December 21, 2014

Town is Included in Lawsuit Involving Essex Veterans Memorial Hall

ESSEX— The town has been included in a recent lawsuit involving the Essex Veterans Memorial Hall because of its status as a fall back owner of the building and property located off Route 154 in the Centerbrook section.

The lawsuit, filed last month in Middlesex superior Court by local attorney Michael Peck, springs from a dispute that developed among EVMH members last year. Peck, a Chester resident who is a veteran, contends local resident Michael Bergeron, a Gulf War veteran, was permanently, and improperly, banned from the club area that serves alcoholic beverages, and also from participating in townwide veterans events held at the property.

The building, a former school that includes a bar area and a meeting room, was town property in 1946 when, at the request of returning World War II veterans, it was conveyed by a town meeting vote to an entity listed as Essex Veterans Memorial Hall Inc. for use as a meeting hall for area veterans. It has been used in subsequent years as a meeting hall for the local Veterans of Foreign Wars post, and also occasionally by other veterans groups. The surrounding, triangle-shaped property is the terminus of the town’s annual Memorial Day Parade and site of the November 11 Veterans Day ceremony. The property also contains a granite war memorial, listing the names of all local veterans dating back to World War I, that was erected in 2001.

Peck contends in the lawsuit that his research indicates that Essex Veterans Memorial Hall Inc. forfeited its non-profit status in 1971 after failing to file required annual reports with the Secretary of the State’s Office. The suit also contends a newer Essex Veterans Memorial Hall Inc. established in 1993 has also not filed required reports for recent years. EVMH is governed by a board of directors that is comprised of area veterans. The lawsuit also claims the bar operation at the hall is under investigation by the state Liquor Control Division for alleged violations of liquor control laws.

Peck, in a recent statement on the case, said Bergeron is asking the court to clarify the status of the property and the Essex Veterans Memorial Hall Inc. organization that is charged with supervising it. He said Begeron wants the property to be maintained as a meeting hall for area veterans.

Jerry Lamark, a Chester resident who is the current president of EVMH, this week declined to comment on details of the lawsuit. Lamark said the hall remains open seven days each week, and continues to offer the meeting room for use by the VFW or any other veterans organizations. Lamark said the hall’s board of directors has retained an attorney, and are working to resolve any outstanding issues related to operation of the bar. “We’re trying to save the hall,” he said.

First Selectman Norman Needleman said last week the town views lawsuit as “an internal issue” for the veterans groups, and would like to limit its involvement in the case. “I want them to resolve their issues and function to the benefit of local veterans,” he said. The board of selectmen has discussed the lawsuit in closed sessions at two recent meetings.