The war may be over but former School Board member Catherine Schrauth Forcucci is fighting one more battle with Hamburg Central Schools. She wants the district’s Board of Education to reimburse her for the legal costs she incurred when she sued the school board over its decision to hold closed meetings on charges brought by the board’s president to have her removed for official misconduct.
Although Schrauth Forcucci protested that she wanted her case presented before the public, the board went into executive session three times, on May 27, 28 and June 4 of 2014, to discuss her case behind closed doors.
Boards may go into executive session to discuss personnel matters, but Schrauth Forcucci was not an employee; she was an elected official.
By June 5, 2014, Schrauth Forcucci had gone to court asking that her hearings be open – and she won. The rest of the sessions, with the final one lasting more than six hours, were opened to the public.
But she still lost her seat on the board in September 2014, and she lost in her subsequent efforts to regain her seat and to keep the board from appointing someone to fill it.
In light of her victory to open the hearings, however, Schrauth Forcucci is asking State Supreme Court Justice Diane Y. Devlin for a summary judgment that the School Board violated her First Amendment rights to provide the public and the media access to the “governmental hearings” regarding their elected representative. She also wants the judge to grant her “reasonable attorney fees and expenses.”
Schrauth Forcucci so far has accumulated legal bills of $32,600 with her attorney, Margaret A. Murphy, with an additional $1,000 spent for filing fees and transcripts.
The school district spent $111,897 with the law firm Hodgson Russ to remove Schrauth Forcucci last year, $43,144 when she challenged her removal in state court, and $8,127 more when she appealed to the state education commissioner to have her removal reversed.
According to court filings last week, the court “would first render its decision as to the merits of Mrs. Forcucci’s First Amendment claim before ruling upon her claim for attorney fees and expenses.”
The case is scheduled to be back in court Oct. 8.