ATLANTIC CITY — The law office of the former state designee billed more than $5.1 million since 2016 for legal services related to the stabilization and recovery of the resort.
According to billing invoices obtained through an Open Public Records Act request, the law firm of Chiesa, Shaninian & Giantomasi PC has been paid $4,471,770 through July 3 for legal services concerning Atlantic City. The firm still has $645,603 in pending invoices.
In November 2016, the state Local Finance Board voted to take major decision-making powers away from city officials and grant them to Local Government Services Director Timothy Cunningham. Jeffrey Chiesa, a former U.S. senator and state attorney general, was named designee to run the city’s finances.
According to the firm’s retention agreement, Chiesa was authorized to bill $400 per hour, while partners at the firm could bill $350 per hour, associates $240 per hour and paralegals $90 per hour for their work.
City Council President Marty Small Sr., who was among the most outspoken critics of the state takeover, said he had a “positive, professional working relationship” with Chiesa. Small said $5 million is a “lot of money for anything” but added Atlantic City has benefited, citing 2017’s municipal tax decrease and this year’s flat tax as examples.
“As I said many times, (Chiesa) made decisions I disagreed with, especially when it came to issues of public safety, but at the same time Atlantic City is in a better place fiscally because of some of those decisions,” Small said Wednesday.
Chiesa, a close ally of then-Gov. Chris Christie, was removed from his role as the Local Government Service director’s designee by Gov. Phil Murphy in April. In a statement announcing the move, the Murphy administration said Chiesa’s firm would still handle certain litigation matters.
In February, Murphy named Jim Johnson, a former U.S. Treasury undersecretary and 2017 Democratic gubernatorial candidate, as special counsel to review the future of the state’s involvement in Atlantic City. Johnson, who is being paid $1 per year, will issue a report as part of the administration’s “review and recommendation process” that includes reverting government functions back to the Department of Community Affairs.
Since the takeover, Chiesa and state officials reduced pay for the city’s police officers and firefighters and settled tax appeals with several of the resort’s casinos, including a $72 million settlement with Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa, which Christie said saved the city $93 million.
To date, the firm has billed the state $831,868 for services related to tax appeals and payment in lieu of taxes, or PILOT. Legal work related to a lawsuit brought by the International Association of Firefighters against the city has resulted in $762,846 in bills. The firm also billed $191,068 for services related to a suit brought by the Atlantic City PBA Local 24 against Christie.