By LOUIS C. HOCHMAN
Paul Burr will serve as Montclair Township’s interim attorney for the next three months while the municipality launches a search for the next person to hold the role.
The township found itself without an attorney earlier this month when Ira Karasick stepped down, effective immediately, from the post he’d held for 11 years — the same day he apologized for making a racially insensitive remark to a Black housing official after a court hearing in September. He’ll continue to get paid halfway into 2022, as a retiring employee on terminal vacation leave.
Councilman Bob Russo nominated Burr for the temporary role toward the end of a Township Council meeting late Tuesday night.
Mayor Sean Spiller suggested the township spend about two months collecting applications for its next attorney, with all members of the council receiving applications as they come in. Then, a yet-to-be-selected committee of council members would spend about a month narrowing the field.
Burr heads a firm on Orange Road in Montclair. He’s practiced law for 28 years, according to a biography on his website. He has a bachelor’s degree from Rutgers University and a law degree from the Cardozo School of Law in New York City.
While at Cardozo, he was a member of the Cardozo Arts and Entertainment Law Journal and the Black Asian Latin Law School Association, the biography states. He worked at a New York City real estate and civil litigation firm before starting his own practice in 1995.
He specializes in real estate, bankruptcy, municipal, wills and estates, business and family law, according to his site. He’s also a certified New Jersey court-appointed mediator and arbitrator.
Burr was recognized as one of Morris & Essex Health & Life’s top Essex County lawyers for 2019 and 2020.
The township attorney is one of just three Montclair employees who answer directly to the council — the others being the township manager and township clerk. The remainder report to the manager, who heads the municipal administration.
The township attorney’s position subject to reappointment each year, typically in December for the coming calendar year. As Karasick stepped down at the start of December, it’s unclear whether council members would have voted to continue his service into 2022.
For 2022, the position pays $149,348 under a township salary ordinance.
In November, the Township Council also hired an assistant township attorney, Gina DeVito. The township hadn’t employed an assistant attorney since 2019, when the person then in that role, Joseph Angelo, became a municipal judge.
Karasick sent officials a letter Dec. 1 announcing he was immediately beginning his retirement, hours after he sent another letter apologizing for calling a Black housing official “three-fifths of a human.” Karasick described the comment as an ill-conceived, insensitive joke. Though his letters didn’t describe the comment itself, it has been described to Montclair Local by multiple people who heard it — made when he and a group of people in Trenton for a hearing about the township’s rent control ordinance were entering an elevator with a capacity limit due to social distancing rules.
The comment was an apparent reference to the “three-fifths compromise,” an agreement between northern and southern states during the 1787 United States Constitutional Convention to count three-fifths of the slave population for determining representation in the House of Representatives.
Karasick will remain on the township’s payroll, on terminal vacation leave, until July 1, 2022. By the end of that period, he’ll have received about $86,000 in pay after stepping down.
In recent meetings, the council has heard from several members of the public — including members of the Montclair chapter of the NAACP, which first reported Karasick’s comments to the council, prompting it to hire outside counsel to investigate the matter — asking for a formal apology from the governing body, noting Karasick was acting as an agent of the township the day he’d made the racially insensitive comment. Some asked for transparency into the investigation as well. No results of it have been made public, nor has any disciplinary action regarding Karasick.
Russo, in discussing Karasick’s comment Tuesday night as he and his peers agreed to begin the search for a new attorney, said township officials “apologize for [the comment] profusely.”