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Rizzitelli Takes The Stand

by Eugene Driscoll | Aug 1, 2010 6:53 am

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Posted to: Derby

FILE

Former Alderman Sam Rizzitelli was quizzed on his “blurry” memory and newspaper reading habits while on the witness stand in U.S. District Court Thursday.

Rizzitelli was called as a witness in a housing discrimination lawsuit filed against the City of Derby by Home Inc. and the Valley Housing Limited Partnership.

Background

The group claims Derby discriminated against them by thwarting the group’s plan to convert three multi-family houses on Caroline and Fourth streets into supportive housing for people who receive help from the Birmingham Group in Ansonia.

The tenants of the renovated apartments could have included people with mental health issues and/or substance abuse problems, victims of domestic violence or people who are HIV positive. Click here to learn more about supportive housing.

The city simply did not want those people as residents and threw out a number of road blocks to kill the project, the plaintiffs claim.

The city denies the claims.

Rizzitelli’s Testimony

In 2005, when Home Inc. was trying to get the project going, Rizzitelli was a member of the Board of Aldermen, representing the residents of Caroline and Fourth streets.

He was the chairman of the Zoning Board of Appeals, which denied Home Inc.‘s application.

Rizzitelli was also a member of the city’s Democratic Town Committee and closely aligned with then-Mayor Marc Garofalo, who the plaintiffs claim played a key role in Home Inc.‘s problems.

Yet, in a 2007 disposition about the Home Inc. lawsuit, Rizzitelli repeatedly said he couldn’t remember anything about the controversy — or much of anything else for that matter, according to David Rosen, the attorney who questioned Rizzitelli Thursday on behalf of Home, Inc.

Rizzitelli testified that prior to the 2007 deposition, he had not had a chance to review documents related to the case, such as the minutes to ZBA meetings that he chaired.

Rizzitelli said he stayed awake until 4 a.m. Thursday morning reviewing the material to refresh his memory.

“I remember a lot more now . . . At that 2007 deposition, I hadn’t remembered anything at all,” Rizzitelli said.

Still, Rosen continued to ask questions about Rizzitelli’s memory loss while under deposition in 2007.

“I’m a very busy person,” Rizzitelli said. “I have eight children. It was a very busy week.”

Rosen also questioned previous statements Rizzitelli had made saying he had never heard of the Birmingham Group or the fact that clients of the organization were going to be moving into the renovated apartments — or the fact that neighbors were concerned.

“I gather you read the local papers?” Rosen asked.

Rizzitelli said he does.

Rosen later produced a June 26, 2005 Connecticut Post story on the Home, Inc. proposal and the controversy surrounding it. The headline read, “Proposal to rehab three Derby houses draws mayor’s ire.”

“Is it fair to say you would have read that article?” Rosen asked.

“I think it was something, this would have been something I’d come across. I think,” Rizzitelli said.

“Even though you read it, you had no idea about who the people were going to be in the Home, Inc. development?” Rosen asked.

Rizzitelli said his impression of the article was probably that it was just another issue in the city. The details did not register in his mind.

U.S. District Court Judge Tucker L. Melancon then intervened, focusing on Rizzitelli’s memory as well.

The trial is a bench trial, meaning that Judge Melancon will be the ultimate decider of facts.

The judge asked, in reference to the Post article: “When you read something like that . . . wouldn’t that have been more than just a passing interest to you?”

Given Rizzitelli’s many roles in Derby, the judge said he was “struck that it would not make an impression” on Rizzitelli, especially since he and Garofalo were up for re-election at the time.

“I’m not saying it didn’t happen that way, I am just trying to understand,” Judge Melancon said.

“It would have been another dispute,” Rizzitelli said. “Every day we had 10 fires to put out.”

Rizzitelli also said that in addition to his family and political life, he was holding down two full-time jobs at the time. He went through four election cycles in the time span he was being questioned about.

“Things got blurry,” he said of his memory. “There are entire spans of time that are a blur.”

Rizzitelli will be back on the stand when the trial resumes in Bridgeport Aug. 11 Aug. 10.

‘Low Profile’

In other testimony Thursday, Chris Peterson, Home Inc.‘s former director of real estate development, said that the company submitted paperwork to Derby intentionally eliminating any reference to Home, Inc. or the term supportive housing.

That fact was questioned by attorney John Blasi, who represents Derby in the lawsuit.

Judge Melancon asked Peterson why Home, Inc. adopted that strategy.

“The word supportive housing is a trigger for a lot of people . . . indicating what type of housing it was,” Peterson said. “There was no reason that it had to be there (on the document).”

“Home, Inc. did not want in the neighborhood a NIMBY response?” Blasi asked.

Yes, Peterson said.

“We were trying to keep a low profile,” Peterson said. “We were afraid that NIMBY would raise its ugly head and the mayor would call out his troops.”

Judge Melancon asked how Derby officials or anyone was supposed to know about Home, Inc.‘s plans.

“They would not,” Peterson said, “unless they looked at the public record, which the mayor did.”

A Superior Court judge already ruled that Derby misinterpreted its zoning rules when the city’s Zoning Board of Appeals denied an application for the project.

The houses are now being gutted and renovated.

Home Inc. is looking to collect some $800,000 in damages they say was caused by Derby’s 39-month delay in approving the project.

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Comments

posted by: Watchman on August 1, 2010  9:00am

I question; “A lawyer with a poor memory, as a believable defense!” Sam Rizzitelli would not pass the Bar, to become a lawyer, if he had a bad memory.  But, it’s up to the court to decide!  Also, maybe his memory, wiil return, during court deliberations.

posted by: Hill Top on August 2, 2010  4:42pm

How many boards is diSorbo-hughes on?? more than two i would guess.

posted by: Watchman on August 2, 2010  7:56pm

Derby Guy is right!  Rizzitelli was the master-mind, “brain-trust,” and personal legal advisor, to ex-Mayor Garofalo. But now he claims, he forgot, more than he knew?

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