SMOC lawsuit likely to cost town $500,000

SMOC lawsuit likely to cost town $500,000 November 1, 2007
D. Craig MacCormack 508-626-4429 Metrowest Daily News
FRAMINGHAM - Defending town officials against a federal discrimination lawsuit filed last week by South Middlesex Opportunity Council could cost the town more than the total of all of its major cases in recent years.

Town Counsel Chris Petrini said yesterday the defense of the 99-page suit filed in U.S. District Court is likely to cost "well above" $500,000 if the case goes through to its conclusion.

That tab could drop if the Massachusetts Interlocal Insurance Association takes on more than the insurance portion of the case, said Petrini.  He expects to hear from MIIA later this week about its plan to defend the town, he said.

In its filing, SMOC alleges "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.

SMOC's 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.

Among the defendants named in the case are Town Manager Julian Suso, Human Services Coordinator Alexis Silver, Selectmen Dennis Giombetti, Jason Smith and Ginger Esty; Planning Board members Ann Welles, Sue Bernstein, Carol Spack and Andrea Carr-Evans; and Town Meeting members Steven Orr, Peter Adams, Cynthia Laurora and Laurie Lee.

Hundreds of residents have signed a petition that would require selectmen to call a special Town Meeting where discussion of beefing up the legal budget to defend against the SMOC lawsuit would take place.

Before now, the largest legal expenses since late 2005 have gone to defending the Zoning Board of Appeals' 2006 denial of Paulini Loam's plans for a concrete plant - more than $162,400 - and a 2005 denial by the Planning Board of a proposed cluster development on Nixon Road by Nexum Development, which cost the town almost $140,000 in fees.

Most of the bills in the Nexum case were paid to a special counsel hired because of a conflict for Petrini in that matter.

In total, the major cases against Framingham have rung up total bills of just over the $500,000 estimate attached to the SMOC federal suit.

The fiscal 2008 legal budget is $610,000 plus a $175,000 supplement approved last week at Town Meeting for the Paulini Loam case and a Fair Labor Standards Act complaint by about 90 police officers to correct more than 20 years of problems with the overtime system.

Petrini acknowledged that the cases have been costly, but noted that victories in favor of the town in other high-profile cases, including a complaint by Ashland about carrying its wastewater to the MWRA system and the expansion of the Natick Mall, have generated more than $1 million in revenue this year.

Another major case is on the verge of a settlement, said Petrini, and that could bring in several hundred thousand dollars as well.

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