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Court ruling expected Thursday in Hamburg School Board case

A judge will rule Thursday on whether the Hamburg School Board can fill a board vacancy as other issues are sorted out regarding a member’s recent removal.

U.S. District Judge Richard J. Arcara said his ruling will deal with only the temporary restraining order, which was requested by the attorney representing Catherine Schrauth Forcucci and Holly A. Balaya.

By a 5 to 1 vote, the School Board voted to remove Schrauth Forcucci last month. A hearing officer had concluded that she engaged in official misconduct by berating and verbally attacking the superintendent, board president and staff members.

Balaya joined in the legal action, contending that the removal of Schrauth Forcucci disenfranchised her and other voters who elected her in 2013.

While Schrauth Forcucci seeks to return to the board, 18 people reportedly have expressed an interest in filling her seat. “In our view, it’s not vacant,” said attorney Margaret A. Murphy, who represents Schrauth Forcucci and Balaya.

Wednesday in U.S. District Court, Murphy and the attorney representing the school district argued their cases.

The relief that Murphy ultimately seeks is to have the school board revisit the issue of Schrauth Forcucci’s removal. But that must be done without the participation of two members who have demonstrated bias against Schrauth Forcucci, her attorney said, and by using the proper standard of review of the official misconduct charges.

“I’m not asking for a new hearing,” Murphy said.

“I got the impression you were,” the judge said.

Attorney Catherine Grantier Cooley, who represents the school district, noted that Murphy already has reached out to the state education commissioner for administrative relief, and said it was the first time she heard that Murphy wants to send the issue back before the school board.

“What do you think of that argument?” the judge asked Grantier Cooley.

“I don’t think it plays well,” she responded. “If the commissioner finds that it needs to go back to the board ... or a different process, so be it.”

Grantier Cooley questioned whether the court should interfere with the process established by the state Legislature in Education Law.

“You’re saying she has due process if she only seeks it?” the judge asked.

“I am,” Grantier Cooley replied.