How can a judge twice rule preliminarily that the actual ownership of the long disputed development of a piece of Litchfield wetlands property is irrelevant to court arguments, and then, finally, without warning to the challengers, ultimately decide who legally owns it?
The case involved a public battle over whether a wetlands area on Torrington Road next to the Friendship Baptist Church and a small road development project is the proper place for a low income housing development. Superior Court Judge John A. Danaher III recently decided this heavily controversial development is legally and environmentally valid. It is now slated for another ruling from Litchfield's Planning and Zoning Commission.
I and two other challenging intervenors argued earlier to the Inland Wetlands Commission, before the case even reached court that the developer, The Litchfield Housing Trust, failed to obtain legal ownership of the 12.66 acres of town owned land. Commission chairman Robert Blazek smiled, totally ignored my detailed ownership challenge, and did not say a single word or even make a ruling.
Yet, we, the challengers, as legally approved commission intervenors, ultimately won the commission’s final ruling anyway on other environmental grounds. However, the Housing Trust then appealed the dispute to Superior Court without notifying or naming us what we were, the legally intervening parties. Then, quickly, again without notifying us intervenors, the trust took the dispute back to the Wetlands Commission.
The commission then illegally failed to allow us, intervenor dispute parties, to stand up for our previously winning commission arguments. It then, without that legally necessary intervenor participation and appraisal, reversed its original ruling by permitting the development. How could the commission do that without allowing the continued legal participation of the intervenor-parties?
The judge says that this meeting, without any notification the intervenors, was perfectly legal because the Wetlands Commission case had already ended, and the Housing Trust was merely attempting to “resolve pending litigation" with a compromise of the commission's original ruling. That compromise resolution, the judge explains, was “an issue to be addressed solely by the Inland Wetlands Commission and not through presentations by either party (including) the intervenors.”
Well, the Inland Wetlands Commission addressed and decided the case without the intervenors, who according to law are parties to the case. And, “presentations” were indeed made secretly in writing by the Housing Trust without being presented to the intervening parties. The judge makes it sound like we, the intervenors, were merely members of the public with no intervening abilities or rights to argue. We were NOT just in attendance at the hearings; we were legally defined parties to the case as intervenor-parties by law and thus must participate
Here is the exact definition of a party in Black’s Law Dictionary: “A person concerned or having or taking part in any affair, matter, transaction, or proceeding, considered individually. See PARTIES. The term “parties” includes all persons who are directly interested in the subject- matter in issue, who have a right to make defense, control the proceedings, or appeal from the judgment. See http://thelawdictionary.org/party/
And USLegal.com says: "An intervenor is a a party who does not have a substantial and direct interest but has clearly ascertainable interests and perspectives essential to a judicial determination and whose standing has been granted by the court for all or a portion of the proceedings." In this case, it was first granted by the Wetlands Commission and then the court.
After the Wetlands Commission first ruled in our favor and then reversed that ruling, we, then, immediately asked to become intervening parties to the Housing Trust’s court appeal. Despite the Land Trust’s opposition, the judge approved us as the court intervenors we argued the Land Trust should have named us as, when it first filed the court appeal.
But, recently and ultimately, Judge John A. Danaher III, not only ruled against the intervenor-parties, but improperly made that decision in total conflict with his prior rulings in court. Again! In court, Judge Danaher twice ruled my argument that the Litchfield Housing Trust did not legally own the property could not be considered because this case deals with wetlands disputes only, and not land ownership issues.
Yet Judge Danaher’s final ruling included his own opinion that the Housing Trust legally owned the property through a quit claim deed. He ruled, despite twice saying earlier ownership was NOT an issue to be decided in this strictly wetlands issue oriented case, that indeed the Litchfield Housing Trust legally owned the property. “The record before the court, specifically the quit claim deed executed on December 22, 2009…coupled with the evidence introduced by the plaintiff on February 23, 2017, makes it clear the plaintiff owns the property.”
How could the judge decide exactly that when he twice ruled ownership was NOT an issue to be ultimately decided by him? The judge, in allegedly validating ownership, was referring to a deed, approved and signed with a conflict of interest by the town’s own attorney. On top of that, the deed was much later called into legal question by town officials who supposedly cured the illegality with an unprecedented legislative bill validating that ownership. So ultimately, the property was never, as required, approved by a legal vote of the town selectmen.
That questionable quit claim deed was worked out years earlier than the legislative ownership approval so that the Housing Trust received the town and taxpayer owned property without paying a sales price. It was signed in conflict of interest by Town Attorney Michael Rybak who previously was a regular attorney for the Land Trust; and then became their attorney in this very development case. In addition, both the town selectmen and Rybak failed to get the property legally transferred through their originally sought after selectmen approvals, backed by townspeople, and the quit claim deed. And, Rybak, as his alleged conflicts became public, eventually dropped out as the Land Trust’s lawyer and was replaced by another lawyer while the case was pending before the Wetlands Commission. He repeatedly denied to me that he had a conflict.
As a result of the ownership question, First Selectman Leo Paul ultimately took the dispute to State Representative Craig Miner, who, like Paul, is a Republican and used to work as the town’s first selectman. Miner, at Paul’s request, pushed through legislation to allegedly make the property owned by the town and townspeople into real estate supposedly immediately owned by the Housing Trust. So the townspeople ended up without their selectmen legally voting approval for the transfer of taxpayers’ and the town’s public property to the Litchfield Land Trust.
T. Dennie Williams,