By Ron Hine | FBW | October 20, 2016
On October 20, Renee Steinhagen was honored with the 4th annual FBW Riparian Award at its Connect the Waterfront annual fundraising party. This event will took place at the Kolo Klub in Hoboken.
Renee Steinhagen, the Executive Director of the New Jersey Appleseed Public Interest Law Center since 1998, has represented civic organizations similar to those we have in Hoboken throughout the state, and has become one of the state’s leading public interest attorneys. She has entered the fray where few other attorneys have chosen to tread. While most law firms represent moneyed interests, New Jersey Appleseed concentrates its efforts on empowering citizen groups regarding government and corporate accountability, election process reform and health care reform.
New Jersey Appleseed’s Ms. Steinhagen and the Eastern Environmental Law Center’s Executive Director Aaron Kleinbaum represent FBW in the litigation opposing the controversial Monarch Towers, two high-rise buildings proposed for a Hoboken pier. Currently, these attorneys are in discussions with FBW and legal representatives of the City of Hoboken regarding settlement talks. The developers have offered to donate the Monarch Pier property to the City in exchange for added density for their other project on the west side of town. There are currently five cases in the New Jersey Courts pertaining to the Monarch proposal. Ms. Steinhagen has filed briefs on FBW’s behalf in three of these cases.
After six years of litigation beginning in 2002, the case of Stevens Institute of Technology v. Fund for a Better Waterfront et al. formally concluded with a favorable settlement. NJ Appleseed, with the Environmental Law Clinic at Columbia Law School, came to the defense of FBW and its leaders who were sued in a SLAPP lawsuit (Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation) in retaliation for speaking out about the environmental impact of the university’s blasting of asbestos-containing rock at a construction site. The defamation claim and other claims were originally thrown out in 2004. After subsequent appeals, the case finally settled in April 2008. Ms. Steinhagen has successfully defended a number of other citizens who were hit with SLAPP suits after speaking out against developer proposals.
When Hoboken’s city government failed to enforce a “Pay-to-Play” ordinance voters overwhelmingly approved in 2004, a group of activists felt it should have the right to sue to compel enforcement. The court disagreed, dismissing the suit on the grounds that they didn’t have standing to enforce the ordinance they worked so hard to enact. NJ Appleseed represented the group on appeal before the Appellate Division, arguing that the group should have standing to bring a suit against the city. The court agreed. This decision, filed on January 9, 2008, has importance throughout the state, because municipalities that have pay-to-play ordinances now understand that their citizens can compel them to enforce it.
This tells part of the Hoboken story. Renée Steinhagen has represented countless other groups throughout the state in similar cases. One of her first victories came in a New Jersey State Troopers’ racial discrimination lawsuit. New Jersey Appleseed successfully challenged New Jersey State Police regulations (the “gag order”) prohibiting troopers to speak out about matters of public concern, including the relationship between racial profiling and discriminatory employment practices; compelled changes to the educational assignment process, and specialist and promotion systems; and ultimately received a $4 million settlement for thirteen troopers who had experienced discrimination and retaliation for their attempts to reform the organization.
For several years, the New Jersey Appleseed chaired the New Jersey Citizen’s Coalition on the Implementation of the Help America Vote Act, and currently is on the Leadership Team of the New Jersey Healthcare Coalition, which is currently engaged in a legislative campaign to end surprise medical bills and the growing problem of balance bills for consumers, even those who are insured. Currently, Ms. Steinhagen is also a board member of the Greater Newark Healthcare Coalition, a group of health care leaders in Newark who are working to improve the health status of Newark’s residents through the establishment of a innovative medicaid Accountable Care Organization, advocacy and other programmatic initiatives.
Prior to New Jersey Appleseed, Ms. Steinhagen was a plaintiff labor lawyer for law firms in New York and New Jersey where she became familiar with workers compensation, unemployment insurance, labor, and discrimination law. She is a graduate of the University of Chicago Law School, and has a Masters Degree from the Woodrow Wilson School of Government at Princeton, where she focused on housing and tax policy. She received her BA from Williams College.
FBW’s annual Connect the Waterfront fundraising party
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Monarch towers case goes to Appellate Court
Monarch Towers litigation grinds on as public opposition persists
Federal judge grants FBW opportunity to help defend Hoboken’s flood ordinances
Shipyard’s plan to privatize pier
Stevens attempts to silence FBW through SLAPP suit