NORWALK, Conn. – Real estate broker Jason Milligan’s recent encounters with city officials have led to more accusations by each side against the other, and a phone call to the Norwalk Police Department.
Milligan was in City Hall on Nov. 6, trying yet again to get a permit for “Mr. Mango” to open a smoothie shop at 97 Wall St., one of the properties Milligan purchased recently, he said. According to Milligan, Assistant Planning and Zoning Director Mike Wrinn had told him that P&Z needed the legal department’s opinion before issuing the permit.
“That in and of itself is a big problem. It seems all roads that I take in this city eventually lead to Super Mario-a part time employee,” Milligan wrote. The person Milligan refers to as “Super Mario” is Mario Coppola, the city’s corporation counsel, who Milligan has previously accused of treating him unfairly.
Planning and Zoning was holding up the permit for Mr. Mango because of a Zoning violation in the rear of 97 Wall St., a large building. Milligan’s efforts to evict the auto repair business that had been in there for years were successful, he said, seemingly clearing the way for Mr. Mango.
“…After visiting the zoning office I went to see if Brian McCann was in his office. When I entered, the place was like a ghost town. Nobody was at the front desk and nobody was in the first several offices. I announced myself and poked my head down the hall to see if Brian was there. He was not. But the guy who tried to void my permits a few weeks ago was there. After learning that Brian was not in I proceeded to leave. On my way out I asked Darren if he had tried to void any permits lately, which caused him to become a bit aggressive. I left without further incident.
“Four hours later I received a phone call from a Norwalk Police officer who had been to visit Darren. He requested that I not walk past the reception desk in the future, which I agreed to.
“He also told me that Darren said that I am not allowed into the law office without counsel present. That is a problem. I absolutely refuse to follow that demand! Darren should be aware that I have a lawyer representing me in the defense of one frivolous lawsuit that was filed against one of my 11 companies. It happens to be my newest company that was created a few months ago. My first company was started in 2001. Ten of my companies have no counsel.
“I have plenty of business in City Hall and potentially in the law office that does not concern this frivolous lawsuit. Like the many FOIA requests that I am planning to make.”
The City of Norwalk and the Norwalk Redevelopment Agency are suing Milligan for purchasing Wall Street properties that were subject to a tri-party agreement describing how the properties would be developed. The City contends the agreement required Milligan to obtain permission from the City prior to the purchase; Milligan says it wasn’t necessary.
NancyOnNorwalk sent an email to the legal department and asked for a response to Milligan’s comments. Deputy Corporation Counsel Jeffrey Spahr responded:
“For the past several weeks and months we have been working with our Building Management group to develop a system to regulate public access to our Department for a number of reasons. One reason for this would be to ensure the general safety, security and peace of mind of our attorneys and staff. As you can imagine, in some of our cases passions may run pretty high. We have been in the process of taking steps to make sure that a individual cannot enter our office without permission with the intent to harass our employees.
“Another reason is to protect the confidentiality of the files and communications that we have in the office. For example, within the numerous files we have wherein a plaintiff is alleging some sort of physical injury there will be voluminous amounts of confidential medical records. We need to ensure that these records are protected from public access. In addition, during the course of the day our attorneys will be engaged in any number of confidential and privileged communications that cannot be subject to unauthorized monitoring or eavesdropping.
“This project has been in the works for an extended period of time. In fact, just yesterday morning I had a discussion with the Building Management team about the needs that we have in providing this security. Accordingly, our efforts to temper public access to our office is a matter that has long preceded Mr. Milligan’s breach of our privacy. However, his conduct is certainly something that has only strengthened our opinion that such steps need to be taken.
“For example, last week I was informed by an attorney in our office that they were present in the Zoning Department’s office when Mr. Milligan was there. They described having witnessed Milligan aggressively and belligerently belittling and berating one of the zoning officials.
“Next, I was present in our office, standing at the door of one of our attorneys while discussing one of our pending cases when an individual (unknown to me) entered our office. Our receptionist was not at her station so I asked this person if I could assist him. He asked ‘Is Brian there?’. We have two attorneys with the name ‘Brian’. I asked which Brian he was looking for. He said he was looking for Brian McCann. I told him I was talking to Brian Candela and (after leaning to look into Brian McCann’s office) told him that Brian McCann was not at this desk.
“Without waiting or seeking permission this person walked right past the receptionist’s desk, strode a few feet down the hallway to where I was standing and peered into Brian Candela’s office double checking to see who was in there (as if I had been hiding something from him or was not being truthful with him). I found this act to be quite offensive and annoying. It was only when he moved past me that I saw that on his jacket the words ‘Milligan Realty’ were stitched thereon. After he left I was informed by Attorney Candela that the rude person was Jason Milligan (I do not believe that I had ever seen him before in person).
“As I mentioned, Tuesday morning I had a discussion with the Building Management team re: our security. I actually brought up the Milligan intrusion as an example of why we need to regulate access to our offices.
“Yesterday afternoon I was informed that Milligan has once more barged into our offices and strutted down the hallways, peering into offices, without any permission. It should be stated that at the receptionist’s desk there is a sign with an obvious ‘Stop Sign’ that instructs any and all visitors to ring a bell if they are in need of assistance. It is presumed that Milligan can read so it would appear that he completely and intentionally disregarded the sign as if the rules did not apply to him.
“It is my understanding that he walked all the way down to the last cubicle where one of our staff people was working and demanded to know if Brian McCann was in. He was told that Attorney McCann was not in for the day. After being told this, he walked right by the secretary and continued down the hallway peering into an office.
“On the way back down the passageway he ducked into the office where Attorney Callahan was busy working and made an offensive, combative and provocative comment (/accusation) against Attorney Callahan. He was asked to leave.
“After the incident it was decided that an email should be sent to Milligan’s attorney notifying him of the matter. It must be understood that Milligan has one or more matters involving pending or threatened litigation with the City of Norwalk. The Law Department and its attorneys are unlike other departments in that we are barred from communicating with a person who has pending litigation with the City about the subject of that litigation. The Rules of Professional Conduct for attorneys prevents them from having any communications with an opposing litigant. Specifically, Rule 4.2 of the Rules provides that “a lawyer shall not communicate…with a party the lawyer knows to be represented by another lawyer in the matter, unless the lawyer has the consent of the other lawyer or is authorized by law to do so.”
“In addition, it was decided that a report should be made to the Police Department in order to document this latest intrusion and offensive behavior. No request was made for there to be any enforcement action taken against Milligan. Instead, the officer was instructed to inform Milligan that this report had been filed and instructing him to not enter the Law Department and walk past the reception area without prior permission. In addition, he was informed that he should not appear at the Law Department and attempt to engage the attorneys in conversation (or to taunt or belittle them). He was instructed that he would need to make an appointment before appearing – thus giving the attorneys and staff the opportunity to inform his attorney of his intentions. Further, he was to be informed that the attorneys would not have any conversation with him about any pending or potential legal matters without his attorney present.
“Finally, while the attorneys and the staff of the Law Department are there to assist the public whenever possible, we are not there to be berated by the public. In addition, we do not wish to allow members of the public to simply enter our office unannounced and to stroll down our hallway peering into offices and possibly listening in on conversations or accessing private files. This policy applies not only to Milligan, but to everyone.”
Spahr said Wednesday that Milligan’s behavior is an example of why security needs to be increased in Norwalk City Hall.
Milligan sees it differently. “Mario’s errand boy Darin called the cops on me today,” Milligan wrote in a Nov. 6 email to NancyOnNorwalk, referring to Corporation Counsel Mario Coppola and Assistant Corporation Counsel Darin Callahan.
Spahr also said he’d been told by McCann that “at least on one occasion Milligan called this office and gave a fake name in order to be put through to the attorney.”
He called Milligan’s behavior “juvenile, ill-mannered and uncouth.”
Speaking to NancyOnNorwalk on Wednesday, Callahan denied being aggressive and said he’d been sitting at his desk when he heard a voice and turned around to see Milligan “blocking the door,” standing there with his arms crossed. Spahr said the receptionist had been out of the office, due to a vacation day, when Milligan walked down the hall instead of ringing the bell.
Mayor Harry Rilling, speaking to NancyOnNorwalk Wednesday, said there had been an incident “last week or the week before” in the P&Z office, in which he said Milligan was “screaming and yelling” at Zoning Inspector Aline Rochefort.
Milligan had been told not to go into the legal department’s office, and “he is subject to whatever sanctions that are available,” Rilling said. “We cannot have people at City Hall being threatened, or spoken to in aggressive manners.”
“I got very annoyed with Aline,” Milligan said Thursday. “… She was not issuing the permit for Mr. Mango.”
He had read the regulations, which he believes do not prevent the issuing of the permit, he said. He called the roadblock “silly” and, “I just wish that instead of being people that try to catch you and screw you and block, they would find a way to let the guy open. The cruel petty small-minded people thinking they are punishing me … it’s over the top.”
Milligan said he had gone maybe two-thirds of the way down the legal department’s hall.
“I definitely walked past the desk,” he said. “The office was empty. Nobody to be seen. It was bizarre, three in the afternoon. I did not notice the sign. … I announced myself, nobody answered; I didn’t want to yell, somebody was on the phone. They are trying to paint a scene that is just not true.”
Milligan and Spahr said that Milligan came back Friday and took a photo of the stop sign.
Milligan said it’s “stupid” to restrict him from visiting the law department because he usually represents himself in legal matters, there are a variety of matters to discuss, and hiring an attorney to deal with Mr. Mango or for a simple Freedom of Information Act request would cost $400 for an hour, which would cause him to “go bankrupt.”
A Nov. 4 editorial in The Hour titled “Stop the Wall Street war of insults” described the conflict between Milligan and city officials as “an object lesson in the futility of juvenile button-pushing” and called for public dialogue “with some grown-ups in the room.”
“I would say, ‘get a leader in the room,’” Milligan said, going on to accuse Rilling of not being a leader. “I have plenty to offer, they are blocking me … So many people are working against me. I am exposing the problems of the system… They don’t call me back, they don’t email me back, I have to go there. … They should and could be working on changes.”