Although Stamford has dropped its request for a judicial determination of whether it is responsible for the legal fees of elected officials under an ethics complaint, Representative Sal Gabriele wants an answer for who should be paying his $200,000 legal bill. Gabriele has filed a counter complaint in Connecticut Superior Court objecting to the city’s decision to dismiss the request for declaratory judgment. Michael Larobina, Stamford Corporate Counsel and Director of Legal Affairs, has refused to comment at this time.
Rep. Gabriele was engaged in a year-long battle over an ethics complaint filed by city Fleet Supervisor Michael Scacco. Scacco alleged that Gabriele improperly intervened in a disciplinary hearing and was involved in a “campaign of harassment” against a city employee. The ethics board, after finding probable cause, had offered Gabriele a $25,000 settlement to offset the legal costs in exchange for an admission of some guilt. An email written by one of the panel members stated, “As I indicated, if Mr. Gabriel(e) is willing to make a statement admitting that he engaged in conduct that went beyond the bounds of what is appropriate and warranted within his role as a member of the Board of Representative(s) … the panel would be willing to seek a vote to discontinue the hearings and ask the Board of Finance and Representatives to redirect the money appropriated for the panel’s attorney’s fees to offset Mr. Gabriel(e)’s attorney’s fees. As we discussed, the panel is planning to sign a retainer agreement with a lawyer at the beginning of the week, so some of the $25,000 may be spent — unless we can reach an agreement before we spend the retainer.”Gabrielle declined the settlement, and the ethics board, while maintaining their opinion that he did engage in conduct beyond the scope of his employment, dropped the charge.
Regardless of whether Gabrielle wins the battle, some billing entries by his attorney appear to exceed the scope of reasonableness. Of the $148,733 billed by one attorney, Joe Sargent, $49,000 represent hours billed for telephone calls to the client. Some research charges also drew scrutiny from the city. Both sides are currently awaiting a ruling from the court.