Happy New Year! Judge Radcliffe Rules Political ‘Fix Was In’ Shuts Down Liquor Store, ‘Parade Of Preening Politicians’

Update includes full decision. When it comes to Bridgeport politics, Superior Court Judge Dale Radcliffe has a healthy dose of skepticism and he did not hold back in a “fix was in” decision Wednesday castigating political influence that approved an application for a package store opponents argued violated state law including former Republican State Senator Rob Russo, the lone dissenter on the Zoning Board of Appeals decision. Radcliffe ruled “Because the variances granted by the Bridgeport Zoning Board of Appeals are a condition precedent to the lawful operation of a package store at 1044 Brooklawn Avenue, Bridgeport, the Defendant, Michael DeFillipo, is ordered to immediately cease and desist from the use of any portion of 1044 Brooklawn Avenue, as a package store.”

Just inside the Bridgeport line, across the street from a Fairfield restaurant owned by Democratic Town Chair Mario Testa, a steady stream of city politicians lobbied the ZBA to approve the package store application in the spring. The applicant hired Bridgeport land use guru Chuck Willinger to make the presentation to the ZBA. Willinger argued that a hardship was present because the 1,500 foot rule prevents the building from being used for the desired purpose. He also claimed hardship based on the “need for this type of use.”

Assistant City Attorney Edmund Schmidt told the ZBA the facts as presented failed to establish a legitimate  hardship, according to Radcliffe.

After the approval Russo, an attorney, told the CT Post the decision would be overturned in court. Russo, turns out, was prescient about a court challenge brought by lawyer Joel Green on behalf of a Fairfield liquor store.

“The applicant seems like a good guy,” said Russo. Just the sort of businessman we want in Bridgeport. (But) I don’t see the point of granting somebody something that is just going to cost him tens of thousands of dollars (in legal fees) to find out that it’s no good.”

In his decision Radliffe cited the zoning regulations of the city:

“Package Store: No use for which a package store permit is required under Chapter 545, Section 30-1 through 30-115 of the Connecticut General Statutes, may be located so that an entrance to such use is within a 1,500 foot radius of a Lot containing a house of worship, school, hospital, commercial day care center, or any other use requiring an all-alcohol liquor package store permit.”

But here’s where Radcliffe’s decision blowtorches the political establishment. He highlights political support from Testa who wrote that he knew DeFillipo  for more than 10 years “as an employee and a friend.”

Radcliffe referred to letters of support submitted by political leaders including City Council President Tom McCarthy and former Mayor John Fabrizi. Other supporters argued the lot shall be improved resulting in more activity and pedestrian safety.

Radcliffe, a former Republican state legislator, was not impressed by the political intrusion.

“While all citizens have a right to be heard during a public hearing conducted by a municipal land use body, the parade of preening politicians endorsing this application, orchestrated on April 14, 2015, may have the unintended consequence of convincing the already cynical that “the fix was in” even if the record does not conclusively establish that finding.

This is particularly true, where the Supplemental Record reveals that a super majority of the Zoning Board of Appeals cavalierly disregarded the advice of the experienced and knowledgable land use attorney who was present to provide legal advice.

Adopting a “no harm, no foul” approach to variance applications, disservices the public. It also fuels the perception, too common in municipal government, that political machinations and the politics of personality, are sufficient to trump the rule of law.

The judge’s ruling ordered DeFillipo “to immediately cease and desist from the use of any potion of 1044 Brooklawn Avenue, as a package store.”

See Judge Radcliffe’s decision here.

Share

19 comments

  1. We have previously observed zoning matters that attempt to get permission on the basis of genuine hardship, but the legal definition has nothing to do with “economics.” Once again a CT judge has ruled this is so, just as the City attorney advised the Zoning Board.

    Had each of the members of the Zoning Board prepared for their service on that body by attending Zoning classes, passing them and then paid attention to their own counsel paid for by Bridgeport taxpayers, Judge Radcliffe would not had to become a teacher, once again to Bridgeport leaders. (Props to Russo for being a solo stand-up for the law member of that body.)

    I wonder how the Defendant in the case now feels about “economic hardship” as it relates to paying legal expenses. Also wonder about how Bridgeport taxpayers will respond to other court cases with decisions coming soon that may reach deep into taxpayer pockets. Time will tell.

  2. Chuck Willinger “claimed hardship based on the ‘need for this type of use.'” Are you fucking kidding?! Since when does the city of Bridgeport need another liquor store?

  3. If the Good Judge keeps on making rulings that uphold the law and protect the people of Bridgeport, we just might find powers high up the state food chain will feel compelled to relocate his bench.

    Bridgeporters, including our leadership, can’t allow this to happen, especially with all of the pending, inappropriate development in Bridgeport that will be rightfully challenged in court.

    Once again; kudos to Judge Radcliffe! (If they mess with The Judge, we’ll just have to get him elected governor!)

  4. Thank you Judge Radcliffe for doing your job. And thank you Rob Russo for trying to get your fellow commissioners to do theirs.
    Damned shame a Land Use Board can be so manipulated by the Democratic machine. But that is not going to change in 2016 with Joe and Mario calling the shots.

  5. Bubba and Harvey, I consider both of you my friends and respect both of your intelligences, but it’s a little early for snide remarks. A decision was made by an incredible Judge and the situation will be remedied. It’s a new political cycle, why not wait until you have something substantial to share? I haven’t read anything from either of you regarding a City employee, who happens to hold a high position in the union who helped the former Mayor stick his cronies in the Union at the 11th hour to help secure their jobs. He certainly didn’t do it to protect his own job since he’s vested and is a union officer. Would you both agree he merely aided and abetted a vindictive former Mayor?

    1. Hey Lennie,
      Can you provide the names of the commissioners who voted in favor of this variance???
      That way we can keep score of who gets reappointed and who doesn’t. If the majority of those supporting Mario are reappointed or do not get replaced and continue to serve expired terms then I will gladly stand by my statement.
      If all of those who vote in favor are replaced within 90 days I will apologize to Ms. Parziale.

      1. Bubba, I agree with you and I’ll be watching also. I meant we should give the new administration the benefit of the doubt for now. Joe’s only been in a month, it will take a little longer to get to all the abuses, and hopefully rectify them. I supported Joe unconditionally, but I’m still the same person you know and served with, I’m with you.

  6. Manipulation of land use boards is a long tradition in Bridgeport. The most high-profile example was the Dewhirst property/Stop & Shop. Anybody remember? With this appeal, Rob Russo was the only member who understood what the individual ZBA members were legally obliged to do. The others were so impressed with the “parade of preening politicians” they must have confused the ZBA with the DTC.

    Lisa, hopefully the positions in the supervisors union will be reviewed as part of discussions between the union and the Ganim administration.

  7. Happy New Year

    I’m sure Superior Court Judge Dale Radcliffe wouldn’t mind my sharing this piece of American history on this day, Emancipation Day.

    National Archives and Records Administration:

    The Emancipation Proclamation

    President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863, as the nation approached its third year of bloody civil war. The proclamation declared “that all persons held as slaves” within the rebellious states “are, and henceforward shall be free.”

    Despite this expansive wording, the Emancipation Proclamation was limited in many ways. It applied only to states that had seceded from the Union, leaving slavery untouched in the loyal border states. It also expressly exempted parts of the Confederacy that had already come under Northern control. Most important, the freedom it promised depended upon Union military victory.

    Although the Emancipation Proclamation did not end slavery in the nation, it captured the hearts and imagination of millions of Americans and fundamentally transformed the character of the war. After January 1, 1863, every advance of federal troops expanded the domain of freedom.

    Moreover, the Proclamation announced the acceptance of black men into the Union Army and Navy, enabling the liberated to become liberators. By the end of the war, almost 200,000 black soldiers and sailors had fought for the Union and freedom.

    From the first days of the Civil War, slaves had acted to secure their own liberty. The Emancipation Proclamation confirmed their insistence that the war for the Union must become a war for freedom. It added moral force to the Union cause and strengthened the Union both militarily and politically. As a milestone along the road to slavery’s final destruction, the Emancipation Proclamation has assumed a place among the great documents of human freedom.

  8. Will someone with a genuine knowledge of and appreciation for the context of those years now share the story behind Juneteenth celebrations? In a day when four people can sit at a table with individual WiFi access commanding their attention to keyboards rather than the other three people with them at the table, it is a wild story of how news did not become operative for too long. And while there are milestones “along the road to slavery’s final destruction,” there are legacies also that require better address in a spirit of mercy and justice. Time will tell.

  9. Kudos to the honorable Judge, indeed a man of integrity. Unlike the commissioners who allow themselves to be manipulated by politicians with questionable motives.

Leave a Reply