East End City Councilwoman Eneida Martinez is no shrinking violet. She is often unaccustomed to a verbal filter. As co-chair of the Ordinance Committee, she is one of several council members expressing frustration about the impact of the Water Pollution Control Authority’s collections process on her constituency. In her line of fire at the December 27 committee meeting, according to minutes, Associate City Attorney Russell Liskov and private attorney Juda Epstein, a collections specialist who for many years has engaged in WPCA work that can lead to liens and foreclosures. Epstein’s website asserts “Attorney Epstein is considered to be among the most vigorous and aggressive lawyers in the State of Connecticut.” At the December meeting, according to minutes, Martinez described Liskov and Epstein as “Jews and buddies and they go to the same synagogue and they are buying up these properties.” Is Martinez overstepping bounds of decorum? What’s religion got to do with it? Tough but fair game?
A fuller excerpted transcript of the December 27 minutes below provides additional context of Martinez’s assertions. See full minutes here.
Council Member Jackson asked for information on who Judah Epstein was and said that she was new to the Council, so didn’t know who he was. Atty. Anastasi said that Atty. Epstein was one of the third party attorneys that the City uses. Council Member Jackson said that she would like further clarification because it sounded like Atty. Epstein was representing the owner and was being paid twice. Atty. Anastasi said that Atty. Epstein was a very active and skilled lawyer. While Atty. Epstein does represent the City of Bridgeport in various cases, he also represents other clients. Atty. Anastasi reminded everyone that the preferred method of collecting back tax is not foreclosure, but collection. This is usually done by packaging the property liens together and selling the debt to a collection company. He gave the details of how this is done. Atty. Epstein also works for some of the companies that purchase the City’s liens, so people often the misunderstand when they see Atty. Epstein and think he is representing the City of Bridgeport when he is actually representing an independent collection agency. Council Member Jackson asked if this was a conflict of interest. Atty. Anastasi said that there was no conflict of interest involved. Atty. Epstein is just representing a different client. The foreclosure documents will state which company is involved in the foreclosure. Council Member Jackson said that Atty. Epstein’s work for the City should stop because of the confusion. She added that someone found out that the property Council Member Lyons spoke about was for sale before it was listed. Atty. Anastasi said that he did not know exactly what happened with that particular parcel. There is a problem there, but he does not have any evidence. Council Member Jackson said that she wanted it on the record that she felt uncomfortable with Atty. Epstein continuing the City’s duties and the WPCA foreclosures when there is clearly a problem. Atty. Anastasi said that this was not his decision to make, it would be up to the City Attorney.
Co-chair Martinez said that this was what they do as elected officials and they could request a review of Atty. Epstein’s contract to see why this contract continues to be renewed. She said that she has been fighting these WPCA issues and she has experienced non-consistency, noncompliance from the City Attorney’s office and experienced this directly from constituents in her district when she helped to save their homes. Co-chair Martinez said she also experienced when the WPCA foreclosed on the American Legion and experienced a lack of proper protocol through the City of Bridgeport. There is one attorney that oversees the WPCA, Atty. Liskov, who has a connection with Atty. Epstein. Atty. Epstein and Atty. Liskov have a revolving cycle that Co-chair Martinez said she would state because this has been happening since she has been elected to the Council. Atty. Anastasi did meet with the previous Council Members and he provided them with the details about the notice process. But that notification process is not happening. Individuals that are in the process of foreclosure receive an $800 bill. The protocol for the City is not $800, so Co-chair Martinez said there were a lot of violations that were occurring that are not being followed through the City Attorney’s Office. She said that she was not blaming Atty. Anastasi directly but these issues have been happening for years.
Co-chair Martinez said that there was also another issue that she was fighting about and would applaud Mr. Gaudett for his assistance. The City of Bridgeport Small Minority Office has a disparity study that was voted on by the Council in 2005. The Purchasing Office has not been following that the Small Minority Business Office disparity study. They have not been following that set aside requirement. The City could find themselves involved in a big lawsuit on both the State and Federal level, Co-chair Martinez said, because the City has not been following the disparity study percentages that were approved. However, the City is strictly implementing the WPCA protocols at the expense of home owners losing their properties for violations that the City itself is causing by not following their own protocols. Co-chair Martinez said that she has witnessed this at the Margaret Morton Government Center where the documents are stored and the staff could not provide her with any type of record of notifications that were sent out via certified mail to the home owner. Co-chair Martinez said was why she kept bringing the issue up because home owners who have purchased their homes 30 years ago are having their homes taken from them. This cycle started when Mayor Bill Finch was in office.
Co-chair Martinez said that she was going to tell it like it is because Economic Development staff have friends that they call when properties come up for sale. Then these developers come from all over the State and different towns to buy these properties. The same thing is true of Atty. Epstein and Atty. Liskov. Both men are Jews and buddies and they go to the same synagogue and they are buying up these properties. These are the facts about what is happening in Bridgeport, Co-chair Martinez said.
Atty. Anastasi said that he had nothing but respect for Atty. Liskov and that he was a terrific lawyer. Co-chair Martinez replied that he is terrific only after he has been caught on the spot. Atty. Anastasi suggested that the Committee gather some examples for the next meeting with the WPCA administration so they could be addressed. Co-chair Martinez said that she would provide examples. Atty. Anastasi said that City Attorney Meyer determines who will be doing the collections and Atty. Anastasi said that he would alert him to the concerns regarding Atty. Epstein. He added that it was not his job to defend City Attorney Meyer’s decisions or propose changes, because by Charter City Attorney Meyer has unilateral authority regarding this and it is not something that the Council has authority over.