Judge dismisses many of SMOC suit's charge

Judge dismisses many of SMOC suit's charge September 30, 2008
Dan McDonald 508-626-4416 Metrowest Daily News
FRAMINGHAM -- A federal judge has dismissed Town Manager Julian Suso as a defendant and threw out counts alleging conspiracy and civil rights violations in a lawsuit that has pitted the South Middlesex Opportunity Council against town officials and residents.

A memo released yesterday afternoon from federal Judge Douglas Woodlock drops Suso from the suit.

Last fall, SMOC sued the town, claiming a conspiracy of town officials stalled the expansion of its programs. Specifically, the social service agency said a relocation of the Sage House program, a residential drug abuse treatment center, was stymied, and the opening of Larry's Place, a veterans shelter, was stalled.

Selectmen, Planning Board members, Town Meeting members and the town's human services coordinator were named in the lawsuit as defendants.

In yesterday's memo, Woodlock dismissed the conspiracy claim. He also threw out allegations the defendants violated federal and state civil rights statutes through their actions.

Jeff Robbins, a lawyer for the town, noted, "This is not where SMOC wanted to be hundreds of thousands of dollars down the line.

"This is somewhere between a triple and a home run for the town," Robbins said.

The case will roll on, as the judge did not dismiss a count that alleged the defendants violated federal housing law. He also did not dismiss a defamation count.

"We now start taking depositions," said Robbins.

SMOC claimed the development legitimized its case.

Citing claims against the town that alleged Framingham violated the Fair Housing Act, SMOC said in a statement that the decision "leaves the overwhelming portion of our case intact."

"For nearly one year, the defendants have claimed that this is a frivolous lawsuit. Today's decision by Judge Woodlock is a complete refutation of their argument," said SMOC Executive Director Jim Cuddy. "SMOC is confident that the basis of our legal case remains strong; that the defendants, including the town of Framingham, have engaged in a pattern of illegal and discriminatory conduct against our organization and the disabled clientele we serve."

When read that statement, Robbins laughed.

He later noted the town had not moved to dismiss the federal housing claims, saying it was not worth it this early in the court process as the standard of proof is so low.

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