Lawyer: Mediation unlikely to succeed in SMOC lawsuit

Lawyer: Mediation unlikely to succeed in SMOC lawsuit Friday, December 7, 2007
D. Craig MacCormack 508-626-4429 Metrowest Daily News
FRAMINGHAM - The chance of mediation being the final step in the federal discrimination lawsuit filed by SMOC against a dozen local officials appears remote, the lawyer representing municipal leaders said yesterday.

Jeffrey Robbins of Boston-based law firm Mintz Levin said he's not sure whether bringing the case to retired federal magistrate Charles Swartwood III at JAMS Inc.  for three days next month will settle their differences.

"The prospects for successful mediation don't look especially promising," said Robbins, who was hired by the town last month.  "The town has an extremely different view of this case than SMOC does.  That doesn't mean the town won't proceed in good faith."

pdf icon PDF: Read Framingham's public records requests about SMOC - 33 pages

pdf icon PDF: Read Framingham's public records request to SMOC - 3 pages

South Middlesex Opportunity Council spokeswoman Jane Lane disputed Robbins' assertion that the agency initiated talks about mediation, saying the first mention of it came from Town Counsel Chris Petrini shortly after he got a copy of the 99-page complaint.

"Both sides immediately embraced the idea," said Lane.  "It's a shame Mr. Robbins feels the need to try to torpedo the process before it begins.  I hope he brings a more positive, open-minded attitude as mediation moves forward."

All defendants in the social service agency's lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Boston will be invited to participate in mediation, said Robbins, including private citizens Anthony Siciliano and Harold Wolfe.  Participation is not mandatory.

Other defendants include Town Manager Julian Suso; Human Resources Alexis Silver; selectmen Ginger Esty, Dennis Giombetti and Jason Smith; Planning Board members Sue Bernstein, Andrea Carr-Evans, Carol Spack and Ann Welles; and Town Meeting members Peter Adams, Cynthia Laurora, Laurie Lee and Steven Orr.

Wolfe, who has not hired a lawyer, plans to attend the mediation Jan. 9, 10 and 18, regardless of whether he can secure legal representation.

"I have a couple of questions to ask SMOC to see if they really want to mediate," said Wolfe, who called the upcoming proceedings "mediation under the gun.

"If they really wanted to mediate fairly, they would drop the lawsuit first."

Adams, who hopes to hire his own lawyer soon, hasn't yet been asked to attend the mediation session, but hopes the case can be settled.

"You're better off negotiating your way out of it," said Adams.

Adams wondered how successful mediation will be and what SMOC hopes to gain.

"They could have settled this anytime over the last couple of years by changing their business practices," he said.  "Maybe they feel like they're in a position of strength.  I'm not really sure what the town can offer."

On Wednesday, Mintz Levin's Joseph Lipchitz sent public records requests to almost a dozen state and local agencies, asking for all communication since 2000 with and about SMOC, including information tied to complaints about and compliance by the social service agencies and SMOC's requests for state funding.

Requests went to Marlborough City Clerk Lisa Thomas, the state Department of Youth Services, state Department of Elder Affairs, Worcester City Clerk David Rushford, Spencer Town Clerk Jean Mulhall, state Department of Correction, state Department of Transitional Assistance, state Department of Public Health Bureau of Substance Abuse Services, state Department of Social Services, Northbridge Town Clerk Doreen Cedrone and state Department of Mental Health.

Robbins sent a public records request yesterday to SMOC lawyers Howard Cooper and James Hanrahan, asking for information on SMOC's criminal background check policy and information from the Department of Public Health's March 2007 drug-related investigation of the former Sage House at 61 Clinton St. and any corrective action SMOC was required to undertake as a result of the findings.

"We're looking to ensure transparent and open disclosure regarding SMOC," said Robbins.  "We assume SMOC will have no problem at all providing these records.

"There's a desire by some people that SMOC's failure to comply with some of its obligation come to light," he said.

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