With a week to go before a removal hearing in Albany, Buffalo School Board Member Carl Paladino is fighting back with a federal lawsuit saying the board and its governing majority is violating his First Amendment Constitutional rights.
The lawsuit was filed Wednesday by former New York State Attorney General Dennis Vacco, who now is a partner at the law firm of Lippes Mathias Wexler Friedman. While the school board member is an attorney, Paladino hired Vacco and, if he wins, wants all his legal fees paid by the School Board.
While the issues will be fought in court, the controversial developer said the attempt to remove him is retaliation for his published comments about former President Barack Obama and wife Michelle Obama, for which he later apologized. Paladino says it is a civil rights issue.
"This is a lawsuit that's based in the Civil Rights Act, Section 1983," he said. "I'm suing them for retaliation against me for the exercise of my First Amendment right to free speech. That's it. That's what it's about."
The legal papers say the removal attempt started over his comments in the local newspaper Artvoice and that later, charges were added that he had leaked material from a closed-door session of the school board.
"It's a very pointed, incisive complaint that I'm making against these individuals for what you've seen happen over the last couple of months," said Paladino. "This is me, fighting back."
The members of the board who are being sued were served with legal papers at Wednesday's school board meeting. Board General Counsel Nathaniel Kuzma said he has to decide who will represent the different parties in the case and likely will involve outside lawyers.
"Well, there have been three different parties that have been sued: the Board of Education, the Buffalo City School District and six individual board members. They've all been served this evening," said Kuzma. "I have not had the opportunity to review the complaint, at this time. I'm going to have to do that and then make a determination on who can represent whom."
The hearing requested by six members of the board to remove Paladino starts next week in Albany.