Friday, September 10, 2010

No surprise, Discrimination case upheld by Judge

From the Globe:

A federal judge yesterday refused to dismiss a discrimination lawsuit against Framingham officials, ruling there was enough evidence for a jury to find that the town unlawfully manipulated zoning laws and created delays in a bid to prevent a group home for recovering drug addicts and their families from relocating within the town and expanding.

In a sharply worded 100-page ruling, US District Judge Douglas P. Woodlock wrote that the evidence, if established at trial, may show that Framingham officials “through abusive communications and improper efforts to manipulate the municipal permitting process, unlawfully violated the detailed legal constraints fashioned to assure that prejudice within a community not impede access to housing and related programs for those suffering from recognized disabilities such as alcoholism and addiction.’’

He said there was evidence that selectmen, Planning Board and Town Meeting members, and the town may have violated the federal Fair Housing Act in their efforts to prevent the South Middlesex Opportunity Council, one of the area’s largest nonprofit antipoverty agencies, from expanding a residential treatment program, beginning in 2005.

He found that there was evidence the town may also have violated the Americans with Disabilities Act and the federal Rehabilitation Act, and that five officials may have defamed the council and its clients.

He rejected the town’s claims that the case should be dismissed because officials were motivated by concern for the financial burden placed on the town by social service agencies and tax exempt institutions.

He ruled that the nonprofit agency is entitled to take the case to trial, however, he strongly urged both sides to try to resolve the case and avoid more costly litigation.

In its lawsuit, filed three years ago, the council claimed town officials and a handful of residents engaged in a coordinated effort to rid Framingham of its disabled population and described the agency’s clients online and elsewhere as “problem people,’’ “charity cases,’’ “human waste,’’ and “dregs of society.’’

But Woodlock said town officials would still be liable if a jury determines they intentionally discriminated against the council’s clients.

The suit said Framingham tried to pressure nonprofit groups, which are exempt from paying taxes, to donate money to the town under a program that was purported to be voluntary.

In his ruling, Woodlock said one Planning Board member, Susan Bernstein, made several requests to the council for payments to the town, even though such requests were impermissible as part of the site plan review.

“Her comments could have led [the council] to believe that it would have to abandon the Sage House relocation if it did not make payoffs to the town thereby constituting an interference with FHA-protected rights,’’ Woodlock wrote.

The judge dismissed all of the claims against Alexis Silver, the town’s human services coordinator, but ruled that the case will go forward against 11 officials, including selectmen Dennis Giombetti, A. Ginger Esty, and Jason A. Smith; Planning Board members Bernstein, Carol Spack, and Andrea Carr-Evans; former Planning Board member Ann Welles; and Town Meeting members Peter C.S. Adams, Steven Orr, and Cynthia Laurora; and former Town Meeting member Laurie Lee.

At very least, if this issue cannot be resolved and the Town is found guilty of discrimination, those who are named as defendants should resign their positions. SMOC certainly could substantiate damage and the penalties could be in the millions. This along with the other possible liabilities in health care costs could bankrupt the Town.

The only option left is a settlement deal between SMOC and the officials, but after all this, I wonder if it can happen. Framingham was absolutely wrong in their attempts at stopping SMOC from expanding. Like it or not...SMOC is here to stay.


At September 10, 2010 at 11:33 AM , Blogger Jim Pillsbury said...

An hour ago, I sent a message to Herb Chasen, the only person in Town trying to negotiate an end to this law suit..

Will SMOC drop the suite if all the elected officials named in the suit, resign.

At September 10, 2010 at 12:22 PM , Blogger Angry in Framingham said...

The ruling from the Judge is very clear, concise, and damming to Framingham and many of its ruling officials. Whether we personally as residents think what Framingham did is justified, we have a clear outline of what we can expect if we continue this behavior and if we try to go further with this case. We were wrong people, time to face it and figure out how to right the wrongs we did. SMOC could sue this town, and win! And that settlement money is going to be coming out of our pockets as residents. We have got to find a way to make this right, and at the moment, we are the bad guys and SMOC is holding all the cards.

At September 10, 2010 at 12:24 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sounds to me like we are screwed here in Framingham. How inviting a community are we going to be to any business when they know we manipulate the process for opening or expanding a business in this town?

At September 10, 2010 at 12:27 PM , Blogger Arnold said...

If we don’t ask the people specifically named in this lawsuit to remove themselves from office pending settlement of this case, then what type of message does that send about the ethics of Framingham? We are starting to look like the corrupt pols on Beacon Hill right here in Framingham.

At September 10, 2010 at 12:36 PM , Blogger Anderson said...

Jim, a few questions maybe you can answer. First, if they decide to go forward with this ridiculous case, does town meeting have to vote on funding that action? Second, whose decision is it whether we go forward or not? Third, since at least 2 selectmen are named in the suit as defendents, and a few town meeting members, shouldn’t they recuse themselves from any decision making on this process? Seems like a pretty clear conflict of interest to me. Forth, is there anyone in town that could act as a negotiator with SMOC to try and do what the court has suggested, find a resolution to this process that does not involve using up the courts time and the Town’s money?

At September 10, 2010 at 1:38 PM , Blogger Michael said...

How many time do we have to be told we are wrong before we start listening? Like it or not people, we are going to lose this battle. We need to accept that and move on to things we can do to prevent us from ever being in this position again. First step in doing that is getting rid of the people who took us down this road that cost us lots and lots of money and made the town look really, really bad.

At September 10, 2010 at 1:50 PM , Blogger Fred J. said...

I think the town is getting eaten by these people at SMOC, but clearly, we have taken the wrong approach to stopping this encroachment. If we keep breaking the law and doing things the courts have told us are wrong, it is going to put a stain on the reputation of this town we are never going to be able to get out. Time to clean up our act and do whatever we have to do to settle this particular law suit and make sure we are never in this dam position again. Those individuals named in the lawsuit should have been taken off any decision making in this case a long time ago. Since when does the accused get to set at the defendents table AND in the jury box?

At September 10, 2010 at 2:12 PM , Blogger Linda and George said...

The people named in the lawsuit are now major hindrances to this town. If someone does not like a decision made by the planning board or board of selectmen, they will raise the issue of whether these people are making fair and legal decisions, and open the town up to a whole bunch of lawsuits. Just like when a bad cop gets caught tampering with evidence, every single case he was involved in gets questioned. Framingham can not afford that. If these people truly and honestly care about the welfare of the town of Framingham, they will all step down. Too bad, since I think some of them do a really good job, but the reality is they made bad choices, and said really stupid things, and obviously got bad legal advice, all of which makes their future decisions questionable. Sorry to see them go, but they have all got to step down or be thrown out.

At September 10, 2010 at 2:38 PM , Blogger Abra said...

You thought Brazilians were the problem in Framingham? I think Framingham’s problem is the Selectmen and the Planning Board!

At September 10, 2010 at 3:20 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mutiny is in order! Make them all walk the plank if they have been named in the lawsuit.

At September 10, 2010 at 3:52 PM , Blogger J. Price said...

We need to start a ground roots movement to convince these people named in the suit to resign. They are not bad people, and no need to attack them, but they are now a dettriment to the town so they have to go.

At September 10, 2010 at 4:56 PM , Blogger Frank S. said...

Ever hear of conflict of interest? How can the people named as defendents in the suit decide in an unbiased way if we should go forward with the suit? Of course they want to, simply to clear their names and avoid having to pay some civil suit. But what is good for them is not necessarily good for the town. They should not have a say in whether we go forward with this or try to reach some agreement with SMOC.

At September 10, 2010 at 5:26 PM , Blogger 6th Middlesex constituent said...

Here is your wake up call. If SMOC continues Framingham will become another Brockton. You want us to settle? Hope you don't own property in this town cause if you do, you are going to lose money big time.

At September 10, 2010 at 6:21 PM , Blogger Harry said...

I am not sure which is worse, SMOC or the illegal aliens. I am sure that getting rid of either is not something we can do by breaking the law. We messed up on this from the sounds of it. Time to clean up after our mistakes if you ask me which of course you didnt.

At September 14, 2010 at 8:26 AM , Blogger J. Price said...

Nice show last night Jim. Would like to see more on this 40B stuff.

At September 14, 2010 at 12:26 PM , Blogger Jim Pillsbury said...

Anderson... they should bow out of the decision process.. but won't I'm sure. Herb Chasen has been talking with SMOC about this for months now.. and in light of the judges decision, hopefully Herb can bring forward my suggestion.

It's unclear to most, what the monies the Town will fork over for an appeal, but it would be big money and have to be approved by TM.

It's just as unclear to us all, what damages SMOC could seek or get. If the Town has to pay legal fees for SMOC, then the award could be in the millions. And I'm not sure TM has to approve any money that is court ordered.

I wish I could make the whole thing go away, but now that the Judge has ruled in SMOC's favor, the Town should rethink it's position,, now.


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