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Clock runs out on ousted official’s lawsuit against City of Lockport, but other legal avenues remain open

LOCKPORT – The legal deadline for a State Supreme Court lawsuit against the City of Lockport from former Youth and Recreation Director Melissa I. Junke ran out this week.

However, her attorney said Junke still has other legal options that aren’t constrained by the deadline as she seeks to challenge her ouster.

Junke already has filed an action against the city with the state Division of Human Rights, which has yet to make a ruling on whether probable cause exists to proceed with the matter, Corporation Counsel John J. Ottaviano said Wednesday.

But Ottaviano said he believes that the accusations contained in Junke’s notice of claim against the city regarding alleged defamation and invasion of privacy in regard to last year’s credit card scandal can no longer be pursued in state court.

Attorney George V.C. Muscato said Junke has other options, including lawsuits against individuals instead of the city, and an action in federal court instead of state court. “There’s been no decision made on that,” Muscato said.

Junke got in trouble with the city over the use of a city credit card, controlled by then-Mayor Michael W. Tucker, to pay expenses for a June 2013 golf tournament sponsored by Lock 34 Bar & Grille, a restaurant owned by Junke’s brother. The tournament was supposed to include a fundraising opportunity for the Department of Youth and Recreation, but the city’s card was charged more than $9,000 for tournament expenses, including flying six former pro football players into town to attend the event.

In early February 2014, then-Common Council President Anne E. McCaffrey announced an investigation of credit card misuse by an unnamed city employee. The Buffalo News reported Feb. 5 that the target was Junke, and followed up with an on-the-record interview about the expenses with then-City Treasurer Michael E. White and then-City Auditor Ruth E. Ohol.

After Tucker, who is Junke’s cousin, resigned as mayor Feb. 21, 2014, McCaffrey succeeded him and announced she had destroyed the city’s credit cards. By June, the Council abolished Junke’s job, a move that came while Junke was off work because of a back injury suffered in January 2014, when she slipped and fell on an icy sidewalk outside her office in Altro Park.

On Jan. 22, Junke filed a complaint with the Division of Human Rights, which that agency said is not subject to disclosure under the state Freedom of Information Law.

Lindy Korn, the attorney assisting Junke in the human rights matter, did not return calls from The News.