PLANET VALENTI News and Commentary

(FORTRESS OF SOLITUDE, MONDAY, JAN. 28, 2013) — “Attorney Wars,” as one commentator to THE PLANET dubbed it, continues to percolate. The Reader’s Digest twit account goes like this: Spectrum-gate begets Demolition-gate begets No Confidence-gate begets Attorney Wars. It has a suitably Old Testament ring to it.

Before we present the new information on “Attorney Wars” (the city suing its former attorney over the demolition of a building on Melville Street), you must understand the tactical aspects of Spectrum-gate.

Spectrum, Summer Street, and Court Proceedings

Two attorneys represented the city of Pittsfield in its dealings with Spectrum Health Systems’ attempts — successful, as they ultimately turned out — to place a methadone clinic in the heart of downtown Pittsfield on Summer Street in the Berkshire Nautilus building. The first, city counsel Rich Dohoney, prevailed in three judicial actions. These were preliminary judgments, but they were victories nonetheless.

What would have been the final resolution of the case if the city had continued to fight in defense of downtown North Street (i.e., the Summer Street location)? Legal eagles we spoke to are split in their determinations: Some say by continuing the fight, the city could have greatly improved its negotiating position, if not have won outright. Others say they city had little chance of prevailing and would have been throwing money away on by arguing a losing position against a company (Spectrum) that loves litigation.

There does seem to be a consensus, however, that the cash guarantees to Spectrum that were part of the Bianchi Administration’s settlement offer were unnecessary. Bianchi inherited the case when he assumed office in January, but it wasn’t until March that city solicitor Kathy Degnan replaced Dohoney as the attorney handling the case on behalf of taxpayers.

Degnan: Did She Realize the Strength of Her Position? Apparently Not

In her preparations before taking over the case from Dohoney, Degnan evidently did not understand the strength of her position. Once Spectrum obtained its legal right to its original choice of sites (the Berkshire Nautilus building on Summer Street) due solely to the city’s concession, the need for cash assurances were not necessary.

The money is substantial. As THE PLANET reported on Aug. 31, 2012,  “[T]he city is on the hook not just for $100,000 for the Spectrum Health Services settlement but also for a relocation settlement to the company of $76,500.” That’s $176,500 of taxpayer money at risk, it would seem needlessly.

That’s the part of the settlement hardest to understand, and we must say that city solicitor Degnan, who negotiated the terms and the documents of the agreement under the direction of the mayor, has yet to give Mary Jane and Joe Kapanski a plausible explanation why they were necessary. If in the city’s judgment there was little to no chance of prevailing in court to keep Spectrum out of downtown Pittsfield, why couldn’t the city have conceded that point — and that point alone. Why did it judge it necessary to sweeten the deal with $176,500 in cash guarantees? Is the city that awash in free cash?

If you open your Negotiations 101 textbook to page 16, you will see that in discussions between two parties, once one party concedes the major point of contention, it assumes a moral right over the other party. In other words, once the Bianchi Administration decided it couldn’t win and decided to give in on the Summer Street location, it had the upper hand. Degnan did not, however, act in a manner that suggested she realized the true strength of her position. She came off as someone in fathoms over her head.

Mixed Message Proves Costly

If you go back to what we learned of the settlement accounts, given this solid position, the city inexplicably acted in a tenuous fashion. Its wavering actions sent a mixed message to Spectrum. That’s when the company’s lawyers then apparently demanded the $176,500 in guarantees — all because of the city’s lack of resolve. THE PLANET insists that taxpayers were misrepresented and underrepresented. We suggest that, given a more aggressive and more professional handling of the talks, the $176,500 concession would have been completely unnecessary. The city could have given Spectrum what it wanted — Summer Street — and had the company feeling as if it had prevailed.

Bianchi’s and Degnan’s handling of the issue so enraged the Body Politic that city councilors Christ Yon backed by council president Kevin Sherman filed a no-confidence petition. After an especially rancorous two-hours hashing, Yon withdrew the petition at the last possible second, prior to a vote, and the matter was left to stew. Those who said the oven was on simmer and that the pot would not boil over were incorrect. The burners had been ignited, couldn’t be turned down, and it was clear to all those in the room that night that there would be payback from Bianchi for the embarrassment.

The city’s actions against its former attorney Rich Dohoney over the demolition of the Culpo property on Melville Street, THE PLANET is convinced, stems from the lingering animosity from No-Confidence-gate. Look at this way: If No-Confidence-gate did not happen, Attorney Wars does not happen. But it did, and so it did.

Tomorrow: We share more details on Attorney Wars, including comments by assistant city solicitor Darren Lee, who is handling the case for the Bianchi Administration.







  1. FPR
    January 28, 2013 at 9:27 am #

    Hey Dan, very interesting as always.

    Just wondering, has the $100,000.00 been paid to Spectrum or can the city refuse to pay it and force it back into court for further litigation?

    As far as Degnan and Dehoney, I would not melt them into the same pot as far being attorneys for the city of Pittsfield.

    Let me explain what I mean:
    I worked for a company for many years where we had inside, hired employees who certified parts for the US govt.

    Sometimes though, for various reasons we would hire an outside inspector to come in, pay him bouckou bucks to certify a part.

    Here’s the difference:
    If a certified part failed in aviation or military use and one of our inspectors had certified it, the company was fined or sued by the US govt and the company absorbed the loss.

    However, when a certified part failed that was inspected and approved worthy by an outside inspection firm, they became responsible and paid any fines or lawsuits resulting from the failure.

    A city solicitor who makes a big mistake and costs the city lots of money — the city should absorb the loss.

    A city attorney who was hired as an independent contractor who makes a big mistake and costs the city lots of money — the outside firm should pay for the loss and not the taxpayers.

    Does that make any sense?

  2. Ron Kitterman
    January 28, 2013 at 11:52 am #

    Isn’t that how all wars start? I think we should seriously look at how our tax dollars are paying for legal services. We have a School Committee that subs out Att. Dupre ? and are we getting a good bang for our buck in the current system, doesn’t look like it to me.

  3. Dave
    January 28, 2013 at 12:49 pm #

    Honestly, let’s not relate this to war. That totally disrespects all of the military. This is piss-ant small town shit that happens here all the time because we deserve no better. We are an incestuously toxic town that will never regain the working class ethic that was only a generation ago. We have succumbed to the “poor me” mentality that the Democrats promote and we blindly follow, because that gets us our scraps from Boston. Imagine if we actually mattered in an election in these parts. Maybe then Massachusetts would not stop counting East of Springfield. But everything is rosy here-they tell us-lowest water/sewer rates in MA(Don’t say in the next sentence-lowest median income) , they tell us this year the increase in the tax rate “ONLY” amounts to a paltry $1 or 3 a week for the average household(Don’t say this has happened for the last 6 or more years in a row along with the rise in other fees). I could go on but I have to go throw up.

    • danvalenti
      January 28, 2013 at 1:28 pm #

      An interesting point. An uninterested observer could probably find several areas of disservice involving legal counsel to the School Committee. By the logic of “Attorney Wars,” should the city be going after Dupere?
      Good points. Anytime they mention Pittsfield’s “lowest” water/sewer rates, it’s the old “bait and switch.” As you point out, what they don’t tell you is that there is little to no discretionary income in the city’s households. In other words, where there is no ability to pay, all rates are excessively high.

  4. billy
    January 28, 2013 at 7:33 pm #

    I fear the only way the city will learn what legal nightmare were living in is for a large legal settlement to be handed down against us, ( I am talking millions!!!!) but why should it have to come to that for us to smell the coffee and get our legal house in order.

    I also don’t think the Mayor realizes that no potential company looking to set up shop feels a sense of security if it sees the mayor not finding common ground with the council, instead making those who don’t share his views out to be villains

    Five councilors expressed grave concerns regarding the competency of the solicitor and the mayor turned a blind eye to their concerns. At no confidence gate the mayor stated, I don’t care what the vote is tonight, Kathy Degnan will be “my” solicitor tomorrow, next month and a year from now. How can the mayor make rash statements like that and invoke any sort of confidence in his ability to lead

    Employers need to know we have competent legal representatives that will act as a conduit between them and the city.They see what the casual observer sees that if you can’t trust the advice you’re getting would you take a huge risk moving your operation here and spend millions in capital? The mayor needs to cut his losses and focus on steering the city ship to solid ground instead of letting it take on water and sink.

    • dusty
      January 28, 2013 at 8:03 pm #

      Perhaps he first needs to steer it out of the mess he found it in. Only then can he chart a course of his own choosing. He may need to back up before he can go forward.

      • billy
        January 29, 2013 at 6:17 pm #

        after Mayor Ruberto defeated Sara Hathaway he never looked backwards,he never mentioned her name again in all the terms he served in office.I cant remember him blaming her for anything..The mayor just started to enact his vision for the City of Pittsfield.He did several housing projects, Rice Silk Mill being a prime example of one of them along with many other economic projects . He fiercely went after grant money, knowing in these economic times it was a prudent thing to do.Men with leadership qualities dont look backwards because living in the past doesnt brighten the future. People who blame their lack of progress on other people only lack vision and leadership , If Mayor Bianchi had fresh ideas of his own and a course to stear the city in they wouldnt be doing damage control all the time.The mayor spends his time appointing people to committees and putting in traffic petitions . .If that is leadership i dont see it. I think the mayor need to take of the training wheels off and ride the bike on his own.I think when both mayors are retired and in sunny view nursing home Bianchi will be blaming Ruberto for to many lumps in their Tapioca pudding.

  5. dusty
    January 30, 2013 at 1:58 am #

    Sounds like you have a personal grudge to me. Ruberto moved the city forward by fleecing the citizens. This elderly population cannot handle yearly tax increases. What he did was selfish and disheartening to many.