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1921: Jersey City Under Commission Government
A Book of Achievement

This Web version:
COPYRIGHT 2003, GET NJ

EW people realize the important part which the Law Department plays in the conduct of the business of the modern city government. This is particularly true of the present Law Department, of which Mr. John Milton, Corporation Counsel, is the chief.

It will be surprising to many to learn that the successful work of this department has benefited Jersey City during the past four years to the extent of $1,500,000.

Upon this department devolves important and heavy responsibilities. The department must represent the city in the very important litigations which the city is compelled to bring, or in which it is a party defendant, both in the United States courts as well as in the courts of New Jersey. These litigations are of great importance to the city. For example, nearly all of the increases in taxation of railroad prop- erty which have been secured by the Finance Commissioner have required prolonged litigation before the State Tax Board and in the courts. These cases have to be carefully prepared, experts must be secured, proofs marshaled, long hearings attended and proofs submitted and final arguments made.

$800,000 Victory.

A most important litigation won by the city during this period was an $800,000 victory in the United States Supreme Court in the case of Daniel Leary vs. Jersey City. This case had been pending for years, and involved the right of the city to tax lands under water in New York Bay since 1882.

The fight against the increased fares of the trolley company, while authorized by the Commissioners, has been actually carried on by ortinder the direction of the Corporation Counsel. These controversies have involved long trials before the Public Utility Commissioners, in which the department's lawyers have been pitted against the ablest lawyers, accountants and experts that the money of the corporation could employ.

$15,000,000 Increase.

Another notable achievement for the city has been the deputization of a member of its Law Department by the Attorney-General, to appear on behalf of the State, before the State Board of Taxes and Assessment, on review of assessments of first and second class railroad property, on appeals by the railroad companies. The result is that Jersey City has sustained, during the past four years, through the assistance of its Law Department, increases of at least $15,000,000 in the assessment of second class railroad property located in Jersey City; and, at the present time, there is litigation pending before the State Board of Taxes and Assessment in which the Law Department is endeavoring to sustain an increase in the assessment of third class railroad property, of $15,000,000 over the valuation placed upon this property by the State Board last year.

The conduct of the business of many of the departments, which involves construction work like the building of water pipelines, the new school houses and the many other improvements erected by contract, all call for the preparation of bids and specifications, and for contracts between the city and the contractors, in the proper drafting of which very large amounts of money of the city are involved.

Legislative Work.

When the Legislature is in session bills have to be prepared for changes in the municipal law which experience in the practical carrying on of the government has shown to be necessary, and all of the bills introduced into the Legislature have to be carefully analyzed to make sure that the proposed legislation may not intentionally or otherwise injure the city.

Most of the land purchased for city purposes is acquired by condemnation proceedings, which require careful preparation and conduct in order that the city's interests may be protected.

In addition there are a large number of less important but still necessary cases involving the enforcement of police, building, sanitary and other regulations which call for the constant attendance of the lawyers of the department in our smaller courts.

Profiteering Landlords.

A very heavy responsibility has also been thrown upon this department by Commissioner Gannon's activities in protecting the rent payers of the city against profiteering landlords. As elsewhere shown, some 19,000 people have been helped by the Commissioner's anti-profiteering labors in behalf of the rent payers. This work has required the continual presence of representatives of the Law Department in court, helping to resist the threats of profiteering landlords to eject the tenants who are unable to pay the rents demanded.

A Busy Department.

Taken all in all the responsibility devolving upon the Law Department and the grist of work that it turns out are very heavy. The city government which does nothing needs only a small Law Department, but the government which does things for the people will find an able and properly equipped Law Department absolutely essential.

The Corporation Counsel, Mr. John Milton, has for eight years directed the legal affairs of the city in a way that has won admiration for his ability, sound sense and legal knowledge from all who are familiar with the important matters entrusted to his charge.

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