HOTEL LAWSUIT III: THIS TIME, IT’S PERSONAL

Lawyer Ron Gasiorowski clashing with Councilman Mike DuPont last week, above, and relaxing at Zebu Forno on Monday. (Click to enlarge)

By JOHN T. WARD

As an attorney, Ron Gasiorowski is used to verbal conflict. It’s inherent in the adversarial work of representing a client’s interests against someone who’s doing the same.

But as he prepares to file his third lawsuit against Red Bank over a proposed Hampton Inn, Gasiorowski is stewing over the reception he got when he appeared before the borough council last Wednesday.

Not the way he was treated by borough Attorney Dan O’Hern, who challenged him on procedural points at nearly every turn, but did so respectfully, Gasiorowski told redbankgreen last week. And likewise not by Mayor Pasquale Menna, who despite his resistance to Gasiorowski’s point of view, “is always a gentleman,” he said.

No, Gasiorowski said, he was put out by the the third lawyer up on the dais: Councilman Mike DuPont.

“In 40 years of practicing law, that was the most unprofessional and rudest I’ve ever been treated,” said Gasiorowski, a 71-year-old former Marine captain.

Gasiorowski, representing borough resident Stephen Mitchell but paid by the owners of the DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel on Hope Road in Tinton Falls, appeared before the council to challenge a zoning change that would set a new maximum height for the waterfront development district at 75 feet. Previously, height limits varied  from 50 to 140 feet, depending on variables that zoning and planning board members said they found unclear.

Gasiorowski had earlier won a ruling from the zoning board that the proposed hotel, slated for a former Exxon property at the foot of the Route 35 Cooper’s Bridge at Rector Place, was too tall, and would need a use variance. He also has two lawsuits pending in Superior Court in Freehold over the borough’s handing of the case.

Gasiorowski’s opposition to the ordinance change, in a nutshell, is that whereas the planning board had asked for clarification of the ordinance, the council wasn’t merely clarifying it: it was dramatically changing it in a way that would benefit just one property owner – hotel developer Rbank Capital.

The upshot, he said, is that whereas a building 50 feet tall might have been allowed next to the Rector Place residential zone, now one more than 80 feet tall is permitted.

The council unanimously approved the change, much as Gasiorowski anticipated, and Rbank is expected to revive its proposal for the site.

But what irked him was his treatment by DuPont, who he said repeatedly interrupted him in mid-sentence, challenging him on who his true client was and using his council seat as a soapbox when Gasiorowski had the floor.

At one point during the heated exchange, Gasiorowski suggested that he and DuPont switch seats so DuPont could speak on his behalf, and Menna attempted to cool things by observing that the exchange was getting personal.

On Monday, Gasiorowski was still steamed.

“How can he say that he knows nothing about the case except what he reads in the newspapers, and then not let me answer his questions?” Gasiorowski said. “He refused to listen to anything I said, and sought to prevent me from presenting my position” to the council.

Gasiorowski, who identified Mitchell’s financier in March, after resisting for months, declined to tell redbankgreen how the arrangement came about, citing attorney-client privilege. He noted, however, that Mitchell showed up at hearings regarding the property even before he had a lawyer, “so he obviously had an interest in” the matter, Gasiorowski said.

DuPont, in response, tells redbankgreen that Gasiorowski “was being disingenuous” in claiming that Mitchell is his client, and that’s why he was so hard on him.

“His real client is a business competitor of a potential hotel,” he said. “He owed a duty to all of Red Bank to specifically state who he’s representing.”

Gasiorowski, who had little trouble explaining who he represented to the zoning board, said DuPont wouldn’t let him answer. He said the council’s “refusal” to allow him to make his case and enter exhibits would be one prong of his next lawsuit.

Meantime, he’s not done grousing about DuPont.

“His real problem is that, as a young boy, he was always the last one picked,” Gasiorowski said of DuPont.

“Tell him I still love him,” DuPont said with a laugh. “If he needs me to hug him in front of the council, I will.”