Attorney Chuck Willinger is euphoric. So is Joe Kasper, former owner of a city engineering company. Lawyers for the city are thrilled. Developers Al Lenoci Sr. and Al Lenoci Jr. aren’t devastated. Lawyers for developer Alex Conroy, who brought a lawsuit claiming that all of the above conspired with former Mayor Joe Ganim to blowtorch his development of Steelpointe, are disappointed.
A jury in Waterbury Superior Court offered a mixed bag Thursday after three months of testimony and arguments, finding Ganim and the Lenocis liable, but awarding a fraction (about $300K) of what the plaintiff sought, exonerating Willinger and Kasper. On Friday the jury cleared the city of wrongdoing. The jury concluded that the Lenocis should be responsible for $50K. Considering their potential exposure, that’s a victory.
Clearing the city was correct. The jury had initially released the city from responsibility, but Judge Barry Stevens ordered them to make their decision consistent with a set of questions they had to weigh before issuing a decision. This was not an easy case for the jury. They had to measure the allegations against Conroy losing his financing for Steelpointe three times.
I testified in the case for two days in March about what I knew and came away feeling my impact was marginal. My falling out with Ganim in the summer of 1999 left me out of the loop regarding key details that led to the former mayor redirecting the Steelpointe deal to the Lenocis. Clearly, Ganim wanted to slide the Lenocis into the deal. But what, specifically, did he do to make that happen? He also wanted to make sure that state money was solidified before making a change. Joe always liked to use other people’s money.
The city should not be liable for Ganim’s actions. What city officials were trying to torpedo the deal? City taxpayers have already footed $1 million in legal expenses, including Ganim’s fees because he was sued in the performance of his city position. Conroy’s lawyers will seek punitive damages and legal fees. Why did Willinger walk? A couple of things: one, no clear evidence linking Willinger, the landuse attorney hired by Ganim to represent the city, to aiding Ganim and the Lenocis, his longtime clients. Chuck is also smart and clever. He bends, but doesn’t break. Was Chuck a big player in politics? Yup. Big contributor? Major. Did the feds want to charge him? Yes. But didn’t. Evidence was short on Chuck. He’s a survivor.
City Hall statement on Conroy decision:
City Attorney Mark Anastasi said, “The Finch Administration refused the plaintiff Alex Conroy’s settlement demands. Conroy sought substantial taxpayer dollars as payment of a project that he never constructed. Mayor Bill Finch rightly was convinced that the City was not liable, and had the courage and confidence in the jury system to fight Conroy’s unjustified claims. Today, thanks to the Mayor’s integrity and the successful legal representation of Attorneys Craig Raabe and Edward Heath, the City has been vindicated and justice has been served.”
Mayor Bill Finch added, “The City is in the process of assessing next steps and will make a decision next week regarding future legal action. I will pursue every opportunity to recoup taxpayers’ costs for this trial.”
I checked in with Democratic Registrar of Voters Sandy Ayala this morning. So far, only Auden Grogins, who’s challenging State Rep. Bob Keeley, has qualified for a primary Aug. 12. Other potential challengers in state legislative races are submitting petition signatures in pieces. They have until 4 p.m. on Tuesday to submit enough validated signatures–five percent of registered party voters–from respective legislative districts. Maybe OIB friends such as Sly Salcedo and Chico Rivera, both of whom want to challenge party-endorsed Eze Santiago for the state rep seat being vacated by Felipe Reinoso, will give us an update.
Hey, I’ll be starting a new feature soon called Pol Pod. I’ll be going into the community to interview the greats (and near greats) in the political, governmental, neighborhood and business sectors for posting as an audio file. I have a couple of requests. How long do you want them? I’m thinking your attention span might be 5 or 10 minutes. Also, throw some names at me.