City’s secrecy arguments weak in civil rights cases
A look at the case file involving employees who sued the city and got secret settlements Oct. 13 suggests the city is holding back information regarding the cases.
“Despite the public announcement that the city has reached a settlement with Ms. Stamper and Ms. Wong, the litigation … has not yet been concluded,” said one communication received this week in answer to a request for information. “Therefore, the city’s litigating position could still be jeopardized by premature disclosure of the requested records.”
But there has been no action in the case since the city announced its settlement in a joint statement with the plaintiffs.
A look at the file concerning the civil rights claims of Linda Stamper and Mary Wong against the city, confirmation with the office of Middlesex County Clark Magistrate Michael Sullivan and Sullivan himself on Thursday and conversations with lawyers point out that:
- The case status is given as “Disposed: after rescript,” with “disposed” indicating the end of a legal case or a judicial proceeding and a “rescript” being a written order by a judge explaining to a court clerk how to dispose of a case.
- There is a Dec. 2 date for a clerk to follow up on the status of the case, since there is a January trial date set but no filings or other action taking place in the file. “The parties did reach an agreement, but the settlement does have to be presented to the court,” said Sullivan, of Cambridge. “They have not filed a stipulation of agreement.”
Another Cambridge lawyer, Richard Clarey, spoke from experience in saying he wouldn’t be surprised if the stipulation isn’t filed for years.
“I’m sure they’re delaying the filing of a final judgment just so they can say the case is still alive,” said Clarey, who attests to driving to Woburn regularly to look through the case file in person. “In a lawsuit it is up to the parties to file, and if the parties don’t want to do anything, no one else is going to give a damn. There’s no obligation, and you’ll see cases that have remained open for a dozen years and no one cares. There’s no penalty for not filing the paperwork.”
By not filing, not only is the size of the settlements private — and the payout to Stamper could have been significant; because she was legal counsel to the city, her case going to trial would have put the city’s own Law Department on the stand for discrimination and retaliation charges — but so are, potentially forever, the minutes of officials’ meetings and the cost of defending and settling the cases.
In fact, the city claimed Tuesday that it has not tallied legal fees in the cases, although it did not say why. Instead, First Assistant City Solicitor Arthur Goldberg offered to send a fee estimate for copies of all legal counsel bills, apparently so they could be tallied by Cambridge Day instead of by an uncurious city Law Department, Auditing Department or City Manager’s Office — strange in a city lauded constantly for its savvy fiscal management, especially after the City Council asked Monday for an accounting of “outside legal expenses incurred on the Monteiro case and related cases and issues.”
It’s even stranger considering that the city’s legal bills were gathered nearly two months ago, in an Aug. 29 court filing of fees and costs relating the Malvina Monteiro civil rights lawsuit, for the six and a half years of litigation between Dec. 10, 2004, and June 16, 2011. Taking less than 10 minutes to add the totals showed Cambridge owes $2,710,508.61 for that period in the Monteiro case.
Ellen Zucker, the attorney for the three plaintiffs, declined to be quoted in this story.