Sensible Wilton fears ‘fatal’ blow to lawsuit
With a hearing scheduled for Monday, July 20, in Superior Court in Stamford, a flurry of legal motions and objections has taken place over the past week by attorneys for Sensible Wilton and the Wilton Board of Selectmen.
The legal action began last week when Sensible Wilton, through its attorney Simon W. Reiff of Harwood Reiff LLC in New York City, suggested the town was trying to delay proceedings and in the process cripple Sensible Wilton’s case.
Sensible Wilton filed suit against the Wilton Board of Selectmen June 1 to compel the selectmen to call a special town meeting to vote on whether to repeal the $50-million bonding authorization for temporary mandamus.
A writ of mandamus is a means by which the court may direct someone to act in a way in which they are legally obligated.
The bond authorization was narrowly approved by voters at a special town meeting and adjourned vote in September 2014. Sensible Wilton claims voters did not have complete information on the project and that town officials violated election laws leading up to the vote.
Sensible Wilton’s attorney, on July 9, filed a “partial and conditional objection” to a request by Monte E. Frank of Cohen and Wolf in Danbury, representing the selectmen, to refer the case to the Complex Litigation Docket. The board’s request was dated June 24.
The Complex Litigation Docket was established in Connecticut to resolve the most challenging civil cases. According to the state website, these cases generally involve multiple litigants, legally intricate issues or claims for damages that could total millions of dollars.
In the board’s request to refer the case, Frank argued the case involves a “complex interplay of Wilton’s charter, municipal financing and state election law.”
Sensible Wilton’s objection involved the timeliness of a resolution to the complaint. Cases in the Complex Litigation Docket are heard by only a handful of judges in three districts: Hartford, Stamford and Waterbury.
If a judge were not available on July 20, the date the court is scheduled to hear the Board of Selectmen’s motion to dismiss and Sensible Wilton’s motion for the special town meeting, a delay of even a few weeks “would be harmful or even fatal” to Sensible Wilton’s case, Reiff argued.
That is because the Miller-Driscoll renovation project will be put out to bid within a matter of months, and that would make the lawsuit moot, he said.
Judge Linda Lager denied the request to move the case to the Complex Litigation Docket on Monday, July 13.
A move to continue
Also on July 13, Cohen and Wolf attorneys filed a motion for continuance. Going forward with the hearing on July 20 would be “severely prejudicial” to the town, the motion says.
Instead, the town’s attorneys are asking the court to grant its motion to dismiss the case entirely, which was filed on July 6.
“This is a complex case and the granting of the Temporary Mandamus will have a significant impact on the Town, its Charter, municipal financing law, and the municipal bond market,” an addendum to the motion for continuance says.
“If the Plaintiff somehow establishes its standing to bring this action, a decision on the Temporary Mandamus will be the ultimate decision in this case.”
This would harm the defendant Board of Selectmen, the addendum says, because if the hearing on the temporary mandamus is on the same day as the motion to dismiss, it will strip the town of its ability to seek discovery, file any motions or answer the complaint.
Sensible Wilton response
July 13 was the deadline for Sensible Wilton to object to the town’s motion to dismiss the case and it did exactly that.
In addition, Sensible Wilton submitted a motion to suppress the deposition transcripts of Alex Ruskewich and Curtis Noel. These depositions were included as supporting material in the town’s motion to dismiss.
Sensible Wilton claims the town’s attorneys did not make them available for reading and signing, as required, despite repeated requests by Sensible Wilton’s attorney.
Reiff has also asked use of the transcripts to be used in any way at the July 20 hearing.
Most recently, Sensible Wilton objected on July 14 to the town’s move to continue the case claiming it is a further effort by the town to delay the mandamus proceeding.
On Wednesday, July 15, the town objected to Sensible Wilton’s objection, claiming any delay is on the part of Sensible Wilton, which waited eight months to file suit.
Sensible Wilton’s case revolves around the wording of Wilton’s Town Charter, which it says states the Board of Selectmen have a duty — with no discretion — to call a special town meeting when presented with a petition signed by at least 2% of the town’s electors and filed with the town clerk. Sensible Wilton filed such a petition in April.
The Board of Selectmen, on advice of Town Counsel Ken Bernhard, rejected this interpretation of the charter.