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Milligan downplays legal loss, looks for settlement talks

At right, detail of a mural paid for by real estate broker Jason Milligan, on a Wall Street building he recently purchased. At left, birds perched on the “Tyvek Temple,” otherwise known as Wall Street Place phase I, or “POKO.”

Updated, more information – 7:47 p.m.: Legal fee total; 1 p.m.: Additional perspective from lawyers.

NORWALK, Conn. — The new judge in the “POKO lawsuit” has ruled against yet another attempt by real estate broker Jason Milligan to dismiss the case.

Monday’s decision comes as Milligan seeks to raise a ruckus over what he says is the public parties’ refusal to go into court mediation to resolve the lawsuit. Corporation Counsel Mario Coppola said the public parties have often spoken with Milligan but will not enter mediation without a written offer.

Milligan recently penned a letter to the editor, arguing that the time for mediation is now.

“We are trying to schedule mediation. Mario wants preconditions in place for mediation. I don’t so I am trying to bring public pressure,” Milligan wrote Nov. 17 to NancyOnNorwalk.

 

Hashtag Winning?

Milligan, under multiple legal entities, is the most active defendant in the lawsuit stemming from his purchase of properties slated to become part of Wall Street Place (commonly referred to as “POKO”), which the plaintiffs said was done in violation of the Land Disposition Agreement (LDA) for the parcels.

Another defendant in the case, CC Rivington, recently agreed to settle. The Common Council and Redevelopment Agency voted in August to accept a settlement offer; details have not been divulged.

CC Rivington is a mortgage company with tertiary involvement in the transactions that the City and Redevelopment Agency contend were unfair trade practices, breach of contract and intentionally interfering with a contract.

Judge Sheila Ozalis’ Monday ruling denies every argument Milligan made in a motion for summary judgment filed a year ago, while noting the ruling hinges on seeing the facts in the best light for the plaintiffs.

Real estate broker Jason Milligan, in front of a mural on the side of the El Dorado Club, in September. (Contributed)

Ozalis referred to three previous unsuccessful attempts by Milligan to dismiss the case, agreeing with Judge Charles Lee’s finding from September 2019 and mentioning that Milligan’s lawyer was re-arguing the same points that Judge Lee ruled against. Ozalis said Milligan is “simply wrong” in arguing that the LDA mandated only one remedy for a default, voiding another argument. And while Milligan claims the LDA has expired, Ozalis said it wasn’t expired when Milligan bought the properties, something Lee also said in a previous ruling.

Milligan has often claimed that the LDA doesn’t apply to him because he wasn’t a signatory; Ozalis said it’s a restrictive covenant on the land. Her ruling states that yes, Milligan could pay damages as well as restitution.

Coppola, on Tuesday, said Milligan has lost every “dispositive motion” he’s filed. Meaning, every legal maneuver he’s taken to dispose of the case has failed. “In its entirety.”

Research shows:

  1. A Dec. 6, 2018 motion to strike, denied on Feb. 6, 2019 (Docket No. 120)
  2. A Jan. 15, 2019 attempt to dismiss the plaintiffs request for temporary injunction, denied Feb. 19, 2019 (Docket No. 152)
  3. A Feb. 19, 2019 motion to strike, denied May 27, 2020 (Docket No. 181)
  4. A Feb. 15, 2019 motion to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction; denied Dec. 2, 2019 (Docket No. 186)
  5. A March 22, 2019 amended motion to dismiss, denied Sept. 10, 2019 (Docket No. 205)
  6. A Nov. 15, 2019 motion for summary judgment, denied Nov. 30, 2020 (Docket No. 251)

 

Milligan said he’s still “#winning.”

“Our motion for summary judgment was filed for 1 reason: To get the judge to determine that the 2004 plan has expired and/or has been replaced as a matter of law. Judge Ozalis instead decided to put off a decision. She claimed that there are issues of fact to be determined before she will render a decision on the plan expiration,” he wrote.

Ozalis referred to that issue as “a genuine issue of material fact that precludes this Court from granting summary judgment in the {Milligan’s} favor.”

“Lawsuits ebb and flow,” Milligan wrote. “Our trial has not even started. The public parties have not complied with our initial discovery requests from over a year ago. They have not complied with any of our deposition requests. There have been minor victories for both sides that are somewhat meaningless in the grand scheme of the entire legal battle. For me to put on my case I need them to supply the requested documents and I need to interview many people under oath!”

And, “It is a well known fact that summary judgement is seldom granted in the state of Connecticut. Nonetheless there are reasons that it made sense for us to file it. One day in the future I might reveal why it was part of our legal strategy even though we knew it had a low probability of being granted.”

A lawyer asked by NancyOnNorwalk for comment said he generally agrees that it’s difficult to win a motion for summary judgment in Connecticut state courts. “MSJs” can be “filed for a number of strategic reasons even if the filing party thinks it is unlikely to win, including exploring a small chance of success, pressuring a settlement, creating another issue for appeal, seeing what arguments the other side will make or evidence presented to counter the movant’s arguments of fact and law, etc.,” he said.

For a judge to grant summary judgment, the important facts must be established and the decision made on the legal merits, he said, concluding, “The outcome can be viewed as a minor win for the city in that the MSJ was denied but it was likely an anticipated win for the city (loss for the movant/Milligan).  It does not significantly change the landscape of the case generally.”

Attorney Sarah McIntee, a Chapman Hyperlocal Media Board member with no connection to the POKO combatants, offered opinions with the caveat that she is not a Connecticut lawyer.

“While {Milligan} is right, summary judgment is a tough standard to win on in most jurisdictions, it certainly isn’t impossible so I also wouldn’t say it is a meaningless victory.   And if it meant nothing, then why did his legal team file for it?” McIntee said. “To file for summary judgment, you are essentially telling the court that the facts prove the allegations and no trial needs to be had.  Defeating a dispositive motion like that is always a win.”

She also said, “Summary judgment motions typically are not filed until after discovery is completed.  Yet, Jason is complaining about inadequate discovery still…that ship would seem to have sailed if this was following the typical process.”

 

 

‘Not a waste of money’

Jason Milligan’s latest photo of ripped Tyvek, taken after Monday’s storm. (Contributed)

Milligan said he wants to sit down with a judge and an army of representatives of multiple public bodies and private entities and work out an end to the multiple lawsuits inspired by his purchase of “POKO” properties.

What he won’t do is submit a written offer, as requested by Coppola, as a prelude to court-assisted mediation.

“That’s not how mediation works,” Milligan said. His lawyer, David Rubin, called the resistance to mediation “baffling.”

“The public parties have in the past provided the Milligan defendants with a written settlement offer,” Coppola wrote. “To date, Mr. Milligan has refused to provide in writing a settlement offer where he specifies what he is willing to provide to the public parties in exchange for receiving a release from the development requirements on the properties he improperly purchased in POKO Phase II and III.”

The request that Milligan put it in writing is not unreasonable, McIntee said.

“Mediation is not an inexpensive endeavor and if the parties are on drastically different wavelengths (meaning very far apart in their expectations) is far less likely to be successful,” McIntee wrote. “Asking Mr. Milligan to provide a response to the initial settlement offer gives them some insight into where he is currently and would help to determine whether mediation might be worthwhile given the parties positions.”

She continued, “While it is also true that mediation is designed to help parties resolve disputes that they may not be able to resolve on their own, a successful mediation requires the parties to have some level of transparency. Most court ordered mediations (admittedly in other jurisdictions) I have been a party to required the parties to prepare at a minimum confidential mediation statements to be reviewed by the mediator in preparation for the process of trying to resolve the dispute. Mr. Milligan is essentially asking the other side to walk into this mediation without even a basic response to the settlement offer given to him on the table – and in my opinion I don’t think that is something many lawyers would ever advise their clients to do.”

Milligan maintains the mediation would be “free.”

“From the perspective of a taxpayer what is the downside to spending a day trying to mediate?” he asked Tuesday. “It is not a waste of money because it is free. It is potentially a waste of time. One Day! In the 2.5 year scheme of things it is a worthwhile exercise. There is huge potential upside.”

He claimed, “Taxpayers want the parties to try to settle our differences. The enormous ego of Mario and {Mayor Harry Rilling} are what is standing in the way.”

“We have spoken with Mr. Milligan many times over the past two years, including even recently,” Coppola said Tuesday. “We’ve spent an inordinate amount of time discussing potential resolutions to the case of Mr. Milligan. And we’ve never been able to be within a reasonable range, that it would make sense for us to get together with multiple people to have a mediation.”

He said, “Furthermore, the public parties have been spending a lot of time and money to litigate this case, including responding to numerous dispositive motions that the Milligan defendants have filed, to try to have various claims the plaintiffs have made dismissed in the case … And each and every one of those dispositive motions has been denied by the court in its entirety. There’s still significant work to be done in the next few months… we cannot divert our attention from doing that work.”

 

Mounting bills

Real estate broker Jason Milligan has a drink in July, outside his newly renovated Treasure House on Isaacs Street, after Common Council members advanced the plan to restart construction on Wall Street Place. (Contributed)

Milligan is campaigning against the revised POKO plan, which would allow Citibank, under Municipal Holdings, and JHM Group, commonly called “the McClutchys,” to restart construction on Wall Street Place without the parking lot Milligan bought.

His ardor for court mediation comes eight months after he turned down a settlement offer from the City: he could have paid $1.9 million to end the battles.

Since the March 11 offer, more than 130 entries have been made in the docket for the case, most of them unsubstantial from the public’s point of view other than them representing fees for lawyers.

Although Milligan has been saying for months that the City’s legal fees are $1 million, the total through Monday is $865,023.73, according to information provided Wednesday by Redevelopment Agency Attorney Marc Grenier. That’s to Shipman & Goodwin, for all the lawsuits the firm is handling that involve Milligan. In addition, the Redevelopment Agency has paid $5,000 to LeClair Ryan for legal fees regarding Milligan’s challenge to the Wall-West redevelopment plan, Grenier said.

 

 

 

Ethics complaints

Milligan has often derisively called Coppola “Super Mario,” and in April the battle heated up: Milligan filed an abuse of process lawsuit against Coppola, accusing the City’s attorney of not following municipal regulations and protocol. In June, Rubin filed an ethics complaint against Coppola, claiming that Coppola was preventing settlement discussions for “personal reasons.”

Milligan’s antipathy for Coppola dates to a previous legal issue around his plan to build apartments next to the Norwalk Public Library, on Mott Avenue. Milligan won Zoning approval for those apartments but the Norwalk Public Library Foundation filed an appeal. Coppola was involved in the negotiations that led to a settlement.

Confidentiality is a key component of ethics complaints. Milligan divulged them to NancyOnNorwalk last week.

An email he sent in June to then-Council President Barbara Smyth (D-At Large) and Council member Tom Livingston (D-District E) said, “I have no plans to publicize this. I am committed to finding a path forward. Publicly airing grievances or publicly bickering has not served our community well thus far.”

He declined to say Monday whether he had signed an oath of confidentiality regarding the ethics complaint. He wrote, “there is more than one place that an ethics complaint can be filed especially if it concerns the behavior of an attorney. I can also inform you that the chairman of the local ethics board is Mario Coppola. I can think of enormous conflicts of interests concerning local ethical dilemmas.”

Michael Church is chairman of the Norwalk Ethics Commission. Coppola is the staff member assigned to the volunteer Commission.

“The truth is Mario is completely out of control,” Milligan said last week. “He ignores rules. He applies pressure on boards and commissions to get what the administration wants, and he bullies everyone that does business with or in the City of Norwalk. I am not suggesting Mario is completely rogue. He either has specific or implied instructions or permission to do what he does.”

Attorney Stephen Fogerty, representing Coppola, said he found it “ironic” that Milligan would say “Publicly airing grievances or publicly bickering has not served our community well thus far,” and then send NancyOnNorwalk only part of an email exchange, leaving out the responses that provide a “full picture.”

Fogerty said Milligan will pay a price for these actions.

“The City does not believe the orderly, legal and beneficial development of the Wall Street area is served by Mr. Milligan’s and Attorney Rubin’s ongoing campaign of defamation of Attorney Coppola or the filing of meritless lawsuits,” Fogerty wrote. “Their conduct will be addressed in the appropriate forum, court of law. That forum has been decidedly favorable to the City’s positions.”

Updated, 11:25 a.m.: Headline adjusted.

6 comments

Jason Milligan December 2, 2020 at 6:48 am

The city of Norwalk is really bad at Real Estate! They waste money and bungle everything they touch.

The city’s money is our money. They get money by taxing us.

My involvement in POKO has bred a huge win for Norwalk taxpayers because I have exposed the issues the leaders have tried to keep secret.

I have also accomplished more in 2 years then they have in the past 16..

This city has agreed to give $4.4 of your money to super wealthy Team McClutchy. McClutchy’s developer fee is a whopping $9.6 million if they build the latest plan.

Guess who pays that fee… You!

The City likes to pretend they are “investing”. To get jobs. To get future tax revenue.

So far, POKO has hired all out of town professionals.

Once completed the tax receipts for the “$100 million” project will be approximately 25% less then the city currently gets from the Tyvek Temple and a vacant theater.

Can you say SWEETHEART TAX DEAL?

Taxpayers should tell the city to stop gambling with our money.

Demand to learn what we get for the $4.4 million!

Jason Milligan December 2, 2020 at 10:34 am

Headline is highly misleading and biased.

I never pleaded!

I have been recommending mediation as the best option to resolve all of the disputes for over a year.

My Op Ed which is perhaps what you consider pleading was written and published by 2 other news outlets over a week ago.

The decision on my motion for summary judgement came after my Op Ed that you didn’t publish. The 2 events are unrelated.

I am not even the slightest bit concerned by the recent ruling.

Bryan Meek December 2, 2020 at 6:35 pm

Jason, just call it a truck depot with 1000s of trucks destroying the neighborhood and it will sail through.

Michael McGuire December 3, 2020 at 12:25 pm

As representatives and “defenders” of the public’s interests, can anyone at City Hall legal department please tell us, the taxpayers, why POKO as planned reflects our best interests?

What specific benefit will we (the Norwalk Taxpayer) see vs. just tearing up the LDA and letting this project become what best fits the local marketplace?

If you can’t/won’t address this simple request, then mediation is the best path to take.

Michael McGuire December 4, 2020 at 4:59 pm

I’m truly hoping someone from City Hall will respond. Perhaps by Monday we can have an answer to this very basic question.

What specific benefit will we (the Norwalk Taxpayer) see from the POKO project vs. just tearing up the LDA and letting this project become what best fits the local marketplace?

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