SMOC trial unlikely before 2010

SMOC trial unlikely before 2010 Thursday, January 17, 2008
D. Craig MacCormack 508-626-4429 Metrowest Daily News
FRAMINGHAM - A proposed schedule set to be discussed next week with a federal judge could push the start of a trial in South Middlesex Opportunity Council's discrimination case against town officials to 2010 or later.

In a 29-page filing earlier this week, lawyers for both sides in the suit - which accuses 13 town officials and two private citizens of engaging in "a coordinated effort" against disabled people - offered their proposed time line.

Lawyers representing SMOC propose having the initial disclosures in the case starting Feb. 15, followed by a 10-month phase of fact discovery, from March 15 through January 2009.

Expert witnesses secured by SMOC would be designated by March 1, 2009, with the town's experts designated 30 days later.

Expert depositions would be done by May 31, 2009, under the schedule proposed by SMOC lawyer Howard Cooper and his associates, with motions to dismiss claims due by July 31, 2009, and any opposition due Sept. 30, 2009.

Mintz Levin attorney Jeffrey Robbins and his colleagues proposed a slightly longer schedule, with the paper discovery phase running from Feb. 8 to April 8. This phase would include documents, requests and subpoenas.

The next phase would run from April 8 through November 2009, followed by two months of expert discovery and 60 days of expert depositions. Motions to dismiss would come within 60 days of the end of expert depositions, with the sides able to file opposition to summary judgment within the next month.

That puts the start date of a trial at no sooner than June 2010, according to the defendants' proposal. Robbins demands a jury trial, while SMOC lawyers say they have no objection to a jury trial before a magistrate judge.

Robbins also asks to have each defendant named by the social service agency given the chance to depose up to 10 people or entities. Cooper objects to the breaking up the group, saying the defendants worked together in the effort to defame SMOC.

The sides will meet Judge Douglas Woodlock in Boston on Tuesday.

Defendants include the town itself, Town Manager Julian Suso, Human Services Coordinator Alexis Silver, Selectmen Ginger Esty, Dennis Giombetti and Jason Smith, Planning Board members Sue Bernstein Andrea Carr-Evans, Carol Spack and Ann Welles, Town Meeting members Peter Adams, Cynthia Laurora, Laurie Lee and Steven Orr and private citizens Anthony Siciliano and Harold Wolfe.

Finance Committee Chairman Katie Murphy said yesterday she hoped to talk soon to Town Counsel Chris Petrini and Chief Financial Officer Mary Ellen Kelley about the potential length and cost of the trial.

In November, Town Meeting approved the creation of a special account to fight the SMOC case and transferred $150,000 from the town's reserve fund. That move left $250,000 in the reserve fund for fiscal 2008.

The Finance Committee can transfer money from the reserve fund to the special SMOC case account, said Kelley, but Town Meeting would have to approve a transfer from one appropriation to the special account.

That includes budget surpluses in other departments and free cash, she said.

The sides canceled the third scheduled mediation session after failing to make progress in two meetings last week.

"I continue to be extremely concerned and I hope all due diligence is being done to settle this case," said Murphy, who believes it will costs millions to defend the town if the case is not settled.

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