STOCKBRIDGE -- In anticipation of a possible lawsuit against the town by dismissed municipal employee Scott Muir, annual town meeting voters will be asked to approve up to $150,000 for a legal defense fund.
The funding appears in article 4 of the warrant and was first disclosed at last week's "baby town meeting," which offers voters an advance preview of the agenda.
The annual town meeting is at 6:30 p.m., at the Stockbridge Town Offices, 50 Main Street, preceded by a special town meeting at 6 p.m.
The total amount sought for selectmen's expenses, including possible litigation, jumped from $57,550 in the current fiscal year to $162,550 for fiscal 2015, which starts July 1.
"The reason for the increase is in the interests of what lawyers call an abundance of caution, without giving any credence to the probability of litigation," Select Board Chairman Stephen Shatz, a retired attorney, told The Eagle on Sunday. "It's a wise thing to do in light of the circumstances."
During the meeting, televised by CTSB TV, Finance Committee Chairman Jean Rousseau described the fund request as set-aside based on the Select Board "prudently deciding that there is a significant likelihood of litigation" because of Muir's termination as the town's facilities manager and emergency management director as of March 18.
"It does seem quite likely that Mr. Muir might decide to take action against the town," Rousseau explained.
A town resident, John Hart, questioned whether the Select Board should have considered a financial settlement with Muir in order to avoid a potential and more costly lawsuit "that hasn't even come before us."
"If we're really lucky, we won't spend any of the money," Rousseau responded. "If we're lucky, we won't spend all of it. If we're not lucky, I don't know what the future will bring. ... The Selectmen have chosen to adopt a very positive stance, involving being prepared to spend money, whether to litigate or settle."
On Jan. 28, a Berkshire Superior Court jury had acquitted Muir of 19 counts involving sexual assault on as many as five young female students, ages 8 to 10 at the time, when he was employed by the Berkshire Hills Regional School District as a counselor at the former Stockbridge Plain School and the Muddy Brook Elementary School in Great Barrington.
The Church Street resident had been suspended indefinitely by the town on May 19, 2012, after he was arrested and arraigned on the allegations.
After the acquittal, he was temporarily reinstated, as required by state law when a municipal employee is found not guilty of criminal charges, but immediately was placed on administrative leave with pay. He was awarded back pay totaling more than $83,000 to cover the period of his suspension from the time of his arrest until he was acquitted.
Although his attorney, William A. Rota of Pittsfield, has not yet taken legal action, he told The Eagle in March that he was exploring a potential lawsuit.
He argued that Muir was dismissed despite "four-and-a-half years of unblemished service to the town" and that the Select Board "disregarded the fact that Scott was found not guilty of all criminal charges brought against him. Scott intends to pursue all legal remedies available to him in the hope that he can correct this injustice and clear his good name."
Shatz contended that the town was "well within its rights" to terminate Muir. Rota said the decision was based on the fact that he was an "at will employee" who can be let go without any specific, stated reason.
But Rota also cited a second justification, a claim by the town that Muir was fired "with cause because of concerns the community might have with him in the building."
To contact Clarence Fanto:
email@example.com or (413) 637-2551.
On Twitter: @BE_cfanto