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City considers special legal team for housing lawsuit

Aug. 3, 2011

Saying that a housing discrimination lawsuit filed against the city must be handled well to avoid far-reaching effects on city development in general, the New Berlin Common Council will try to beef up its legal team.

The focus of the federal housing discrimination lawsuit is specifically an affordable housing project, initially opposed by the city, that has been proposed for the New Berlin City Center. Even though the city has since preliminarily settled a separate legal challenge by the developer to allow the project to proceed, the U.S. Justice Department has yet to drop its case.

The council will interview two law firms specializing in housing discrimination cases. It interviewed the first one last night, questioning representatives from the firm of Gonzalez, Saggio & Harlan. Reinhart, Boemer, Van Deuren is the other firm.

Technically, the developer, Minneapolis-based MPS Real Estate, also has yet to officially drop its state lawsuit, filed in March, but the city has agreed to a memorandum of understanding that has been accepted by MSP.

So the legal team would likely focus on the federal lawsuit, which the Justice Department filed in June alleging that New Berlin violated federal fair housing statutes by blocking a proposed low- to moderate-income apartment project in the City Center.

There are indications the city's efforts may be unnecessary. While the city hasn't heard from the Justice Department about its plans, a hearing on the federal case was called off this week, which could signal that the lawsuit is being re-evaluated.

Still, city officials are exploring potential supplementary legal help if the case goes forward or results in a consent decree - basically is an agreement between parties that can be negotiated and which settles the lawsuit.

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