SALEM — A state Superior Court judge on Wednesday rejected a request for an order directing Lawrence Mayor Daniel Rivera to allow a former lawyer for the city to return to work while the court considers whether Rivera illegally fired him.
The details of the ruling by Judge Timothy Feeley was not immediately available Wednesday, but it likely means the stalemate that has developed between the City Council and Rivera over filling the job may drag on for months, leaving the city with only a single lawyer to represent it. It had three last year.
Rivera fired second assistant city attorney Brian Corrigan on Jan. 11 without saying why or giving him notice, noting only that his contract was up.
The City Council voted to rehire Corrigan four days later. Rivera vetoed the appointment. The City Council overrode the veto. Corrigan said he would return to work, but did not after Rivera warned that police would escort him from City Hall if he showed up.
Corrigan sued on Feb. 8, alleging Rivera fired him because he had applied for the top job in the city's Law Department that other candidates favored by Rivera also were seeking, including his chief of staff, Eileen Bernal. Rivera has declined to respond to the charge. The response he filed in Salem Superior Court on Tuesday does not address it.
Corrigan's suit and Rivera's response total more than 100 pages. But the papers add little that's new to the dispute, which has left City Attorney Raquel Ruano without a legal team and upended traditional loyalties at City Hall, where a few of Rivera's most reliable supporters on the City Council have accused him of usurping their authority to hire the city's lawyers.
The dispute — between Rivera on one side and the council and Corrigan on the other — hinges on conflicting clauses in the City Charter that appear to give both the council and the mayor the right to hire assistant city attorneys. Sorting through that has been a challenge because Ruano so far has recused herself from advising either Rivera or the council on the issue.
Rivera hired an outside law firm, Valerio Dominello & Hillman of Westwood, which on Wednesday successfully blocked Corrigan's request for a court order temporarily reinstating him.
The City Council has directed Council President Kendrys Vasque to hire outside council to steer it through the mess. Vasque noted at the time that the council does not have the money in its budget to hire its own lawyers and said he would have to ask Rivera to appropriate it. Rivera so far has not sent the councilors a check, leaving them without the money needed to hire lawyers to challenge him.
Corrigan hired Concord lawyer Lester Riordan. Besides alleging that Corrigan's appointment was the council's to make, Riordan in his complaint accuses Rivera of violating another clause in the City Charter that allows certain city employees to continue serving after their contracts expire until they're replaced. Corrigan's contract expired Dec. 31.
Riordan also accuses Rivera of an orchestrated campaign to defeat a separate bid by Corrigan to replace former City Attorney Charles Boddy, who retired in April, including by lobbying all nine city councilors to vote against him. He said Rivera “became increasingly hostile with Corrigan” as the council considered his application for a promotion to be the city's top lawyer and “made numerous derogatory comments to a number of individuals” about him. Riordan does not describe the comments or name the individuals.
Rivera's anger with Corrigan deepened on Nov. 29, when Corrigan asked the City Council to extend his contract as an assistant city attorney, while it also considered his application to be city attorney. Rivera asked the council to remove Corrigan's request to extend his contract from its agenda, noting that the City Charter says only the city attorney can nominate assistant city attorneys to the council. Ruano was serving as acting city attorney at the time – the council has since given her a permanent appointment to the job – and did not recommend Corrigan to the council.
Matthew Buckley, a lawyer with Valerio Dominello & Hillman who is representing Rivera, in his response to Corrigan's suit reiterates Rivera's argument that the charter doesn't allow Corrigan to ask the council to reappoint him without the blessing of the city attorney. Buckley also notes that Corrigan and Rivera have had a “falling out” that has “irreparably damaged” their attorney-client relationship and so should disqualify Corrigan from representing him.
“The Supreme Judicial Court has consistently held that public policy requires assuring municipal bodies that they . . . shall have freedom to select an attorney (and) to change attorneys,” Buckley said in the response he filed Tuesday. “Between a municipal body or board and its legal advisers, it is desirable that there be a relationship of trust and confidence.”