Fractious in Framingham

by Walter Olson on June 8, 2009

A long-running controversy pits some elected officials and townspeople of Framingham, Mass., west of Boston, against a social service agency that has proposed the town as a site for halfway houses and other residential facilities for recovering addicts, the homeless and others. Two years ago things turned particularly unpleasant:

…[South Middlesex Opportunity Council] filed suit in federal court this week demanding damages not just from town officials, but from citizens who have dared criticize the agency and challenge its plans.

SMOC’s 99-page complaint [which alleged violations of the Fair Housing Act, federal Rehabilitation Act, Americans With Disabilities Act and Civil Rights Act -- ed.] piles up charges against selectmen and planning board members not just in their official capacity, but as individuals. It targets town employees, both named and unnamed. It calls for damages against four Framingham Town Meeting members and two citizens for comments made on a private Web site and e-mails distributed on a privately-operated mailing list.

The ACLU of Massachusetts expressed unease at the naming of private citizens as defendants over their advocacy efforts. While the lawsuit has been narrowed somewhat in the two years since then, it continues to engender much acrimony as it drags on:

Aggravating the ill will is a recent revelation that a man charged with shooting a local police officer had lived in a home run by the agency, the South Middlesex Opportunity Council, or SMOC.

{ 1 comment }

1 No Name Guy 06.08.09 at 11:32 am

So all you lawyers out there, help me out on this one…..

How can there be any cause of action against a citizen for speaking their mind on matters of public policy? Is slander alleged? If not, why weren’t these private citizens dismissed immediately? Silly me thought the 1st actually meant what it says.

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