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Lawyer says Paladino protected public with disclosures on BTF talks

Buffalo School Board Member Carl Paladino was protecting the public's interest when he disclosed in a newspaper story secret details about contract talks with the Buffalo teacher's union - information he received during School Board's confidential executive session, his attorney said Thursday.

In an opening statement at a hearing in Albany to determine if Paladino should be ousted from his elected School Board position, attorney Dennis Vacco painted Paladino as a victim of an effort by fellow School Board members to punish him for making controversial, but constitutionally protected remarks about President Obama and his wife in another newspaper story.

Vacco said he will present evidence at the hearing before state Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia that the Buffalo School Board regularly goes into executive sessions to discuss matters that should be discussed in public.

Live coverage: Hearing on move to kick Paladino off School Board

He said Paladino should not be removed from the board for disclosing in a newspaper story published in ArtVoice information about teacher contract negotiations from the School Board's Oct. 17 executive session because that closed-door meeting was improperly convened by the board.

Paladino, who was elected to the board in 2013 and 2016, was the unsuccessful Republican candidate for governor in 2010 and chairman of President Trump's campaign in New York last year.

The School Board first initiated its effort to remove Paladino from office following publication of another ArtVoice story in December in which Paladino said he wished Obama would die from mad cow disease and that first lady Michelle Obama should go back to Africa and live with gorillas.

But the hearing before Elia focuses not on those Paladino comments, but on whether he should be ousted for publicly talking about confidential information the board discussed in executive session.

"This petition is a phony petition," Vacco said at the hearing. "It is designed to cover the true intent of the majority board members to get Carl for his speech."

He said the School Board's majority "routinely tried to mute his voice long before that unfortunate Artvoice article was published in December."

Paladino's lawyer described as "low and unnecessary" Paladino's remarks about Obama.

"Allow me to take a step back and say publicly that clearly Mr. Paladino's statements published in the Artvoice article Dec. 23 were.... low and unnecessary. But they were constitutionally protected," Vacco said.

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