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Marlborough to pay $2M settlement for wrongful rape conviction
By Michelle Muellenberg/ Daily News Staff
Tuesday, March 7, 2006

MARLBOROUGH -- Eric Sarsfield, the former Marlborough man who spent a decade in prison for a crime he did not commit, will receive $2 million from the city in a settlement announced last night.    The settlement ends a three-year federal civil rights battle that could have brought the city to bankruptcy. Sarsfield sued the city, as well as several former Marlborough Police officers who investigated him in 1986, for $10 million.

   In his lawsuit, Sarsfield claimed police officers unfairly targeted him as a rape suspect, pressured the victim into identifying him as her attacker, ignored details that suggested his innocence, and, in the case of one officer, fabricated evidence on the eve of the trial. The city denied the claims.    In a special City Council meeting last night, councilors approved the transfer of the $2 million -- $600,000 from the health care fund and $1.4 million from the city's stabilization fund -- to pay Sarsfield.


    "(The settlement) puts to end...a very difficult period in the history of the city of Marlborough," said former City Solicitor James Agoritsas. "(It) is a fair and equitable settlement for both sides." Agoritsas had stayed on as the city's legal counsel during the transition with current solicitor Donald Rider. Mary Jo Harris of Morgan Brown & Joy of Boston has been the city's special counsel for the Sarsfield case.    In the agreement, the city also assigned rights to Sarsfield to pursue action against Marlborough's insurance companies, Agoritsas said. Two years ago, the city discovered it did not have the proper insurance to cover legal fees or any settlements arising out of the federal civil rights suit filed by Sarsfield.    "We examined all our policies. We have chosen not to proceed" in going after the insurance companies, he said. "The plaintiff is of the opinion there is coverage available."


   A different outcome, especially going to trial, could have been detrimental to the city's financial situation, Agoritsas said.

A jury may have awarded tens of millions of dollars to Sarsfield, he said. And with the magnitude of the lawsuit, the case could have gone through numerous appeals and possibly to the U.S. Supreme Court.

    "That would have rendered the city bankrupt," Agoritsas said. "The settlement is definitely in the best interest of the taxpayers.

    The agreement will not raise taxes with the money coming from the health care fund and the city's stabilization account.

    Mayor Nancy Stevens said the $600,000 transfer from the health care fund is a portion of what the fund owes the city. In December 2003, the city had to fix a $4 million deficit in the health care fund by shifting money from several other accounts.

    The city's legal defense came at a total price of about $400,000, Agoristsas said.

    Last year, Sarsfield received $500,000 from the state under a new law to compensate people imprisoned for crimes they did not commit. In an interview then, Sarsfield said the state settlement meant a lot to him, but was not the same thing as an apology.

    "We are very understanding of the pain that he went through," Agoritsas said. "We are of the opinion that the police officers involved in the case did nothing wrong.

    "We feel for Sarsfield. We are sorry he was in the wrong place at the wrong time," Agoritsas said. "We hope this brings closure to the case with Mr. Sarsfield. I know it brings closure to the police officers."

    (Michelle Muellenberg can be reached at 508-490-7453 or mmuellen@cnc.com)