ELIZABETH, NJ — An Elizabeth Board of Education member facing a drunken driving charge is being represented by a lawyer from the same firm the board has previously used for special counsel services.
Daniel Nina, 40, was arrested Oct. 15 after his car collided with another vehicle in Linden around 3 a.m., according to a police report. Nina, an Elizabeth firefighter who joined the school board in 2016, is being represented by Edward Kologi, of the Kologi and Simitz firm.
“He has entered a not guilty plea and we’re waiting for other items of discovery from the court,” Kologi said in a Nov. 20 phone interview.
Kologi & Simitz serves as special outside counsel to the school board and has handled two or three matters for the board in the past, Nina’s lawyer said. Nina will “divorce himself” from any interaction between the Kologi & Simitz law firm and school board matters, Kologi said.
The school board’s general counsel is Jonathan Williams of the Decotiis, Fitzpatrick & Cole firm. General counsel typically handles “the vast majority” of legal matters, advises school board members and assigns special counsel when needed, school district spokesman Patrick Politano said in a Nov. 21 email.
“Commissioner Nina has been given legal counsel that he must recuse himself from any matter involving the Kologi law firm,” Politano said. “He cannot be involved in any discussion or votes related to the Kologi firm.”
In January, the BOE approved a $165 hourly rate for special counsel services. No resources or funds from the Elizabeth School District will be used for Nina’s personal defense, Politano said.
Nina’s campaign was backed by Elizabeth Mayor J. Christian Bollwage and state Sen. Raymond Lesniak. The Kologi & Simitz law firm is also representing Elizabeth Police Director James Cosgrove in a suit brought against him by members of the police department alleging they were passed up for promotions out of retaliation.
Linden police arrested Nina after he allegedly ignored a traffic signal and his 2016 Kia collided with a 2003 Chevy at the intersection of East Edgar Road and South Park Avenue. He was charged with careless driving in addition to the DWI charge.
“The officers are never generally witnesses to the occurrence and they put down what is told by them by different people,” Kologi said in a phone interview Nov. 20. “So police reports in and of themselves are not always as revealing as they should be.”
Police said they detected alcohol on Nina’s breath when they arrived on the scene and reported he had bloodshot, watery eyes and slurred speech. Nina told police he had one or two gin drinks and was coming back from a cigar shop in Rahway, according to a police report.
An officer administered a field sobriety test, to which Nina reportedly agreed. Police reported that Nina turned incorrectly during a walk-and-turn test and swayed, hopped and put his foot down during a one-leg stand.
According to police, a breathalyzer test given to Nina at the police station showed his blood alcohol content level was .12 percent. By state law, it is illegal to operate a vehicle with a level of .08 or more.
The driver of the Chevy was transported to Trinitas Hospital for her injuries, the extent of which were redacted from the police report. Nina was treated at the scene by the Linden Fire Department and refused additional medical attention, the police report said.
Nina was honored in 2015 for rescuing two children from a burning building, NJ Advance Media reported. He currently earns $88,640 as a firefighter, state records show.