Fraidy Reiss reports in The Asbury Park Press: No one’s sure exactly how many times Larry S. Loigman has sued the government. Not even Loigman. Several dozen? All right, 100. All right, 200,” the Ocean Township resident estimated, before settling on 50 lawsuits. “Fifty in 30 years, so it’s not that many.”
That does not count the complaints Loigman has filed, the investigations he has demanded or the public meetings at which he has stood at the microphone and condemned public officials. All of this has earned the 55-year-old lawyer a reputation as a fearless protector of the collective good or a ferocious pain in the collective butt, depending on whom you ask.
“He can bring government to a standstill,” said Brian Lefferson, 55, a lifelong Ocean Township resident. “He has good points, but . . . at times I do find him very agitating.”
Of course, the public officials who have been at the receiving end of Loigman’s lawsuits were reluctant to speak about him on the record.
“No hablo ingles,” declared William F. Larkin, mayor of Ocean Township.
“I don’t want to say anything that will get me sued,” announced Martin J. Arbus, attorney for Ocean Township.
“One must be careful,” cautioned Bernard Reilly, former attorney for Middletown.
No comment “for obvious reasons,” offered Gerard P. Scharfenberger, mayor of Middletown.
If they would just behave themselves, they “would not be sued,” Loigman countered with a shrug.
To influence government
Loigman first became interested in making government behave when he was a high school student in Middletown. A fatal accident up the street from his house convinced him that safety improvements were needed at the intersection, so he pushed local officials to make those improvements, he said.
Neither his father, a psychologist, nor his mother, an insurance broker, was politically active, but Loigman had seen both of them contact their elected officials to advocate for causes important to them. With their encouragement, Loigman sent letters. He made phone calls. He attended Township Committee meetings.
And he saw a traffic signal installed at the corner.
“It confirmed my feeling that individuals have . . . an opportunity to influence what’s going on in government,” Loigman said.
He continued using that influence at George Washington University Law School, forming a citizens’ group to fight the closing of firehouses in D.C. Again he succeeded.
When Loigman returned to New Jersey, he brought with him both a law degree and a growing skepticism about government, he said. He combined those with a lesson he had learned as an Orthodox Jew, that he should strive to help his community, and he began to view himself as a government watchdog, he said.
“I was trying to look out for the financial situation of the taxpayers and to make sure things were done right, that public funds were not misused, that public officials did their jobs properly,” the lawyer said.
So he sued. Everywhere he had legal standing.
He sued the state, at one time charging the Division of Pensions with mismanaging retirement programs.
He sued Monmouth County. In the 1980s, he demanded an investigation into the finances of the Prosecutor’s Office, then sued the state Attorney General for refusing to release the findings of the investigation.
He filed suit after suit against Middletown, where he lived until 1999 and where he still maintains his general-practice law office. In one suit that his critics love to cite, Loigman accused Middletown of hanging “duck crossing” signs without approval from the state Department of Transportation.
He moved to Ocean Township and began suing there: Because he was denied access to public records. Because, in a case still pending, the township attorney went on vacation and sent another lawyer to fill in for him at a meeting, but officials did not authorize the switch with a resolution.
Loigman’s suits did not seek money; they sought rectification of what he saw as wrongdoings. Occasionally a judge has awarded him “nominal amounts” in damages, barely enough to cover his filing fees, he said.
Heather Taylor, spokeswoman for the good-government group Citizens’ Campaign, declined to opine on whether Loigman’s lawsuits fight government corruption or drain government resources. She noted that Citizens’ Campaign urges people to attend public meetings and to offer constructive criticism to their elected officials, but the group advises citizens to use litigation only as a “last resort.”
Loigman does not spend his entire life filing pro se lawsuits against the government. The married father of two also finds time to represent his paying clients – “so I can take care of my family” – and to work pro bono for Jewish religious organizations that need legal help, he said.
He finds time, too, to tend to his vegetable garden, he said. And he attends synagogue each morning so he can pray, then returns home to hand feed the flocks of birds and squirrels in his neighborhood who greet him enthusiastically because they know him not as a litigator but as the man who gives them birdseed and nuts.
“Blue jays love peanuts,” Loigman said with a grin, describing how the birds crack open the shells and how they compete with the squirrels to get the most nuts.
No, he added, his propensity for suing and aggravating public officials does not contradict his propensity for caring for small animals or for growing peppers and eggplant. The same Jewish teachings that urged him to better his community also urged him to care for “anything else on earth” and for the earth itself, Loigman said.
“It’s all part of one person,” he said.
Won some, lost some
Loigman has won some lawsuits and lost others. Once, after he sued Middletown in 1987 claiming discrimination against his Orthodox Jewish religion was the reason he was turned down for a job with the Police Department, a federal judge dismissed his claim as “frivolous and vexatious” and ordered him to pay the township attorney $8,500.
Loigman, in turn, sued his homeowner’s insurance company, arguing that it should pay the $8,500 sanction under its “personal liability” feature. He lost. And he lost again on appeal.
Still, win or lose, his lawsuits draw public attention to issues that deserve it, Loigman said.
“It’s my responsibility as well as the responsibility of every citizen to become involved,” Loigman said. “It would be nice if government would clean itself up, but I don’t think that’s happening.”
The problem is . . .
Loigman is an intelligent man who sometimes suggests legitimate ways for government to improve, said Larkin, the mayor of Ocean Township.
The problem, officials said, is he forces the government to keep spending time and money to defend itself against his attacks.
“It wastes a tremendous amount of taxpayer dollars to respond to his complaints, most of which have no merit,” said Reilly, the former Middletown attorney.
Take the “duck crossing” case, Reilly said.
“Who would ever raise that, and who would file suit over that?” Reilly asked. “That didn’t save anybody money.”
Loigman dismissed that criticism as unfair.
“This is a common complaint among government officials any time someone tries to look over their shoulder,” Loigman said. “They tell people, in a condescending way, that . . . there’s no need for citizens to watch them and that government knows best.”
Currently, Loigman is pursuing one lawsuit against Ocean Township and “probably about three” against Middletown, he said.
“And I think that’s about it,” he said. “I’m quiet this winter.”
Loigman ran for local office in Middletown in 1996, as a Democrat, and he might run again in Ocean Township in 2011, he said. Meanwhile, he said, he will continue serving as self-appointed “activist.”
“I have a lot of faith in the American system of government and . . . representative democracy, but sometimes public officials need to be called to task,” he said. “I’m glad that I’m able, because of my education and my experience, to assist in doing that from time to time