A Simsbury lawyer has filed a lawsuit against the Simsbury Police Department and one of its detectives for false arrest and defamation.
James Oliver, a partner in the Oliver Law Firm who has been licensed to practice since 1987, claims he was falsely charged in June 2013 with stealing from a company he was hired to represent. A third-degree larceny charge was brought against Oliver by Simsbury police, but was dropped for lack of evidence in February, prompting the lawsuit.
“News of his arrest spread quickly and Oliver’s reputation in the community in which he lived and in the legal community was destroyed,” the lawsuit claims. “Friends and acquaintances abandoned him. Oliver lived with the possibility of several felony convictions for crimes he did not commit.”
According to the complaint filed in Superior Court in Hartford, Oliver was retained in 2008 to represent Steven Zaczynski and Jason Tynan, who owned New England Pellet LLC. The company that sold wood pellets as a heating product throughout New England faced fines in the millions for failing to deliver pellets to customers in Connecticut and Massachusetts.
Then-Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal and his Massachusetts counterpart filed lawsuits against the company. During his representation, Oliver retained Cynthia Michaud, a forensic accountant, to assist in defending the company’s owners. “Oliver and Michaud did a superb job for Tynan and Zaczynski, who turned on them when Oliver and Michaud confronted them with their latest forensic report,” the lawsuit states.
The litigation with the attorneys general drove the company to bankruptcy, and some critics used the case as one piece of evidence that Blumenthal was too quick to sue small businesses. Nevertheless, Oliver managed to settle lawsuits in both states without civil fines; the pellet company was required to refund $50,000 to their customers.
Shortly after the lawsuits settled in 2011, Zaczynski filed a complaint with the Simsbury police, which accused Oliver and Michaud of conspiring to steal more than $340,000 from the business. Simsbury Detective Scott Sagan investigated the case and ultimately submitted an arrest warrant in June 2013 alleging that Michaud defrauded Zaczynski of his $2,500 retainer. The lawsuit alleges that Sagan knowingly left key facts out of the arrest warrant.
Zaczynski also filed a grievance against Oliver, accusing him of violating the Rules of Professional Conduct. Although seven of those eight alleged violations were dismissed, the Office of Chief Disciplinary Counsel pursued a single violation against Oliver for not responding to its inquiry. The disciplinary case remains pending.
According to the lawsuit, “Oliver could not completely respond to the remaining grievance as it would have required him to disclosed sensitive information” that had been sealed under court order.
Neither Oliver nor his lawyer, Sally Roberts of New Britain, returned phone messages seeking comment. Simsbury’s town attorney also did not return a call seeking comment.
Oliver has called the charges he faced “a living nightmare.”•