Attorney: Paladino’s words are protected speech

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) — The attorney for Carl Paladino said the Buffalo Board of Education and three other groups are part of a conspiracy to violate the developer’s First Amendment right to free speech.

Dennis Vacco says he plans to sue. But first, he’s asking the state to hold off on any decision about whether to allow his client to maintain his position on the board.

Vacco says the board of education, the teacher’s union and the district’s parent-teacher organization are unfairly conspiring against Paladino’s right to speak his mind, particularly if he’s doing so as a private citizen.

By contrast, Vacco says the board of education is acting in its official position, even hiring a Syracuse-based attorney to work on the petition they sent to the New York State Education Department in January calling for Paladino’s ouster.

The letter sent to the education department last week also said the board’s attorney worked with and advised the other groups in their petition process — hence the conspiracy, Vacco said.

Ultimately, the letter is asking the state to hold off on making a decision regarding his future with the board — until these latest matters are settled.

“At the end of the day, the statements are indefensible, but as indefensible as they are, they are still constitutionally protected, and when we’re talking about political speech, there’s even a bit of a heightened protection for political speech,” Vacco said. “That’s what this was. He uttered these comments — as reprehensible as they may or may not be — He uttered them as a private citizen, not as a school board official.”

Representatives from the state said they “can’t speculate on what a judge may do on a lawsuit that has yet to be filed.” However, there was no response about Vacco’s request to delay — or stay — the commissioner’s decision until other matters are settled. Vacco said he hasn’t received a response from the state.

Meanwhile, the District Parent Coordinating Council — one of four groups with outstanding petitions against Paladino — said early Tuesday they agreed with Vacco’s request for a stay, and asked for the state to investigate Vacco’s claims.

Vacco said Wednesday he would be filing a separate lawsuit against the groups opposing his client in the near future. He said it would be filed regardless of the state commissioner’s decision, or its timing.

The School Board released a statement on Thursday:

“We wish to respond to Carl Paladino’s recent assertions of improper conduct by the Board majority in requesting that the Commissioner of Education remove Mr. Paladino as a Board member for his willful violation of his duties as a Board member.  We have acted properly at all times in pursuing the allegations in the petition to the Commissioner, and believe that Mr. Paladino is leveling his latest round of baseless allegations in an attempt to distract from his misconduct, and the fact that he has submitted no evidence to the Commissioner that justifies his unlawful disclosure of confidential information.  The allegations of a conspiracy among parties who seek Mr. Paladino’s removal are baseless.  We look forward to the Commissioner rendering a decision on our petition and resolving Mr. Paladino’s status as a Board member.”

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