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Nazareth, Pa., United States

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Lushis Law Firm Made $813,000 With NorCo GPA in 2016 and 2017

Pigs get fat, hogs get slaughtered. Attorney John Lushis and his law firm, Norris, McLaughlin and Marcus should take note. One of his former partners, Scott Allinson, is on trial in Allentown right now for being too much of a pig. The crimes charged are conspiracy and bribery, but the real sin is greed. Allinson was one of the Norris McLaughlin rainmakers, a schmoozer who knew that solicitorships on local government boards helped clients like Charles Chrin make real money. It is Allinson who pushed for Norris McLaughlin on the General Purpose Authority (GPA) as well as the Gaming Board. But instead of just being pigs, the firm is a hog. Although I still am waiting for a complete answer to my request for legal bills from that firm over the past two years, I can tell you now that Lushis and his firm billed Northampton County $783,039.30 over the past two years. In addition, that firm is allowed to collect fees when outfits like St. Luke's or Lehigh University float a bond. In December 2017, Lushis charged $30,000 for a St. Luke's bond. Overall, Lushis and his firm have made at least $813,039.30 from their affiliation with the GPA in 2016 and 2017.

In addition to his regular work for the GPA, Lushis was working on the side for former Executive John Brown as some sort of secret Solicitor. Though he was still sending in bills through the GPA, these were for "special legal services." When I confronted Lushis about this at February's GPA meeting, he denied it. But GPA Chair Shawn Langen had previously told me that's exactly what happened. And I now have the bills.

Under the county's administrative code, an Executive who wants to engage someone for professional services is required to follow certain procedures. Those were completely ignored. He is required to notify Council and the Controller. That never happened, either. His use of Lushis was an end-run around Council.

Section 13.21 of the Administrative Code provides,
"No elected or appointed official or employee of the County shall intentionally or knowingly circumvent the provisions of this Article. Further, that any such elected or appointed official or employee of the County of Northampton who shall intentionally and/or knowingly violate this Article shall be subject to surcharge to the extent of the damage shown to be thereby sustained by the County of Northampton,shall be guilty of a misdemeanor, and upon a conviction thereof, shall be sentenced to imprisonment of not more than one year or pay a fine of not more than $1,000, or both. Any contract entered into in violation of the within article shall not be binding upon the County of Northampton."
This was a serious transgression.

What are these "special legal services?"

Lushis was helping lay the groundwork for a jail at Gracedale in Upper Nazareth. You know, the one Brown eventually pledged never to build.

His bills tell quite the story.

On February 8, Lushis charged for participation in a two-hour meeting with Brown and Upper Nazareth Solicitor Gary Asteak. He and his firm also spent that month researching the application of zoning laws and also drafted legislation to enable the jail to be built as a P3 (public-private partnership) project.

In March, Lushis met with Senator Pat Browne to discuss legislation that would enable the jail to be built as a P3 project, and started lining up banks like American, First Northern, PNC and Embassy Bank as possible lenders. His firm drafted a zoning ordinance amendment for Upper Nazareth Tp. They researched whether the Upper Nazareth Zoning Ordinance is exclusionary. They also studied whether "essential government services" like a jail trumps local zoning.

Finally, March 27 arrived, the day of Brown's backroom meeting with Upper Nazareth Supervisors.

Lushis billed the county for ten hours that day. Other members of the Norris, McLaughlin  billed for another 13 hours

And the County paid for this meeting about which no one in the community knew anything.

In April and May, Senator Pat Browne was lobbied to enact legislation in which local zoning laws could be trumped for projects like a jail .

In July, Lushis was still preparing talking points about a jail at Gracedale. He and his firm also billed $2,730.00 for a 3.9 hour long "strategy telephone conference" based on a review of a 2008 entry in this very blog, in which different jail options were presented. That's the meeting in which Ron Angle, then Finance Chair, asked, "The reality here is, who the hell wants a new prison?"

John Lushis and John Brown.

Around late July, as public word of a jail at Gracedale began to spread, Lushis began looking at West Easton and Bethlehem (Applebutter Rd), too.

As summer wound to an end, Gracedale as a jail was beginning to blow up in Brown's face. The jail research began to wane. But in October, the County was charged $$3,390 to register six copyrights with the U.S. Copyright Office for P3 licenses and agreements. These were registered in the name of the Norris, McLaughlin law firm, but we paid for it.

After Brown lost the election, that was the end of the "special legal services."

But there was fear that incoming Executive Lamont McClure might attempt to torpedo the P3 project under which 33 bridges are being repaired or replaced. McClure has no such intention, but they had no idea what he might do. He might end the gravy train for Lushis and Langen. So just as Lushis provided "special legal services" for John Brown, Northampton County Solicitor Ryan Durkin provided special legal services for the GPA. I'll tell you about that tomorrow.
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