The high-profile civil suit filed by four fishermen against the Ciulla family's now-defunct Gloucester Seafood Display Auction and real estate holdings has been stalled since November for the absence of counsel willing to take the case.
David Smith, a Gloucester attorney in a professional association with Stephen Ouellette, stepped away from the suit after U.S. District Court Judge William Young identified an ethical "impediment" in their representation — against an entity that Ouellette once represented.
Since that finding on Nov. 22 — when Young "closed" the case — court records show there has been one reset hearing, on Jan. 10, at which a placeholder trial date was set for Feb. 4, 2013.
But without attorneys to represent them, the plaintiffs, the corporations of Gloucester fishermen Accursio "Gussie" Sanfilippo and Francesco "Paul" Vitale, and Cape Cod fishermen Eric Hesse and Greg Walinski, are prevented from going forward with their allegation that the Ciullas' auction skimmed receipts from the sale of their catches landed at the facility on Harbor Loop.
And for now, at least, the plaintiffs have not been able to arrange counsel to take the case from Smith.
The ethical bar to Smith's adversary position against the auction and the Ciullas traces to Ouellette's representation of them and their fish auction business early in the last decade as they fought the first of three cases of administrative law violations alleged by NOAA law enforcement.
While "no one has officially taken the case," Smith told the Times Wednesday in a telephone interview, "I do assume someone will take the case."
He added that he understood that the plaintiffs "have met with various attorneys," and "have a proposal" they are considering.
Efforts to reach Sanfilippo, Vitale, Hesse and Walinski were unsuccessful Wednesday. Michael W. Riley, attorney for the Ciullas, did not return phone calls Wednesday.
Filed last Aug. 10, the complaint against the Ciullas and their holdings triggered a business and legal chain reaction that created an opening for New Bedford-based fish brokers Richie and Raymond Canastra to establish a foothold in Gloucester in an arrangement with Vito Giacalone and his three sons.
Operating from Fishermen's Wharf at Harbor Cove, a property owned by Vito Giacalone, his three sons in early December opened the Buyers and Sellers Exchange, Gloucester — or BASE Gloucester — as an element in the Canastras' regional electronic auctioning business based in New Bedford, the nation's No. 1 valued port, largely through its landing of scallops.
BASE Gloucester took aim at the successor business to the Ciullas' Gloucester Seafood Display Auction which had been in operation for 14 years before the filing of the fishermen began their lawsuit in August.
On Sept. 7, less than a month later, the Ciullas sold the limited assets of the business to Kristian Kristiansen, who reopened as the Cape Ann Seafood Exchange, leaving the port with two auction houses where there had been one, as well as a handful of private buyer-processor distributors.
In early October, the Ciullas filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy protection, while the lawsuit was rewritten to expand potentially into a class action, seeking $1 million in damages.
The Giacalones and Canastras had opened a prototype outlet for their auction business in June 2008 at a site on The Fort.
Vito Giacalone is president of the Gloucester Fishing Preservation Fund and, along with Richie Canastra, is a leader of the Northeast Seafood Coalition, which serves as a platform for 12 of the 17 sectors or fishing cooperative businesses allowed to participate in the catch share market system governing the New England groundfishing industry.
Richard Gaines can be reached at 978-283-7000, x3464, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.