Fill pile lawsuit concerns persist among finance board members

The Board of Finance heard an update on the lawsuit with Julian Enterprises at their Jan. 8 meeting

The Board of Finance heard an update on the lawsuit with Julian Enterprises at their Jan. 8 meeting

Humberto J. Rocha / Hearst Connecticut Media

FAIRFIELD — After a miscommunication hindered what had been scheduled as a Dec. 4 update, the Board of Finance finally heard from the first selectman and town attorney regarding the lawsuits involving Julian Enterprises on Tuesday.

“We are simply changing the forum for this case,” Town Attorney Stanton Lesser said about the decision enter an arbitration agreement with the company, adding that not commenting on pending litigation is standard procedure for his clients, including the town.

An arbitration hearing is scheduled to take place Feb. 13-15 at the Cohen and Wolf law firm offices in Bridgeport, according to court documents.

The town sued Julian back in May of 2017 for breach of contract, claiming the company had violated its agreement to reduce a fill pile on Richard White Way from 2013 to 2016.

Julian, shortly after the town sued, filed its own lawsuit against Fairfield claiming defamation.

When board members inquired if the arbitration hearing itself would be public, Lesser said he wasn’t sure but that such happenings are typically held in private.

The conversation, at times, got heated, developing into a back-and-forth between the town attorney and some members of the finance board.

Board of Finance Chairman Tom Flynn alluded to Article 9 of the town charter that states the Board of Selectmen can direct the decision of pending litigation, claiming the decision to go into binding arbitration had not been brought up to that board.

“All we’re doing is changing the forum for this decision to be made,” Lesser said.

He added that the board of selectmen could, until an arbitrator renders a decision, opt to settle the case, though he also noted that “at this point, there are no settlement talks.”

Finance board member Jim Walsh suggested if the arbitration hearing were to be held privately, there should be efforts to make transcripts or decisions public.

“I can’t believe that this matter with the public interest of this town with serious allegations being made on both sides can’t be public,” Walsh said. “If this is to be public, let this be public.”

Lesser said there is no intention to keep the results of the hearing private.

Selectman Ed Bateson, who attended the meeting and was privy to an executive session on the lawsuit along with Tetreau and fellow selectman Chris Tymniak, expressed his concern on the matter.

“The inquiry of the general public is pretty important here,” Bateson said. “I’m struggling, too, with when should have the Board of Selectmen been notified about how this went to binding arbitration. Even though the attorneys say (the arbitration hearing) doesn’t change the case, it changes the way we hear about it and that’s concerning.”

The last time a financial update was presented in early October to the Board of Selectmen, Department of Public Works Director Joe Michelangelo said the fill pile and legal costs amounted to nearly $800,000.

Chief Fiscal Officer Rob Mayer, at the Jan. 8 meeting, said the town had received a bill for around $4,000 in December, upping the total costs.