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Norwalk’s legal fees in Al Madany suit exceed $267K

An artist’s rendering of the mosque proposed for 127 Fillow St. in Norwalk.

NORWALK, Conn. – Details are few when it comes to public information available in the lawsuit filed by the Al Madany Islamic Center against Norwalk, with one exception – it’s been expensive.

Norwalk has incurred $267,012.44 in legal fees since November 2012, when the Moccia Administration turned down an opportunity to settle the lawsuit by allowing the city’s insurance company to pay $100,000 to Al Madany, and by allowing a mosque and community center to be built at 127 Fillow St. with stipulations concerning parking and traffic as part of the deal.

That $267,012 figure was obtained by NancyOnNorwalk through a Freedom of Information Act request. Norwalk assistant Corporation Counsel Brian McCann on Friday sent a list of invoices from both Marci Hamilton and to Shipman and Goodwin. The document is attached below.

Some Norwalk citizens have expressed concern about the money being spent. They also wonder what will happen if the city loses the lawsuit. A landmark decision in December regarding a nearby lawsuit, also filed under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA), raises eyebrows.

The town of Greenburgh, N.Y., agreed in December to pay $6.5 million to Fortress Bible Church after a 10-year legal battle. Greenburgh’s insurance company will pay $1 million. The rest is on the taxpayers and will be paid over five years.

“The agreement will compensate the church for the town’s insistence during the approval process that Fortress Bible could not properly mitigate traffic and safety concerns as it sought to build a sanctuary and school near the Sprain Brook Parkway,” a LoHUD story reports. “The federal courts also found Greenburgh acted in bad faith and illegitimately used the environmental review process  as a way to block the church’s proposal, among other transgressions.”

In 2008 the village of Mamaroneck settled a RLUIPA by agreeing to pay $4.75 million to Westchester Day School. The school had sought $22 million, including $3 million in legal fees, according to a blog operating by the law firm Silverberg Zalantis LLP.

Most Norwalk officials decline comment when it comes to the lawsuit. The exception is Common Councilman David McCarthy, who offered his unequivocal support for continuing to fight the suit.

“I don’t know anything about those cases, so I can’t say anything about them,” he wrote in an email. “However, I know that the process was followed and the city has not done anything wrong. In the case of defending against baseless lawsuits, I will always be in favor of continuing.  Since this is one that would set a very dangerous precedent (don’t get your zoning approval … sue on racial grounds!) I would be doubly so in favor. The issue is much larger than dollars and cents.”

Finance Committee Chairman Bruce Kimmel (D-At Large) and Minority Leader John Igneri (D-District E) declined to comment. Igneri and McCarthy are both on the Finance Committee.

Al Madany’s lawyer is working pro-bono on its behalf.

Bob Bernstein, a Greenburgh civic leader and lawyer responsible for the “Greenburgh Update” Facebook page, said Greenburgh paid none of its own legal fees.

“Greenburgh’s legal fees were picked up by its insurance carrier, so we really do not know how much the Town paid in legal fees,” he wrote in a Facebook message. “We do know, however, that because the church was successful in its RLUIPA and constitutional claims, the church won the right to recover its own legal fees and that prior to settling, the church had put in a partial claim for $2.1 million in such fees. The Town’s $6.5 million settlement of the overall claim, including legal fees, was the largest RLUIPA settlement ever against any U.S. municipality. You should be aware that damages are not generally awarded for violations of RLUIPA alone, where remedies are generally restricted by law to injunctive relief. Damages are incurred when, in addition to violating RLUIPA, municipalities also violate a religious institutions constitutional rights under the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. constitution. In such cases, federal law permits recoveries of damages.”

Al Madany lawsuit invoices Jan 2014

Comments

17 responses to “Norwalk’s legal fees in Al Madany suit exceed $267K”

  1. Ken

    I said all along that this was just wrong. Im not saying this monstrosity fits into the neighborhood or Id be happy with it in my back yard. But it was approved and thats that. The only moral thing to do is adjust zoning so it can’t happen again if thats what we want to do. We need to keep in mind though that if growth is what we want, and it sure seems like most, especially our elected officials, think its what we want & need, that nobodies nice quiet neighborhood should be taken for granted. I live in East Norwalk and have little sympathy for anyone in Norwalk complaining about traffic issues, what comes around goes around.

  2. Taxpayer Fatigue

    All that taxpayer money spent and Moccia lost the election anyway…

  3. Isabelle Grant

    Thank you Richard Moccia for doing such a great job. I’ve always known that Republican’s were such stalwart opponents of civil rights, but never in my wildest dreams did I think that they would stick it to the citizens of Norwalk and leave us in the lurch for potentially millions of dollars.

    The elected and appointed officials must have really believed that the Muslims would roll over and play dead on this issue. Maybe it’s because they think all of them are “off the boat” and work at Walmart or drive cabs and don’t know what their Constitutional rights are.

    We’ve seen this movie before: ethnic whites trying to stop Blacks and Jews from building churches and synagogues. How do you think it ends? Not only do the minorities justifiably prevail, but the grandchildren of our leaders have to disown them. Maybe that’s something that would cause Dick, David McCarthy, Joe Santo, Emily Wilson and the Norwalk Inn crowd to think twice — their descendants will be embarrassed to mention their names. Better still with Islam being the fastest growing religion in the country they could become Muslim. THE HORROR!

    But let’s conclude by focusing on something everyone should agree on. The millions of dollars Norwalk could pay if this lawsuit goes on could be used for any number of things: better schools, better sidewalks, better traffic lights, better city websites.

    Thanks a bunch Dick

  4. Piberman

    We ought remember some citizens including several BOE members were very upset about legal outlays to seek arbitration relief from the NFT. Even after favorable results to the City. Best one can judge the citizens of Norwalk en masse do not object to the modest sized legal fees here recognizing that significant legal outlays are part and parcel of our democratic society. Citizens opposing the City outlay here are free to take the City to court. Even to the Supreme Court. Complaining in print or casting stones against former Mayor Moccia or our Zoning Commissioners isn’t helpful. Nor courteous. Whether City officials violated public statutes will be adjudicated in the courts and properly so. Mayor Moccia has kept his own counsel here. Properly so. Some take time out and relax. Have faith in the process and City governance here. So far there’s no reason to be discouraged.

  5. Sjur Soleng

    “… ethnic whites trying to stop Blacks and Jews from building churches and synagogues. How do you think it ends? Not only do the minorities justifiably prevail, but the grandchildren of our leaders have to disown them. ”

    and there it is…..yawn

  6. Michelle Taffler

    @Piberman, citizens of Norwalk who are concerned about paying millions of dollars in legal fees don’t have to take elected officials to court — we can simply vote them out of office. That’s exactly what we did to Dick Moccia. Anybody who followed the mosque hearings and heard that they complied with all the regs should have known what was about to happen. This is all entirely predictable. I bet you will be the first one seeking to cut vital services when we have to figure out how to pay a multi-million bill.

    Instead of negotiating and trying to find a compromise. Moccia et al decided to hire a partisan lawyer (Marci Hamilton) who has made it her life’s work to defeat the RLUIPA law. She has lost several times. She shouldn’t be tilting at windmills on our dime.

  7. Joe Espo

    The fees are worth every penny to keep this monstrosity of a big box mosque from being built on a postage stamp sized lot that is obscenely out of character with the neighborhood and will inundate the neighborhood with traffic, accidents and noise. Even if it takes $10 million, the City should fight it tooth and nail. Don’t forget: they’re spending on legal fees, too, and we have deeper packets. I say spend them into bankruptcy. They’re approaching this in bad faith: there are other sites that were offered and available but they insist on building the monstrosity there. They have no cause to claim any discrimination.

    Editors note: The Al Madany lawyers are working “pro bono” — that is, without charge. If Al Madany loses, it will not have to pay. If it wins the suit, Norwalk is on the hook for what Al Madany would have paid as well as the city’s own fees.

  8. Isabelle Grant

    @joe you are so wrong. The mosque’s attorneys are working for free but they can recover the fair vaiue of their fees from the city if they are successful. When you roll the dice you have to be prepared to lose. In defeating Moccia the majority of Norwalkers said that we wanted to put this behind us and we’re in no mood to gamble.

  9. John Frank

    Interesting, the spreadsheet showing the legal expenses are not detailed statements from the lawyer, but somebody’s tally with no indication of what services the City is paying for. It would be even more interesting to find out how this particular lawyer was selected, what hourly rate was agreed at that time. A quick check of judicial branch website does not show Marci Hamilton as ever licensed to practice in CT.

  10. Joe Espo

    Pro bono? That’s what they say; you’ll never know the truth. But when it comes to a full-blown trial, it will likely change. We have great lawyers. Take it to the limit. These people are bullies. If they succeed now, they’ll bully us later for something else. What’s next? A Mosque on Bell Island? Yea, that’s possible; right on the water. After all, I can see a homeowner there- saddled with increased taxes, humongous new flood insurance premiums and the facing the cost of putting his house on stilts- selling out to a new owner that wants to build a “summer mosque” that takes up the entire perimeter of the lot and rises to five stories with underground parking. What can prevent it if the decision to build one is solely at the discretion of the applicant? Might be easier to build one at Calf Pasture, too.

  11. Oldtimer

    Couldn’t zoning have approved it, in the first place, with conditions to
    provide more off-street parking, and have avoided this suit completely ? Off-street parking was the only real problem with the plan, maybe coupled with some plan for traffic control on occasions when they expected large crowds.

  12. Suzanne

    Oldtimer, it is not solely about off street parking and traffic control. It is the size, the scale of the facility to the size of the lot – it is completely out of proportion and inappropriate to the neighborhood. I wonder what it would take for Al Madany to re-locate their plans somewhere else? Are they totally entrenched in this idea that has brought they and their community so much enmity? Their intransigence seems to be more than about discrimination or simple stubbornness. I do not understand the point they are trying to make – there are happy alternatives to this site in our community. Why not opt for one instead of being without their mosque for an extended period while this suit wends its way through the courts?

  13. Piberman

    Michelle Taffler

    One ought to be cautious about determining judicial outcomes in advance without being privy to all the legal discussions involved. I speak from some considerable experience as an expert financial witness. Surprises are to be anticipated. Actually what does concern me is the 50% increase in per capita City outlays over the past two decades while income has barely budged up only 10%. No matter how the Mosque suit plays out there seems no prospect of controlling City outlays. We have the stagnant real estate values to show for such excessive spending.

  14. srb

    The RLUIPA law was pushed by the religious right to quell what they argued was religious persecution. Based on the precedent cited here it seems pretty unlikely Norwalk will win, and the irony is that the people fighting the Mosque are the same people who supported the passage of laws like RLUIPA.

  15. Suzanne

    srb, are you saying that those who object to the mosque are also members of the religious right? A BIG stretch and certainly not accurate. Sweeping characterizations are usually wrong as is this one you have made. There are ample reasons to object to the mosque without even considering religious affiliation.

  16. Oldtimer

    Suzanne
    “out of proportion” and “inappropriate to the neighborhood” are subjective opinions and you are certainly entitled to them, but they have no part in the process of granting, or denying, a zoning permit for a house of worship. The law is clear that houses of worship are allowed in any zone, by permit. The only considerations allowed in granting, or denying, the permit are objective measurements of compliance with reasonable zoning regulations.
    The belief that this permit was denied because of subjective opinions is what the lawsuit is all about. If the mosque people can demonstrate subjective opinions played a part in denying their permit, the city looses, the court orders a permit issued, and they get their mosque, inappropriate or not.

  17. Suzanne

    Oldtimer, take it further: there are many permits granted for all shapes and sizes of residential developments. This dwelling is going into a residential area. Now, to scale with adjacent housing, the building is “out of proportion” like a five story apartment building would be or a large business building. Both would be inappropriate. That this happens to be a house of worship should make land coverage, size and scale a moot issue. Permits are granted for dwellings based on adjacent structures, style and type of structure. This mosque, whether a religious structure or not, does not meet the criteria of the neighborhood. While there are other religious affiliated buildings in the area, they all have an appropriate level of coverage with much larger lots for appropriate accommodation. This one does not: they will be using transport vans from a separate location for holiday worship. This is hardly the parking requirements or lot coverage compliant and required of other buildings. It is a shame that the mosque has chosen to use a discriminatory law to get their way in spite of the inappropriate use of land they are proposing and, also, when they have been offered other options more appropriate to, yes, the size and scale of the dwelling they wish to build.

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