On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Middlesex County, Docket No. L-2542-02.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted February 10, 2009
Before Judges Parker, Yannotti and LeWinn.
In this condemnation proceeding, defendant Frederick W. Haleluk appeals from the June 8, 2007 order of the Law Division denying his motion for reconsideration of the March 30, 2007 order, which had denied defendant's motion for a new trial, for relief from judgment pursuant to Rule 4:50-1 and other relief based upon claims of conflict of interest involving plaintiff's counsel's firm, Wilentz, Goldman & Spitzer, P.A., (the Wilentz firm) and Middlesex County Counsel, Thomas F. Kelso. We affirm substantially for the reasons set forth by Judge James P. Hurley in his decision rendered from the bench on June 8, 2007.
The background of this matter may be summarized as follows. On January 24, 2001, pursuant to a redevelopment agreement between plaintiff, Housing Authority of the City of New Brunswick (Housing Authority), and its designated redeveloper, New Brunswick-Jersey Urban Renewal, L.L.C., (Redeveloper), plaintiff's attorney wrote to defendant offering to purchase certain property owned by him for the sum of $630,000; this price was based upon the property's fair market value as set forth in an appraisal provided to defendant with the offer letter.
Negotiations thereafter took place between the parties; however, no agreement could be reached on the purchase price and on March 6, 2002, plaintiff commenced condemnation proceedings. On March 25, 2002, plaintiff acquired title to the property by filing a Declaration of Taking in the underlying condemnation action and depositing the sum of $630,000 with the court.
On May 23, 2002, defendant filed a responsive pleading, which included objections to the condemnation proceeding based upon the Housing Authority's alleged failure to negotiate in good faith. On June 4, 2002, defendant moved on short notice for leave to conduct discovery, which the court granted. The parties thereupon engaged in extensive discovery and submitted "briefs and affidavits to the court regarding plaintiff's authority to condemn." On August 5, 2002, the trial judge entered an order confirming the Housing Authority's authority to "exercise its power of eminent domain," and appointing three condemnation commissioners. In a December 11, 2002 decision, the commissioners awarded defendant the sum of $640,000 as just compensation for the property.
On January 8, 2003, defendant appealed from the commissioners' award, and the condemnation matter proceeded to a jury trial in January 2004 before Judge Hurley. The jury returned a verdict in the amount of $795,000, which the trial judge entered as a final judgment on January 22, 2004. On January 26, 2004, defendant moved for a new trial claiming trial errors; the judge denied that motion.
On March 5, 2004, defendant filed a notice of appeal from the judgment fixing compensation at $795,000 and from the order denying his motion for a new trial. On June 8, 2004, however, defendant's counsel requested that the appeal be withdrawn and advised us that the parties had reached a settlement of the matter. On July 27, 2004, we entered an order dismissing the appeal; however, on September 2, 2004, defendant moved to vacate that dismissal order. On November 8, 2004, we granted defendant's motion, reinstated the appeal and remanded the matter to the trial court for a determination as to whether a final settlement of the matter had been reached.
On remand, Judge Hurley determined that the parties had entered into a global settlement of all issues relating to plaintiff's condemnation of defendant's property. The judge memorialized this decision in a letter opinion dated December 17, 2004, and entered an order to that effect on January 4, 2005. Defendant thereupon filed a amended notice of appeal to include that order.
On January 20, 2006, we affirmed in their entirety Judge Hurley's findings and conclusions that a settlement had been reached by the parties, and remanded the matter to the trial court for enforcement of the settlement. Housing Auth. of the City of New Brunswick v. Haleluk, No. A-3536-03 (App. Div. January 20, 2006) (slip op. at 6). Pursuant to that remand, plaintiff's attorneys attempted final resolution of the matter by proffering a consent order to defendant. Defendant refused to enter into that consent order, however, and objected to giving the required releases.
On October 5, 2006, defendant moved pro se before the trial judge to withdraw funds from the court. Plaintiff cross-moved for an order enforcing the settlement and awarding counsel fees. Defendant then moved for a new trial seeking to overturn our decision of January 20, 2006; defendant also sought to refer this matter to the Office of the Attorney General for criminal investigation.
In an opinion rendered from the bench on November 17, 2006, Judge Hurley permitted defendant to withdraw funds from the court and denied defendant's other requests. The judge noted that defendant had been well represented by his counsel at trial and concluded that defendant had no grounds to justify his failure to abide by the outcome of the appeal. On January 26, 2007, Judge Hurley issued an ...