James Larson

The monthslong legal saga surrounding the city’s enforcement of its lead law may be nearing an end as the new mayoral administration looks for ways to settle the case.

A hearing originally scheduled for last Thursday was postponed after both parties in the case — the city and New Haven Legal Assistance Association — filed a joint motion to continue proceedings in early January. The filing indicated that the city was seeking “the opportunity to review the case, including exploration of settlement options.”

Instead of the originally scheduled hearing, attorneys for the city and for legal aid met with Judge Claudia Baio on Thursday afternoon in chambers to discuss the case. Afterwards, Judge Baio issued an order scheduling a status conference for March 5. At that conference, the parties will meet to schedule a new hearing date if they have not already settled the case, as both sides have indicated they are looking to do.

The lawsuit — filed by legal aid against the city in May — alleged that the city had relaxed the standards it used to decide when to inspect the homes of children with lead poisoning.

Though the class-action portion of the case is still pending, a judge has already ruled in favor of the two plaintiffs representing the class — two children under the age of five who tested with blood lead levels between 5 and 20 micrograms per deciliter. City officials admitted in court this summer that they had stopped inspecting the homes of children who tested above 5µg but below 20µg, a decision which multiple judges have ruled violated the city’s existing lead ordinance.

Mayor Justin Elicker confirmed in an interview with the New Haven Independent last week that the city was looking to settle the case; mayoral spokesperson Gage Frank said in an interview with the News on Monday that he would not comment on pending litigation. During his election campaign, Elicker often criticized how the lawsuit had been handled by former mayor Toni Harp’s administration.

A political battle over amendments to the lead ordinance — pushed by Harp as evidence that her administration was taking steps to address lead enforcement — was finally resolved in December, when the Board of Alders unanimously passed a version of the ordinance that seemed to leave all parties satisfied.

The final version of the ordinance included updated provisions related to the city’s lead panel advisory committee; mayoral appointments to the panel must now be approved by alders, a provision Harp’s administration had removed in its initial draft of the amendments. It also requires that a legal aid representative serve on the board, another provision which was present in the city’s original ordinance but had been removed in the Harp administration’s first draft.

Maritza Bond, the city’s new health director, confirmed in an interview with the News last week that the mayor’s administration was “working to submit the names” for approval to the panel.

The panel will be composed of 10 members, according to Frank.

 

Talia Soglin | talia.soglin@yale.edu