Village Attorney Margaret Murphy told the Sloan Village Board on Tuesday that the municipality may have to pay up to $90,000 to a former mayor and clerk/treasurer to resolve a defamation lawsuit.
While Murphy said she believes the suit brought by former Mayor Adeline Sicignano and former Clerk/Treasurer Patricia Krzemien should have been dismissed years ago, the court said it couldn't overlook three previous decisions on the case where village representatives didn't respond properly.
"The bottom line now is we do have a liability the village is responsible for," Murphy said.
The two sought approximately $55,000 shortly after Kenneth Pokorski took office in 1997 as mayor and made what they said were defamatory statements.
The $90,000 represents the original amount sought, as well as fees and interest. Pokorski's administration has since left office.
According to court documents, Pokorski said that he found "a lot of improprieties that took place" under Sicignano's leadership and that "[he] didn't want to be responsible for things that a previous administration has done."
About eight months later, in January 1998, Pokorski claimed that an "emergency austerity budget to offset prior administration budgeting errors" was needed and that those errors "bled" the village's fiscal surplus.
A review of village records by an accounting firm found no errors, and the state comptroller's office found no reason to conduct a review.
A judge had previously ruled that Sicignano and Krzemien were damaged personally and professionally by comments that were determined to be untrue and that Pokorski knew that when he made the comments.
Murphy said the decision was faulty, that the comments weren't in fact defamatory and that had then-Village Attorney David Dale acted properly, the suit would have been dismissed.
Attorney Paul Weiss, who represents Sicignano and Krzemien, said that while such cases against public officials are among the most difficult to win, the lack of effort by Dale went a long way in ending the case.
"He missed meetings and didn't respond to claims in a timely manner," Weiss said of Dale.
Murphy said that she would likely file an appeal but that the chances of winning could be as low as 30 percent and the village should start looking into ways to pay the judgment.
While such judgments are typically paid by municipal insurance, the companies covering the village have refused to make payments because of the way the previous administration mishandled the case, she said.