The Office of General Counsel provides and/or administers all legal services for the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority (“NFTA”) and Niagara Frontier Transit Metro, Inc. (“NFTM”) on civil and administrative matters. The NFTA is a multi- modal entity (Aviation, Surface and Property) providing efficient and professional transportation services that enhance the quality of life in the Buffalo Niagara region. NFTM is a subsidiary of the NFTA and provides bus and rail transportation services within Erie and Niagara Counties. 

These legal services include representation of the NFTA and NFTM in negligence claims, negotiations with state and federal agencies, arbitrations involving collective bargaining agreements or employee grievances, professional negligence, tort and contract claims, condemnation and relocation proceedings, negotiation of collective bargaining agreements, preparation of leases, releases, use and operating agreements, settlements and memoranda of understanding. 

The Office of General Counsel provides advice, opinions and counsel to the Board of Commissioners, the Executive Director, business center managers and staff on matters concerning labor and employment relations, environmental compliance and litigation, landlord-tenant and real property transactions, procurement and contracting issues, suretyship, risk management and insurance, municipal bonds and finance, secured transactions, commercial relationships and corporate and legislative concerns. 

Under the direction of the General Counsel, staff attorneys appear in state and federal trial and appellate courts and before arbitration panels and administrative agencies such as the New York State Department of Labor, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the New York State Department of Transportation, the Federal Aviation Administration and the Federal Transit Administration. General Counsel attorneys draft proposed agency rules and administrative procedures and pursue enforcement and collection of judgments for fare evasions and parking violations. Staff personnel manage the board agenda, prepare resolutions for consideration by the Board of Commissioners and assist and provide guidance to user departments and business centers on procurement and various other matters impacting the day-to-day and long range operations of NFTA and NFTM. 

The Office also oversees the NFTA’s Procurement Department.  This combination has strengthened the Procurement Department’s exceptional performance in procurement compliance and ethics and facilitates continued focus on those areas so that Procurement can continue to successfully perform their mission to “procure high-quality materials and services which provide safe and reliable transportation, transportation services and facilities for our customers.”

Meet our Staff:

David J. State, General Counsel.  David is responsible for the functions of the Authority’s Legal and Procurement Departments.  The Office of the General Counsel serves the public by providing high quality legal services to support the NFTA’s mission of providing safe, efficient and professional transportation services that enhance the quality of life throughout the Buffalo Niagara region.

Vicky-Marie J. Brunette, Deputy General Counsel.  Vicky manages the Authority’s litigation team and focuses her litigation practice on motor vehicle negligence, premises liability, and police professional liability. She is also chair of the Systems Integrity Committee, which handles authority wide ethics and integrity issues.  As Deputy, Vicky also provides legal advice, counsel and opinions to the Board of Commissioners, Executive Director and Authority business centers in the areas of common carrier law; transportation law; public authorities law; public officers law; diversity and inclusion; wrongful death; premises liability; motor vehicle accidents; No-Fault insurance and police professional liability.

Wayne R. Gradl, Senior Counsel.  Wayne’s primary focus is employment and labor law.  Wayne handles grievances, arbitrations and assists in contract negotiations with these unions. In addition, Wayne provides the NFTA/NFTM with advice regarding employee dismissals and discipline and discrimination and other Equal Employment Opportunity matters, including claims by passengers as well as representation in Federal and New York State courts and before administrative agencies such as the EEOC and New York State Division of Human Rights.

John P. DePaolo, Counsel.  John focuses on litigation and the defense of personal injury matters including motor vehicle negligence, premises liability, No-fault insurance; police professional liability and insurance coverage.  John’s background ranges from being a former criminal prosecutor to enjoying a lengthy career in the private sector as an insurance defense litigator before joining the NFTA. John has tried approximately 100 cases to verdict.  

Michael Flaherty, Counsel (Surface and Property)- Michael is responsible for negotiating transactions and agreements, including complex property and business deals, settlement of both litigated and non-litigated disputes, leases, easements, procurements, and software licenses.  He also handles NFTA corporate administration process, including preparation of and oversight of Board resolution process, interpretation of and amendments to corporate by-laws, interpretation of enabling legislation, legal advice on all procurement issues, preparation of procurement guidelines, legal opinions regarding Freedom of Information Law, Open Meetings Law, Personal Privacy, Protection Act, Hatch Act, Public Officers Law and preparation of regulations.

John Fenz, Counsel (Aviation)- John is responsible for providing legal support to the Aviation Business Group which operates the Buffalo Niagara International Airport (BUF) and the Niagara Falls International Airport (IAG).  He also negotiates commercial transactions and agreements, including complex property and business deals, settlement of both litigated and non-litigated disputes, leases, easements, procurements, software licenses, and concessionaire and rental car agreements.

Jodie Zolnowski, Manager of Administrative Services and Assistant to the General Counsel.  Jodie’s primary responsibility is to the General Counsel and assisting in the duties and responsibilities that are required of the General Counsel’s office and the NFTA’s Board of Commissioners.  Jodie is also the primary paralegal for Wayne Gradl, Michael Flaherty and John Fenz.  She is also the secondary paralegal to the Deputy General Counsel, Vicky Brunette, and John DePaolo supporting the litigation needs of the Authority.  She also manages our Central Services department.

Debra D. Kashishian, Senior Paralegal. Deb is the primary paralegal supporting Vicky-Marie Brunette and her caseload and litigation needs.   Deb has more than 40 years of experience in both the private and public sector. She is responsible for pleading preparation, file management, medical records, scheduling and trial preparation on behalf of Vicky. She also mentors incoming paralegal team members and interns.

Doreen Watson, Paralegal.  Doreen is the primary paralegal supporting John DePaolo and his caseload and litigation needs.  She is responsible for the drafting of initial pleadings, discovery documents, motions and other legal pleadings and papers relating to litigation.  She is also responsible for E-filing pleadings in both Federal and State Supreme Court and file other documents in Buffalo City Court, State Supreme Court, the Appellate Division, and the Erie County Clerk’s Office, scheduling depositions, pre-trial conference, and independent medical examinations.

Allana Benton, Esq., FOIL Coordinator- Allana is responsible for assessing, gathering responsive documentation, and performing review of routine and semi-routine FOIL requests, working across the entire organization to identify custodians and collect records in response to FOIL requests, analyzing laws, regulations, case law, and advisory opinions issued by the Committee on Open Government related to FOIL and drafting legal analyses relating to FOIL and responses to requests.