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THA Approves New Attorney; Stern Village Residents Disagree

The Stern Village Tenants' Association spokesman said Attorney Darrin Callahan is not qualified under the state Housing Authority law.

Attorney Darrin Callahan of Owens, Schine & Nicola is the Trumbull Housing Authority's new lawyer, replacing state Sen. Anthony Musto.

But residents of Stern Village, which the THA controls, said there are better candidates. On Wednesday, the THA agreed to pay $160 an hour for Callahan and $80 for a paralegal. The THA is only billed when they use the attorney, said Acting Chairman Russ Friedson.

Reading from a list of issues, Paul Littlefield, chairman of the Tenants' Association, first said the current THA board was illegally constructed under state law.

Friedson denied that.

"This board is properly and legally constructed" and backed by a legal opinion from a town attorney in December, he said. The THA board's members were replaced in December 2012 by First Selectman Tim Herbst. Some former members were not reappointed while others resigned.

Friedson said the board would not hear political issues or personal attacks.

Littlefield next said he was concerned that the firm would cost more than Musto's services. Friedson later replied that other bidders charged as much as $200 or $300 an hour.

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According to Littlefield, "This is our home. This is where we pay rent. We have a legitimate concern about an arrangement proposed to the board." Musto, he added, knew more about housing authority law and could address problems at the state level.

In his next statement, Littlefield, citing Callahan's biography on the law firm's Website, argued that Callahan was a litigator and dealt in commercial business law. He did not have enough experience with housing authorities and has not met the five-year legal experience requirement, the speaker said.

"[He] lacks prior experience or knowledge" and "appears to be deficient in specific qualifications" to represent the THA, Littlefield said. "It appears there is not a fit between attorney and client."

Friedson stopped Littlefield there, saying the statements were personal attacks. Littlefield said he was performing due diligence.

"If I were buying a television set, I would ask questions," the association chair said.

Littlefield also asked if the THA could get a second opinion. The residents must spend their own money to do that, Friedson said.

After a few more statements, Friedson ordered Littlefield to stop speaking to give others a chance to address the board. "Everybody notice that I am being closed down?" Littlefield asked.

Eventually, the board approved the retainer agreement after telling the audience that legal fees would not escalate beyond previous fees under Musto. Friedson added that he hoped an attorney would not be needed much.

Afterward, the THA board and Littlefield sketched out the procedure to elect a Stern Village resident to serve on the board. That procedure is under review.

jg February 19, 2013 at 05:48 PM
Bill, Such language is also standard in legal contracts because its common to have associates perform the grunt work on a matter in support of the lead attorney. The charter says it is the role of the town attorneys to provide counsel, so one would expect any attorney that is the lead legal adviser to a board or commission to have the qualifications of a town attorney. Instead, we are getting young associates providing legal counsel and opinions that should be the role of a qualified town attorney (or equivalent).
jg February 19, 2013 at 06:04 PM
BTW, Was there any mention at the meeting that the FS had authorized the use of an associate in lieu of an attorney meeting the charter requirements for THA matters? If so, it should have been in writing and included with the materials for the meeting as posted.
Joan February 19, 2013 at 08:45 PM
Why do Trumbull voters continue to elect Mr. Herbst, when it is clear that he prefers to manage the town by bullying and fiat (in my opinion!) rather than allowing those who elected him to have a say in how they are governed? Oh yes, I forgot. He got the streets plowed after the snowstorm. Never mind. I guess it's worth living in a Soviet-style banana republic in exchange for that!
Kathleen McGannon February 19, 2013 at 09:05 PM
Unfortunately, Joan, most residents are so busy leading their lives that they pay no attention until something affects them directly. Tim had the seniors eating out of his hand with his "concern". That is until he pulled the senior nurse from Stern Village, saying she was being misused. Now, he says the senior nurse should be involved in Stern Village. ????? Then he orchestrates a take-over of the complex. I think, however, he made a huge mistake. These people are not intimidated and are not afraid to speak their minds. If he thought they would go quietly, he was very wrong! You see the reaction when Tim hits the school system. Each time he hits someone directly, they react. But until it hits directly, people just go through their day. Soon, however, there will be no one left untouched. Then, watch out!
JR February 19, 2013 at 09:12 PM
Who pays for the police overtime expected for the next THA meeting?

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