City Ordinance imperils Summit Community


City Ordinance imperils Summit Community

[Summit, New Jersey] –– On Tuesday, February 20th, Jill LaZare, a municipal attorney and Fanwood public defender, spoke at the Summit Common Council’s February 20th meeting regarding Council’s Feb 6th passage of the “Resident Protection” ordinance in response to car thefts and break-ins in the city. The ordinance, which carries a municipal fine and up to 90 days of jail time for people seen lifting door handles or touching house door knobs, according to Attorney LaZare is pre-empted by State law, and as such, has raised fears that it could expose the city to lawsuits.

“As a legal matter, [Summit’s Resident Protection ordinance] is invalid because it is preempted by state law,” LaZare cautioned. She went on to explain that in 1982, NJ’s criminal code was amended to eliminate inconsistencies, ambiguities, and overlapping and redundant provisions between state law and the separate laws of the more than 500 municipalities throughout New Jersey. LaZare was the attorney on the appellate brief in State of NJ v Paserchia and therefore intimately familiar with the case and this area of the law.  LaZare said that the court held that state law preempts municipal ordinances like the one Summit recently passed. In Paserchia, the municipality of West Orange tried to pass an ordinance that was preempted by a provision of the state criminal code (disorderly conduct). The City of Summit similarly acted in passing an ordinance that is directed at the same conduct as the vehicle theft and criminal trespass provisions of the state criminal code.  “If the City of Summit does not revoke this ordinance, the city could incur significant litigation costs … and you’re sure to lose. It’s already settled law,” warned LaZare.

This comes on the heels of the previous Summit Common Council meeting (February 6th), when Council President Lisa Allen and the recently elected, unseasoned majority fast-tracked a vote on the ordinance despite clear concerns from a former Federal and State Prosecutor and impassioned opposition from community members. Even those residents in favor of the ordinance cautioned the Council to ensure they had done their homework. Resident Irwin Miller asked them to wait to vote on it until the following meeting, stating, “I wish you would vote on this next time and allow more of a public debate. I hope that this was run through lawyers…I certainly hope that there has been some legal vetting by a lawyer who was familiar with these laws.” No one on Council indicated whether they had discussed the ordinance with lawyers.

Other members of the community joined LaZare in criticizing the new ordinance. Reverend Dr. Denison Harrield, pastor of Wallace Chapel AME Zion Church in Summit, beseeched the council, “It’s imperative that you do one thing. If it’s illegal, and it’s been declared illegal by the New Jersey courts, that you revoke it because all of us are concerned about safety and if this ordinance is not going to do anything stand alone to promote more concern about safety and its illegal then it should be revoked.”  Peter Sobilo, a Summit resident for 75 years, echoed LaZare’s warning: “My suggestion is to void the resolution now before we get to a court and the taxpayers end up having to pay for lawsuits. Kill it now.”

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