Smart Growth for Vernon, CT
Panel dismisses grievance against McCoy

By Suzanne Carlson
Journal Inquirer
Published: Tuesday, July 12, 2011 1:30 PM EDT

VERNON — The Tolland Judicial District Grievance Panel has dismissed a complaint filed by former Democratic Town Chairman Timothy Morrissey against Mayor Jason L. McCoy, a Republican, regarding McCoy’s hiring of a friend and legal client to the position of Economic Development Coordinator.

“I’m pleased to see it was dismissed … it’s what I would refer to as an abuse of process,” Town Attorney and Republican Town Chairman Harold Cummings said today. “We take the whole ethics business very seriously.”

McCoy did not respond to requests for comment.

Morrissey filed the grievance after McCoy, who is a lawyer, hired South Windsor resident Shaun W. Gately to the $66,347-a-year town position on May 17.

Six of the council’s Republican majority voted to approve the appointment. The council’s four Democrats and unaffiliated member James Krupienski voted against the appointment, and two Republicans were absent from the meeting.

Morrissey argued that McCoy violated a section of the judicial Rules of Professional Conduct which prohibits lawyers from providing financial assistance to a client in connection with pending or contemplated litigation, because he was representing Gately in a personal injury lawsuit.

Gately withdrew the lawsuit on June 15, but it is unclear why.

Morrissey also said that as a former prison guard for 12 years, Gately did not have sufficient experience in the field of economic development.

From 1992-2004 Gately worked as a correction officer at various prisons around the state before becoming a managing partner of the private equity investment firm CCSR Associates in East Hartford from 2004-09, according to his resume.

Gately said he formed the partnership with his mother, who is a licensed real estate broker. He and his mother are co-owners of Mariner Realty in East Hartford, where he has been a salesman and managing partner since 2003, and he has worked as the operations and regional manager for three branches of Waltham Services, a pest control company in Waltham, Mass.

McCoy’s house on Skinner Road is currently listed for sale on the Mariner Realty website for $289,900.

McCoy acknowledged having personal and professional associations with Gately when he was brought before the panel, and Gately also donated $250 to McCoy’s re-election campaign in 2009.

But the panel decided that because Gately’s hiring required council approval, “the panel does not conclude that the appointment to the town position is an individual position paid for by the respondent personally, but rather by the town,” therefore McCoy did not violate any rules.

On June 21, McCoy lashed out at Democrat Marie Herbst over the grievance during a council meeting, accusing her and Morrissey of making a personal attack.

“It’s nasty, going after my livelihood, that’s nasty, and you should point it out to Mr. Morrissey. He’s the former chairman of your party, you should point it out to him. That would be nice of you,” McCoy said.

Herbst and fellow Democrat Pauline Schaefer denied involvement in the grievance and Morrissey claimed sole responsibility for the action, which would have remained private if McCoy hadn’t brought it up, he said.

“He’s made himself look bad,” Morrissey said, citing another instance in which McCoy was required to take two continuing legal education courses after a grievance filed by a former client of his Vernon law office had her medical malpractice case dismissed after lawyers in McCoy’s office missed a deadline.

In that case, the existence of the grievance was not made public until after the Statewide Grievance Committee approved the agreement that McCoy take the courses in legal ethics and time management.

“I wasn’t going to muddy the waters,” Morrissey said. “If something got finalized and he had to do another class or something, then that’s fair game.” But instead McCoy publicized the issue himself, he said, adding that he was disappointed in the ruling but knew it was a possible outcome.

Morrissey said he also anticipated McCoy’s response to the grievance, which was detailed in several exhibits submitted to the Tolland panel and included the minutes of the town council meeting at which Gately was hired and the redacted certified list of candidates showing Gately’s number one ranking.

His overall score of 84.8 percent on the application and interview far surpassed the second and third-place candidates, who earned scores of 66.2 percent and 66 percent respectively.

Morrissey argued that it was a conflict of interest for McCoy to conduct Gately’s interview, but the panel did not address that issue.

McCoy showed that he has represented Morrissey in legal matters in the past, and included Morrissey’s application for the position of Town Administrator, submitted in 2008 after the resignation of Christopher Clark.

Morrissey acknowledged applying for the position and said he never received any response from the town.

McCoy also said in his written response to the panel that he would no longer keep Morrissey and his wife’s wills in a safe at his law office because, “I believe that this attorney client relationship has completely broken down as a result of this personal attack.”

Cummings said he felt the grievance was egregious and baseless, and while McCoy has yet to announce whether he will seek re-election to a third term as mayor, “I don’t know if it would be worth the cost to him personally” to do so.

Morrissey cited numerous other instances in which he said McCoy showed preferential treatment to political and personal allies, including hiring former Republican mayor Diane Wheelock as his executive assistant and former campaign manager and Republican Town Council member Robert Kleinhans as Public Works Director and manager of school maintenance.

Wheelock, Kleinhans, Gately, and Cummings have contributed money to McCoy’s political campaigns, he added.

McCoy also owns a second five-bedroom house in the Niantic section of East Lyme, a little over a mile away from Kleinhans’s home, but Cummings said such personal connections are unrelated to his professional conduct and McCoy’s lifestyle is not lavish as many people have second homes.

McCoy, “is a sensitive guy who really wants to be liked,” and his law practice has suffered as a result of the attacks, Cummings said. “It’s cost him clients and it’s cost him business,” he said, describing the grievance as part of, “the politics of personal destruction.”

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