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Former city clerk's suit to go to trial

A federal judge has refused to dismiss a lawsuit filed by a former City of Niagara Falls official who claims she was illegally fired by Mayor Vince Anello.

Unless a settlement is reached, a trial will be scheduled in the case of former City Clerk Cynthia R. Baxter against Anello and the city.

District Judge John T. Elfvin, in a recent ruling, turned down a request by the city to dismiss the lawsuit.

"[The] Court finds that no reasonable juror could find that plaintiff received constitutionally adequate notice and opportunity to be heard prior to her termination as City Clerk," Elfvin wrote in a 24-page decision.

"[Baxter] was not told why Anello had decided to end her employment or what she could do in the event that she disagreed with his decision or the reasoning behind it."

Baxter was appointed to her $41,300-a-year city job in 2000 by Anello's predecessor, Irene Elia. Anello fired her when he was assemblying his own city leadership team before taking office in 2004.

Her attorney, Richard H. Wyssling, argues that Anello replaced Baxter "solely for political reasons" and failed to get required approval from members of the City Council.

Anello maintains the firing was appropriate and legal.

"We're certainly going to continue with the legal process. I need to protect the interest of city taxpayers. I know we didn't do anything wrong," Anello said on Friday.

In court papers, Baxter said she was the first African-American woman ever appointed as a department head in city government. Her lawsuit does not allege that race had anything to do with her firing.

Filed in June 2004, the lawsuit asked for $269,872 in damages, plus interest and attorney fees.

Neither Baxter nor her attorney could be reached for comment.

e-mail: dherbeck@buffnews.com

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