Officials hopeful about SMOC suit mediation

Officials hopeful about SMOC suit mediation Sunday, January 6, 2008
D. Craig MacCormack 508-626-4429 Metrowest Daily News
FRAMINGHAM - Both sides are hopeful mediation can resolve a federal lawsuit brought in October against town officials, charging them with "a coordinated effort" to discriminate against disabled people.

But the effort to meet with retired federal magistrate Charles Swartwood III starting Wednesday is unlikely to be the final step in the case filed in U.S. District Court in Boston by South Middlesex Opportunity Council.

"I think people's expectations should be very low," said Jeffrey Robbins, the lead attorney representing a dozen town officials.  "I'm not especially optimistic about the outcome.

"Perhaps I and others on behalf of the town will be pleasantly surprised.  Certainly only good can come from exploring this," he said.

Robbins said he's not even sure if the mediation will run its full course, saying it only makes sense to have the third day "if there's meaningful progress" in the first two sessions.

SMOC spokeswoman Jane Lane said she believes the fact the sides are meeting can only be viewed as "a step forward."

"SMOC remains hopeful that mediation will prove to be constructive and we approach these discussions with an open mind," she said.

It is unknown how many of the private attorneys hired by the defendants will attend the mediation sessions, which are private and will be held at Swartwood's office.

The mediation is nonbinding and it is unclear if Swartwood will make any recommendations at the end of the sessions.  The sides are scheduled to appear together in court Jan. 22 for a scheduling conference.

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

Also named as defendants are private citizens Anthony Siciliano and Harold Wolfe.  Both have hired their own lawyers after Wolfe brought on Boston-based attorney Patrick Bannon last week.

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