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Judge grants venue change in Kearns’ bid for information on placement of sex offenders in West Seneca

An assemblyman’s legal battle to obtain information related to the placement of convicted sex offenders in a West Seneca neighborhood is moving to another arena.

In Albany County.

On Tuesday, State Supreme Court Justice Patrick H. NeMoyer granted a change of venue motion requested by an attorney representing the state Office for People With Developmental Disabilities, or OPWDD. That motion was argued in NeMoyer’s Buffalo courtroom last week.

Assemblyman Michael P. Kearns, D-Buffalo, had filed an Article 78 petition to force OPWDD to release documents related to last December’s transfer of seven sex offenders from Monroe Developmental Center in Rochester, which was closing, to two group homes on Leydecker Road.

In July, the assemblyman filed a Freedom of Information Law, or FOIL, request seeking policies and procedures, among other things, to get answers about how that decision was reached. He has received a partial response from the Albany-based agency; 300 pages of documents arrived the day after last week’s court hearing.

“We’re going to fight to the end on the merits,” Kearns said Tuesday.

“I know that the neighbors are going to be disappointed. They were in the process of drafting letters to the judge to advocate that most of the hearing would be here … in Erie County.”

Kearns added, “Until we get full compliance, we’re going to fight to the end.”

State Assistant Attorney General George M. Zimmermann had argued that determinations about the FOIL request were made in Albany, while attorney John B. Licata, who represented Kearns, contended that “material events” took place in Erie and Monroe counties.

In his decision, NeMoyer wrote, in part: “Contrary to petitioner’s assertion, the county where the ‘material events … took place’ is not Erie, where the group homes are located, but rather Albany, where respondent maintains its offices and its records.

“More important, Albany County is where the ‘material events … took place’ in this matter because that is where petitioner addressed his FOIL request and appeal and where the request and appeal were responded to – and actually or constructively denied in part or whole – by particular bureaucrats employed by respondent,” the judge wrote.

Kearns said Tuesday that he hasn’t had an opportunity to talk with his attorney. “I am going to look into my options going forward,” he said.