Lawyer calls allegations 'meritless'

Lawyer calls allegations 'meritless' Thursday, November 29, 2007
D. Craig MacCormack 508-626-4429 Metrowest Daily News
FRAMINGHAM - Jeffrey Robbins is no stranger to cases where he's asked to match legal wits with Howard Cooper, but Robbins said he chose to represent a dozen Framingham town officials in a federal lawsuit for a different reason.

"My understanding is the allegations in this case are meritless and it's important for the town to be placed in a position where it can be represented in a vigorous way," said Robbins, hired this week to represent the officials in the case filed last month by SMOC in U.S. District Court in Boston.

"People who take it upon themselves to grapple with thorny issues shouldn't have to be bullied.  It's one thing to disagree with an opinion by a local board.  It's another thing to say it's discrimination," he said.

Robbins, from Boston-based law firm Mintz Levin, wonders whether SMOC will be successful in its attempt to sue local officials as individuals, saying, "the law looks skeptically" at it.  Among the defendants are Town Manager Julian Suso, Human Services Coordinator Alexis Silver, three selectmen, four Planning Board members and four Town Meeting members.

Other defendants named by SMOC are private citizens Anthony Siciliano and Harold Wolfe, who are not covered by the town's legal budget.

Robbins, 51, and Cooper, who is representing SMOC, most recently were on opposite sides of the law in a case filed by the Islamic Society of Boston against individuals and citizens groups who questioned the group's ties.

The society eventually had to drop all claims in the case, in which it had alleged the Boston Herald and others conspired to smear the society and stop a mosque building project by linking it to anti-Semitic extremists.

Efforts to reach Cooper yesterday were not successful.

"There can be a yawning gap between everything that's alleged in a case and the facts," said Robbins, who has not completed his review of the 800-page federal complaint filed by SMOC, in which it alleges "a coordinated effort" by town officials and private citizens to discriminate against disabled people.

Robbins supports the push by Town Counsel Chris Petrini and Cooper to try to mediate the case, but believes it was important for him to come on board to defend the town officials before the lawsuit has progressed too far.

"It would be naive not to prepare for this case to extend beyond mediation in the event we can't reach a settlement that's fair and equitable," said Petrini.  "The town and its defendants need to be protected and defended.

"There are a lot of serious and unfounded accusations that need to be vigorously defended.  This is a case that has the potential for mammoth costs going forward and one that has the potential to become highly destructive and divisive," Petrini continued.  "Mr. Robbins is a highly skilled lawyer with relevant experience in cases such as this one."

Adam Sisitsky, son of Selectman Charles Sisitsky, is among the almost 300 lawyers who work for Mintz Levin's Boston firm.  Charles Sisitsky is not a defendant in the lawsuit.

Before his work at Boston firm Mintz Levin, Robbins served for three years as an assistant U.S. attorney in the district of Massachusetts and as a United States delegate to the United Nations Human Rights Commission in Geneva.

He was also deputy chief counsel to the U.S. Senate Governmental Affairs Committee's special investigation into campaign fundraising practices during the 1996 federal elections, and chief counsel to the Minority of the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations of the U.S. Senate.

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