SMOC depositions to begin soon

SMOC depositions to begin soon Thursday, November 20, 2008
Dan McDonald 508-626-4416 Metrowest Daily News
FRAMINGHAM -- After more than a year of preliminaries, lawyers are preparing for depositions in the lawsuit pitting town officials against the South Middlesex Opportunity Council, according to a source familiar with the case.

A deposition is a pretrial interview in which an attorney questions a witness under oath. Witnesses can have their lawyer present, while a court reporter records the proceedings.

There are numerous SMOC officials on the list to be deposed in the federal case.

They include Director of Planning Jerry Desilets, Executive Director Jim Cuddy, Legal Counsel Jim Hanrahan, Chief Operating Officer Charles Gagnon, Chief Financial Officer Joyce Giacomarra, as well as SMOC officials Susan Gentili and J.C. Swensen.

Some town officials are also slated to be deposed this week. They include Selectmen Vice Chairwoman Ginger Esty, Town Meeting member Peter Adams, Building Commissioner Michael Foley, as well as former Town Manager George King and former Planning Board member Ann Welles.

While presently enmeshed in the discovery portion of the judicial proceedings, attorneys for both sides could file a motion for summary judgment as early as mid-January, according to the source who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

In fall 2007, SMOC filed suit in federal court claiming the town had blocked expansion of its social services. The crux of SMOC's case alleges the town discriminated against the disabled.

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 because of a network of various town officials.

SMOC's critics offer a sharply contrasting image of the agency.

They say the organization is a self-aggrandizing entity that tries to bully the town into allowing the nonprofit to move its programs wherever it pleases. While doing so, its critics say, the organization tried to stomp on First Amendment rights by naming individuals in the lawsuit who spoke out against SMOC.

Some have even suggested the lawsuit, which names elected officials from the Planning Board, Board of Selectmen, and Town Meeting, will deter citizens from running for public office out of fear of getting sued.

At the end of September, federal judge Douglas Woodlock threw out several counts alleging conspiracy and civil rights violations. Town Manager Julian Suso was dropped outright from the case.

The suit rolls on, however, with claims the town violated provisions of the Fair Housing Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Federal Rehabilitation Act still intact.

Both sides hailed those developments as triumphs.

SMOC pointed out that some serious federal violations were still intact; the supporters of the town thought having a defendant dropped and several counts thrown out at such an early stage of the judicial process did not bode well for the nonprofit's case.

Yesterday, SMOC spokeswoman Jane Lane indicated the nonprofit would not comment on the depositions.

Lane also declined to reveal how much SMOC has spent on the case thus far.

SMOC spent more than $1 million while bogged down in public hearings earlier this decade regarding its Sage House move to Winter Street.

The town has appropriated $400,000 for the case since fall 2007.

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