State attorneys agreed to pay a $60,000 out-of-court settlement to a Buffalo City Court clerk who sued over sexual harassment and lewd conduct by a former judge, Anthony P. LoRusso.
The settlement, closing out a $5 million lawsuit and an embarrassing chapter in Buffalo's judicial history, was confirmed Monday by officials at U.S. District Court.
Elizabeth Kirisits contended in her 1993 lawsuit that LoRusso had fondled and touched her, asked for back rubs, embarrassed her with lewd suggestions and requests, and then punished her with bad work assignments when she refused to go to bed with him.
She said in court papers that the incidents occurred on a number of occasions while she was working as a court assistant for LoRusso in City Court between January 1988 and late 1989.
Her attorney, Mark H. Cantor, confirmed that an agreement to settle the case for $60,000 was approved last week by U.S. District Judge William M. Skretny. If not settled, Skretny told parties in the case, the suit would go to trial soon.
Ms. Kirisits, who still works at City Court, declined to comment.
"We felt we had a very strong case, and if it had gone to trial, we would have presented witnesses who saw and heard some of these incidents," Cantor said.
When asked why Ms. Kirisits agreed to settle for $60,000, Cantor said the trial would have been extremely painful for his client.
"Elizabeth agreed to a settlement because she did not want to relive all that went on," he said. "She wants to get on with her life and put this behind her. It would upset her very much just to see him (LoRusso) again."
LoRusso, who was permanently barred from the judiciary by the state Commission on Judicial Conduct in June 1993, said he is glad that the suit is over but feels that he is a victim.
"I'm feeling victimized. I've always denied these allegations, and I never really got my day in court," said LoRusso, 57. "I didn't even know about the settlement until you (The News) called me. I don't understand how it got settled."
LoRusso said he is thankful that the state -- and not he -- will have to pay the $60,000. "I'm not paying it; I can tell you that," the former judge said.
The judicial conduct commission found after a 1993 investigation that LoRusso had engaged in "offensive, undignified and harassing conduct" against Ms. Kirisits and three other women who worked in City Court. The commission's decision to ban LoRusso from any judgeship in the state is the strongest penalty the commission can impose.
A City Court judge for 12 years and a Family Court judge for four years before he was barred, LoRusso is in private legal practice and involved with rental properties.
According to Cantor, a major development in the Kirisits lawsuit came last year, when State Supreme Court Justice Thomas P. Flaherty ruled that LoRusso ultimately answered to the state Office of Court Administration while working at City Court. Therefore, under the state public officers law, Flaherty ruled, state lawyers must represent him.
"That was a major catalyst in bringing about this settlement," Cantor said. ". . . I don't think the state attorney general would agree to spend $60,000 of taxpayer money . . . if they thought our case had no merit to it."