October 11, 2012
Essex County Superior Court Judge Murtaugh ordered the City of Lawrence to turn over public documents sought by The Valley Patriot “forthwith, and that means immediately, sooner than immediately, I want these records produced,” Murtaugh said this afternoon.
At issue is Valley Patriot publisher Tom Duggan’s claim that the City of Lawrence, and in particular City Attorney Charlie Boddy have refused to turn over documents pertaining to Lawrence School Department Employees double dipping under the direction of State Receiver Jeff Riley, and a full accounting of all public dollars paid to the DiADamo Law firm.
Judge Murtaugh said he would like to order fees and costs to be paid to the Valley Patriot but, because The Valley Patriot is a corporation, state law dictates that an attorney must file an appearance on behalf of the paper for him to consider making the city pay for Duggan’s court costs and legal fees.
“You can’t represent a corporation,” Murtaugh told Duggan. “An attorney must represent the corporation since they paid the fees being sought”.
“We will file an appearance for Attorney Allan Knowles,” Duggan replied, “who is here today on stand by in case something like this happened. I was hoping to avoid hiring an attorney since I am already down more than $1,300 to get documents that the law says I am entitled to for $61.81.”
“What I really hope is that the court will order the city to pay my legal fees on top of the extensive costs we have already paid for a $61.81 Freedom of Information Request.”
Murtaugh said he would take it under advisement once Attorney Knowles had officially filed with the court and The Valley Patriot was officially added as Plaintiff in the case.
Lawrence City Attorney Charlie Boddy, (whose office is less than 20 feet from Essex Superior Court) did not appear on behalf of the City of Lawrence, instead Mayor Lantigua contracted with the high priced Boston Law Firm of Foley and Hoag to fight the document request.
Attorney Jeremy Evans from Foley and Hoag appeared for the City of Lawrence.
“So, in other words,” Duggan said on WCAP radio after the hearing, “instead of City Attorney Boddy walking twenty feet to earn his pay (more than $190,000 a year) at this hearing today, Mayor Lantigua spent another $2,000-$3,000 for an 18 minute hearing on a $61.81 public records request. You can’t make it up!”
“You know who pays for that? The People of Tewksbury, the people of Dracut and North Andover who are paying all the bills in Lawrence. Add that to the $2,000 or more they are going to have to reimburse The Valley Patriot for our expenses, and by the time this is over the Massachusetts State taxpayers will be paying upwards of $5,000 for Willie Lantigua and Charlie Boddy refusing to turn over public documents.
Duggan asked the judge to make the individuals responsible for subverting the law pay the fees rather than the taxpayers.
“They don’t care, your honor. They violate the law knowing it’s not coming out of their pocket. At the end of the day, they know the taxpayers are picking up the tab.” Duggan argued. “Why should the taxpayers have to pay for the misdeeds of these individuals?”
Attorney Evans told Judge Murtaugh that they oppose the court ordering fines for failing to comply with the public records request as the state statute has no penalties for violations of Chapter 66, of MGL.
Judge Murtaugh said that he was not likely to impose fines on the city or on individuals involved but that he would consider ordering fees and costs if the complaint is amended to have The Valley Patriot named as the plaintiff, since the money paid for fees and costs for this suit were paid by the newspaper.
On Behalf of the City of Lawrence, Attorney Evans told the judge that the documents being sought would “most likely” be turned over to The Valley Patriot by Friday or Monday, a statement that didn’t fit well with Judge Murtaugh.
“No, this should be done forthwith,” Judge Murtaugh ordered.
“With all due respect your honor,” Duggan said, “they have been ordered by the Secretary of State three times and it’s been since February and they haven’t complied.”
“We will comply,” Attorney Evans replied on behalf of the city.
“Please take back to your client that these records are to be produced forthwith,” Murtaugh repeated.
Judge Murtaugh said he was dismissing City Attorney Charlie Boddy and Secretary of State Bill Galvin from the case citing that the offending party is The City of Lawrence.
Attorney Allan Knowles said after the hearing that all additional paperwork would be filed with the court first thing in the morning “and Mr. Duggan is looking forward to receiving the documents he requested in February of this year.”
BACKGROUND AND UPDATES ON THIS STORY