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Attorney Ben Proto - The Musings of a Mad Lawyer

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

You Can Fight City Hall

I recently had the privilege to represent a group of people in Stratford, CT who had sought a referendum on an issue that the Stratford Town Council had approved, to sell the Town’s Water Pollution Control Authority assets to the Greater New Haven Water Pollution Control Authority, and for Stratford to become a member of the GNHWPCA. Many citizens opposed this plan. The Plaintiffs, with the help of many others, collected over 6,500 signatures in 26 days utilizing the right of Referendum Process of the Stratford Town Charter.

The Town of Stratford refused to accept the Petition, and, as a result, an action was filed entitled Marianne Antezzo et al v. John Harkins, in his official capacity as Mayor of the Town of Stratford, et al. The Plaintiffs sought an Order of Mandamus directed to the Town Clerk, to accept the Petition, count the signatures and, if sufficient signatures existed, to certify the Petition to the Town Council, In addition, the Plaintiffs sought to enjoin the Mayor and the Town Clerk from executing or accepting any documents which would transfer any property or assets to the GNHWPCA.

A hearing was held on the Plaintiffs’ Application on June 2, 2015, and Judge Barbara Bellis granted the Plaintiffs Writ of Mandamus and Temporary Injunction. Memorandum of Decision. The Defendants’, after having their Motion to Stay the Order denied by Judge Bellis, sought an expedite review by the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, who denied their request. This was immediately followed by an appeal to the Appellate Court and a request to the Appellate Court for an expedited appellate schedule, which was also denied. The Town ultimately saw that they would not be successful and withdrew its appeal and has agreed to allow the matter to go to a vote of the people.

The rights of the people to control their government have been deeply eroded over the years.  We have developed a political class, at all levels of government, which believe they know better than the people who elected them. All too often, people believe “you can’t fight city hall”; however, when a group of people grow tired enough, frustrated enough, and mad enough at their government, and the people who were elected to represent them, the people must rise up and challenge their government leaders. While I firmly believe in our electoral process to bring about change and to install leaders who represent the people, there are times when that process is unavailable, at that point, I do believe that the Courthouse steps is the exact place to go to move our government officials in the direction that we, the people, want our government to go.

This past week we saw very significant decisions from the US Supreme Court, decisions that will have a profound, long term effect on our society. Whether you agree or disagree with the decisions, the changes brought about by the Court, whether last week, or decades ago, were done so by a group of committed individual who believed that the government was not acting in manner consistent with the rights granted us as citizens, and sought to have the interpreter of our laws, the Judicial Branch, determine what, exactly, our rights are in these circumstances. What we forget is that the process did not begin at the US Supreme Court, but rather with either a state or federal trial judge, like Judge Barbara Bellis, hearing the opening round of the arguments and setting the stage. Sometimes it ends there, and, much like the Plaintiffs in Antezzo, city hall will be forced to listen to the people and act in manner that is consistent with the will of the people.

In my Memorandum of Law, in Support of the Application for Mandamus and Temporary Injunction, I wrote: Removing the most fundamental of rights of men and women in a democratic government, to govern themselves should rarely, if ever, be approved, particularly by the branch of government most responsible for protecting the rights of the people. It is incumbent upon the Court, in the face of politicians seeking to constrain these rights, to hold close the words of Abraham Lincoln, and ensure that the “government of the people, by the people and for the people, shall not perish”. Judge Bellis, in her Decision, wrote: “Ultimately, the defendants cannot blindly violate the express, unambiguous provisions of the charter that guarantee the plaintiffs, as electors of the town, referendum powers. Such a violation is precisely why our democratic system operates according to a system of rules, to ensure that the democratic process itself works as intended.

It is time of the citizenry to retake control of our democratic government, and, when our elected officials act in a way contrary to the very foundations of our government, utilize all the peaceful tools at our disposal and assert our power as We, the People. 





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