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‘POKO’ lawsuit legal fees now at $468K+

Real estate broker Jason Milligan, Monday in City Hall.

NORWALK, Conn. – Norwalk Redevelopment Agency legal bills have topped $468,000 in a lawsuit against real estate broker Jason Milligan.

A Redevelopment Agency lawyer released the total late Friday afternoon in response to a Freedom of Information request by NancyOnNorwalk.  In a statement also released late Friday, the Agency accused Milligan of running up fees by delaying the court case with many motions; Milligan accused the Agency and the City of dumping the news on a weekend so that the public would miss nearly half a million dollars spent on what he’s called a frivolous lawsuit.

 

The recap

Milligan and four legal entities under his control are being sued by the City and the Redevelopment Agency, as is a legal entity controlled by Richard Olson of POKO Partners. Olson sold Milligan’s Wall Street Opportunity Fund LLC five properties that were slated to become part of Wall Street Place, a mixed-use development on land that included two former City parking lots.

The Redevelopment Agency, through a Land Disposition Agreement (LDA), claims it had the right to approve a sale of the properties. Olson did not get approval.

Milligan is accused of tortious interference and unfair trade practices; the plaintiffs say in Friday’s press release that they were “obligated to pursue legal action” to prevent Olson from becoming unjustly enriched by selling Milligan the properties and “to ensure that the Redeveloper’s obligations to the City of Norwalk are upheld by any subsequent purchaser.”

“Mr. Milligan has evidenced indifference to recognizing any such obligations to the City of Norwalk,” the statement said.

The Agency in August retained Attorney Joseph Williams of Shipman & Goodwin to represent itself in the lawsuit, after Mayor Harry Rilling and others alleged that Redevelopment Agency Attorney Marc Grenier had a conflict of interest because he has ties to Milligan.

A hearing on a temporary injunction to prevent Milligan from altering the properties began in December and is ongoing. It was initially paused when the plaintiffs filed an amended complaint; Judge Charles Lee told Milligan he could submit a bill to cover his expenses in defending himself against the original complaint, and he asked for $21,519.25.

Milligan and his attorney in March moved to dismiss the case and requested an evidentiary hearing with testimony from an expert witness; the plaintiffs objected.

POKO-derivative ILSR Owners has also moved to dismiss the case.

 

 

Agency statement

The legal bills obtained Friday through FOI say that Williams and Shipman & Goodwin have billed the Redevelopment Agency $468,460.42 through April 30.

FOIA Compliance RE POKO Shipman and Goodwin Bills

“As this case has proceeded, Mr. Milligan has engaged in a legal strategy intent on stalling the advancement of the case and running up the cost of the litigation by advancing continuous motions challenging the jurisdiction of the court,” Friday’s statement says.

“The Milligan defendants, after causing the need for the action to be filed in the first place, have gone to extraordinary lengths to delay and drive up the cost to pursue not even the underlying case, but a requested temporary injunction,” Williams is quoted as saying. “Their tactics include filing multiple motions to dismiss, motions for stay, motions to strike and for summary judgment, refusing to comply with their discovery obligations which caused the need for the plaintiffs to file motions and issue subpoenas, repetitive cross-examination, and now a separate evidentiary hearing on a motion to dismiss after two such motions were previously denied by the court.”

“Mr. Milligan’s hope is that his stall tactics, the resulting higher than expected legal costs and his blustering will supersede the will of the public parties to protect the public’s interests in the property that he intentionally purchased without the requisite authority and with malice toward the underlying obligations of the LDA as approved by the public party plaintiffs,” the statement said.

“While every effort is being made to contain the legal costs associated with protecting the rights the Agency and City have under the LDA for the benefit of the public, the reality is, if the Milligan defendant wants to make this lawsuit expensive, there is only so much the City and Agency can do to mitigate against those efforts without undermining the underlying quality of the legal work being performed,” Assistant Corporation Counsel Darin Callahan is quoted as saying.

Statement on Legal Bills

 

Milligan’s reply

“I have been complaining about the wasted attorney fees for months and months and it is now on a Friday late afternoon that they decide to make this ridiculous press release,” Milligan wrote.

He said:

  • “{T}he City & Agency took misstep after misstep. They really have no clue what they are doing.  {Corporation Counsel Mario Coppola and Redevelopment Agency Executive Director Tim Sheehan} both should have been fired a long time ago.”
  • “They have filed poorly written complaints full of mistakes and faulty legal arguments. We responded each time. Once they withdrew the lawsuit entirely. Then they brought a new lawsuit. We complained and 3 times they rewrote the lawsuit.”
  • “Keep in mind that Judge Lee sanctioned these legal geniuses for their sloppy legal work and he made them pay some of my legal fees.”
  • “Their lawsuits have been ill advised. They have been an attempt to bully and silence me. They have not worked. I am winning.”
  •  “The biggest false statement of the press release is ‘The Redevelopment Agency and City are obligate to pursue legal action regarding this transaction.’ Nothing could be further from the truth. What they should have done is tried to negotiate a reasonable, thoughtful resolution that was most beneficial to the area, which is still what they should do. Before that can happen Mario & Tim need to be fired or sidelined.”
  • “{Former Common Council member} Bruce Kimmel may not be right very often, but he was spot on in 2015 when he described the land agreements as poorly written and legally unenforceable.”
  • “The lawsuit that has caused the Agency to spend $500,000 that they recognize, and probably another $200,000 plus in outstanding bills, is another example of the sloppy work that is produced by these same players. It has cost so much money because it is a frivolous lawsuit that does not stand up to a vigorous defense. They thought they could bully their way through a quick injunction regardless of the facts. They have sorely miscalculated and underestimated.”

 

 

 

Previous commentary

Milligan on May 3 complained that the plaintiffs were delaying the lawsuit. Told that it had been suggested that he was delaying, he said, “I am guilty, I’ve delayed like hell. I am not unhappy it’s delayed, I want to rent all my space out. So, I love that they are delaying but with good reason. … I am within my rights. But I don’t want this lawsuit. It was dumb. They should have called me at the get-go.”

He later clarified, “Sure, there are delays that I caused. Was delaying the only goal? No, I am not delaying for delaying’s sake. I am unhappy.”

City officials say they have spent much time talking with Milligan, including during a May 31 meeting in the Mayor’s office, in which Milligan “offered assurances to City officials that he had no intentions on closing on the POKO properties. This was untrue, as a property transfer was recorded in the Town Clerk’s office directly after the meeting,” according to a City press release.

“I admit that I was misleading at the meeting but I did not lie,” Milligan wrote in an June 2 email to Coppola and Grenier.

There was also a meeting in July, after the plaintiffs filed their initial legal action. In July, Coppola wrote, “[R]epresentatives from the Agency and City have been continuously listening with an open mind to Mr. Milligan’s many ideas regarding what he believes should be done with the future development of all 3 phases of the POKO project.”

 

Reimbursement?

Friday’s Agency press release said, “Should the public parties prevail on the underlying case they have filed against the referenced parties, the reimbursement of all associated legal fees is incorporated in the complaint as a damage claim against the referenced parties.”

13 comments

Jason Milligan May 18, 2019 at 6:16 am

2 questions.

How many people did it take to guess about my hopes and dreams?

How many breaths do you have to take to read this run on sentence out loud?

“Mr. Milligan’s hope is that his stall tactics, the resulting higher than expected legal costs and his blustering will supersede the will of the public parties to protect the public’s interests in the property that he intentionally purchased without the requisite authority and with malice toward the underlying obligations of the LDA as approved by the public party plaintiffs,” the statement said.

Chris Redfield May 18, 2019 at 8:18 am

It sounds like Jason is going to lose based on the fine print on the contract. Let’s see the actual results if we can ever get there with the constant delaying tactics.

Ernie DesRochers May 18, 2019 at 9:00 am

So the let’s get this straight- the City of Norwalk spends $.5 million on a lawsuit defending a $50 million project that a very successful multi – family developer says is ill conceived (and poorly designed) and will never work financially. And we are supposed to sit here as tax payers and say nothing? I personally want to thank Former Mayors Knopf, Moccia, and current Mayor Rilling for your brilliant leadership on this matter. We wonder why folks are fed up with government! Every time a politician gets involved in something like this they make a mess. Also a shoutout to Tim Sheehan- you are the general leading this mess you need to look for a new job too! The multi-family sector has seen a building boom of unprecedented size nationally and Norwalk has been a beneficiary. That said few have any are busted so this mess makes it that much more comical. Time for real leadership in City Hall.

Jason Milligan May 18, 2019 at 9:40 am

Chris Redfield,

Would you mind describing what a win for the city would look like in this matter?

The City has no defined goals or strategies other than to vaguely protect the public interest. If we are measuring success by that standard then this crew of have been failing miserably for years.

There is one big winner… attorney Joe Williams! Half a million dollar winner.

Mitch Adis May 19, 2019 at 7:04 pm

Almost $500,000 and they aren’t even close to the end. I predict a final cost of $1,500,000 before they finally settle. What a joke.

Jason Milligan May 20, 2019 at 5:14 pm

Sid,

Remind everyone who initiated the lawsuit?

MARIO COPPOLA!!!

Thank him for the wasted money. Don’t even try to say there was no other choice. There were and still are many other good choices that won’t waste tax payer money.

I bought property from a private citizen. I paid market value in an arms length transaction.

The sale was a short sale meaning the owner left the closing owing the bank money which thwy are likely still pursuing.

The old owner was supposed to get consent from the Redevelopment Agency before selling. He didn’t.

They can go after him for any rules he may have broken.

As for me, I am 100% in compliance with every last sentence of tje land agreemwnts and all the amendments.

Our government let us down. They wasted money and tehy continue to waste money.

They should not take it out on me. I have improved the area tremendously and will continue to do so!

Jason Milligan May 20, 2019 at 5:54 pm

BTW does everyone realize that the the Shipman & Goodwin attorneys that are on this case hail from New Haven and Hartford?

When they come down for trial the taxpayers put them up in luxury hotels.

Meanwhile Shipman and Goodwin has an office in downtown Stamford chock full of attorneys. Mario is from the New Haven area. Joe Williams is from the New Haven area.

Not to mention there has not been a minute of trial or any emails or phone calls exchanges or depositions given without at least one city attorney from the corporation council office. In theory one of the 10 attorneys we pay full time to protect the city could be arguing this case. With all the attorney’s tripping over themselves they are still putting on a disaster of a case. They are disorganized and sloppy and sometimes argue against each other. It is embarrassing and it is a disgusting waste of money!

DT May 20, 2019 at 7:30 pm

I don’t know Jason, but I’ve been following this “saga” for a long time. Longer than it needs to be.
What does the City of Norwalk have against this guy? It seems like they are just stone-walling him for the sake of it.
Here’s a guy trying to do something good for Norwalk (and make some coin on his investment) and our officials fight him at every turn. What have they done to HELP this situation? NOTHING. All hindrance. I hope the legal fees continue to rise. Let this guy do what he wants. He’s not trying to hurt Norwalk!

Sid Welker May 21, 2019 at 11:55 am

@DT. The first four word of your comment says it all. My wife and I drive through Wall Street once or twice a week and have not seen much of an improvement to the properties that he owns. Just banners taunting the city and articles and articles gloating with ego driven statements. I agree, its a waste of tax payers dollars but also a waste of everyone’s time. Enough with all of this. This is a city matter that could has been solved but Jason loves the attention. Before this who heard of this guy? Like they say, any press is good press.

Jason Milligan May 21, 2019 at 2:24 pm

Sid,

Next time you are driving through. Park your car. Grab a smoothie at Mr. Mango and take a walking tour of the lovely murals in the area.

If you need cash there is an ATM at the brand new FC Bank Branch at 69 Wall St.

If you have trouble finding parking on street please park your car in the well lit, sparkling clean parking lot located at 23 Isaacs st. Yes there is a small fee to park in that pristine lot.

Not sure what you are comparing your drive through tours to or if you are aware of which properties I own. All of mine are clean and well kept. Any progress that is planned but not yet completed can be traced directly to a slow and inept city hall.

Sid you are worse than ignorant because you do not want to be enlightened.

You blindly support a poorly run city like you blindly drive through Wall Street twice per week.

Sid Welker May 21, 2019 at 2:36 pm

What would a Jason Milligan comment be without a shameless plug for himself. Very typical. Its all about you young man.

itsjustme8 May 21, 2019 at 3:27 pm

Nothing like sloppy legal work to the tune of almost $500k. Also, Mr Milligan brings up some valid points regarding the law firm. Can we see what the lawyers charge the city? Where’s lunch? Washington Prime or is it Blackstones? Water or Cabernet?

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