Smart Growth for Vernon, CT
Developers' lawyer gave to Republicans, even as chairman serves as town attorney

By Max Bakke
Journal Inquirer
November 29, 2008

VERNON — Three employees of a powerful local law firm representing a local developer suing the town for permission to build a subdivision off Grier Road have given more than $1,000 since 1999 to the Republican Town Committee, whose chairman serves as the town attorney.

The firm, Kahan, Kerensky & Caposella LLP, boasts a specialty in business and land-use law, and has handled a slew of cases for developers seeking to build in town.

Hal Cummings, who serves as town attorney and is the chairman of the Republican Town Committee, has been a lightning rod for criticism from Democrats who protested his appointment last year.

The donations primarily are from William Breslau, a lawyer who serves on the Rockville Downtown Association's board of directors, but firm lawyers Joseph Caposella and Solomon Kerensky each have contributed funds to the committee in 1999 and 2001 respectively, state campaign finance records show.

"We definitely thought that having the chairman of the Republican Town Committee was a bad idea and fraught with conflict," Democratic councilman Michael Winkler, who opposed Cummings' appointment, said. "You have to wonder if the needs of the town are being met."

Dorian Famigliette, a partner in Kahan, Kerensky & Caposella, is the lead lawyer representing Capstone Builders and land owners Mark and Susan St. Germain.

Capstone is suing the town after the Planning and Zoning Commission rejected its application to build 18 single-family homes on 32 acres near Bolton Lake last year.

Capstone Builders also sued the Inland Wetlands Commission in 2006 when the PZC rejected its application, saying a proposed detention basin would have discharged into nearby wetlands.

The suit went to mediation, and Capstone was required to combine some of its proposed lots, designating that land for open space.

Cummings has decried challenges that his two positions create a conflict of interest, calling any criticism politically motivated.

While he admitted that final lawsuit settlements and controversial legal judgments require his input and opinions, he said he delegates much of the town's legal work to Susan Boyan and Martin Burke. Both have served as lead town attorneys under previous Democratic administrations.

"We're talking minor donations here," Cummings said of the party donations. "I have a very clear understanding of the role of both jobs."

Boyan, who was appointed town attorney by former Mayor Ellen Marmer when then-Town Attorney Joseph Courtney was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives and resigned from the post, is the lead lawyer on the Capstone case, Cummings said.

Cummings called any accusations of conflict plain "silly."

"I'm not going to sell my soul for a few $100 donations," he said.