SMOC lawsuit in federal court today

SMOC lawsuit in federal court today Wednesday, July 30, 2008
Dan McDonald 508-626-4416 Metrowest Daily News
BOSTON -- In the latest chapter of the South Middlesex Opportunity Council legal saga, a federal judge will hear motions today by several defendants - some of whom serve on various town boards - to dismiss the social service agency's case against Framingham and the local officials named in the suit.

Since last fall, a divisive and highly publicized lawsuit has pitted social service hub SMOC against town officials and residents.

SMOC claims the town - through various appointed and elected boards like the Board of Selectmen, Planning Board, as well as several individual Town Meeting members - conspired to block the expansion of some of its social programs.

Specifically, an attempt to open Larry's Place, a veterans shelter, and plans to move the Sage House Program, a residential drug treatment program, were delayed, according to SMOC's claims.

Hindering the expansion of such programs is tantamount to violating federal housing laws and constitutes discrimination against people with disabilities, SMOC argues.

Since SMOC's filing, the U.S. Department of Justice has notified the town an investigation was opened into land use in Framingham.

Critics say SMOC is impinging upon the free speech rights of those named in the suit who spoke against the various projects cited in SMOC's claims.

Town Meeting member Robert Snider, at last June's special Town Meeting, said the crux of the case is about that First Amendment right as well as "the ability of us to maintain control of our own government."

As of late June, the town spent $147,000 of $150,000 set aside last fall by Town Meeting to fight the suit.

Mediation between the two parties has already fallen apart once.

The hearing is set to take place at 2:30 p.m. today in U.S. District Court, located along the Boston waterfront. U.S. District Court Judge Douglas P. Woodlock is presiding.

SMOC's legal team declined comment. One defense lawyer - Jeff Robbins - also declined comment.

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