SMOC demands public records Wednesday, January 16, 2008
D. Craig MacCormack 508-626-4429 Metrowest Daily News
FRAMINGHAM - Lawyers for SMOC yesterday filed a motion for declaratory judgment in Suffolk Superior Court asking for a judge to order Framingham town officials to turn over all public records SMOC requested in September.

In the 10-page filing, attorneys Howard Cooper, Heidi Nadel and Charles Roumeliotis asked for all documents requested and paid for by South Middlesex Opportunity Council as well as attorneys' fees and other costs.

The lawyers say they have gotten no records from the Framingham Police Department, Human Services Coordinator Alexis Silver, Town Counsel Chris Petrini or the Community and Economic Development Department.

They have also seen only a portion of the public records requested from the Planning Board, selectmen, Building Department and Media Services Department, despite making payments totaling more than $10,000 for the copies.

"We paid for these documents and thus far Framingham has refused to cooperate," said SMOC spokeswoman Jane Lane.

SMOC filed a federal discrimination lawsuit against a dozen town officials and two private citizens in U.S. District Court in Boston, alleging that the group engaged in "a coordinated effort" against disabled people in town by limiting where SMOC could open its programs.

An effort to mediate the case before retired federal magistrate Charles Swartwood was unsuccessful, with the sides canceling the third scheduled day of meetings after the first two sessions last week showed little progress.

The request for a declaratory judgment on public records was made in Suffolk Superior Court because that is the forum where such requests are made, said Lane.

Jeffrey Robbins, who is representing the town officials in the federal case, has said in the past his firm is reviewing all of SMOC's requests for public records and releasing them in batches as they review the documents.

Robbins' firm, Mintz Levin, has sent at least two shipments of records and videotaped public meetings to SMOC's attorneys.  In yesterday's filing, SMOC's lawyers say the documents and tapes can fit inside a small banker's box and represent only a small portion of what was requested.

Robbins believes SMOC's filing yesterday was "more like a public relations maneuver than anything else," adding the lawyers know that Mintz Levin plans to send the remaining requested documents later this week or next week.

"It seems to us to be a pointless lawsuit aimed in response to our request (sent Jan. 3) that SMOC officials preserve their e-mails," said Robbins.

Robbins would not say if all of the documents requested by SMOC will be part of the package sent to Cooper's office.  The sides have disagreed on whether opinions by Petrini to town boards should be public records.

Robbins has cited a Supreme Judicial Court ruling that protects that sort of communication.

"Ultimately the courts will decide whether the information is privileged or not," he said.

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