Past History

September 11th, 2018 Leave a comment Go to comments

As of April 2012,   a lawsuit against the Town was filed by 2 residents –Gita Jozsef & Stephen Harris– and 1 out-of-town landowner, Michael Jamula. These 3 people = “The Plaintiffs’.  Plaintiffs’ first lawsuit was in Land Court (in Boston), trying to claim a public road giving them 1000s of feet of additional frontage.  When May 2012 Annual Town Meeeting clarified that the road was discontinued, Plaintiffs also filed a 2nd lawsuit against the Town in Superior Court (in Northhampton).  Harris land has frontage on town road Johnnycake Hill Rd.  Jamula land has frontage on Chester Rd and Alderman Rd.  But the disputed discontinued way runs west from Alderman Rd, as if Arthur Pease Rd carried on, parallel to Johnnycake Hill Rd.  Gita Jozsef has been in charge of Assessor maps which continue to show a road looping up to Harry Pease Rd, instead of that being a dead end road, as town votes and records show it to be.  The Assessor maps cause other online maps to show such a through loop, despite the fact that this 1948 USGS map of the area is a more accurate view of passable and public roads in that area.

1948 USGS map showing Harry Pease dead-end. No through loop to Alderman Rd.

1948 USGS map showing Harry Pease dead-end. No through loop to Alderman Rd.

On 1/29/13 Land Court Judge ruled that the May 2012 Town Meeting vote “described the road as “abandoned” and expressly discontinued it as a public way.  The plaintiffs eek a declaration that, despite those votes, it is still a public way…” but the Judge’s opinion is the 5/2012 vote “ended any possible ambiguity regarding the termination of [the] road as a public way”  He therefore DISMISSED all claims against the Town in the Land Court case.  (This leaves only claims against the Town in the Superior court case.   See additional documents: Middlefield History Book maps of roads 01-7-13_MapProgression2pg  And Land Court decision to Dismiss the Town Memo and order on towns motion for judgment 1-31-13

Once it was shocking and unheard of for residents to sue their own town, here in Middlefield.   We residents are the Town, and the Town is us.  So why would you sue yourself?  But in 2012 Gita Jozsef and husband Stephen Harris filed 2 lawsuits against the town.  The claim was that the Harris’ frontage on Johnnycake Hill Road was not enough, and the town must allow public road status to an old track not counted as a town road since 1886.  Annual Town Meeting in 2012 voted 90 to 17 to discontinue the road (again, since Gita & Steve’s lawyer was arguing that the Town votes of 1886 and 1984 were too flawed to show the voters’ intent that the road was no longer a public way, and must revert to privately owned status.)

Plaintiffs Gita & Stephen Harris, along with Michael Jamula, filed the first lawsuit in Land Court in April 2012.  Jamula is a Lanesboro resident who keeps an unpermitted camping shed and trailers on his Middlefield land abutting the Harris lots.  He claims his lot’s 900+’ frontage on Chester and Alderman Roads is not enough either.   So the legal case is named “Jamula vs Middlefield” as shorthand.  But actually, the Harrises continue to be Plaintiffs with Mike Jamula, and their case also sues 10 private landowners, in addition to the Town of Middlefield, as Defendants.

The April filing time, prior to May Town Meeting, was an effort to dissuade voters from butting into  a matter already being handled by a Judge and lawyers.  Selectboard Chair Noreen Suriner proposed that voters postpone the vote on discontinuing the road because the matter was in the middle of a legal process.  But voters refused to table or postpone the article on discontinuance, and went ahead with the vote.  The article only made it on the Annual Town Meeting Warrant because it was well written by a non-official –Howard Knickerbocker– and demaded by a citizen signature petition.  The Selectboard had not written or included such a discontinuance article on their Warrant.  But it was this vote by the Townspeople that made the Judge dimiss the Town from being a Defendant in the Land Court lawsuit.    (See Judge’s 1/13 Memorandum and Order: Memo and order on towns motion for judgment 1-31-13

Plaintiffs Gita, Steve, and Mike filed the second lawsuit in Northampton Superior Court because Land Court does not handle decisions about “damages” –that is, money the Defendants would have to pay to the Plaintiffs.  Although friends of the Harrises told Town Meeting voters that no damages against the Town were involved in the lawsuit, seeking a decision on damages is the only reason for filing the 2nd lawsuit.  (See 8/12 Superior Court complaint: SuperiorCt-Complaint2012-08-24

Gita sued the town first in 2002

That centuries-long tradition of not suing your own town was broken in 2002 by residents who had moved into town within the prior decade.  They had been angered when a majority had voted against their opinion at a Town Meeting.  They had asked for a town-wide vote, but then refused to accept the outcome.  In 2001 a massive voter turnout had approved expanding the Business Zone so that the in-town mail-order business AzureGreen could build a larger building for the business.

To achieve more say than the majority of voters, Maureen Sullivan hired a lawyer in 2001, and got her friends involved in supporting the smear campaign against AzureGreen (which Jay Swift joined) and supporting the lawsuit filed half a year later, once the Town Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) had granted a Special Permit for the Business Use in the Business District.

Joining the 2002 lawsuit against Middlefield, and the ZBA members, and AzureGreen were: Maureen’s husband Mitch Feldmesser, and their friends Gita Jozsef (Harris), John & Mary Richardson, plus an abutter (Kathy O’Brien) they cajoled into into being their front of legitimacy  since this cabal of lawyered-up objectors lived far from the location of the Special Permit.  There were 12 who sued, so townspeople took to calling the Plaintiffs ‘the Dirty Dozen’.  Since then, 4 moved away from town, and 3 regretted letting this cabal talk them into joining.

After 7 long years and appeals by this group to 2 more courts resulted in the Plaintiffs losing, Maureen & Mitch, John Richarson, Jay, and Gita still asserted that it had been worth spending $50,000 in lawyer costs to pursue this failed lawsuit.  (See full Berkshire Eagle interview).

To achieve more say over town matters, Plaintiffs and friends also positioned themselves on every Town Board they could.  As one Planning Board member noted in a recent meeting, “You can be the biggest A-hole in the world, but if nobody else is running for the seat, you can still get elected.”  Other people have noted that townspeople fear running against the current incumbants because their friends can now use town positions to retaliate against anyone else who runs.

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