The Town of Cheektowaga has filed a lawsuit against embattled Councilman James P. Rogowski to expel him from office, Supervisor Diane M. Benczkowski confirmed on Friday.
The lawsuit came after the Town Board approved a resolution Tuesday night that demanded the four-term councilman resign from his seat by midnight on Wednesday following his conviction on misdemeanor charges connected to a domestic violence allegation this year.
Rogowski's refusal was immediate, defiant and included a prepared statement he read to the board.
Upon conclusion, many in the audience in council chambers applauded and whistled in approval. Rogowski has launched a GoFundMe page seeking $10,000. He raised $545 from nine people as of Friday afternoon, according to his fundraising page.
The lawsuit seeks a judicial determination that Rogowski automatically vacated his seat when he pleaded guilty to second-degree contempt, a misdemeanor. By entering the plea, Rogowski admitted he tried to violate an order of protection obtained by his estranged wife during a traffic incident earlier this year in West Seneca.
The town enlisted outside counsel from the Phillips Lytle law firm to commence the action.
Recently, state Assemblywoman Monica P. Wallace and Jeremy J. Zellner, chairman of the Erie County Democratic Committee, issued statements urging Rogowski to resign immediately. In March, the Cheektowaga and Republican committees each called on Rogowski to step down, as did Brian Nowak, who was appointed deputy supervisor after the resignation of Timothy Meyers in August.
In the statement Rogowski read to the board, he pointed to his achievements as councilman, particularly his role in bringing the Chick-fil-A fast-food franchise to the town. He also chastised fellow board members whom he said attacked his character:
"To say that I lack moral turpitude because I'm going through a contentious divorce is rich coming from some board members who have been given a second chance after their own DWI felony conviction resulted in the loss of their teaching job," Rogowski said in the statement.
Nowak waited for Rogowski to finish reading his statement before taking the floor to identify himself as the councilman mentioned in Rogowski's statement.
Nowak, the only board member to publicly call for Rogowski's resignation, started his first term on the board this year.
"That would be me," he said. "That's something I shared with the residents when I went door to door running for office. I told residents – some of them – that that was in my past. I did not hide that from them. They saw my tattoos. They heard about the incident. I am an open book to everybody."
Nowak later said the incident occurred in 2011 on his final day of classes at SUNY Buffalo State.
"It's pretty sad he had to bring that up. He doesn't seem to want to take responsibility for his actions," Nowak said. "It was my last day of college, and I went out celebrating. I decided to drive home."
"It happened when I was 24. I did not lose a teaching job, and I never was charged with a felony," said Nowak, who is 31.
Rogowski was arrested in February by West Seneca Police following an alleged domestic incident on Orchard Park Road. Police said Rogowski was in his vehicle when he allegedly began chasing his wife as she drove her vehicle.