SPRINGFIELD — Two city councilors on Friday asked Attorney General Maura Healey to investigate whether a court ruling in favor of a proposed recreational marijuana business involved conflicts of interest.
Council President Justin Hurst and Ward 1 Councilor Adam Gomez, both opponents of Insa Inc.‘s proposed marijuana business at the former Luxe Burger Bar, 1200 West Columbus Ave., objected to a June ruling by Hampden Superior Court Judge Michael Callan in favor of the company.
Hurst and Gomez said attorney Steven Reilly Jr., identified by the councilors as one of the principal owners of Insa, and lawyer Jeffrey Poindexter, who represented the company in its lawsuit against the council, both served on the state Judicial Nominating Commission at the time Callan was nominated for judgeship in 2016.
Gov. Charlie Baker appointed Callan as a judge is September of that year, after receiving the screening report from the 21-member commission, the councilors said.
“As a result, we think a full investigation by your office is warranted not only into the questionable ruling by Judge Callan amidst a myriad of undisclosed conflicts, but also into all INSA’s dealings with the City of Springfield,” the councilors wrote to Healy.
Their letter also notes Reilly was an assistant city solicitor in Mayor Domenic Sarno’s administration from 2009-12.
Poindexter called the two councilors’ action “underhanded” and “disgraceful.”
“I am dismayed that two elected officials entrusted to act in the city’s best Interest have taken to underhanded attacks on ethical people’s reputations over what appears to be a personal grudge for political gain,” Poindexter said. “It is disgraceful, and I feel it is the result of being sore losers over a position the elected officials took in what was a perilously flawed argument in the first place. They had an opportunity to appeal the decision to a higher court but they declined to take that route because it was legally sound. Instead they have resorted to petty tactics.”
Callan in early June overrode the City Council, saying it must allow Insa to open the marijuana shop. Callan ruled that the council’s denial of a special permit for the shop last year was “arbitrary and capricious” and had “no rational basis.”
The council in September 2019 voted 8-3 to grant Insa a permit, but the measure needed one more vote to pass. Those voting against the permit were Hurst, Gomez, and Councilor Orlando Ramos.
The council approved three other special permits for marijuana businesses last year, which are all on hold pending approval from the state Cannabis Control Commission. A review committee assembled by Sarno recommended Insa and the three other businesses from among 27 applicants.
Hurst and Gomez said it is “common knowledge that overturning a Special Permit denied by the Springfield City Council is extremely rare, further questions were raised when Judge Collins based his decision solely on the motions submitted by both parties without any further arguments from our City Solicitor or additional testimony from members of the City Council, especially those who voted against the special permit.”
“While it is well documented that the Covid 19 pandemic made it impossible for our Court System to operate its business as usual,” the councilors wrote, “the decision by Judge Callan only reignited concerns that INSA’s ability to operate in Springfield has been more a product of who they know and less about what they have to offer.”
The story will be updated as reporting continues.