspiracy and filing false tax returns and will be sentenced April 5. 

Three other individuals already pleaded guilty to corruption charges related to the watershed corporation.

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