Saturday January 19, 2013

PITTSFIELD -- The city of Pittsfield, after losing a lawsuit over the demolition of an apartment complex, has turned around and sued a former city solicitor for malpractice, blaming him for the go-ahead to tear down the building and asking the court to make him pay whatever damages are assessed in the case.

According to court documents filed in Berkshire Superior Court, the city alleges that attorney Richard M. Dohoney, the city solicitor under Mayor James Ruberto’s administration, informed the Pittsfield Board of Health in January 2010 that the demolition of a building located at 11-15 Melville St. was legal.

The building was torn down in April 2010. Two years later, in May 2012, the building’s owner, Pesu Inc., filed an amended complaint in Berkshire Superior Court stating that the demolition was illegal because there had been no required condemnation order in place before the building was demolished. Dohoney did not immediately return a call seeking comment.

In a summary judgment by Judge John A. Agostini from November, Pesu won the case. The company is asking for $175,000 in damages; a hearing on the damages could happen as early as next month.

In his decision, Agostini wrote that because "the [Board of Health] did not issue a condemnation order, they did not provide sufficient notice and thus were without authority to demolish Pesu’s building."

The Secretary of State’s Corporations Division lists Madeline C. Culpo of Pittsfield as president of Pesu Inc.

According to court papers, four apartments in the complex were cited six separate times between 2000 to 2004 for various sanitary code violations, including a non-functioning toilet and insufficient heat. In 2006, the Board of Health declared the property "unfit for human habitation" and issued a condemnation order, but rescinded the order three days later. It was unclear in court documents why the order was rescinded.

The next year, another apartment in the complex was cited for violations, and in October 2007 the city ordered the property demolished.

In August 2008, the Board of Health told Pesu that if it could find a buyer and present a purchase and sale agreement as well as a plan to repair the property by the next month, the board would rescind the order. No sale materialized and after a final inspection in January 2010 determined that the original violations hadn’t been corrected, the complex was demolished.

The city alleges that it went ahead with the demolition based on Dohoney’s advice. The court file doesn’t yet contain Dohoney’s response to the accusations, which isn’t due until May.

The case is scheduled to be in Superior Court in July.

Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi was on his way to Washington, D.C., on Friday and was unavailable for comment. A call to current city solicitor Kathleen E. Degnan was not returned by press time.