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Restaino running for Falls School Board

Robert M. Restaino, a former judge who served on the benches in five different courts but was removed because of an incident involving a ringing cell phone in one of his courtrooms, is among five candidates who have filed petitions for election to the city School Board.

Restaino, 51, has been a practicing lawyer in Niagara Falls since 1986. He served as a City Court judge from 1996 to 2008, with assignments to Niagara County Court, 2000-08; Niagara County Family Court, 2001-05; Lockport City Court, 2001; and Buffalo City Court, 2002-03.

He said his work in Family Court uniquely qualifies him for service on the School Board, where he would "call for an open discussion on the future of public education." He said he has developed and administered programs to deter violence in teenage and young adult relationships.

In autobiographical material that he provided to the School Board, Restaino said he had "assisted many families and young people through difficult circumstances and has stressed the importance of education in the achievement of success."

The State Court of Appeals removed him from the bench of Niagara Falls City Court in 2008 because of an incident on March 11, 2005, while Restaino was presiding at a session of Domestic Violence Court. An electronic device believed to have been a cell phone beeped nearly a dozen times in the back of the courtroom, and Restaino questioned each defendant in the room in an effort to find the owner.

Unable to find the owner, the judge temporarily jailed 46 people, 14 of whom spent six or seven hours behind bars. None of the lawyers, court staff or security officers in the room was questioned or taken into custody.

The Court of Appeals ruled that the judge's action deprived the defendants "of their liberty without due process, exhibited insensitivity, indifference and a callousness so reproachable that his continued presence on the bench cannot be tolerated."

Many organizations expressed support for Restaino, including the Niagara Falls Boys & Girls Club, the Niagara County Bar Association, Family and Children's Service of Niagara, Community Missions of the Niagara Frontier, the city Police Department and the City Council. Restaino is a member or former member of most of those agencies, in addition to the DeFranco Public Charity, the Niagara Falls Public Library Board and the Juvenile Justice Board.

School Board clerk Ruthel D. Dumas said these other candidates filed petitions by the deadline of 5 p.m. Wednesday:

*Joseph A. Marinello Jr., a stay-at-home father of four children who suffered a career-ending back injury while working for Rural/Metro Medical Services in 2002.

Marinello said he favors repeal of the city residency requirement for school district personnel, "retaining the best and brightest teachers and administrators" and innovation.

*Carmelette Rotella, a retired teacher and guidance counselor in the Niagara Falls schools, former president of the Niagara Falls Teachers union, and the present vice president of the School Board.

Rotella said she believes "it is essential to provide a quality education at a reasonable cost to the taxpayer. I have a track record that indicates that I am willing to devote the time: I walk the walk -- not just talk the talk. I get involved and I get things done."

*Jeanette Stypa, a former member of the School Board who served for 16 years, and who now supports term limits for School Board members.

Stypa registers family day care homes and school-age programs as an employee of NiaCAP, the Niagara County Community Action Organization.

*The Rev. Duane Thomas Jr., founder and pastor of Changing a Generation Ministries in Niagara Falls.

Thomas organized a program called Swagg Night that has attracted more than 250 young people every weekend to the church and gymnasium formerly known as Sacred Heart. He is working to reopen the Niagara Community Center and has been an avid supporter of youth programs for many years.

They are seeking election to the seats currently held by Rotella and board member Robert J. Kazeangin Jr., who is not a candidate for re-election. Each of the nine members of the board serves a five-year unpaid term.

e-mail: rbaldwin@buffnews.com

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