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Hot potato Buffalo racketeering lawsuit tied to Canalside rink finds a home court

The politically charged civil racketeering lawsuit that federal judges have treated like a hot potato has apparently found a landing spot.

Frank P. Geraci Jr., the chief district judge overseeing the federal courts of Western New York, will handle the lawsuit Rosanne DiPizio filed against state officials over the popular ice rink at Canalside.

Since DiPizio filed her lawsuit in July 2015, it has been transferred from one judge to another six times. The case will remain in Geraci’s court, a court official said Thursday.

“I am pleased that this issue has been resolved,” said DiPizio of Cheektowaga. “I am looking forward to moving forward.”

She added that she believes the judges who removed themselves from the case acted properly under the law.

The lawsuit claims that state officials illegally terminated the DiPizio family’s construction companies’ $19.8 million contract to build the ice rink at Canalside and then arranged to have the contract turned over to a politically connected Rochester company. The lawsuit blames the activities on the Empire State Development Corp. and several related parties.

State officials deny the allegations, saying the job was taken away from the DiPizios because it was a complex job they were unable to complete properly.

The construction companies run by DiPizio and her father, Bernard, have been unable to bid on public works projects because of the state’s accusations that they mishandled the ice rink project, according to Rosanne DiPizio.

The lawsuit was initially filed in New York City, but a judge there said it should be heard in Buffalo. In March, two federal judges recused themselves from the case for personal reasons, and it was then moved to Geraci’s court.

Geraci transferred the case to a federal judge in Rochester, but she too recused herself for personal reasons, and it was again transferred to Geraci last week.

Under the laws governing federal courts, judges are required to recuse – or disqualify – themselves from any case where there could be an appearance of bias on the part of the judge, either because of a past friendship, business relationship, association in the legal community or any other reason. The judges are not required to give their reasons on the record.

DiPizio and William T. Brennan, lead attorney for the defendants, said they are awaiting a ruling from Magistrate Judge H. Kenneth Schroeder on a defense request to have the case dismissed. As a magistrate judge, Schroeder can make only a recommendation, which must be approved or rejected by a district judge such as Geraci.

While University at Buffalo Law School experts called the number of recusals in this case highly unusual, they said it is appropriate for a judge to recuse if there is any potential ethical conflict involved.

Several other lawsuits in state and federal court are related to the Canalside dispute.

“I believe all these lawsuits could have been averted if representatives of the Governor’s Office had been willing to sit down and hear our side of things back in 2013,” DiPizio said.

email: dherbeck@buffnews.com

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