Somerville, officials not entitled to lawyers' fees to defend against dismissed soccer-hazing lawsuit, judge rules

A federal judge today rejected arguments by Somerville officials that a former Somerville High School student's lawsuit against them over allegations he participated in raping younger students at a city soccer camp was frivolous.

US District Court Judge Allison Burrough's order, released today, means that Mayor Joe Curtatone - who helped organize and run the camp, held in the Berkshires - the city's former school superintendent and Somerville High's soccer coach will get no money from Galileo Mondol and his parents.

In October, Burroughs dismissed the $1-million civil-rights lawsuit Mondol and his parents brought against the three officials after criminal charges against him were dropped. Mondol and his parents have appealed the dismissal.

Burroughs said that while she agreed to dismiss Mondol's suit before it got to a jury, his argument that he was framed for actions of other students - two of whom pleaded guilty - was anything but frivolous:

At the time this lawsuit was filed, Plaintiffs had a viable cause of action and a reasonable basis to believe that they would be able to prove their claims. Galileo Mondol was arrested and charged with, inter alia, aggravated rape of a child, and he endured media coverage of his arrest and his alleged connection to the crime, missed two years of school, and suffered damage to his reputation. His family spent hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees. Ultimately, the charges were dropped, presumably due to a lack of evidence. The circumstances indicate that Galileo was probably charged with the crime because one or more individuals conveyed inaccurate information to the police, either in good faith or with malicious intent. Furthermore, the parties had a prior history of acrimony stemming from a dispute over a proposed charter school, and the facts at issue in this case were, as the Court put it, “jumbled,” messy, and confused, with several witnesses presenting competing versions of key events. Given this context, Plaintiffs had a valid basis to suspect that their civil rights had been violated, and it was reasonable for Plaintiffs to believe that discovery would shed some light on the situation and possibly cause new facts to emerge. Further, the motion for summary judgment turned on what inferences could be drawn from this confusing set of facts, and Plaintiffs were entitled to argue that the Court could draw inferences that would support their narrative. That Plaintiffs ultimately came up short is not enough to show that the claims were frivolous or baseless. Lastly, Defendants have not pointed the Court to any development during the course of the litigation that would have changed the parties’ understanding of the case so dramatically that proceeding with the case would have become unreasonable at that point. As such, Defendants are not entitled to a fee award.

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Comments

So Somerville taxpayers pick up the tab instead

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Such a lousy system. When it comes to litigation, municipalities are playing with house money (i.e. - yours). Unlike private citizens, they can run up all of the legal bills they want hiring outside firms, knowing that it'll all be covered by the taxpayers via appropriations to legal defense budgets, regardless of the outcome.

If you're a citizen suing your city for some reason, you'll be paying for your legal costs, win or lose. Either out of your pocket or out of your taxes. But for the City, it's all free money. And for a handful of connected law firms, it's a guaranteed payday - win or lose.

Curtatone ran up an outside counsel bill of over $400,000 fighting Steve Wynn and the casino - primarily to get his name in the papers and make it look like he could run with the big dogs - even though almost every legal opinion declared at the time that his claims against Wynn had about zero chance of prevailing. And guess who ended up paying for his publicity stunt . .

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