SMOC suit expected to get expensive Sunday, January 19, 2008
D. Craig MacCormack 508-626-4429 Metrowest Daily News
FRAMINGHAM - Officials on both sides of the federal discrimination lawsuit filed against a dozen town officials in October by the South Middlesex Opportunity Council won't say how much they expect to spend on the case, but realize it will be expensive.

Lawyers for both groups met recently with their clients to discuss the budget for the case, which is expected to go to trial no sooner than 2010, according to a schedule drafted by the attorneys.

Attorneys will meet Tuesday with Judge Douglas Woodlock in U.S. District Court in Boston.

Town Manager Julian Suso, named as a defendant in the case, expects the decision about where the SMOC case will fall in the fiscal 2009 budget to come within the next two months, he said this week.

"It's a little premature to say where that might fall," said Suso. "Obviously we have a duty to defend as a town. All we can do is step forward and do the right thing.

"I remain guardedly optimistic that reasonable people can bring this to some closure," he said.

In November, Town Meeting created a special account to pay for the defense and transferred $150,000 from the town's reserve fund. That money was expected to last through the end of mediation, which was canceled last week.

Finance Committee Chairwoman Katie Murphy estimated it will cost millions to defend SMOC's allegations, which say officials engaged in "a coordinated effort" to rid the town of its disabled population by limiting SMOC's options for new housing programs.

Chief Financial Officer Mary Ellen Kelley recently told selectmen she sees the next couple of years as being financially rocky, but hopes the town can recover by fiscal 2012 or 2013.

The town's insurance company paid 60 percent of mediation costs. The deal could be extended to cover the period beyond the time when the $150,000 in the special account is spent, said Town Counsel Chris Petrini.

SMOC Executive Director Jim Cuddy said Todd & Weld, the Boston-based law firm representing the social services organization in the case, has kept officials apprised of the costs of moving the matter forward.

SMOC's board of directors met recently to discuss the potential costs, said Cuddy, who said no money from the agency's contracts will be used on the case.

"In no way, shape or form will the cost be borne by any of the state or federal contracts we have," he said, adding that no SMOC services will be cut or scaled back as a result of the lawsuit.

"We understand the cost of the lawsuit cannot be taken from the services we provide to our disadvantaged and disabled population. To us, that would be immoral," said Cuddy.

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