A Hartford law firm won a preliminary victory recently in a bitter lawsuit against the regional trash agency when a judge refused to disqualify the law firm for a conflict of interest.
Murtha Cullina, a well-known firm that served as the former general counsel for the embattled Connecticut Resources Recovery Authority for 29 years, is now representing a consulting firm headed by Hartford Democratic political operative Matthew J. Hennessy in a lawsuit against CRRA.
In one of its first moves in state Superior Court in Hartford, CRRA tried to disqualify Murtha Cullina from the civil lawsuit after charging that “the firm has gained confidential information regarding the defendant’s finances, development, and private matters that will result in an unfair advantage to the plaintiff in the present action,” according to court papers.
But Murtha replied that the firm has not served as counsel to CRRA since 2002 – and that the conflict of interest argument was weak. Judge Peter Emmett Wiese agreed. The case now moves forward with a motion to dismiss by CRRA as the next order of business.
If the judge had disqualified Murtha Cullina, some insiders believe it would have essentially ended the case as the suit seeks triple damages under the state’s antitrust laws and attorney’s fees that would pay for the extensive efforts of Murtha. A Murtha partner, Michael C. Harrington, has spent more than two years on the case in a longrunning Freedom of Information battle that spilled over into a civil suit that was filed in March 2013.
“I think it’s a significant victory because this was one of their primary tactics to stall the litigation, and it failed,” Harrington said of CRRA. ”It was all hype and no substance.”
Harrington, a veteran attorney with 18 years of experience, said that having a judge disqualify an attorney is “quite rare.” In this case, he said it was simply a delaying tactic.
“They are trying everything they can to avoid me getting to the merits of the case,” Harrington told Capitol Watch in an interview. “I believe they had no case whatsoever [to disqualify Murtha as counsel]. … It’s just getting ridiculous. I’ve never had a case like this. This is complete stall tactics – one after the next.”
Paul Nonnenmacher, a spokesman for CRRA, declined to comment Monday on the judge’s ruling and Harrington’s comments.
CRRA supporters had expressed confidence that Murtha Cullina would be knocked out of the case and sharply downplayed the lawsuit as having very little chance of success. But now the longrunning battle will continue.
The judge noted that CRRA submitted “what purports to be the affidavit of Laurie Hunt, the legal services director of the CRRA” that “was not executed under oath.”
“The defendant has not demonstrated that a conflict of interest exists warranting disqualification, nor has the defendant offered any evidence as to whether any confidential information known to the plaintiff’s counsel in its previous representation of the defendant is in any way substantially related to the current proceedings,” Wiese said in an eight-page ruling. “Finally the defendant has not sufficiently demonstrated that any witnesses from the firm will be called, that such testimony is necessary to the present action, and whether such witnesses would be called to testify on a material matter.”