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Hartford Mayor To Get Slap From Lawyers' Oversight Panel


February 28, 2012

At the time he was serving on the Hartford city council in 2007, Mayor Pedro Segarra failed to file a notice of intent to sue the city on behalf of a 64-year-old legal client who had fallen on a cracked sidewalk, thereby preventing the woman from recovering full damages from her injuries.

Segarra will be disciplined by the Statewide Grievance Committee, which oversees lawyer conduct, Thursday in Hartford Superior Court for his actions, or lack thereof, when he represented Warnelly Martinez.

The committee will decide whether to approve an agreement in which Segarra will be ordered to take a three-hour course in legal ethics or professional responsibility that must be completed within nine months, records show.

Since Segarra admitted he was in error when he failed to file a notice of intent to sue the city within 90 days after Martinez fell in December 2006, a full investigation of the incident is unlikely.

There is no mention in its two-page agreement about whether Segarra had a conflict of interest in taking Martinez's case while he was on the council.

"There was no conflict of interest because he erroneously believed the liability for the defect in the sidewalk was the responsibility of the abutting private land owners and not the city," said Segarra's attorney, Stephen Seligman. "He stepped up and has admitted he made a mistake."

Segarra eventually turned the case over to attorney Peter Upton, who filed a lawsuit against Wendy's restaurant on Prospect Avenue and got a settlement of $7,500 for Martinez, records show. The restaurant's lawyers said the faulty sidewalk was really the city's fault and that it had the greater liability, records show.

But because Segarra didn't properly file a notice of intent to sue the city, Martinez was unable to file a lawsuit against Hartford. She had nearly $50,000 in medical bills because she hurt her neck when she fell.

Martinez, who speaks little English, is still suffering from her injuries today, her niece Maria Garcia said Tuesday. Garcia said that her aunt hired Segarra because he spoke Spanish. She said her aunt had no idea at the time he was on the city council.

Records show Martinez hired Segarra on Jan. 3, 2007. Segarra was appointed to the city council in 2006. He had been the corporation counsel for former Mayor Mike Peters before that. Segarra took over as mayor in 2010 after Eddie Perez was convicted in state court of larceny charges.

"He never said that he couldn't take the case because he worked for the city,'' Garcia said. "My aunt was just looking for someone that she could talk to about her injuries in her own language."

In his two-page affidavit to the committee, Segarra gave up his rights to a full hearing by admitting he violated Rule 1.1. of the Rules of Professional Conduct when he didn't file the notice of intent to sue the city.

Segarra said in the case filings that he "erroneously" interpreted a state statute which states a "city or consolidated town and borough shall not be liable to any person injured in person or property caused by the presence of ice or snow on a public sidewalk unless such municipality is the owner or person in possession and control of land abutting such sidewalk, other than land used as a highway or street, provided such municipality shall be liable for its affirmative acts with respect to such sidewalk."

"She (Martinez) didn't find out that he didn't file the notice until attorney Peter filed the other lawsuit,'' Garcia said. "My aunt is still hurting. She had many medical bills that she couldn't pay."

Upton did not return calls for comment Tuesday.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
| Last update: September 25, 2012 |
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