July 14, 2008

Judge Tosses Palmeri’s Suit Against No. Haven?

By Ann DeMatteo

By Ann DeMatteo Assistant Metro Editor

NORTH HAVEN -- A federal judge has thrown out a lawsuit filed against the town by former Finance Director Vincent E. Palmeri Jr., who claimed the town's decision to grant him only a conditional pension after he was arrested in a corruption scandal violated his rights.

"This begins to end the darkest period in North Haven's history," First Selectwoman Janet McCarty said in response to the ruling by U.S. District Judge Peter C. Dorsey. "Hopefully, this decision closes the book on Mr. Palmeri's interaction with the town and on his desire to litigate issues in which we are protecting taxpayers."

Dorsey dismissed the case Friday, though his 16-page opinion left the door open for Palmeri to take action against the town in the future.

Palmeri claimed he was deprived of due process by the Board of Selectmen when the selectmen in January approved his retirement on a conditional basis, ruling that he would have to forfeit his pension if there was a finding of fraud or dishonesty while he was employed by the town.

Palmeri was unavailable for comment Monday, and his lawyer, Peter C. Kelly of Arizona, could not be reached.

Palmeri had been North Haven's director of finance and administration for more than 30 years. He was arrested April 3, 2007, on charges related to the alleged illegal activity of the former director and assistant director of community services and recreation, Joseph I. and Patricia C. Ierardi.

Palmeri was charged with third-degree hindering prosecution, tampering with physical evidence and conspiracy to do so for allegedly keeping a rescinded bogus travel voucher of Joseph Ierardi's from state investigators. Palmeri later gave the voucher to investigators.

Palmeri returns to court on the criminal case Monday. His criminal lawyer, William Bloss, said the case is still in the pretrial phase. The Ierardis were booked on larceny and other charges. Their case is still in the pretrial pahse and was continued until July 29.

Palmeri was placed on administrative leave after the arrest, and the day after former Republican First Selectman Kevin Kopetz lost the November election to Democrat McCarty, Palmeri wrote to Kopetz, asking that he be retired by Nov. 30. Kopetz did not act on the request. McCarty then brought the request to the new Board of Selectmen, which acted on it Jan. 24.

The selectmen conditionally approved Palmeri's retirement, saying he would have to forfeit it if there was a finding of fraud or dishonesty during his employment. The previous Board of Selectmen, under Kopetz, also approved conditional retirements for the Ierardis. All three are now being paid pensions.

On Feb. 7, two days after his retirement took effect, Palmeri sued the selectmen, alleging his due process rights were violated, including that he was unlawfully deprived of benefits when his pension application was delayed from November to January; that the selectmen failed to provide him with an opportunity to be heard, and that he was unlawfully deprived of future benefits because of the conditions that were placed on his pension.

Palmeri's lawsuit was dismissed "with prejudice," which means that Palmeri cannot refile the suit in federal court, but the state court may be able to handle it in the future, said Carl Porto, a lawyer for the town who worked on the case.

"The board's conditional grant of retirement benefits to the plaintiff does not guarantee a 'specific' future loss, but rather implicates the termination of benefits contingent on future events that may never occur," Dorsey wrote. "Accordingly, plaintiff's claims against the Board of Selectmen's resolution allowing for the potential cessation of retirement benefits in the future are not ripe for review and must be dismissed for lack of subject matter jurisdiction."

He did say that Palmeri does have standing to assert the denial of benefits from November to February and due process.

Ann DeMatteo can be reached at [email protected] or 789- 5716.

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