SARATOGA SPRINGS — The city’s handling of its legal matters has been anything but smooth during Mayor Ron Kim’s first month in office.
Earlier this week, a city court judge rebuked Kim — a consumer protection attorney who won November’s mayoral race — for representing the city in a case involving an investor who was seeking to resolve a dispute about a building permit on Jan. 20.
In a strongly-worded Jan. 24 letter, Judge Jeffrey Wait suggested that Kim should face consequences for making “misrepresentations” and inappropriate contact with the investor, Jeffrey Dumont of Greenfield.
Dumont was trying to resolve a code violation for conducting work without a building permit on a vacant investment property, a case that started in September 2020.
Dumont had admitted to the allegation and was sentenced by the court to obtain a building permit no later than Oct. 19, 2021. The court could consider fining Dumont if that condition was not met, and the city and Dumont disputed whether Dumont took steps to secure the building permit.
Saratoga Springs has been without a city attorney because the person Kim originally wanted to appoint withdrew from consideration for personal reasons earlier this month.
Kim has been appearing in city court in the absence of a city attorney.
According to Wait’s letter, Kim’s office sent an email to the court on Jan. 20, the day the evidentiary hearing was scheduled, asking to have the Dumont case adjourned, a last-minute request that the court did not grant.
The same email stated that Dumont’s lawyer had consented to the request for an adjournment.
While the court was aware that Dumont was representing himself, it later learned that Kim had called Dumont and told him — incorrectly — that he did not have to appear in court that afternoon.
A court official told Dumont he did in fact have to appear.
Wait’s letter said “the improprieties” by Kim’s office were “truly extraordinary.”
Appearing to give the new mayor the benefit of the doubt, Wait suggested that Kim’s office might have made an honest clerical mistake. But since Kim and his deputy mayor Angela Rella are both attorneys, they should have corrected it and contacted the court immediately, the letter read.
“Instead, this falsehood was allowed to persist,” Wait wrote.
The judge also took issue with Kim’s phone call to Dumont. It was “highly irregular,” the judge said.
The proper course of action would have been for Kim to appear at the hearing and ask for an adjournment while explaining that the city did not have an attorney, the judge said.
The hearing convened at about 2 p.m. that day with Dumont present and no one appearing on behalf of the city.
During the hearing, Judge Wait vacated the building code violation against Dumont and dismissed the case, noting in his decision the case had dragged on for too long.
Dumont had testified that someone from the city had informed him on Nov. 18 that his application for the building permit was complete, and he had paid more than $800. Yet, the permit was never issued.
Kim said he’ll appeal on the premise the court hadn’t contacted his office to inform him that the evidentiary hearing on the permit dispute would take place on Jan. 20. By not contacting him, the court denied the city the right to appear for the court matter, the mayor argued.
“That’s the essence of the court process,” Kim said, noting his office and city court are both in City Hall.
Kim also denied that he told Dumont the case was adjourned.
“I said I need your consent to do that,” Kim said.
However, Kim agreed that his office should have corrected the mistake that suggested Dumont was being represented by an attorney.
“I did not correct that because I didn’t actually see the email until later,” he said. “That was a mistake, but there (were) no misrepresentations.”
Kim also pointed out that it wasn’t the first time he appeared in city court on behalf of a city for code enforcement. Kim said he had appeared in front of Judge Francine Vero earlier that day. According to Kim, Vero told him she needed authority that Kim, in his role as mayor, could represent the city, and she adjourned the matter.
Part of the issue, according to Kim, is the city doesn’t have records from the former city attorney who handled these cases.
For instance, Kim complained that the city doesn’t have an existing file on Dumont. The new mayor said he had to do research just to find his phone number.
In the meantime, the city will hire outside counsel to deal with these cases in the near future, Kim said, adding he plans to appoint an attorney within the next two weeks.
The mayor said he agreed with Wait on one thing: Dumont’s case dragged on for too long.
Kim blamed the previous administration.
“If it had been resolved in November, it would never have hit our calendar,” he said. “That’s one of the problems with the former city attorneys – that they will just adjourn, adjourn, adjourn. That costs the city money. It’s not fair to taxpayers, and clearly the judge didn’t like it.”
Contact reporter Brian Lee at [email protected] or 518-419-9766.