A federal bankruptcy judge has convicted the town of South Windsor and two former officials of “civil contempt of court” for trying to recover the owner of a dilapidated property for around $ 26,500 in cleaning fees after the court des bankruptcies ordered the release of the debt.
Judge James J. Tancredi ordered the city and former officials to pay $ 20,000 to Kristin S. Norton, who previously used the married name Lanata and owns the property at 460 Miller Road. This amount is intended to compensate her for the emotional distress she suffered as a result of legal steps the city, former general manager Matthew Galligan and former city attorney Morris R. Borea took to collect the debt. acquitted.
The judge also ordered the town, Galligan and Borea to pay approximately $ 100,000 in legal fees and expenses incurred by Norton as a result of the collection efforts, or roughly 65% of the $ 155,000 demanded by his attorney, Edward C. Taiman Jr.
The judge also capped the civil fine the city can collect from Norton for violating the local zoning ordinance at $ 50,000.
After a civil trial in 2019, Hartford Superior Court Judge Thomas G. Moukawsher set the fine at $ 125,000, plus $ 52,000 to reimburse legal fees and city fees.
But the state appeals court ruled that the fine was too high. In a ruling last week, the state’s Supreme Court limited the issues to be reconsidered when the case returns to Superior Court to those affecting the amount of the fine.
Despite his ruling that the city’s attempts to collect reimbursement for the costs of the April 2016 cleanup were legally unwarranted, the bankruptcy judge rejected Norton’s claim that the city acted in bad faith. He declined to send the case back to the higher U.S. district court to consider imposing criminal penalties or ordering punitive damages, which are designed to punish wrongdoing rather than simply compensate an injured party.
In explaining his denial of punitive damages, Tancredi agreed with judges in related cases that the Norton yard “historically looked like a dumping ground.” He also agreed with the 2nd US Court of Appeals that “a reasonably prudent person” in Galligan’s position could have found a reason to try to “fix” Norton’s property given his state and continued violations of city ordinances.
As for the criminal contempt referral request, Tancredi concluded that the actions of the town, Galligan and Borea “were not malicious, wanton or oppressive and were not undertaken in bad faith”.
The bankruptcy judge’s decision can be appealed to the U.S. district court, according to Taiman. But he wrote in an email that he had no plans to appeal on Norton’s behalf even though she didn’t get everything she wanted from the bankruptcy judge. She had asked for $ 279,000 in damages for emotional distress, for example, and $ 198,000 for loss of use of her house.
Lawyer Richard D. Carella, who represents the city and Galligan in the case, could not be reached for comment. His representation of the two clients indicates that the city has agreed to pay any judgment against the former general manager.
Borea, who is representing himself in the case, declined to comment. But on Monday he filed petitions in bankruptcy court to obtain a judgment in his favor on the grounds that he had not been aware of the release from the debt on August 17, 2016 until January 30, 2019.
Taiman wrote in his email that he learned through an access to information request that the city had spent $ 50,000 in legal fees to defend the case. He added that the city “could have saved a lot of money if it had just been willing to sit down and resolve this issue out of court.”