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Judge denies Forcucci bid for halt on filling Hamburg board vacancy

A judge Thursday refused to stop the Hamburg School Board from filling the seat once held by Catherine Schrauth Forcucci.

U.S. District Judge Richard J. Arcara denied a request for a temporary restraining order sought by Schrauth Forcucci and former board member Holly A. Balaya, who wanted to prevent the district from filling the vacancy created by the removal of Schrauth Forcucci.

The School Board removed Schrauth Forcucci from office Sept. 2 after a lengthy hearing, but she contended that she was denied due process because two board members should not have voted on her removal.

Her attorney, Margaret A. Murphy, is seeking to have the School Board revisit the issue of her removal, but without the two board members she said have demonstrated bias against her. She also wants what she described as the proper standard of review used in considering charges of official misconduct.

Board members have scheduled a special meeting for Nov. 5 to review the candidates for the seat that had been held by Schrauth Forcucci. The board received letters from 18 people interested in filling the vacancy.

Catherine Grantier Cooley, the attorney for the school district, had argued that Schrauth Forcucci has appealed to the state education commissioner for administrative relief.

Arcara also mentioned that in his 16-page decision, which he read from the bench Thursday. He said Schrauth Forcucci and Balaya did not “show a clear likelihood of success on the merits” of the contention that she was denied due process under the 14th Amendment to the Constitution.

The judge also said the plaintiffs failed to show they will suffer “irreparable harm” without the temporary restraining order.

Andrew J. Freedman, an attorney for the school district, said the district is pleased with the decision.

“The district is looking forward to moving on,” he said.

Murphy declined comment.

Arcara said Schrauth Forcucci’s argument that she acquired rights to due process because an administrative hearing was required for the board to remove her “is not so totally far-fetched.” But he said her reference to state law is insufficient to show she should be protected by the 14th Amendment.

The judge said he may consider granting a partial summary judgment on the basis that due process was denied, which could narrow the issues for discovery and a possible trial.

Schrauth Forcucci and Balaya initially filed a lawsuit in State Supreme Court challenging her removal for lack of due process and a violation of First Amendment rights. The district asked that the suit be transferred to federal court.

Arcara set a scheduling conference for Tuesday and ordered various briefs to be submitted by Nov. 7 and 21.