EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

August 17, 2010

Judge dismisses McCann lawsuit against city

By Brian Messenger
bmessenger@eagletribune.com

LAWRENCE — A judge has dismissed a civil rights lawsuit filed by retired public works Director Frank McCann against the city and former Mayors Michael and Kevin Sullivan.

In a written decision released last week, Superior Court Judge Robert Cornetta approved the city's motion to dismiss McCann's allegations of defamation, negligence, civil rights violations, "intentional infliction of emotional distress" and "intentional interference with contractual relations."

McCann, a 41-year city employee who retired June 30, also filed a similar lawsuit in federal court that was dismissed last year.

Altogether, the lawsuits are expected to cost the city $350,000 in bills.

"We're happy that it's over," said Mayor William Lantigua yesterday. "I'm not happy about the amount of money that had to be spent."

McCann's lawsuit stems from action then-Mayor Michael Sullivan took against him in February 2007. Sullivan placed McCann on a two-week unpaid suspension for what he said were a number of policy violations, including the unauthorized firing of four parking garage employees over allegations of illegal gambling and theft.

McCann also was blamed for cost overruns at Water Department facilities and spending $800,000 on repairs to High Street, where then-City Council President Patrick Blanchette lived.

He also was accused of having an inappropriate relationship with Andrea Traficanti, a subordinate public works employee to whom McCann is now married.

According to Cornetta's decision, McCann alleged that he was subjected to "intimidation and harassment" by the Sullivans, including the threat of a "criminal investigation by federal and state prosecutors if he did not voluntarily resign."

But McCann's complaint was "completely silent" when it came to offering proof, Cornetta wrote.

"He cites one telephone call allegedly received from an unnamed source indicating that he was threatened with government prosecution if he failed to resign," wrote Cornetta. "That, without more is insufficient to withstand dismissal upon motion."

Cornetta wrote that McCann's allegations were either unfounded or did not hold up under state law. Had Cornetta disapproved the city's motion to dismiss the lawsuit, the case would have gone to trial. Leonard Degnan, Lantigua's chief of staff, said McCann can still appeal Cornetta's decision.

McCann's attorney, Scott Gleason of Haverhill, did not return a call seeking comment yesterday.

Representing the city in the lawsuit was the Boston law firm of Mintz Levin Cohn Ferris Glovsky and Popeo. The firm was originally retained to represent the city in federal court when Michael Sullivan was mayor.

Yesterday, Sullivan called Cornetta's decision "a win for the taxpayer."

"I thought this case needed to set a precedent," said Sullivan. "The mayor of any city needs the opportunity to suspend any department head if deemed appropriate. That's what (McCann) had a problem with. I didn't think there was a case at all here."

Degnan said the city has already paid Mintz Levin Cohn Ferris Glovsky and Popeo $250,000 for its work on the lawsuits. He said the total cost is expected to reach $350,000.

Yesterday, Lantigua called the decision to seek private lawyers a waste of money, noting that the city employs three full-time attorneys.

"Why do we have them if they could not represent us?" Lantigua asked.

Michael Sullivan's brother, Kevin, was listed as a 'representative' of the city of Lawrence in McCann's lawsuit.

Michael Sullivan said that bringing his brother into the lawsuit was "a real low thing to do."

"This is the second time that this case was thrown out of court," Michael Sullivan said. "I thought it was weak. I was kind of shocked it was presented at all."

When asked if the city would consider a countersuit, Lantigua said no decision has been made.

"I need to sit down with my legal team and review the whole issue and see where we'll go with this," said Lantigua. "We don't know yet."