The underbelly of land use politics
You don’t have to be a Saint to oppose development, according to a federal court ruling earlier this week. In fact, the judge says, you can be “sneaky” and “underhanded” about your opposition because it is protected by the First Amendment.
That was the ruling in a suit against Hingham-based Saint Consulting Group, filed by a developer in a case where Saint employees posed as residents of an Illinois town to muster opposition to a Wal-Mart which would have challenged the local supermarket chain which hired Saint.
Saint Consulting, started by former reporter turned political consultant Mike Saint, is a worldwide group that specializes in overcoming local opposition to land use, ranging from quarry excavation to land development.
But the company’s biggest notoriety came after a Wall Street Journal story detailed its “black arts” approach to opposing Wal-Mart on behalf of supermarket chains that hired the company. In fact, Mike Saint allegedly refers to his employees as “Wal-Mart killers,” according to the article. Of the more than 1,500 projects the company has undertaken, more than one-third have been to oppose a development.
The actions, targeting Wal-Mart’s local developer, Rubloff Development Co., were successful, according to documents revealed in the lawsuit.
“Happy 1 year Anniversary, by the way. We cost these guys [Rubloff] a ton of money,” one local attorney wrote to Saint.
According to the ruling, “Other questionable tactics included the rewriting of expert
reports for use in litigation, ‘backchannel’ communications with a Lake County judge to try to get a read on how that litigation would turn out, and . . . failure to promptly forward settlement offers to [an attorney’s] landowner clients, presumably as another delay tactic.”
Mayo allegedly sold information about his work and the Saint actions to Rubloff and Rubloff turned the information over to the Journal and then filed a suit charging Supervalu and Saint with fraud, conspiracy, racketeering, a violation of their civil rights and a slew of other bad acts.
Saint admitted the clandestine approach, one it touts on its website, but argued the approach is not illegal and is, in fact, its right. Judge Harry Leineweber agreed.
“Defendants do not really deny they were sneaky, but claim being sneaky is legal under the Constitution,” Leineweber wrote in the ruling.
Land use politics and NIMBY opposition are nasty business. But as Leineweber says, sinners and Saints both have legal rights.
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