Hopatcong Borough Attorney John E. Ursin due in court - Hearing Violation Code: DECEIT

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According to an Article by the New Jersey Herald, the charges against Ursin stem from representation of Sussex Borough & Sussex Inn.

An investigative panel has accused local attorney John Ursin of defrauding the government of Sussex Borough by failing to disclose his dual representation of the borough and ex-Mayor Chris Parrott's Sussex Inn in a Route 23 condemnation proceeding from which the borough and Parrott were both seeking to collect money.

Court Dates: 05/15 - 05/16/2019

Five-count complaint

The committee that reviewed the allegations indicated that, by virtue of the controversy surrounding ex-Mayor Parrott's delinquent taxes and utility bills, Ursin "knew or should have known that any dual representation of the Sussex Inn and the Borough by him would be viewed negatively by the Council and members of the public."

The complaint alleges that by failing to disclose his dual representation, Ursin violated the professional conduct rule that required him to disclose this conflict of interest.

The complaint also charges him with violating a second rule prohibiting a lawyer who represents a public entity from undertaking representation of a second entity if doing so could "limit the lawyer's ability to provide independent advice or diligent and competent representation" to either entity.

Ursin, according to the complaint, violated a third rule by failing to terminate his representation of the Sussex Inn once the conflict became apparent and a fourth rule requiring "candor toward a tribunal" -- the tribunal, in this case, being the Sussex Borough Council.

The complaint concludes that Ursin's "failure to disclose this crippling conflict of interest" violated a fifth rule that "disallows fraud, misrepresentation and deceit on the part of lawyers."

The complaint states that Ursin's "silence in the presence of a duty to speak constituted a misrepresentation for which he should be disciplined."

Ursin Response:

Ethics Cover In1As given to the New Jersey Herald. "I have been practicing for 22 years and this is the first Ethics Complaint that I have had to address," he wrote. "I trust that everyone concerned will recognize that the substance of the complaint continues to be only an allegation and that no determination of ethical violations have been made by any authority at this point."

A perennial issue

Previously, when questioned publicly if he was engaged in such dual representation, Ursin had denounced Linda Masson -- a councilwoman who first raised the question as a private citizen in 2011 -- for doing so.

Masson had questioned why the Sussex Inn's water was not being shut off, as had been done with other utility customers who were in arrears on their utility bills, and why the inn's uncollected debts had not proceeded to a tax sale.

The complaint notes that, at the time, Ursin told Masson "absolutely not" when she asked if he had been hired by Parrott to represent the Sussex Inn and told her that "when (you) make allegations of something like that (you) better have facts to back it up."

After being let go as Sussex Borough attorney in late 2013, then-Mayor Jonathan Rose and the Borough Council briefly considered keeping Ursin on as special counsel for legal matters on which he had already been working. However, after being queried by the borough about other conflicts of interest involving clients with property in the Route 23 redevelopment zone, Ursin submitted a letter of resignation.

Ursin currently serves as municipal attorney in Vernon, Hopatcong, and Montague. He was hired by the Montague Township Committee on Feb. 9 to replace attorney Michael Garofalo, who resigned from Montague at the end of January after being hit with an unrelated complaint by the Office of Attorney Ethics.

Ursin previously served as borough attorney in Franklin and as legal counsel to the Sussex County Community College board of trustees.

Ursin is a partner with the Sparta office of the firm of Schenck, Price, Smith and King, where he chairs that firm's municipal government practice group.

The Sussex Inn, meanwhile, has once again fallen behind on its taxes and utility bills to a total of more than $60,000.

The Sussex Borough Council, at its meeting last night, was expected to take this matter up again. Masson has specifically called on council members Ed Meyer -- a food vendor who has acknowledged doing business with the Sussex Inn -- and Frank Dykstra to recuse themselves from the matter because of their prior relationship with Parrott.

Click here to read the full complaint

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