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A New London, Conn., jury hit Hartford with a $500,000 verdict on Sept. 20 for violating state antitrust laws by awarding a school busing contract to the highest of three bidders in 1998. The city attorney who defended the case said, to her knowledge, it is the first time that damages have been awarded against a Connecticut municipality for an antitrust violation in a bidding dispute. In a recent interview plaintiffs’ counsel Ralph J. Monaco maintained that, after five days of testimony, jurors concluded that Hartford committed “bid-rigging” and conspired with a bus drivers’ union to keep the contract in the hands of a locally based, but high-bidding bus company. Under a city ordinance, Monaco’s client — Waterford-based Cheryl Terry Enterprises — should have been the one to receive the five-year pact, he stated. Monaco, of Conway & Londregan in New London, said he has asked Superior Court Judge Thomas J. Corradino to triple the award under a provision in the state’s antitrust statute. But Hartford Assistant Corporation Counsel Ann F. Bird plans to moot that request, she said, by asking Corradino to set aside the verdict on the grounds that it goes against the state supreme court’s January 1999 decision in Brunoli v. Town of Branford. LOCAL BIDDING LAWS IGNORED In Brunoli, the high court ruled that injunctive relief is the only remedy available to unsuccessful bidders for municipal contracts, Bird argued. Furthermore, Bird contended that jurors had insufficient evidence to conclude that Hartford conspired with anyone in awarding the contract to Laidlaw Transit Inc. Monaco, however, maintained that, based on the totality of the testimony offered at trial, the jury reasonably found that an antitrust violation had occurred. He also said the ruling in Brunoli doesn’t apply to antitrust cases, just allegations of favoritism by municipal officials. “This [case] goes well beyond that,” Monaco proclaimed. Cheryl Terry Enterprises brought suit in November 1998 after Hartford officials rejected its $6.8 million bid to transport about 3,000 of the city’s 24,000 schoolchildren. The contract was, instead, awarded to Laidlaw, according to Monaco, even though Laidlaw’s initial bid was $8.09 million — roughly $70,000 higher than that of a third bus company participating in the bidding process. Under Hartford’s local-vendor-preference ordinance, city-based companies can win contracts only if their initial bid is within 15 percent of the low bid, Monaco said. Laidlaw, however, landed the job after only coming in within 15 percent of the second-highest bidder, according to Monaco. “The whole purpose of municipal bidding was defeated,” he insisted. Bird asserted that the plaintiff failed to comply with bid specifications by not submitting a certified financial statement or a list of the vehicles the company planned to use to meet the contract’s requirements. Monaco, however, said such a list was provided to the city. His client also was willing to meet the latter request as well, he said. In addition, he alleged that Hartford officials, in an attempt to justify its decision, argued that the Waterford company was prohibited from receiving the contract because of a single complaint pending against it before the National Labor Relations Board. Two bus drivers who claimed that their efforts to unionize workers led to their firing lodged the complaint, according to Monaco. The dispute, however, was resolved before Hartford’s bidding contest was underway, he said. The city’s argument also was contradicted by the fact that Laidlaw had NLRB complaints against it as well, Monaco maintained. Monaco added that Laidlaw held the previous busing contract with the city, had already been unionized, and was the school bus union’s apparent bidder-of-choice. “It was very obvious [that a union organizer who testified during the trial] was chummy with some of the Hartford officials” who oversaw the bidding process, Monaco insisted. Evidence that the union and city officials conspired to undermine the plaintiff’s bid included a union letter that was faxed to the city the day after the bids were opened and that alerted Hartford officials to the NLRB complaint, he said. The jury, Monaco noted, based the award on his client’s contention that it would have received an 8 to 10 percent profit on the contract’s $5.8 million present value. Bird, however, said the plaintiff failed to prove that it would have ever turned any profit at all had it been awarded the job.

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