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DARREN LEE: BOARD OF HEALTH HEARING KEY PART OF UNDERSTANDING “ATTORNEY WARS” … LEE IS HANDLING ATTORNEY WARS, DEGNAN IS HANDLING DAMAGES HEARING IN MELVILLE STREET DEMOLITION … MANY QUESTIONS ABOUND, INCLUDING: CAN DEGNAN WIN ONE FOR THE TAXPAYERS?

By DAN VALENTI

PLANET VALENTI News and Commentary

(FORTRESS OF SOLITUDE, TUESDAY, JAN. 29, 2013) — Why “Attorney Wars?” Why did the city of Pittsfield sue its former counselor, Rich Dohoney? The answer to that, assistant city solicitor Darren Lee tells THE PLANET, can be found in the Jan. 13, 2010 meeting of the Board of Health.

Lee works for the city under a contract that provides 17.5 hours of legal work per week. The other portion of his professional work is as a staff attorney for Martin & Oliveira, a Pittsfield law firm.

DARREN LEE, MARTIN & OLIVEIRA

“In that hearing, it is somewhat clear that there was a claim that the condemnation order (on the now razed Melville Street apartment building owned by Madeline Culpo through a company called Pesu Inc., 210 Wendell Ave., Pittsfield; Peter Culpo is listed as company president) was rescinded and not in place,” Lee says. “Rich said [at that meeting] that the order [was still] valid. But for that advice, the city would have gone in a different direction.”

In other words, according to Lee, the city would not have demolished the building. Culpo sued the city for tearing down the building, and she won a judgment. Damages to be assessed will be part of a separate hearing, still to be scheduled.

Why Was Condemnation Order Rescinded? Lee Says Answer Can be Found in 1/13/10 Hearing

Another revelation lies in the division of responsibilities in the city solicitor’s office in the two cases — Case 1, the suit against Dohoney, what we’ve been calling “Attorney Wars;” Case 2, the hearing that will award damages to Culpo. Case 1, the action against Dohoney, is being handled by Lee. City solicitor Kathy Degnan is handling the damages hearing involving the Culpo building. One is tempted to extract some larger meaning from this division of assignments, but for now, we shall take then at face value.

In all likelihood, Case 1 will be settled before it ever reaches trial. If the city is going after Dohoney’s malpractice insurance to recoup it losses, fine. It has the right to do so. However, let’s not forget that it has the opportunity in Case 2 to whittle the award settlement down to $1. Culpo has asked the judge for $175,000.

We asked Lee if a condemnation order had ever bee in place against the Melville Street building. He said that one had been issued in 2007. Why, then, was it rescinded only three days later?

“They rescinded it, because there were people living there,” Lee said. He said the order would be rescinded until the tenants found new places to live. “There was no further condemnation order. It appeared to me watching the Board of Health meeting (of Jan. 13, 2010) that they knew there was not [a valid condemnation order in place]. Nonetheless, Lee says, at the hearing, Dohoney told the board that the rescinded order was still valid.

THE PLANET tried to locate the 1 hour and 38 minute hearing on the PCTV website. The program is in the archives of PCTV, but we could not find an active link. As an aside, we will say the PCTV website is one of the worst and most user-unfriendly we have ever encountered. Trying to find materials on the PCTV website is like walking blindfolded through the hedge maze at the Overlook Hotel. If someone can figure out how to activate the show from a computer, please let us know.

Questions, Questions, and Questions

Lee’s explanations prompt a few questions. There’s no doubt the Board of Health issued a condemnation order. Lee says the order was rescinded  days later because people were living there. Didn’t the Board of Health know people were living there when it issued the order? Did the same Board of Health rescind the order? Moreover, how promptly did the tenants try to find new living arrangements? How long were these people allowed to live in apartments not fit for human habitation? And what of the landlord’s responsibilities? It seems apparent, unless there is some information we do not have, that Culpo did not bring the apartments back to code and standard. There may be other information that has yet to come out that would serve as mitigation, but the evidence that has to date surfaced suggests that the apartments on Melville Street were slums. Do the courts mean to tell us that slumlords get off free while the entity that tries to do something about the situation (i.e., the city) is the bad guy? Something seems wrong with that picture.

If the apartments had been promptly abandoned and the landlord did immediate repairs, we could see how the landlord would have a case. But that doesn’t appear to have been the case with the Melville Street apartments. When the Board of Health met on Jan. 13, 2010, it seems from press accounts of court documents and from attorney Lee that there had been no repairs to the units that would bring them up to code.

Nonetheless, the city is suing Dohoney for malpractice, specifically, for giving bad advice. They will go after his insurance, but what professional wants to lose a case and then be stuck with the renewal bill for malpractice insurance? As THE PLANET said yesterday, would this case even have been filed had councilors, perceived to be “Ruberto people,” not gone after Degnan for her alleged misrepresentations in the Spectrum case?

Is that the next step should Bianchi lose in November? Will the new mayor want to sue Degnan for malpractice in the Spectrum matter? Where does this kind of vicious cycle end, and what message does this kind of in-fighting send to any outside interests that might be considering Pittsfield as a future home for a business or a residence? Who would come there of their free will?

Damages Hearing May Be Degnan’s Crucible

The other key legal action from all this is the damages hearing that has yet to take place. Culpo told Judge John Agostini that she wants an award of $175,000 for the loss of her building. Obviously, the city has the right to contend that. It should do so, vigorously. Degnan is handling that case. It will be a decent test of her legal abilities. Will she be able to convince the judge that the damages should be way less than $175,000 — say, $1, awarded as a token amount? Will she be able to do the job? Can Degnan win one for the taxpayers? If she can. that might go a long way in helping to contain the Civil War that’s still smoldering in city politics.

Lee had an interesting suggestion. While he made clear he had no part in the awards hearing and that it was Degnan’s baby all the way, he did say he thought Dohoney should be part of the legal team for the city. That would mean he and Degnan working together. Wouldn’t that be something, maybe like the other side of a Dream Team coin.

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“TERRAS IRRADIENT”

“OPEN THE WINDOW, AUNT MILLIE.”

LOVE TO ALL.

 

26 Responses to “DARREN LEE: BOARD OF HEALTH HEARING KEY PART OF UNDERSTANDING “ATTORNEY WARS” … LEE IS HANDLING ATTORNEY WARS, DEGNAN IS HANDLING DAMAGES HEARING IN MELVILLE STREET DEMOLITION … MANY QUESTIONS ABOUND, INCLUDING: CAN DEGNAN WIN ONE FOR THE TAXPAYERS?”

  1. FPR
    January 29, 2013 at 8:54 am #

    Hey Dan,

    Wow so much more insight into this. You have so many valid points.

    I can see what a Valenti Administration would do now and I agree.

    Just because the city of Pittsfield can go after Dohoney’s insurance doesn’t mean they should.

    Perhaps attorney Degnan can get an extra $100,000.00 for the landlord bring up the loss to $275,000.00 for the taxpayers of Pittsfield. Hey, she did it for Spectrum, why not here also? People of Pittsfield seem to love tax increases.

  2. Tax Payer
    January 29, 2013 at 8:59 am #

    This looks like good lawyering on the part of Darren Lee. It seems as though he filed the lawsuit against Dohoney to prevent the city from running afoul of the statute of limitations, which requires a lawsuit to be filed within a certain time frame. If the damages turn out to be nominal, then no harm done. Obviously, it’s in the best interest of the city and Dohoney to mount a vigorous defense at the assessment of damages hearing. If things go south, then Mr. Lee has acted in the best interest of the city and tax payers by seeking to hold Dohoney’s insurer liable for the loss.

  3. Ole Jack
    January 29, 2013 at 9:34 am #

    Who was the shyster at the school comittee tar and feathering of Terry Kinnas?

  4. Ron Kitterman
    January 29, 2013 at 11:20 am #

    I think that would be School department attorney Russell Dupree ?
    http://www.iberkshires.com/story/42853/Pittsfield-School-Committee-Reprimands-Member-Over-Reid-Dispute-.html

    • danvalenti
      January 29, 2013 at 1:33 pm #

      RON
      I believe you are correct.

  5. Hilly Billy 2 in Ward 4
    January 29, 2013 at 12:00 pm #

    Why would Dohoney be a part of the city’s legal team while at the same time he (his insurance company) is being sued by the same said city? Please clarify…

    Darren Lee is a good attorney and a solid egg as well…

    • danvalenti
      January 29, 2013 at 1:32 pm #

      HILLY
      They are two separate cases. He would have a vested interest in keeping the damages as low as possible, say $1. The damages hearing could come as soon as net month. The city’s case against Mr. Dohoney will almost certainly be long settled. The damages amount could greatly impact the city’s suit against Dohoney.

  6. Jim Gleason
    January 29, 2013 at 1:01 pm #

    Back to Cathy Degnan again, hey Dan? You let ruberto, Carmen and Gerry Lee get away with screwing the public,sometimes literally, for years but can’t stay off of an honest person trying to do her best for Pittsfield. Unfair and uncalled for, in my opinion.

    • danvalenti
      January 29, 2013 at 1:36 pm #

      JIM
      If you go back and read all my columns in the Gazette and Eagle, as well as listen to all the shows I did on “The Dan Valenti Show,” you will see that your statement is incorrect. I went after then guys as much as and as little as I did, and do, for anyone else. You have to remember THE PLANET started in its daily online iteration at the end of September 2010. Bianchi is the first mayor who has the good luck to be in office long after we had been established online.

    • dusty
      January 29, 2013 at 3:28 pm #

      I have trouble with this also Jim. Even if she is not Perry Mason she does not seem malicious to me. And there is a long list of connected folk who seem to get less of Dan s critical pen than she has. She does seem to be trying hard which is something I don’t see Alfie B. doing. I think the arrows could be aimed at more deserving political hacks myself.

      • billy
        January 30, 2013 at 9:48 pm #

        dusty it has to with can she do the job , i think we are all coming to see the answer every time she litigates

  7. Edwardo
    January 29, 2013 at 3:21 pm #

    DV you have hit a grand slam with this series.

  8. NBI
    January 29, 2013 at 3:39 pm #

    Wouldn’t it be nice if the city could apply as much legal horsepower toward reopening the sealed consent decree? If you want to compare apples to apples, the 175K here and in the Spectrum case, are mere drops in the bucket, compared to what we stood to gain, but didn’t with GE. If our legal team had not let GE off the hook, think about the what might have been. We obviously got out-lawyer’d back then, but with a lot more at stake! Does anyone remember who represented the city in that case?

    • dusty
      January 29, 2013 at 4:22 pm #

      I think that was attorney Gerry Doyle who was probably rewarded handsomely for his efforts.

      • Blind Justice
        January 29, 2013 at 9:19 pm #

        Mt Doyle is right behind the school. Then there is Mt. Devillars and Jack Welch Lake

    • Blind Justice
      January 30, 2013 at 6:54 pm #

      Drunken Gerry Dolyle?

      He had hid his ass interests, all lined up…..

      Pittisfield/ Housatonic Valley….. screw them!!!!!!!!!

  9. billy
    January 29, 2013 at 6:42 pm #

    What lawyer worth his salt spends his time going after a fellow attorneys insurance instead of going after the multiple code violations and the slum lord responsible for it. Dan you were right saying attacking the entity doing the good over the party responsible for not bring the dwelling up to code after multiple requests just does .not pass the smell test.

  10. Randy Savage
    January 29, 2013 at 7:08 pm #

    There is nowhere in MGL that states you need a “condemnation” order to demo a building. What is necessary is a legal “demolition” order. The city had a legal demolition order when the Melville Street house came down. Why hasn’t anyone asked the former Director of Health Jim Wilucz for information regarding this case, including Degnan? He most likely will have answers to the many questions that surround this case. .

  11. joetaxpayer
    January 30, 2013 at 4:30 am #

    How many buildings have the city taken because of health code issue’s. I thought most were taken down because of non-payment of tax’s. If the city knocked down everyone with issue’s there would be alot of open space in the Morning side and West side.

  12. Edwardo
    January 30, 2013 at 8:02 am #

    Great series DV I think it shows that many of the socalled villains (JLO, Clairmont, etc.) have been advocating for The People and many of the socalled heroes (Bianchi, Degnan etc) have been pushing some hidden agenda.
    What annoys me about Mayor B and his people the most is hte way he (and they) blames everything on Mayor Ruberto, who was the best mayor Pittsfield has had since Ray Delgallo.

  13. Randy Savage
    January 30, 2013 at 3:12 pm #

    I thought I read on the Planet that Melissa Mazzeo promised if elected she was going to open up the Consent Decree. When is the last time anyone heard from her about this promise she made?

  14. joetaxpayer
    January 30, 2013 at 7:35 pm #

    Mr Robertto must hsve pulled the plug alittle to soon.

  15. dusty
    January 30, 2013 at 7:44 pm #

    Seems to be a subtle campaign to demean the Bianchi team on here. Has the gob found a way to use the Planet as a tool to plant seeds of decent for the next election? Keep looking for the jabs.

    • billy
      January 30, 2013 at 9:44 pm #

      plant seeds ? the mayor does damage to himself? he doesnt need help. dusty conspiracy theories seem to be all that your about

      • dusty
        January 31, 2013 at 3:09 am #

        billy, 90 percent of your comments are devoted to trashing Bianchi or his supporters. I see an agenda. I see someone trying to weaken him for the next election. Very forward thinking you are. A Rush Limbaugh tactic.

        • danvalenti
          January 31, 2013 at 8:35 am #

          DUSTY and billy
          Both of you are welcome contributors, because you make points of substance. That you have different views of Mayor Bianchi is a strength not a weakness. Keep it coming, boys.