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Spahr vows to collect costs on ‘specious’ lawsuits against City, BoE

Norwalk Deputy Corporation Counsel Jeffry Spahr. (File photo)

Updated, 10:57 a.m.: Added Coppola comment. 9:27 a.m.: Added Rilling comment.

NORWALK, Conn. – Jeffry Spahr wants all to know: the City of Norwalk and the Board of Education “will not be sitting ducks for any whimsical or specious {legal} claims that someone wishes to file.”

Spahr, Deputy Corporation Counsel for the City, said he will garnish Alvin Mosby’s wages to get $438 in court costs Mosby was ordered to pay after Mosby lost a lawsuit against the Board of Education. Spahr also expects John Mosby to cough up towards court costs incurred in two other lawsuits, one of which is still in process.

“It must be made very clear that if a claim is made against the City or the Board that, when appropriate, we will fight them vigorously and that there are costs associated with bringing these actions,” Spahr wrote Friday.

Spahr has “been down on me like a dog,” John Mosby said Sunday. “…. I am going to fight back; I am not backing down one bit. We speak the truth. We’ve got a right.”

Alvin Mosby said he’d first been made aware about the issue on March 11, and requested a breakdown of costs, which he has yet to receive. He charged that Spahr has “a personal vendetta against me and my family.”

John Mosby, former president of the custodians union, is father to Alvin Mosby and former Board of Education member Shirley Mosby. John Mosby on Saturday accused Spahr and the Board of Education of “blaming” his daughter because she won a Freedom of Information case in 2015.

John Mosby as union leader filed more than 50 complaints with the state Labor Board, then-Norwalk Superintendent of Schools Ralph Sloan wrote in a 1996 op-ed which noted that every complaint was unsuccessful, but cost money and time to defend.

 

Three lawsuits

John Mosby on Dec. 28, 2016 filed an appeal of a lower court decision, dismissing a lawsuit he filed that February accusing the Board of Education of racial discrimination. The dismissal was based on Mosby not serving the complaint to the City in a timely matter. Mosby lost this appeal on Feb. 5, and a bill of costs for $184.96 was delivered by first class mail, court papers show.

John Mosby is also leading a group of retirees in challenging changes to their retirement medical insurance coverage, claiming that the BoE and the United Public Employees Union (UPEU) breached the terms of their collective bargaining agreement. A hearing is expected on April 16.

Alvin Mosby, a Norwalk Public Schools custodian, in federal court claimed that changes to retirees’ medical benefits disproportionately affected African Americans and said his personal information had been released to the press as retaliation. He lost that lawsuit and filed an appeal, which he lost in late November.

The Mosbys represent themselves in their lawsuits, with Attorney Jeffrey Benjamin making “a limited appearance for the purpose of presenting oral argument” for Alvin Mosby in the Second Circuit Court of Appeals, according to Spahr.

 

Spahr plans to garnish wages 

“{A}fter winning the Alvin Mosby matter on appeal to the Second Circuit Court of Appeals we filed a Bill of Costs,” Spahr wrote to NancyOnNorwalk last week. “This allows us to recover some of our costs (such as copying and printing costs). It does not come close to reimbursing us for all of our out of pockets costs or for the amount of time and hours that were devoted to this case. However, we did at least get an order from the Court allowing us to collect $438 from him.”

Spahr said he sent Alvin Mosby a letter on March 11 and then contacted to Benjamin. An email exchange shows that Benjamin attempted to reach his former client and on April 1 said he’d received no reply. Spahr also got no response, he said.

“It is bad enough that the taxpayers had to pay for our defense of these specious claims,” Spahr wrote Tuesday. “It is unconscionable that Alvin Mosby has yet to pay the amount that has been ordered by the Court. At this point I will seek my options to command payment. This could include getting a contempt order from the Court or garnishing his wages.”

Spahr continued, “Similarly, his father, John Mosby, lost an appeal as well. We have submitted a Bill of Costs to him for payment. He is claiming that he is seeking to have the Supreme Court take on his appeal. We will of course pursue our demand for payment of these amounts due.”

Court papers show that John Mosby’s bill at this point is $184.96.

“{A}t this point the staff time is minimal and there is no actual out of pocket cost,” for chasing the amounts due, Spahr wrote.  “However, what is most important is to get the message out there that the City and the Board will not be sitting ducks for any whimsical or specious claims that someone wishes to file.”

Spahr copied Board of Education member Mike Lyons, Norwalk Superintendent of Schools Steven Adamowski and Norwalk Public Schools Chief of School Operations Frank Costanzo in the emails to NancyOnNorwalk.

 

Coppola: ‘Long standing policy’ to recover costs

NoN asked Mayor Harry Rilling if he was aware of the Spahr’s statement that the City would “not be sitting ducks for any whimsical or specious claims,” and if this is a policy shift.  “I had no knowledge of this and this policy did not come from my office.  I do know that in many cases defendants do seek to recoup various costs associated with litigation they feel is frivolous.  You may wish to reach out to (Corporation Counsel Mario Coppola) for further comment,” Rilling wrote.

Coppola wrote Tuesday morning: “It is the Law Department’s long standing policy to recover hard costs incurred by the City where the City is successfully defended at trial.  When a case goes all the way to trial the City is required to expend significant resources to defend the case, and the recovery of just hard costs as awarded by the court represents just a fraction of the total cost to defend a case through trial.  Any such recovery of costs would need to be awarded by the court, and the City has the same rights as any other successful defendant in a lawsuit to request an award of costs after a successful defense at trial.”

 

John Mosby’s thoughts

The elder Mosby believes it’s unfair that City attorneys are pursuing costs from him while spending money on outside lawyers to defend other lawsuits.  Spahr says he’s protecting taxpayers, but “I am a taxpayer, too,” Mosby said.

Norwalk Public Schools paid $221,980 for attorneys defending Lyons in the case filed by former Norwalk Special Education director Chrissy Fensore, “so why they jumping on me for two or three hundred dollars when I am a taxpayer?” Mosby asked. “ ….  I have been paying taxes here for 40 years. They jumping on me and my son … they say nothing about that. That’s discrimination.”

He also said that an outside attorney is representing NPS in multiple lawsuits, including the one filed by former State Rep. Bruce Morris (D-140) which accuses the Board of Education of racial discrimination.

The Board paid his daughter’s legal fees, he said.

Shirley Mosby’s legal fees in the 2015 FOI battle topped $10,000.

“They playing games. They blame my daughter for it when she had a right, and she won,” he said.

“He can talk all he want, he’s been picking on my family,” Mosby said. “He got mad when my daughter Shirley because she won up there against them.”

Spahr was not involved in the FOI case.

Board of Education Chairman Mike Barbis, who as mentioned above was not copied on Spahr’s emails about the Mosbys, did not reply to a Monday email asking for a reply to Mosby’s comments; neither did Costanzo, Adamowski and Lyons.

“I know when I’ve been mistreated,” Mosby said Sunday. “I don’t lose too many cases. They done me wrong in that Court of Appeals. They did not have no trial, they did not order me to pay nothing. …They didn’t ask no questions, they didn’t say a word.”

Mosby said he won a 1978 Connecticut Supreme Court case and that decision is benefiting workers today.

The Norwalk NAACP awarded Mosby a Lifetime Achievement Award last year. “In 1978 he fought for equal pay for men and women and went all the way to the Supreme Court in Connecticut and won,” according to a speech written by Shirley Mosby for the NAACP award ceremony.

“If you stand up for what you think is law, they go after you,” John Mosby said Sunday. “…I pay taxes to the town, I can talk about the town, because I pay the town’s taxes.”

 

 

Alvin Mosby’s side of the story

“I was never contacted by any attorney on this subject,” Alvin Mosby wrote in a Sunday email. “First time, I was made aware of this was March 11, 2019 letter from Atty Spahr that did not include a breakdown of the cost.”

He contacted the Appeals Court and was referred to the lower court, but was told that the lower court did not have the breakdown either, he said.  “I sent a letter to Atty Spahr for the breakdown and until this day I have not received a response or breakdown.”

He wrote:

“I have been a Board of Education employee for almost 32 years. Atty Spahr is forgetting that I am a taxpayer who has paid taxes for almost forty years and Atty Spahr and his family has benefited from those taxes.

“Also, Atty Spahr is fully aware that I am a Pro Se Litigant representing myself. We both are city employees and Atty Spahr has not given me the common courtesy of contacting me directly. Instead he is making this personal and has a personal vendetta against me and my family and is abusing his city position by harassing, bullying, threatening and violating my civil rights, as a city employee.

“All I’m asking for is a breakdown which is a reasonable request.”

10 comments

Jason Milligan April 9, 2019 at 10:51 am

Let’s get Jeff’s position on Specious / Frivolous lawsuits initiated by the City of Norwalk?

$500,000 spent so far suing me. For what?

M. Jeffry Spahr April 9, 2019 at 1:23 pm

For the sake of clarification it should be noted that the submission of a Bill of Costs after succeeding in litigation is a run of the mill thing. It is allowed by Statute and is commonly done. If the City wishes it could file a claim against Alvin Mosby for vexatious litigation. Through this process we would potentially able to recover even double or possibly treble damages (including legal fees). Instead we have opted only to attempt to recover a portion of our out of pocket costs (so much for targeting him). In addition,on March 8, 2019 the Court entered the order that A. Mosby pay the City $438.00 (we had submitted costs totalling $945). I sent Mosby a letter on March 11th with a copy of the Court order and a request for payment. He never responded. I reached out to the attorney who represented him in the Appeals Court. That attorney stated that HE would follow up with Mosby. Still, I heard nothing. I followed up with the attorney once more. I was informed that Mosby never even got back to the attorney. Mosby never contacted me directly. Instead, he sent a letter seeking a breakdown of the costs. In fact, I sent him the documents (including the receipts for costs) yesterday by email (11:37am). He never responded. Clearly the claim that he is being targeted is false as is his claim that I have not reached out to him. At this point he just needs to pay the amount that the Court ordered that he pays.

Jason Milligan April 9, 2019 at 2:24 pm

Jeff,

Thank you for engaging.

For the record I have found you both friendly and diligent in my minimal interactions with you.

I have zero personal beef with you.

Do you care to opine on the merits & justifation for the lawsuit against me?

James Cahn April 9, 2019 at 5:16 pm

Am I reading correctly that Jeff Spahr went out of his way to draft and send an email to boldly announce that he was making an example out of John and Alvin Mosby over $622?

And that the over-arching point that he is trying drive home is that if you file what he decides is a “frivolous suit” that he has every intent of using the full power of the local municipal government to embarrass you publicly and compel you to pay via wage garnishment?

One wonders, if this is as typical and “long standing” a practice as we would be led to believe, why does this particular matter merit a special announcement in the local media?

Remember that time almost 2 years ago that we sent over a million dollars to Chinese teenagers because they sent someone an email and used the complex “social engineering” technique of “asking for it?” That was deemed worthy of being kept Norwalk’s biggest open secret. Apparently, though, when the Mosby family owes us $600 bucks, it’s worth firing up the press release machine.

Although, I appreciate Spahr grabbing the bull by the horns and not interrupting Josh Morgan’s feverish flurry of grant writing to have him draft this statement.

Patrick Cooper April 9, 2019 at 6:43 pm

Jeff – hypothetical question.

For example – if it were found that the loosing lawsuit against Milligan was “frivolous” because the LDA had expired – or in the words of Bruce Kimmel – was so poorly worded they would have lost in court – if that was the case – should the taxpayers of Norwalk seek the right to garnish Mario Coppola’s wages to re-pay the costs? Or is he – as I suspect – indemnified?

Townie April 9, 2019 at 10:31 pm

Doesn’t M.Jeff Spahr have better things to do then squandering his valuable time on chasing after a few hundred dollars in court costs from John & Alvin Mosby and then bragging about it in public? Wouldn’t it be far more prudent for him to delegate the collection process to a lower level staff person? And wouldn’t M. Jeff Spahr by going this route take away the appearance of a vendetta claim?

Piberman April 10, 2019 at 8:00 am

Norwalk’s reputation for litigation is increasingly becoming known throughout the business community and further discourages major business from investing in our long shabby Downtown.The obvious question is what steps is Mayor Rilling taking to reducing the incidence and costs of City litigation, And why he continues to have confidence in the City’s current legal Department. Ultimately its City homeowners who pick up the costs of City litigation. So its not just a “legal issue”.

Here’s an opportunity to compare City legal expenses with surrounding towns and other cities in Fairfield County. Would we be surprised by the results ?

Jason Milligan April 10, 2019 at 8:50 am

Piberman,

Step 1 would be to pry lose the figures from our secretive government. They work very hard to shield the true expenses of litigation.

The frivolous lawsuit against me has easily cost $500,000 to date. The expenses habe only been revealed through the end of November before all of the court dates and heavy work.

Through November it cost $108,000.

Accurate, timely accounting would be great.

Clearly defined goals and justification would also be nice.

Because Mario feels like it seems like the way we decide on litigation in this City.

Litigation should be the last resort!

Ron Morris April 10, 2019 at 1:36 pm

Piberman
Actually the obvious question is how would you know “Norwalk’s reputation for litigation is increasingly becoming known throughout the business community and further discourages major business from investing in our long shabby Downtown”
Please give us just one verifiable example of what you state.
FYI Just because you say it doesn’t make it true.

Mitch Adis April 10, 2019 at 7:23 pm

Even if for a single dollar we should go after the Mosby’s. They have cost the BOE plenty plus they have been freeloading off the City for years. Let them feel the pain. Maybe they will think twice next time they decide to launch a frivolous lawsuit.

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