SMOC, Framingham choose mediator for case

SMOC, Framingham choose mediator for case Thursday, December 5, 2007
D. Craig MacCormack 508-626-4429 Metrowest Daily News
FRAMINGHAM - Retired federal magistrate Charles Swartwood III will attempt to mediate the federal discrimination lawsuit brought by SMOC in October against a dozen town officials and two private citizens.

Sessions are scheduled for Jan. 9, 10 and 18 at Swartwood's Boston office, where he works for JAMS/Endispute, a professional mediation organization mostly staffed by retired judges.

Swartwood was chosen over retired Appeals Court Judge Gordon Doerfer to mediate the case, in which South Middlesex Opportunity Council claims the defendants engaged in "a coordinated effort" to push disabled people out of town.

"SMOC is very pleased that the defendants, through their lawyers, have provided assurances that they enter into mediation in good faith and without precondition, and with all issues and possible resolutions on the table," the social service agency's lawyer, Howard Cooper, said last night.

"We intend to respect the privacy of the mediation process and look forward to hearing the defendants' constructive proposals to resolve the matter, and we obviously will have proposals of our own.  This is a very important and serious civil rights case.  We're pleased the defendants have realized that mediation is in all parties' best interest," he said.

The sides also asked U.S. District Court Judge Douglas Woodlock to schedule a status conference in January to give him an update on mediation or other matters in the case.  Woodlock is not involved in the mediation, but if the sides cannot reach agreement he would hear the case.

Defendants in the case include Town Manager Julian Suso, Human Services Coordinator Alexis Silver, three selectmen, four Planning Board members, four Town Meeting members and two private citizens.

The citizens, Anthony Siciliano and Harold Wolfe, will be invited to participate in mediation, said Cooper.

Efforts to reach Jeffrey Robbins, the lawyer representing Framingham and its officials, were not successful yesterday.

Town Meeting last month voted against a nonbinding resolution to have mediation as the first priority in resolving the case.  Members supported a nonbinding resolution saying any mediation agreement should not turn over local oversight of town business or any money to SMOC.

Before voting on the resolution, Town Meeting approved the transfer of $150,000 from the town's reserves to a special account that will be used to fight the SMOC suit.

That money, said Town Counsel Chris Petrini, should be enough to cover the cost of mediation for the town.  SMOC will pay its own costs.

The town will pay 40 percent of mediation costs.  The town's insurance company will pay 60 percent of mediation costs, plus pay for the mediator and legal fees.

Siciliano and Wolfe are not covered by the town's insurance.

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