EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

May 3, 2013

Records: Solicitor emailed questions aimed at candidate

McQuillan also contacted reference who pulled his recommendation

By Douglas Moser

---- — METHUEN — City Solicitor Peter McQuillan possessed a list of seven questions apparently directed at one of the two candidates to succeed him more than a week before the candidates’ public interview took place, according to city records obtained by The Eagle-Tribune.

McQuillan sent seven questions referencing details of solicitor candidate Richard D’Agostino’s recent past from his city email account to himself on March 15 at 9 p.m., according to the records. That list included questions about employment with the City of Lawrence, an ongoing lawsuit and claims of being fired.

“I have no recollection — other than that I have no comment,” McQuillan said about the list of questions when reached in his office at City Hall yesterday morning.

Records of McQuillan’s office phone, provided with the emails by the city in response to an April 1 public records request, also show McQuillan twice contacted district court assistant clerk Andrew Gradzewicz, who provided a reference for D’Agostino. The calls came just before Gradzewicz rescinded his recommendation.

“At no time did I contact a reference for the purpose of requesting or suggesting he or she withdraw or retract a reference or letter of recommendation to any candidate,” McQuillan said.

Gradzewicz, a criminal clerk in Lawrence District Court, declined to comment when reached at his office at the Fenton Judicial Center in Lawrence yesterday afternoon.

In response to the city’s release of the emails and phone records, D’Agostino again called on McQuillan to resign, saying it was “apparent he interjected himself into this entire process.

“As a lawyer I’m reluctant to leap from one appearance to a conclusion without all the evidence, but it’s almost inexplicable there’s another reason these (questions) appear on his email,” D’Agostino said. “The fact the questions regarding my specific candidacy appear on his email or he was involved in contacting anyone supporting my candidacy or giving references shows to me his corrupt conduct, and the fact that his intention has been to derail the selection process so he could remain there to enrich himself by continuing to collect his pay and other employment benefits.”

On Friday, March 15 at 9 p.m., McQuillan sent an email to himself that was comprised only of a list of seven questions. Those questions included: “You have a pending lawsuit against your former employer the city of Lawrence, correct?”, “According the (sic) newspaper accounts you claimed you were fired right?”, “Were you ever given the reasons in writing for your firing?”, “So what happens if you get the jog (sic) here and then win your lawssuit (sic)?”, and “Will you be going back to Lawrence?”

D’Agostino said he was fired from Lawrence in April 2012 after returning from 16 months of medical leave. Following his firing, D’Agostino sued Lawrence in an effort to get his job back and collect $300,000 in damages, or the estimated balance of his work contract with the city. He told councilors March 26 he would not be returning to work for Lawrence because that city has hired another assistant solicitor.

In the recent past, McQuillan has declined to advise city councilors on the search process, instead forwarding their questions to the state Attorney General’s office.

Gradzewicz’ cell phone number appeared three times in records of McQuillan’s municipal office phone between Jan. 1 and April 1 and all within days of D’Agostino submitting his list of references to the City Council on March 12.

The first was an outgoing call from McQuillan’s office to Gradzewicz’s cell phone on March 15 at 3:56 p.m. The call lasted seven minutes and 29 seconds. The second time was an outgoing call from McQuillan’s office to Gradzewicz’ cell on March 20 at 8:12 a.m. That call lasted 14 seconds. Four minutes later, Gradzewicz called McQuillan’s office. That call lasted 18 minutes and 32 seconds.

Gradzewicz sent a short email to the council on March 22 asking to rescind his recommendation without providing an explanation.

McQuillan’s city cell phone records show he contacted the cell phone of another reference, Methuen attorney Anthony Copani, multiple times in March, including 10 times between March 7 and March 26. The city provided unredacted copies of McQuillan’s cell phone and text message records Tuesday, after initially turning over records McQuillan had reviewed and redacted himself before release.

But councilors said Copani regularly does business with the city.

At least one city councilor has called for McQuillan to resign, and has pushed for an investigation into McQuillan’s possible interference in the search and interview process triggered when the City Council, for whom the solicitor works, voted not to reappoint him Jan. 7.

Sean Fountain, chairman of the City Council, said he is researching whether McQuillan can be removed, but suspects the city charter, which requires the solicitor to remain in his job until a successor is appointed, ties their hands. He also is working on putting together a new search committee to vet candidates.

“Mr. McQuillan wasn’t reappointed so we need to put someone in that position, get that position occupied in the best manner and most efficient manner so we can deal with all the city issues,” Fountain said.

He said he did not want to comment on the list of questions or appearance of Gradzewicz’ phone number until he could review the records.

Fountain said he would not add an investigation to the May 6 City Council agenda, which Councilor Tom Ciulla had asked him to do. Fountain said he would allow Ciulla to request an investigation be added to the agenda on May 6, meaning he would have to get the vote of a majority of councilors to add the investigation.

Councilors on April 1 voted 5-4 against appointing D’Agostino, with several councilors concerned about what they called a flawed search process. They also voted to restart the search for a new city solicitor at that meeting, but the position has not been posted or advertised.

Watching the March 26 interview from home on a live feed, McQuillan sent a text message to Councilor Jamie Atkinson during D’Agostino’s portion of the interview and to Councilor Ron Marsan at the very end of the meeting, according to city cell phone records. He also sent a text message to D’Agostino during his interview and accused him of lying to the council, though it is unclear whether McQuillan meant to send it to him or to a councilor.

McQuillan sent a text message to Atkinson at 6:40 p.m., 10 minutes into the interview and as D’Agostino was wrapping up his introductory comments. Atkinson asked several questions, including three of the seven questions found in McQuillan’s email account. Those questions focused on D’Agostino’s ongoing lawsuit against the city of Lawrence involving the end of his service as assistant city solicitor, and whether D’Agostino would go back to work for Lawrence should he win his suit.

Atkinson said yesterday McQuillan did not send him any questions to ask at the meeting.

At about 6:50 p.m. the night of the meeting, D’Agostino answered a question from Atkinson about why Gradzewicz had rescinded his reference. D’Agostino said he was not aware that Gradzewicz emailed the council on March 22 rescinding his reference.

At 6:53 p.m., McQuillan, watching the interview live from home, sent a text message to D’Agostino, saying, “That’s a lie he tried to contact Gradzewicz today!!!!”

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