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.”