Judge blasts lawyers in SMOC case

Judge blasts lawyers in SMOC case Saturday, February 7, 2009
Dan McDonald 508-626-4416 Metrowest Daily News
BOSTON -- No extension for fact discovery, no more depositions, and no more talking to the press.

That's what U.S. District Court Judge Douglas Woodlock declared yesterday during a status conference for the lawsuit that has pitted the South Middlesex Opportunity Council against elected Framingham officials.

SMOC, a nonprofit social service provider, sued the town in October 2007, alleging members of the Board of Selectmen, Planning Board, and Town Meeting intentionally blocked expansion of its programs and violated federal housing law in doing so.

SMOC alleges 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.

Woodlock is presiding over the case.

For more than a year the case has generated local anger. An anti-SMOC contingent of town residents has framed the case as a struggle for home rule and an affront to the town's ability to govern itself. SMOC has maintained that the town denied services to people with disabilities.

The agency had wanted more time for fact discovery, requesting an extension of 90 days to depose 10 more people in addition to the 10 already allowed by court rule.

SMOC's attorneys wanted to depose Selectmen Dennis Giombetti and Jason Smith, former Planning Board Chairwoman Ann Welles, current Planning Board Chairwoman Carol Spack and fellow board member Andrea Carr-Evans, Police Chief Steven Carl, Town Manager Julian Suso, former Building Commissioner Joseph Mikelian, PILOT Committee Minority member Dawn Harkness and Larry Hendry, a Framingham police officer and member of Stop Tax Exempt Private Property Sprawl - otherwise known as STEPPS.

Yesterday on the third floor of the Moakley Courthouse filled with at least a dozen attorneys, several defendants and SMOC officials, Woodlock denied that request.

Woodlock told the SMOC legal team members they had not demonstrated that the original fact discovery limits were too strict.

"We'll stick with the schedule as is," he said.

At one point, Woodlock piled up several stacks of court documents on his desk and suggested that attorneys from both sides had "supported the copy machine industry" with their motions and suggested the motions were the work of people with "too much time on their hands."

"The motions have shown little judgment," he said.

SMOC spokeswoman Jane Lane declined to comment on Woodlock's denial.

Woodlock also muzzled attorneys for both sides, saying he wanted the case tried in court, not in the press.

Specifically he chided the town's attorney, Jeff Robbins, citing a Daily News article that ran in December where Robbins was quoted suggesting SMOC's case was deteriorating after Woodlock had thrown out several civil rights counts and SMOC had requested for more depositions.

Woodlock suggested such comments were inappropriate and unprofessional.

"Mr. Robbins, why shouldn't I protect you from yourself?" he asked.

Robbins noted that an affidavit by Mikielian, the former Framingham building commissioner, which supported the notion town officials overstepped their bounds in trying to hinder SMOC expansion, had been leaked to the Daily News in early December.

Robbins said SMOC had continued to try to vilify the town and he felt an obligation to respond to such a campaign.

The town, he said, does not have a public relations firm.

But Woodlock noted, "public bodies and public agencies" are capable of defending themselves.

Defendants including selectmen Jason Smith, Laurie Lee, and Dennis Giombetti and Town Meeting member Steve Orr were in attendance.

According to court documents online as of late yesterday afternoon, by April 22 the parties will file a joint report indicating the current status of the case, including discovery proceedings, settlement discussions, pending or contemplated motions, proposed dates for pretrial conferences and for trial, and any other matters that should be addressed during conference.

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