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Judge backs Celoron in couple's suit

A federal judge has sided with Village of Celoron officials in a case brought by a local couple who claimed their right to free speech had been violated by restrictions at Village Board meetings.

Brian Malta filed suit over being gaveled out of order when he attempted to speak at a 2005 board meeting.

His wife, Valerie, had attempted to use a video camera at board meetings and was stopped by officials.

In an 11-page decision, U.S. District Judge William Skretny said the Village Board, current Mayor Tom Bartolo and former Mayor Richard Slagle did not violate the Maltas' First Amendment rights.
Bartolo said Monday it's a relief to have the case decided, because residents had many questions about it.

Malta, who was a Village Board candidate at the time of the 2005 incident, reportedly made political statements about Bartolo, who was his opponent. Malta was ruled out of order by Slagle at that meeting.

Bartolo said he felt vindicated.

"We've been harassed and humiliated," he said. "I feel bad for the Village of Celoron, because those people down there are good, substantial workers and family men, and they had to go through all this rigamarole because of this man."

Skretny also ruled that prohibiting, or limiting, Valerie Malta's use of a video camera at the board meetings was not unconstitutional.

The judge said the Maltas "failed to demonstrate" that the prohibition infringed on their constitutional rights.

Skretny also said municipal boards do have the ability to limit discussion at meetings to certain topics.

Neither Brian nor Valerie Malta was available to comment.

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