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West Warwick landscaper digs for answers from town after years-long property fight

WEST WARWICK — After six years and a win at the state Supreme Court in a property dispute, the owner of a landscaping company is still looking for answers from town leaders about why he had to wage a lengthy and expensive fight that he says could have been avoided.

John Read, owner of Read's Landscape Construction, has asked the council to take a deeper dive into the town’s part in the case. He believes the town’s longtime solicitor, Timothy Williamson, should be fired.

 

“I want to hold them accountable,” Read said this week. “I’ve got nothing to gain: nothing to win or lose. My case is over. The townspeople need an explanation — and they probably need some money back from Williamson — because this should never have gone anywhere with the town.”

 

Town Councilman Mark Bourget, who was elected last year in a special election, is also trying to get answers. Bourget has been reviewing Williamson’s documents related to the case since last fall and plans to make a report to the council in the next month or two.

 

“I’m just really curious to know if the town did anything wrong in this,” Bourget told The Hummel Report last week. “And if the town did anything wrong, how do we correct it, and how do we make sure no taxpayer goes through something like this again?”

Land-use dispute dates back to 2016

Read’s case, which began in 2016, was first detailed in a Hummel Report investigation, published in the Providence Sunday Journal in August 2019. Read has spent $126,000 in legal fees, and the meter is still running: He has a trial next month in his effort to obtain damages.

 

The town paid Williamson $30,000 to litigate the case before Read dropped the town as one of the defendants 15 months after filing suit, saying it was becoming too costly for him.

 

The case centered on a one-acre piece of land off Industrial Lane owned by 4N Properties, a company owned in part by former state Rep. Jared Nunes. A right-of-way along the side of the property that Read said was clear in the town’s land records — and that he needed for access to the property — became the subject of controversy as Nunes later said that would not be part of the deal.

It gave Read a first-hand look into local government, as he attended meetings where he was often met with silence when questioning Town Council members. When he couldn’t get answers, Read filed public records requests that helped fuel a successful legal battle and turned up other issues town leaders have been forced to fix.

 

In 2017, Read filed a lawsuit against the Town of West Warwick and 4N Properties. Before filing the suit he asked the town to correct the situation and avoid a legal battle.

 

Read, in a subsequent lawsuit, said the sellers “illegally altered the deed.” But they said the town carried responsibility for not enforcing the plan that had been approved by its own Planning Board. The town planner, who had emailed Read early on saying they should have access to the right-of-way, later contradicted himself in a deposition. When pressed by Read’s attorney, Williamson repeatedly instructed the planner not to answer.

 

Read and his attorney asserted that Williamson was trying to run up his legal fees. His lawyer, Joelle Rocha, wrote Williamson in the fall of 2018: “It is obvious the Town of West Warwick is litigating this case for and on behalf of 4N Properties. While 4N has yet to propound even a single discovery request, the Town of West Warwick has undertaken discovery efforts unrelated to the claims against it, all which benefit the co-defendant.”

Strong support for solicitor on Town Council

Williamson told The Hummel Report this week: “The town of West Warwick hires me to be their town solicitor. I was involved in the litigation with [the Reads]. They filed their complaint sometime in September of 2017. The town was dismissed with prejudice sometime in January of 2019. I will stand by the work I did on behalf of my client that got a satisfied result.”

 

Williamson signed a contract in 2018 that pays him $90,000 a year in base pay for the majority of the work he does for the town, but the agreement says he can bill for “litigated matters” such as Read’s lawsuit. Williamson serves at the pleasure of the council and has the support of the majority of the council, including its president.

 

“Not everybody likes lawyers, especially when they’re fighting against them,” Council President David Gosselin said, adding that he is sympathetic to Read’s situation.

“I feel for them. They spent a lot of money," he said. "I don’t want to see anybody endure those costs, but in the end they came after the town and released the town. If you feel West Warwick was wrong, why did you release us from the case?”

Councilman Jason K. Messier voiced the strongest support for Williamson.

 

“I understand why people don’t like him, but he’s done a good job for the town,” said Messier, noting that Williamson can be abrasive at times. “When I hire a lawyer, I want a bulldog in the courtroom. And I want somebody that’s going to do the job. He’s always done right by me and done right by the town, but I understand why somebody who is against him in the courtroom would not be a fan of him.”

 

Read said that when he approached Williamson early in the case, the solicitor said there was nothing he could do and if Read was not satisfied that he could take the town to court.

 

At a council meeting in March, Read handed each council member a packet of documents, including paperwork from his case. He had asked to be put on the agenda for “possible omissions and errors of Town Solicitor Timothy Williamson.” He was met with silence.

 

What's next in John Read's legal battle?

Despite prevailing at the state Supreme Court last summer, Read’s case is not over yet. He is going to trial next month seeking damages (including legal fees) from 4N Properties. He said he has not been able to begin construction on a 40-by-80-foot building because his money has been tied up with the case.

 

The Hummel Report is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that relies, in part, on donations. For more information, go to HummelReport.org. Reach Jim at Jim@HummelReport.org.

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