Former GOP AG Candidate Wofford Wants In On TPT Lawsuit

Wofford To The Rescue (1)
Keith Wofford
Keith Wofford

Former Republican State Attorney General Candidate Keith Wofford has successfully lobbied his elite international law firm, Ropes & Gray, to assist and give its full legal services free of charge (pro bono) to a senior citizen who has had his property confiscated under the city’s Third Party Transfer program, KCP has learned.

McConnell Dorce, 69, who bought his four-unit property at 373 Rockaway Parkway in East New York for $25,000 in 1975 and had his fully paid-off property seized for what was originally $38,000 in back taxes, is now one of three lead plaintiffs in a federal class-action lawsuit alleging the city has unconstitutionally seized black- and brown-owned properties.

Wofford lost the election to former Public Advocate and now Attorney General Letitia James. The TPT issue was among the main issues debated, and while Wofford is over the loss, the TPT still resonates strongly with him. Wofford first called for a state investigation into the city’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) and its Third-Party Transfer (TPT) program last September. 

“Keith developed a relationship with Mr. Dorce during the campaign as a sort of focal point. And it resonated with me as well. I’m a Caribbean guy. When he told the story of how he lost his property it could have been any of our uncles and this is why it hurt so much,” said Attorney Denver Edwards, Wolfford’s friend for over 30 years and a partner at the New York City litigation law firm, Pierce Bainbridge LLP.

Edwards, who served as Wofford’s Senior Policy Advisor during his attorney general run, said Ropes & Gray can be particularly helpful in the discovery phase of the class-action lawsuit.

“The firm basically wants to make sure Mr. Dorce gets his property back and to take a look at the entire program. It seems like it was institutional and not a one-off situation,” said Edwards.

Edwards said through a thorough discovery process one could get a better sense of what agencies were involved, who made the decisions, who signed off on the taking of the properties, and who gave the judge information that allowed for an in rem proceeding.

The discovery investigation could also help bring out what sort of political involvement was there on the city council and individual political level. What happened, why it happened and who benefited from how it happened, Edwards said.

“There is no better disinfectant than sunlight. The firm would take an agnostic approach. Not trying to protect political friends or create political enemies,” he said, adding it is up to the government to protect its citizenry and not take property from folks like Dorce who own properties in areas that were once blighted but are now worth a lot of money.

Edwards noted that Ropes & Gray has also agreed to take absolutely no money from Dorce or any of the plaintiffs or their attorney involved in the federal lawsuit should they be successful.

Matthew L. Berman, one of the lawyers representing the plaintiffs from the law firm Valli, Kane and Vagnini, LLP, said he is aware of the offer.

“We will, of course, hear out from Mr. Wofford, and what he has to say, but have no further information at this time,” said Berman.

Dorce, who is still paying electric and gas on the building he no longer owns, told KCP he welcomes any help he can get from any corner.

Wofford’s offer comes at a time when both New York City is more of a one-party entity than ever before and the Democratic Party also has control of the courts. A large number of elected officials have long-standing relationships with some of the non-profits that have taken the properties.

A good number of the non-profits that have benefited from TPT, Bridge Street Development Corporation and St, Nicks Alliance, for example, get government funding, in which they do both foreclosure counseling and property management, which would appear like a conflict of interest.

The offer also comes as the city council is scheduled to hold an investigative hearing Monday on the TPT program. In advance of the hearing, THE CITY reported that the Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) is spearheading its own task force to investigate TPT.

HPD did not return emails from KCP as to the makeup of the task force.

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