SMOC suit becomes a battle over documents

SMOC suit becomes a battle over documents Saturday, December 8, 2007
D. Craig MacCormack 508-626-4429 Metrowest Daily News
FRAMINGHAM - The lawyer representing a dozen town officials in a federal discrimination lawsuit filed by SMOC said his office sent more than 18 inches of documents and three dozen DVDs to the social service agency's lawyer.

But Howard Cooper, the attorney representing South Middlesex Opportunity Council in the legal battle, said he still wants to see letters written by Town Counsel Chris Petrini to some of the town's boards and commissions.

"The town continues to shield from public view the memoranda written by (Petrini) regarding his ongoing legal advice and warnings about decisions town officials were about to make," said Cooper.

"We say the attorney-client privilege was already waived by the inclusion of some of Mr. Petrini's previous memos as public records.  The taxpayers of Framingham deserve to see them all," he said.

Jeffrey Robbins, the attorney representing Framingham in the case, said he is still reviewing some of the documents involved in SMOC's requests and will send the ones he believes are not protected as attorney work product.

Petrini had been compiling the information requested by SMOC until the agency filed the lawsuit Oct. 24 in U.S. District Court in Boston.  At that point, he decided to wait to see who would represent the town in the case and let that lawyer decide how to respond to SMOC's request, said Robbins.

"(Petrini) wanted to make sure (the answer to the request) was done in a careful way," said Robbins.

Petrini agreed, saying Cooper was aware of the town's desire to wait until it had hired outside counsel before responding to SMOC's requests and agreed to allow the extra time.

The Supreme Judicial Court, noted Robbins, ruled in July that memos between a town attorney and local boards are protected from public disclosure.  Petrini, a member of the executive committee of the City Solicitors Association, was asked to prepare the amicus brief on behalf of the association in the case.

"I'm sure no one would say that the ordinary privileges given to town employees should be tossed overboard in this case," said Robbins.

SMOC sent its first public records request to the Framingham Board of Selectmen, Building Department, Government Access Television, Human Services Coordinator Alexis Silver and Planning Board in September and submitted a follow-up request and $7,400 for the documents in October, said Cooper.

SMOC later paid more than $3,000 to the police department for records from that department, he said.  Cooper had not yet seen the delivery from Robbins' office by yesterday afternoon.

SMOC and Framingham will attempt to mediate the case before retired federal magistrate Charles Swartwood III in January.

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 agency 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 Thursday to 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.

On Thursday, Lipchitz sent follow-up records requests to the Department of Correction, Department of Public Health, Department of Social Services and the Executive Office of Health and Human Services regarding the Sage House investigation and SMOC's background check policies, among other things.

Both sides say they are pushing for full public disclosure in the case.  In a letter to Robbins yesterday asking for clarification on his request, Cooper noted, "Your call for transparency here must be a two-way street."

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