Martell lawsuit could cost Oak Bluffs $50,000


Oak Bluffs faces legal fees that could reach $50,000 or more, in connection with a judgment in a civil lawsuit in which a judge found for the plaintiff, 37-year fire department veteran Peter Martell. Mr. Martell filed suit against fire Chief Peter Forend and the town. The timing could not be worse, as Oak Bluffs struggles with service and personnel cuts because of ongoing budget constraints.

Dukes County Superior Court Associate Justice Tina S. Page ruled on June 17, that Chief Forend was wrong to dismiss Mr. Martell from his position as fire investigator in March of 2008. She ruled that Mr. Martell was entitled to damages and legal fees. Mr. Martell told The Times his attorney fees amount to approximately $50,000, after two years of litigation. “It’s somewhere in that vicinity,” Mr. Martell said in a phone conversation on Wednesday.

Town administrator Michael Dutton said the town is likely to appeal the award of attorneys’ fees, and he questioned whether the $50,000 figure was appropriate. “We don’t feel the decision reflects a fair analysis of the facts,” Mr. Dutton said. “Selectmen are looking at their options.” He said the town has spent approximately $4,000 defending itself against the lawsuit.

Mr. Martell said he expects a meeting with Chief Forend and the selectmen, but hasn’t been given a date for that meeting.

“There’s a number of things I want,” Mr. Martell said. What are they? “I don’t want to get into that,” Mr. Martell said.

He will not return to his position with the fire department until his duties are clearly defined. “I want them to establish a policy and a protocol, what I’m doing, a job description, basically,” Mr. Martell said. “I didn’t think it was prudent to walk through the door and say ‘I’m back.’ Let’s go through the procedure.”

In her decision, Judge Page said Mr. Martell should be reinstated, and that he is entitled to attorney fees and back pay. Chief Forend had claimed that he took action against Mr. Martell because of continued insubordination, continued failure to follow departmental chain of command, continued misrepresentation of his authority, and unauthorized use of department funds.

Judge Page ruled none of those charges was proved, and even if they had been, they did not warrant Mr. Martell’s termination.

“Clearly,” Judge Page wrote in her decision, “the town’s July 1, 2007 decision to select Mr. Forend as chief played heavily in the decision to terminate Martell, and the personalities of the parties was a controlling factor in the town’s decision to affirm Martell’s termination. This court further finds that the actions of the chief were arbitrary, in that they were wholly unrelated to the public function.”