EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

October 25, 2012

Judge tosses out McCann's third suit

Former Mayor Sullivan mulls his own lawsuit against former DPW chief

By Jill Harmacinski jharmacinski@eagletribune.com
The Eagle-Tribune

---- — LAWRENCE — A Superior Court judge has dismissed a third defamation and negligence lawsuit by former public works director Frank McCann against brothers and former mayors Michael and Kevin Sullivan.

Calling this latest suit “harassment,” Kevin Sullivan is now considering his own legal action against McCann and his attorney Scott Gleason of Haverhill to recoup legal costs he spent defending himself against the “obvious frivolous” litigation, he said.

“They used a carnival ‘pitch until you win’ game. That’s probably the most disturbing aspect of this episode ... This was real harassment and the effected intent was to harm and misuse the court’s valuable time and they should know better,” Kevin Sullivan said this week.

McCann, a 41-year city employee who retired in June 30, 2010, sued the city and the Sullivans three times. His first attempt, a $1 million civil suit filed in federal court, was dismissed, and a second suit was similarly tossed from Essex County Superior Court.

On Oct. 3, McCann’s third lawsuit was dismissed by Associate Justice Maynard M. Kirpalani. As previously cited, Kirpalani pointed legal flaws and statute of limitations issues in the suit.

When she threw out the federal suit, U.S. District Magistrate Judge Judith Dein rejected arguments that McCann’s due process rights were violated.

The three failed lawsuits all stemmed from disciplinary action Mayor Michael Sullivan took against McCann in February 2007. Sullivan then placed McCann on a two-week unpaid suspension for what he said were a number of police violations, including the unauthorized firing of four parking garage employees over allegations of illegal gambling and theft.

McCann was also blamed for cost overruns at the city’s Water Department facilities and for spending $800,000 on repairs to High Street, where then-City Council President Patrick Blanchette lived. A failed mayoral candidate, Blanchette is now a top aide to Mayor William Lantigua.

McCann was also accused of having an inappropriate relationship with a subordinate, Andrea Traficanti, who is now McCann’s wife.

The suits alleged the Sullivans called McCann and threatened him with a federal and state investigation if he didn’t resign as DPW director, a job he held since 2002. Also, McCann accused Michael Sullivan of defaming him in a 2007 Eagle-Tribune article detailing his suspension.

“Frank McCann was never damaged,” said Michael Sullivan, who was succeeded by Lantigua as mayor in January 2010. “His claims were really out there. A mayor has every right to suspend or put an employee on administrative leave when he or she sees fit,” he said this week.

Due to his recent role as mayor, Michael Sullivan was represented by city-paid attorneys in the suits. It’s unclear how much the city spending defending McCann’s case, although Sullivan was previously criticized for racking up a $200,000-plus legal bill with a Boston legal firm instead of using one of three city attorneys to handle the case.

But his brother, who served as mayor from 1986 to 1993, retained a Boston firm for his defense in the latest case. Kevin Sullivan wasn’t sure of the total cost but estimated it in the “tens of thousands of dollars.”

Kirpalani’s decision underscores McCann was “an at will employee, he never lost his job and he was never defamed as legally defined,” Kevin Sullivan said.

“The judge’s opinion was pretty clear. This was a serious mistake they made. They overplayed their hand,” he said.

Gleason could not be reached for comment for this story. Charles Boddy, Lawrence city attorney, also could not be reached for comment.

McCann earned $103,810 annually prior to his retirement. When he left City Hall, he was also owed $99,348 in longevity pay and unused vacation, personal and sick time.

In April 2009, Andrea Traficanti McCann was granted a stress-related disability from her DPW job, collecting $712 per week or $37,024 per year from the city, tax free plus lifetime medical coverage and cost of living increases.

The payments represent two-thirds of the $53,000 annual salary Traficanti earned as public works supervisor.


Follow staff reporter Jill Harmacinski on Twitter under the screen name EagleTribJill.