Insurance association may help with SMOC lawsuit Tuesday, October 30, 2007
D. Craig MacCormack 508-626-4429 Metrowest Daily News
FRAMINGHAM - Officials have asked the Municipal Interlocal Insurance Association to take on the federal lawsuit filed last week by SMOC that alleges several town officials and private citizens conspired to rid the town of its disabled population.

Town Counsel Chris Petrini said he expects to hear back from the association later this week.  He will meet with selectmen in executive session tomorrow to discuss possible costs of the case, along with the town's indemnity and the possibility of specialty lawyers, including First Amendment experts, being hired as consultants for the defense.

South Middlesex Opportunity Council alleges in its filing in U.S. District Court in Boston "a coordinated effort" by town administrators, three selectmen, four Planning Board members, several Town Meeting members and two other residents to rid the town of its disabled population.

The 99-page complaint, which also includes more than 90 exhibits, alleges violations of the Fair Housing Act, federal Rehabilitation Act, Americans With Disabilities Act and Civil Rights Act.

The suit asks the court to award SMOC "punitive and exemplary" damages in an amount chosen by the jury; enter a permanent injunction to require Framingham to comply with all federal and state laws; take supervisory jurisdiction over Framingham's actions to ensure compliance with the law; enter a permanent injunction requiring Framingham to issue a permanent occupancy permit for Sage House, a SMOC home for former addicts and their families; enter a permanent injunction ordering all required permits for Larry's Place, a proposed home for disabled homeless veterans; and attorneys fees.

Petrini has not worked out a budget for the town's legal defense of the case, but estimated it would cost at least $500,000 if the case goes through to its completion.

Mike Cusack, claims manager for the MIIA, said yesterday Framingham is a member of the organization and they would be provided a defense on any claims tied to the town's insurance policy.

MIIA officials are still reviewing the case, but expect to get back to Petrini by the end of the week, said Cusack.  The nature of the case is "not uncommon," he said.

"We have an obligation to provide a defense and that's something we will do," said Cusack.

Petrini noted that he does not expect to be called to testify in the case if it moves forward, saying his plethora of memos will likely serve as his statements on particular matters, but he would have no problem doing so.

If his firm remains as the lead attorney in the case, Petrini could allow another lawyer in his office to question him, he said.

"Very few people know the details of what's gone on as well as I do," said Petrini, adding municipal attorneys rarely serve as witnesses in cases against the town.

A petition drive to secure at least 200 signatures calling for a special Town Meeting to augment the town's legal budget and fight the case is likely to run until the end of the week, said Town Meeting member Janet Leombruno.

Several other residents are collecting signatures, she said, adding she has enough by herself to trigger the special session but organizers want to get as many names affixed to the document as possible, she said.

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