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Stephen Orlofsky's Advocacy Averts 'Horrible Precedent for Municipalities' in 2018

New Jersey Law Journal

Recently named an Attorney of the Year finalist, Blank Rome Partner Stephen M. Orlofsky was profiled in the New Jersey Law Journal on his exceptional work and accomplishments achieved representing the City of Paterson last year in Lee v. Brown. 

Profile Excerpt:

Steve Orlofsky Headshot

For Stephen Orlofksy, the call to come into a case on a motion for leave to appeal to the New Jersey Supreme Court isn’t an uncommon one. But in representing the City of Paterson in Lee v. Brown, he recognized the importance in addressing what he called “a horrible precedent for municipalities in this state.”

“I said, ‘look, there are no guarantees,’” Orlofsky, a well-known litigator in New Jersey and former federal judge, recalled telling the client. “When they [the Supreme Court] took it, I knew I had a shot.”

Below, a trial court and the Appellate Division had ruled that the city’s fire inspector should be awarded qualified immunity only, which meant the city could have been held at least partially liable in lawsuits filed over a June 30, 2010, apartment building fire that killed four people and injured numerous others. The plaintiffs claimed that the city fire inspector discovered numerous wiring issues at the building but failed to properly prosecute its owner. The high court granted a motion for leave to appeal.

Coming into a case late is “an anxiety-producing situation, because you’re playing catch-up,” Orlofsky said—with a lot of material to review, complex issues to address, and limited time to accomplish all of that.

The case would turn on an interpretation of the state Supreme Court’s 1991 ruling in Bombace v. Newark, which held: “A public employee is not liable for an injury caused by his adoption of or failure to adopt any law or by his failure to enforce any law.”

The Bombace case draws a distinction between a “non-action” and an action leading to an event, Orlofsky noted. Whereas the City of Newark in Bombace had taken the action of withdrawing its complaint charging a building owner with a fire code violation, Paterson had not prosecuted following the inspection at issue in the Lee case. The city did threaten Brown with fines and directed her to hire an electrician to fix the wiring problems, which she didn’t do, according to the suit.

To read the full profile, please click here

"Stephen Orlofsky's Advocacy Averts 'Horrible Precedent for Municipalities' in 2018, by David Gialanella was published in the New Jersey Law Journal on June 7, 2019.