CITY’S ( i.e. BIANCHI’S) LAWSUIT AGAINST FORMER SOLICITOR DOHONEY ‘PAY BACK’ FOR DEGNAN ‘NO-CONFIDENCE’ ACTION
By DAN VALENTI
PLANET VALENTI News and Commentary
(FORTRESS OF SOLITUDE. TUESDAY, JAN. 22, 2013) — In case you missed it, you will want to feast your eyes on this story by the Boring Broadsheet‘s best scribe, Andrew Amelinckx. In it, we learn that the Bianchi Administration is suing former city solicitor Rich Dohoney for malpractice.
File it under “W”, for : “What’s good for the goose …”
Only in Pittsfield
This is a news piece, and my good friend AA cannot include what the wise guys on the street are saying about this. As you might guess, THE PLANET has that part of the story. We found out of this on Friday, through a private e-mail. We don’t publish on Saturday, and in any event, we wanted our good friend Andrew to have first crack.
Traipse through this “Only in Pittsfield” story:
|‘Pittsfield alleges malpractice in suit against former city solicitor Richard Dohoney’By Andrew Amelinckx, Berkshire Eagle Staff Saturday January 19, 2013PITTSFIELD — The city of Pittsfield, after losing a lawsuit over the demolition of an apartment complex, has turned around and sued a former city solicitor for malpractice, blaming him for the go-ahead to tear down the building and asking the court to make him pay whatever damages are assessed in the case.According to court documents filed in Berkshire Superior Court, the city alleges that attorney Richard M. Dohoney, the city solicitor under Mayor James Ruberto’s administration, informed the Pittsfield Board of Health in January 2010 that the demolition of a building located at 11-15 Melville St. was legal.The building was torn down in April 2010. Two years later, in May 2012, the building’s owner, Pesu Inc., filed an amended complaint in Berkshire Superior Court stating that the demolition was illegal because there had been no required condemnation order in place before the building was demolished. Dohoney did not immediately return a call seeking comment.
In a summary judgment by Judge John A. Agostini from November, Pesu won the case. The company is asking for $175,000 in damages; a hearing on the damages could happen as early as next month.
In his decision, Agostini wrote that because “the [Board of Health] did not issue a condemnation order, they did not provide sufficient notice and thus were without authority to demolish Pesu’s building.”
The Secretary of State’s Corporations Division lists Madeline C. Culpo of Pittsfield as president of Pesu Inc.
According to court papers, four apartments in the complex were cited six separate times between 2000 to 2004 for various sanitary code violations, including a non-functioning toilet and insufficient heat. In 2006, the Board of Health declared the property “unfit for human habitation” and issued a condemnation order, but rescinded the order three days later. It was unclear in court documents why the order was rescinded.
The next year, another apartment in the complex was cited for violations, and in October 2007 the city ordered the property demolished.
In August 2008, the Board of Health told Pesu that if it could find a buyer and present a purchase and sale agreement as well as a plan to repair the property by the next month, the board would rescind the order. No sale materialized and after a final inspection in January 2010 determined that the original violations hadn’t been corrected, the complex was demolished.
The city alleges that it went ahead with the demolition based on Dohoney’s advice. The court file doesn’t yet contain Dohoney’s response to the accusations, which isn’t due until May.
The case is scheduled to be in Superior Court in July.
Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi was on his way to Washington, D.C., on Friday and was unavailable for comment. A call to current city solicitor Kathleen E. Degnan was not returned by press time.
According to one more-than-interested spectator, one with city hall experience, “this is the sound of the other shoe dropping” from the legal circus that revolved around Spectrum-gate (yeah, another “gate.” There are so many “gates” in Pittsfield that one doesn’t know which ones lead in and which ones lead out … ). If our source is correct, this action by the city is the “That’ll Show You to Pick on Kathy Degnan” part of the show. Since nothing of this magnitude happens without mayoral approval, it would be fair comment to call this Dan Bianchi‘s lawsuit.
Since the no-confidence city council meeting, it has been a given that there would be a response. This appears to be it.
Two Points Jump Out
If you read the legal documents on the Melville Street building, two points jump out:
1. Apartments in the building were dumps, at least according to evaluation by the city’s Department of Health, which ended up declaring the units not fit for human life. This could have been the fault of the tenants, the landlord, or both.
2. Eight years later (2000 to 2008) and after numerous attempts by the city to get landlord to remedy the situation, the Depart of Health found the building in the same deplorable condition that resulted in a condemnation order being given (2006).
On the face of it, but only that, it would appear Dohoney gave the city good advice. The rescinded condemnation order notwithstanding, it could be reasonable and an application of common sense to consider the building still unfit for human life after the January 2010 inspection. The July trial will decide that, but one has to wonder if any of this would have been brought up if the city council hadn’t entertained the motion of no-confidence in Bianchi’s city attorney, Ms. Degnan.
Remember that Bianchi’s predecessor, Jimmy Ruberto, got rid of Degnan and brought in Dohoney because Ruberto judged Degnan to be incompetent. A Bianchi administration source told THE PLANET after the no-confidence circus (resulting in a tabled motion) that it “wouldn’t be the end of the matter.” We took that to mean “retaliation.”
Under Dohoney, Three Wins Against Spectrum; Under Degnan, a Controversial Settlement
The background is that under Dohoney, the city had prevailed three times in court against Spectrum over locating a methadone clinic in Pittsfield. After Degnan took over the case from Dohoney in March 2012, the city began negotiating with Spectrum. It settled the case, agreed to put Spectrum back in its original proposed location on Summer Street, and threw in a bunch of cash.
Opponents to that move, including councilors John Krol, Barry Clairmont, Jonathan Lothrop, Christine Yon, and president Kevin Sherman, claimed that the city shouldn’t have settled and should have continued fighting the case in court, where it has a decent chance of ultimately winning. They also disputed the cash part of the settlement, questioning why it was necessary.
The bad mojo has hovered in, over, around, and through city hall since. It’s all part of the Bianchi-Ruberto civil war, which itself dates back to the Civic Authority battle of 2000, fought half in proxy in 2011 when it was Bianchi-Marchetti. In a sense, the city has never recovered from the Civic Authority debacle.
It will be interesting to see what develops in council races and, of course, mayorally, in 2013.
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LOVE TO ALL.