NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ—The local government has been quietly paying City Councilman Glenn Fleming’s legal bills in an ongoing sexual harassment case, even though a judge has ruled that the allegations are unrelated to his position.
New Brunswick Today can confirm the city’s insurance provider has taken on the case, McKoy v. Fleming.
Officials at New Brunswick City Hall have been avoiding questions about the issue, with no one yet owning up to making the decision to “indemnify” Fleming, meaning to take on costs of his case.
Fleming, a high school teacher in Hamilton who joined the New Brunswick Council in 2012, is being sued by Juanita McKoy, a Piscataway woman who alleges Fleming forced himself on her, exposed himself in inappropriate situations, and demanded sex from her in 2017.
McKoy’s complaint also accuses Fleming of abusing his power to “slut-shame” and “blackball” her, after she allegedly reported his sexual misconduct to people within the Middlesex County Democratic Organization (MCDO) and Governor Phil Murphy’s 2017 campaign.
The complaint says Fleming, who is married, tried to intimidate McKoy into silence, and “repeatedly reminded [her] of his position of power and influence and that it would behoove her work and political prospects if she remained silent, and suggested there would be unspecified retaliation if she didn’t.”
In May 2020, McKoy first sued Fleming and a slew of other defendants, including the powerful Hoagland Longo law firm, the Vice Chair of the MCDO, various Democratic Party organizations, and even an NAACP chapter and its leader.
The six counts leveled against Fleming in the lawsuit are sexual abuse, intentional infliction of emotional distress, negligence, defamation, tortious interference with prospective economic advantage, and civil conspiracy.
One month later, after the matter was reported on by Politico and TapInto New Brunswick, Fleming compared himself to George Floyd, the Minnesota man who was murdered by police in a high-profile homicide that led to mass protests around the world.
“I know what it’s like to be sacrificed or have people walk away from you all over an allegation before my story even gets out,” Fleming said during a telephone meeting of the City Council. “I’m just saying right now, to the George Floyd family and to the nameless, countless amount of Black men who haven’t had a chance to tell their story, I’m like them.”
Fleming said he had “no comment” when New Brunswick Today asked who is paying his legal bills, but we were later able to obtain a recording of his attorney Phillip Ray, telling Judge Randall Corman that the local government has taken on the cost of fighting the case.
“Has the City of New Brunswick indemnified Mr. Fleming? Are they funding the defense?” asked Judge Corman.
“Yes, they are,” responded Ray.
“They are?” asked Corman.
“Okay, well that’s interesting,” said Corman, who restored McKoy’s complaint at the end of the proceeding on December 16.
Ray did not return a telephone message left on his line at the Kruger Healey law firm.
Over the past two and a half years, various moves have been made to dismiss the matter, including Ray’s most recent argument that Fleming should be protected under the Tort Claims Act (TCA), which covers liability incurred by a public official doing their job.
During the most recent court proceeding, Fleming’s attorney pushed back after the Judge stated the allegations against Fleming “didn’t have anything to do with his elective office.”
But Judge Corman was not persuaded, noting that the case before him has little, if any, connection to Fleming’s role as a City Councilman. Rather, he stated it’s Fleming’s alleged political and social clout, not his government position, that he is accused of abusing, and the sexual incidents allegedly took place in Metuchen and Piscataway.
“The acts alleged did not take place in New Brunswick, the Plaintiff is not a New Brunswick resident, is not employed by the city, does not have a contract with the city and has not sought a contract with the city,” said Corman.
Judge Corman emphasized that, under New Brunswick’s form of government, Council members are limited to a legislative role.
The Judge even went so far as to say that he thought Fleming wasn’t “entitled” to having the city pay his legal costs.
“In all honesty, I don’t believe he’s entitled to indemnification from the city, but that’s the city’s choice,” said Corman. “That’s a provincial matter that’s left up to them, and if they want to indemnify him for this, provide his defense for a particular litigation, they’re free to do that.”
Further, Corman ruled that even if the TCA applied, the complaint was filed during a window of time for which the notice requirement was lifted by the Legislature to effectively temporarily remove the statute of limitations for old sexual assault claims for a two-year period that began in December 2019.
“Under the old statute of limitations, this claim would have been barred,” Corman said, but acknowledged that the legislation “blew a hole in the Tort Claims Act.”
McKoy, who is active in Democratic Party politics, is represented by attorney Daryl Kipnis, a Republican who has previously run for State Senate and US Congress.
Kipnis told the Judge that 2019 law was intended to be “one of the most powerful in the entire nation to enable victims of sexual assault, survivors, to come forward and to seek justice.”
In his order, Corman elaborated on the logic of rejecting the application of the TCA, and its notice requirement.
“The scope of the Defendant’s authority as a member of the city council does not include the ability to block the Plaintiff from obtaining contracts… Any influence the Defendant may have had over such matters was based on his social and political connections, which are outside the scope of the immunities provided by the Tort Claims Act.”
Fleming’s colleagues on the New Brunswick City Council never voted to approve expenditures for the case, so it remains murky who made the decision to indemnify him.
It stands to reason that such a move would involve the city’s Law Department and its leader TK Shamy.
Shamy, who also runs the New Brunswick Democratic Party organization and his own private law firm, did not respond to a message left at his City Hall office, nor did he respond to emailed questions.
“I don’t generally correspond,” Shamy said at the December 21 City Council meeting, where he later declined to say if taxpayer funds were going towards the Fleming case.
Council President Suzanne Sicora-Ludwig ran interference at the December 21 Council meeting, deflecting questions from this reporter during the public comment section.
“We’re not going to discuss that. I’m not going to ask Mr. Fleming to address that,” Sicora-Ludwig said when we asked Fleming to tell us who is paying his legal bills.
Sicora-Ludwig has not responded to follow-up questions, including a voicemail, a text message, and a Facebook message that included the recording of Fleming’s lawyer admitting the city had indemnified the Councilman.
Bert Baron, a spokesperson for the administration of Mayor James Cahill, also dodged a set of questions from this news outlet, saying that the matter “will be looked into.”
“I can’t confirm any of the information you had mentioned in your email but it will be looked into. Between that and an OPRA request I understand that has been filed, you’ll receive a reply in due time,” said Baron on December 23, noting that this reporter had a pending request for records that would show the amounts of legal bills related to the case.
Now in its third year, the harassment case against Fleming seems to be winding its way towards a trial, currently scheduled to start on January 19.
All but three of the defendants have been dismissed from the case, some voluntarily and others by Judge’s orders, leaving just Fleming, a local branch of the NAACP, and its leader.
The city government is not a named party in the matter, and it never was. But through their insurance provider, New Brunswick has been quietly paying some of Fleming’s legal bills.
The Middlesex County Municipal Joint Insurance Fund (MCMJIF), a government entity that New Brunswick has used for over three decades to pool its risk with other local governments, confirmed that they are handling aspects of the case against Fleming.
“We’re not in it for the whole thing,” said Glen Kurtz, part of the MCMJIF’s management, after seeing a “reservation of rights with respect to uncovered counts” in the case file.
Joint Insurance Funds, commonly referred to as JIF’s, are one of the primary avenues for government entities to manage one of their most challenging costs: insurance. But they’re also a convenient way to keep controversial or messy claims of negligence and misconduct out of the public eye.
The fund’s involvement in the case means that taxpayers, not only in New Brunswick–but also well beyond the city limits, are chipping in to fund Councilman Fleming’s defense.
Indeed, taxpayers as far away as East Windsor have been contributing.
When a JIF covers the costs and spreads them out among their “members,” the public and even elected officials can be kept out of the loop in costly matters where the stakes are high and the allegations are serious.
Meanwhile, politically-connected law firms can bill hundreds of thousands, or even millions of dollars, which get approved by the JIF and not the local governing bodies.
But the MCMJIF is in crisis and under state supervision following a scathing audit that found a $27 million deficit in the authority’s books.
The fund has shrunk to just six members, down from over two dozen just a few years ago, with only New Brunswick, Carteret, Millstone, Milltown, and South River, as well as the New Brunswick Parking Authority, still on board for 2022.
More than a dozen additional entities, including the New Brunswick Board of Education, will still be on the hook for the complaint against Fleming, because the claim was filed during 2020, when the fund had far more members.
New Brunswick’s Business Administrator Michael Drulis declined to respond to questions about who authorized the JIF to take on the case during the MCMJIF’s December 30 remote public board meeting.
“In that you have said this is a matter of reporting and is a press inquiry, I’d ask that you please put all press inquiries in writing to our office… and we’ll be glad to accommodate to the best of our ability,” said Drulis, New Brunswick’s representative on the MCMJIF call.
Kurtz has not said which counts of the Fleming case taxpayers are covering, and after speaking with an attorney, Kurtz declined to admit how much the fund had spent so far on the matter.
“This is an open case currently in litigation in which the JIF is providing a defense for a City Council member,” said Kurtz, citing the advice of attorney Scott Rekant of the firm Cullen & Dykman. “Since the case is open and active I cannot release financials at this time.”
The secrecy stands to benefit Fleming, whose political power hangs in the balance.
“It would be best for both of us if you kept this quiet,” Fleming told his victim, according to the complaint.
Despite the accusations, Fleming easily won re-election to the City Council in 2020 with no opposition on the primary or general election ballots. His term expires at the end of 2024.
As we reported in 2017, a pair of lawsuits filed by Black police officers in New Brunswick alleging racism and corruption at the highest levels of city government cost over $2 million, spread out among the 25 taxpayer-funded entities that made up the MCMJIF at the time.
“We live in a litigious society,” said Fleming at the time, after it was revealed that the MCMJIF had spent almost $1 million on one of the two cases. “We have to [pay].”
On top of his teacher salary, Fleming is paid $13,500 per year for his work on the Council.
In 2017, Fleming championed an ordinance that gave himself and his Council colleagues retroactive pay raises, and subsequent raises in 2019 and 2021, amounting to a 50% raise.
At the time, Fleming complained about the lack of benefits of the elected job: “We have no office space, no gas allowance, no phone allowance, no mails, no vehicles, no healthcare.”
Legal fees and the concept of indemnification were not mentioned during Fleming’s rambling rant that day, where he had Council colleague John Anderson hold up “crude” drawings that Fleming had his students make to support his campaign for a raise.
In his first two full terms on the Council, Fleming twice ran afoul of the Local Government Ethics Law, according to rulings of the New Brunswick Ethics Board in 2015 and 2018.
Both complaints were filed by this reporter, regarding errors and omissions within Fleming’s annual financial disclosure forms.
In both cases, the Ethics Board found Fleming in violation, but let him off with a warning and failed to file a signed copy of their decision with the City Clerk.
The matters were, however, documented on video by New Brunswick Today, and in a 2018 Home News Tribune article titled, “New Brunswick Council President violated ethics law.”
McKoy actually attended the February 26, 2018 meeting of the Ethics Board, and spoke after the board rendered their decision, criticizing the lack of punishment for Fleming’s violation.
“I came here because there are some issues with the way [Fleming has] handled a lot of things,” said McKoy. “But it looks like you aren’t going to hold him accountable for anything, any of the wrongs that he’s done, and my issues run pretty deep.”
Ethics Board Attorney Peter Jost told McKoy she always has the right to file complaints.
“And I certainly will do that,” said McKoy.
Charlie is the founder and editor of New Brunswick Today, and the winner of the Awbrey Award for Community-Oriented Local Journalism. He is a proud Rutgers University journalism graduate, a community organizer, and a former independent candidate for mayor of New Brunswick.