CAPE MAY COURT HOUSE — Former Wildwood Mayor Gary DeMarzo’s motivation for allegedly using taxpayer dollars to pay for private legal services was at the heart of a superior court hearing Friday.
During the hearing, Superior Court Judge Raymond Batten ruled that attorney Louis Barbone can continue to represent DeMarzo in his official misconduct case despite the prosecution’s assertion that Barbone could be faced with a conflict of interest when the case goes to trial.
“I believe my innocence will shine like a new moon,” DeMarzo said after the court hearing.
Chief Assistant Prosecutor Rob Johnson argued Friday that attorney Arthur Murray, who works for Barbone’s firm Jacobs & Barbone, could be called to testify against the ex-mayor.
Murray represented DeMarzo in 2009 during a case that got its start soon after the May 2007 election. After DeMarzo won a seat on commission that year, his fellow commissioners — Ernie Troiano Jr. and Bill Davenport — challenged DeMarzo’s ability to serve on the commission while still a member of the city’s Police Department.
Troiano and Davenport argued the dual roles would lead to multiple conflicts for DeMarzo. A judge later ruled he could hold both titles, while on unpaid leave from the Police Department, but that decision was overturned by an appellate court in 2010. In May 2010, DeMarzo ultimately opted to give up his job as a police officer and remain a commissioner.
While the case was ongoing in March 2009, Murray told Superior Court Judge Valerie Armstrong, in part, “DeMarzo’s not here with city money arguing this issue.”
The Prosecutor’s Office alleges that by September 2009, however, something had changed and DeMarzo started using city dollars to pay attorney Samuel Lashman for private legal work.
“It’s a change in funding source that’s the primary concern,” Johnson said.
Johnson said it appeared the money ran out.
“Then he turned to the citizens of Wildwood and made them fund it,” he said.
Johnson said he wanted to call Murray to testify specifically about discussions related to the use of public funds in his defense, but Barbone said Johnson was trying to circumvent attorney-client privilege in an attempt to have Murray testify as to what was in DeMarzo’s mind.
“It is absolutely absurd,” Barbone said.
Barbone said the prosecutor’s purpose was to have “an attorney tell on his client.”
Batten denied Johnson’s motion and said there could be many reasons why DeMarzo stopped using Barbone’s firm in 2009, such as dissatisfaction with the outcome of his case.
“I’m not able to find that the exception to the privilege has been established,” Batten said. He added that an attorney could not be called to establish a client’s state of mind, calling the idea “wholly inappropriate.”
Batten did rule that DeMarzo should provide written summaries of any legal advice he received that said he could use public money to pay for legal services related to his status as both a commissioner and police officer.
The indictment against DeMarzo alleges that, between November 2009 and March 24, 2010, he “knowingly did use public funds belonging to the city of Wildwood to pay personal legal expenses and other related expenses in an amount greater than $200.”
It also charges that from Sept. 30, 2009, to March 29, 2010, DeMarzo disbursed public funds “in excess of the appropriation for that office.”
Former City Solicitor Samuel Lashman, who was also in court Friday, was also indicted on charges alleging Lashman “did receive public funds belonging to the city of Wildwood to satisfy his providing legal service in a private matter” also greater than $200.
Lashman was hired by the city as of Oct. 5, 2009, as a confidential assistant at a rate of $36 per hour. His appointment was later declared invalid by the commission, but Lashman was reappointed as a city prosecutor Jan. 7, 2010, at a rate of $20,000 per year.
He received the titles of municipal prosecutor and assistant municipal attorney March 23, 2010, for a combined salary of $65,000.
Lashman and his attorney, Joseph Grassi, did not take part in Friday’s hearing.
Johnson is also requesting Barbone’s law firm’s billing records, an issue that will be heard at a July 14 court hearing.
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