NORWALK, Conn. — A months-long truce between Wall Street real estate mogul Jason Milligan and City officials has shattered.
At least, that’s how Milligan describes the situation – a truce that is now over. The resultant bomb throwing came Friday, as he christened Corporation Counsel Mario Coppola with the moniker “Scorporation Counsel,” likening himself to the frog in a well-known parable, and Coppola to the scorpion that stings because “it’s his nature.” Coppola in a Wednesday statement said Milligan is attempting to sell a false narrative to the public.
Milligan claims the City’s legal department is calling a halt to the effort to save Garden Cinemas from demolition. His announcement took the form of an opinion piece that NancyOnNorwalk’s editorial board decided to hold pending comment from Coppola.
Norwalk Chief of Staff Laoise King, Council President Tom Livingston (D-District E) and Norwalk Chief of Economic and Community Development Jessica Casey want to “keep the dialogue going and build on our progress,” but the “venomous approach of the legal team” led by Coppola is preventing that, according to Milligan’s statement. City officials in a statement released Tuesday said its their responsibility to protect the public interest by pursuing the lawsuit, in a parallel track.
This controversy comes as Milligan resists a court order to reveal who his partner is in the purchase of ‘POKO’ properties. Coppola called this more game playing.
Legal bills for Milligan are at $250,000
Milligan is on the hot seat, having failed in his effort to dismiss the lawsuit filed against him by the City and the Norwalk Redevelopment Agency. Attorney David Rubin on Sept. 26 told Judge Charles Lee that he’s billed Milligan $250,000 to date, in representing Milligan.
That news comes to you from Milligan, who on Oct. 3 provided NancyOnNorwalk with a transcript of that court conference. Lee had ruled that the 2004 Redevelopment Plan had indeed expired, Milligan said.
Let’s backtrack for new readers: Milligan and Richard Olson of POKO Partners were sued by the City and the Norwalk Redevelopment Agency because Olson sold Milligan properties that were slated to be used for Wall Street Place phases II and III, the famously stalled development commonly referred to as “POKO.” The Land Disposition Agreement required Olson to get Redevelopment Agency approval for a potential purchaser and Olson didn’t do so.
Milligan has claimed that the LDA is poorly written to the extent that it’s unenforceable, and violated many times by POKO Partners. He sought to have Lee dismiss the case against him on the grounds that the LDA was based on the 2004 Redevelopment Plan, which hadn’t been renewed in a timely manner, and then replaced this year with a redevelopment plan for a broader area.
Lee turned down that request, noting that Milligan bought the property before the 2004 Redevelopment Plan expired. The hearing is set to resume Oct. 24
Milligan in his op-ed reminds everyone that he publicly apologized to Mayor Harry Rilling, Common Council Majority Leader John Kydes (D-District C) and Coppola in July.
“Around the same time there was a serendipitous pause in the City’s lawsuit against me. The confluence of these 2 pauses provided a window for some earnest discussions to take place. Those discussions initially went very well,” he wrote.
Readers may recall that Milligan has been accused of misleading City officials in May 2018, promising that he wasn’t going to close on the POKO properties the next day, when he had already done so.
Milligan addresses this in his op-ed.
“I was expecting an amicable meeting of like-minded people who cared about Norwalk,” Milligan wrote. “Instead I had hopped into an ambush that included ‘Scorporation’ Counsel Coppola tapping his fingers on the lawsuit he’d already drafted and threatened to file against me in the event I closed on the POKO properties. Is it any wonder, then, that I didn’t immediately disclose the purchase at that meeting?”
Coppola’s version of events came during March court testimony.
Milligan rescheduled the meeting several times, emails provided to NancyOnNorwalk have shown. The rescheduling was abrupt and City officials were given little notice.
The lawsuit was being drafted and, “We were in the back-conference room… going over a draft of the lawsuit so I happened to have it in front of me” when Milligan walked in late, “so we were already back there, waiting for him,” Coppola said.
Rubin asked if Coppola had physically showed Milligan the lawsuit that he was “threatening to file.”
“I don’t think I would describe it as threatening him but we informed him we would do that if they proceeded with the transaction without getting prior approval from the Redevelopment Agency,” Coppola replied.
Progress has come to a halt after the Sept. 26 status conference, Milligan wrote:
“The City & Agency attorneys initially agreed for a court-appointed mediator to help resolve our issues amicably. But halfway across the river, so to speak, the City’s New Haven cabal of lawyers began to push back. They are now pressing hard on all possible aspects of the litigation. The spirit of cooperation is gone. The scorpions have become predictably aggressive, stinging when they should be compromising for the sake of our collective interests—mine, City Hall’s, and all Norwalk citizens with a vested interest in the local economy and their tax bills.
“Several good people on the City side–Norwalk residents like Chief of Staff Laoise King, Council President Tom Livingston and Chief of Economic and Community Development Jessica Casey–want to keep the dialogue going and build on our progress. But that progress is impeded by the venomous approach of the legal team led by Mr. Coppola. Remember, I’m just a frog. I cannot afford to engage in productive civil dialogue with the ‘good’ people while the ‘bad’ ones—the scorpions—are trying to sting me in the courts via ongoing, baseless and costly litigation.
NancyOnNorwalk emailed King and Livingston to get a response. King asked Norwalk Communications Manager Joshua Morgan to reply, and this statement arrived:
“The Mayor, Council leadership, and City staff have been and continue to be willing to talk with Mr. Milligan. He owns multiple properties on Wall Street and is clearly a stakeholder in the neighborhood.
“The City is working toward comprehensive solutions for Wall Street and that involves input from neighborhood stakeholders. At the same time, the City cannot drop the litigation. The City has a responsibility to Norwalk taxpayers to try to recover a key piece property that was to be used for parking for Phase I of the Wall Street Place development. That property was improperly transferred to Mr. Milligan, which required the property owner to try and find alternative parking solutions, and is the only reason the Garden Cinema is a part of this now.
“These are parallel tracks. This is not personal or the case of a rogue employee. The City will continue discussions about Wall Street with Mr. Milligan – not through the press but at the negotiating table – but until there is a resolution on the transferred property, the City cannot drop the lawsuit.
“I’d also note that Mr. Milligan’s most recent allegations about the Corporation Counsel are inaccurate and unfair. At least a few times in the past, Mr. Milligan has apologized to the Corporation Counsel for his unfair and derogatory treatment of him, including at the last Planning Committee a few months ago where Mr. Milligan issued a public apology. While it may frustrate Mr. Milligan or the other defendants, the Corporation Counsel, and other members of the City Law Department, are simply doing their job in representing the City in the pending litigation.”
“A city bankrupting itself on needless lawsuits cannot afford to retain a part-time scorpion indefinitely at 120k/year,” Milligan wrote. “Scorporation Counsel’s million dollar – to date – effort to sue the frog isn’t helping Wall Street or taxpayers. How can a scorpion advance the interests of his employer, the City of Norwalk, when it’s in his nature to sue no matter the cost?”
He explained the scorpion fable:
“A scorpion asks a frog to carry him across a river because the scorpion cannot swim. The frog says, ‘you’re a scorpion. You will sting me, and I will die.’ The scorpion replies, ‘but if I sting you, we both will die.’ The frog believes the scorpion’s argument makes sense—that the scorpion won’t act in a way that is counter to his own interests. The scorpion climbs on the frog’s back, and the frog begins to swim across the river. Halfway across the river, the scorpion stings the frog. The dying frog asks, ‘Scorpion, why did you sting me?’ The scorpion answers, ‘I’m a scorpion. It’s in my nature.’”
Coppola on Wednesday released this statement:
“Mr. Milligan would like the public to believe a false narrative. He would like the public to believe that certain individuals are somehow out to get him by simply doing their jobs. But it is Mr. Milligan who has threatened that he would file civil rights claims against numerous City officials when he did not get special treatment. It is Mr. Milligan who has engaged in bullying tactics over the course of a year through numerous statements he has made to the press clearly intended to harass and embarrass public officials that might dare to stand up to him. Mr. Milligan would like the public to believe that the Public Parties are wasting money simply because the litigation is expensive even though it is he who has deployed trial tactic after trial tactic to delay a ‘temporary’ injunction hearing that should have taken no more than a few days through endless testimony elicited by his own counsel over the course of weeks and the filing of constant motions which have been continuously denied by the Court. But, at the end of the day, the Public Parties have an obligation to stand up to Mr. Milligan, even if that means being the target of his wrath.”
‘Hundreds of people’ will know
Lee on Sept. 25 ordered Milligan to comply with the plaintiffs “discovery” requests – which date to November. The deadline for compliance was Monday. Milligan has not complied but has instead asked Lee to reconsider.
The plaintiffs are seeking details of questioned transactions, documents explaining the organizational structure of Milligan Real Estate and documents revealing its members. Also sought are the members of Komi Ventures, a Milligan entity that helped inspire the “unfair trade practices” accusation made in the lawsuit.
“While the Court has entered a confidentiality order relating to the identity of Komi’s other member, that confidentiality order is insufficient to protect the individual’s identity due to the nature of the parties to this action,” Rubin’s argument states, alleging that “hundreds of people” will have access to the information, even with the confidentiality order.
The “probative value” of the member’s identity does not justify revealing his or her identity, Rubin writes.
“Mr. Milligan will sign an affidavit to the effect that the individual does not reside in Norwalk, does not have, nor has he ever had, any contracts with the City of Norwalk, does not sit, nor has he ever sat, on any Norwalk Boards or Commissions, does not work, nor has he ever worked for a City Department or Agency, and has never done business with the City of Norwalk,” Rubin wrote. “There are no conflicts, real or imagined that would require the disclosure of the identity of this person.”
Callahan said Wednesday that he’s never seen a motion to reargue a discovery request “but it’s permissible.” He’ll file an objection Thursday and, “I don’t see much of merit to the motion, other than to delay the inevitable.”
“This is just the latest delay tactic from Mr. Milligan,” Coppola said. “He continues to put up hurdles which the Public Parties have to jump over to obtain complete compliance with discovery requests that were served close to a year ago. He has not complied with the Court’s recent order and has failed to provide full compliance with the discovery requests. Instead, Mr. Milligan continues to play games and is purposely delaying this process rather than providing the relevant information the Public Parties have requested.”