Bespoke restaurateur’s battle with Univ. Properties drags on

The owners of Bespoke restaurant and representatives from Yale University Properties met in a familiar setting yesterday — Connecticut housing court.

Although Tuesday was scheduled to be the final day in the legal battle over a stretch of property contested by the owners of the restaurant and the University, a lengthy cross-examination of Bespoke owner Suzette Franco-Camacho postponed the closing arguments.

University counsel questioned Franco-Camacho about her dealings with University Properties over an alley and shed behind Bespoke and challenged Franco-Camacho’s contention that an agreement reached between the two sides last year is legally binding.

The hearing is part of an ongoing courtroom battle over a settlement reached in September 2006, which granted Franco-Camacho use of the property.

The University challenged the settlement on the grounds that then-director of University Properties David Newton, who negotiated the case, did not have the authority to work on the settlement.

Franco-Camacho has previously said her restaurant deserves access rights since former property owners at the same location have used the walkway area for years.

The Yale attorney questioned Franco-Camacho for roughly two and a half hours over statements she made in her earlier testimony and attempted to impeach her for perjury, although the presiding judge rejected the charge as unfounded.

The Yale attorney said Franco-Camacho should have known that Vice President for New Haven and State Affairs Bruce Alexander — not Newton — was the proper channel to go through in drafting a license agreement for the contested property.

He attempted to support this claim by pointing out that the original license agreements for the restaurant property sent to Franco-Camacho had only Alexander’s signature at the bottom. When he asked Franco-Camacho if she had ever seen a signature line for Newton on these documents, she said she could not remember.

The attorney also argued Franco-Camacho must have known she needed to go through Alexander when dealing with property issues because during earlier negotiations about the Bespoke lease, Franco-Camacho sought a meeting with Alexander about her frustration over inadequate offers from leasing agents working under Alexander.

Franco-Camacho said she did meet with Alexander, but she said she did not seek him out and does not recall how the meeting was set up.

At the hearing, the Yale counsel also submitted e-mail correspondence between Franco-Camacho and Newton as evidence that Franco-Camacho was aware Alexander was the person with the final say on leases.

“I understood this as Bruce’s offer,” Franco-Camacho wrote in an e-mail presented by the attorney, in reference to 2005 lease negotiations.

The Yale counsel said Newton wrote in subsequent e-mails that he had discussed the matter with Alexander.

During the questioning about the signature lines, Franco-Camacho said she did not know what parts of other witnesses’ testimony to trust.

“At this point I feel like don’t what’s right and what’s wrong anymore,” she said. “I feel like I’ve been misrepresented this entire time.”

Over the summer, University Properties declined to renew the lease on Franco-Camacho’s other restaurant, Roomba, which drew further attention to the controversy over Bespoke.

Lawyers had anticipated that Tuesday’s proceedings would wrap up the case, but additional court dates will be set to hear the remainder of the cross-examination and the closing statements, the presiding judge said at the end of the hearing.

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