Thursday, July 18, 2024

Cambridge’s Law Department has released the City Council’s notes of closed-door meetings about the civil rights lawsuit filed against the city by Malvina Monteiro. Here’s the file, in a multipage PDF.

Arthur Goldberg, first assistant city solicitor, sent the file Tuesday to Cambridge Day and The Cambridge Chronicle, which have been seeking minutes of the meetings since at least mid-September, when the Monteiro case was settled, and mid-October, with the settling of two remaining civil rights lawsuits against the city.

The notes cover eight closed-door meetings taking place between June 9, 2008, and Sept. 26, 2011, with all but three presenting only very basic information after redaction by the city: what time the meeting began and ended, for instance, who was present and outlines of actions such as that an attorney “summarized what has happened in the litigation since last June.”

The most extensive minutes cover a meeting of June 15, 2009, after a jury had awarded Monteiro $4.5 million. The city had to decide whether to appeal, and after then mayor Denise Simmons got an update from City Manager Robert W. Healy and attorney Joan Lukey, “there ensued among members a discussion.” Among the issues raised, with no names of councillors attached:

  • “The amount of money involved makes the case worthy of appeal even without any other issues. It is really important for the City Council to be responsible even if the public, which does not have all the facts, is upset.”
  • “The city  should not set a precedent of not appealing a $6 million judgment. If the city does not appeal, what incentive is there for a plaintiff to settle?” (Another point was that informal discussions with other attorneys suggested it was wise to appeal “even if the city’s ultimate desire is to settle.” But it was also said later the same meeting that the council “should get its own second opinion.”)
  • “The case is not and has never been about money. It is about fairness. Firing the plaintiff five years after she went to graduate school on city time looks like discrimination.”
  • “Other city employees who have done lots of bad things as city employees got to keep their jobs. The city should settle this case now.”
  • “Despite the fact that the city is losing the PR war, the prudent and wise course is to appeal. What the plaintiff did was egregious.”
When a three-judge panel at the Massachusetts Appeals Court rejected an appeal by the city, though, notes from an Aug. 19 closed-door meeting show Healy said he “believes that it is time to end this litigation and move on” despite being “extremely disappointed” and saying he would “go to his grave knowing that he did not discriminate or retaliate against Ms. Monteiro.”

By then, the cost to the city had risen to $8.3 million for Monteiro and her lawyer. The Cambridge Chronicle has an accounting suggesting some $12 million was spent on the Monteiro and related cases, including pay for outside counsel.

By Sept. 26, the conflict had become about release of information about the case, rather than the case itself. A closed-door session that evening was used to debate whether information could be released without hurting the city’s position as it wrapped up the three cases. In a roll call vote — the only such vote included in the released documents — the councillors supporting then Mayor David Maher in holding back documents were Henrietta Davis, Craig Kelley, Sam Seidel, Tim Toomey and Maher himself. Those in favor of disclosing information to the public were Leland Cheung, Marjorie Decker, Ken Reeves and Denise Simmons.

Kelley, who made several public attempts to get and release information related to the lawsuits, was asked via e-mail if he would comment on his vote.

“I agreed with the argument that Monteiro was not completely over and until it was, the notes should be retained,” Kelley said. “Which is different from going into executive session in the first place — we abused that option, I feel, and I frequently voted against going into executive session. But once in executive session I felt we should wait until Monteiro was completely done before releasing the minutes.”

In late October, the city’s position was that “despite the public announcement that the city has reached a settlement with Ms. [Linda] Stamper and Ms. [Mary] Wong, the litigation … has not yet been concluded. Therefore, the city’s litigating position could still be jeopardized by premature disclosure of the requested records.”

But Maher cleared the way for release of the information Dec. 29 despite there being no change in status on the Stamper or Wong cases: “As chair of the City Council, it is my opinion that although final judgment has yet to be entered, disclosure at this time no longer jeopardizes the city’s litigating position.”

Maher said after a Jan. 23 council meeting that his change in approach to the meeting minutes came after the final closed-door meeting on the topic, which “allowed the council to learn a lot more” about the cases and find that there were “technical aspects that had changed.” When asked if that referred to documents being filed in the cases, he thought for a moment and repeated only that “technical aspects” had changed.

There has been a change in the cases, but it took place Jan. 10 — a joint stipulation of dismissal filed with the state Trial Court:

JOINT STIPULATION OF DISMISSAL. Pursuant to MASS.R.CIV.P. 41 (a)(1), Plaintiffs Mary Chiu Wong and Linda Stamper Joseph, joined by Defendant City of Cambridge, report that the parties have voluntarily resolved their disputes. They thus stipulate dismissal of this action, with prejudice, waiving all rights of appeal and with all parties bearing their own costs and fees. Plaintiff Malvina Monteiro and Defendant City of Cambridge report that judgment has been fully satisfied and plaintiff’s costs and fees paid, such that this matter is reported by all parties as fully and finally adjudicated or resolved.

The final trial conference set for that day, according to court records, was canceled and not rescheduled.

This post was updated Jan. 19, 2012, with Kelley’s comments and Jan. 23, 2012, with Maher’s comments and information from the trial court.