Catherine Schrauth Forcucci has lost her bid in U.S. District Court to get her seat back on the Hamburg School Board – 36 days after her term expired.
Forcucci was removed from the board in September 2014 after the School Board found her guilty of official misconduct. She and a former board member, Holly A. Balaya, went to State Supreme Court a month later, seeking relief, and the case was transferred to federal court at the request of the School Board.
U.S. District Judge Michael A. Telesca dismissed their complaint, ruling that they did not prove the board retaliated against Forcucci for exercising her First Amendment rights, or that she was denied due process, or that the voters were disenfranchised by her removal.
Margaret Murphy, Forcucci’s attorney, had little comment. She said she has yet to review the decision with her clients, and she does not know if they will take further action.
Forcucci still has an appeal before the state education commissioner to recover her seat. Commissioner MaryEllen Elia has not issued a decision.
Telesca also turned down a request for the district to pay attorney fees for Forcucci and Balaya. The district paid its law firm, Hodgson Russ, $69,881 to defend this court challenge, according to legal invoices. The district also spent $111,897 on the process to remove Forcucci, and $14,320 responding to Forcucci’s appeal before the state education commissioner.
Forcucci was elected in 2013 to a three-year term to a board that was split, and then became deeply divided.
Chaos reigned in the school district at the time: The superintendent abruptly resigned in 2013; the board ended a civil lawsuit over a secret recording in which the district tried to unmask an anonymous blogger; and there was so much shouting at one School Board meeting that the gavel broke as it was pounded for order.
After Forcucci was charged, the superintendent, who had gained public sympathy after reported vandalism to his car, resigned in disgrace after admitting he drove the car into a wooden utility pole.
The board filed charges of official misconduct against Forcucci in April 2014, less than a year after she took office. She was removed after a lengthy hearing, and the board appointed a new member to her seat. The term for that seat ended June 30.