Framingham needs $350,000 more to fight SMOC suit

Framingham needs $350,000 more to fight SMOC suit Monday, April 20, 2009
Dan McDonald 508-626-4416 Metrowest Daily News
FRAMINGHAM -- Selectmen are looking for $350,000 more to fight the South Middlesex Opportunity Council in federal court.

As the lawsuit drags on, Framingham's highest elected board is asking Town Meeting to approve another transfer of funds to pay for the town's defense in the case.

SMOC, a nonprofit social service agency, filed suit in October 2007, alleging town officials tried to stall and block the group's programs and, in doing so, violated federal housing law.

SMOC named selectmen, Planning Board members and Town Meeting members in its complaint. During the last 18 months some town residents have blasted the agency, alleging SMOC is trying to run roughshod over local home rule and freedom of speech.

SMOC alleges the town discriminated against the most needy of populations: the disabled.

Town Meeting has approved special appropriations in the past to fight the case.

In October 2007 Framingham's legislative body approved a $150,000 transfer to fight the suit. In May 2008, Town Meeting approved another $250,000.

Now, in an April 14 memo sent to Town Meeting members, the board details "unanticipated legal expenses," that have necessitated the need for more money.

Those factors include additional depositions prompted by the death of one of the town's insurance company's lawyers, inquiries from the Department of Justice, settlement meetings during October 2008, and the town's opposition to SMOC's push for more depositions.

Town Meeting is poised to tackle Article 2 of a special Town Meeting warrant April 30.

"We anticipate that we will require the sum of $350,000 in order to advance the case to the trial phase and to pay all outstanding invoices due to our special counsel, Mintz Levin," the memo reads.

The board, according to the memo, "believes that the cost to the town (both monetary and otherwise) would be far greater if we were to not defend the town vigorously in this matter."

A citizen-sponsored forum highlighting the SMOC case is scheduled for Monday, April 27, 7 p.m. at Lutheran Church of Framingham's Social Hall, 720 Edgell Road.

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