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Tangled legal web widens for Buffalo Schools, as Paladino removal hearing to begin

WBFO's Mike Desmond

More legal bills await the Buffalo School Board in the continuing saga of Carl Paladino's role as a member of the board.

The board has hired the same lawyer to defend six of its members against a lawsuit filed by Paladino that they hired to try to get the State Education Department to remove him. That lawyer is Frank Miller, deliberately hired from out of town to avoid local conflicts of interest.

Paladino has filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the six members and the board voted Tuesday to hire Miller to defend the six.

"He represents six members of the Board of Education in a 306 petition, the same six that have been named in this particular suit," said General Counsel Nathaniel Kuzma. "So he's most familiar with the facts related to this lawsuit and he believes he is capable of representing them here and these six individual members have selected him to represent them in this matter."

Board Member Larry Quinn said he was not comfortable with Miller representing the six in each case.

"I think there's an inherent conflict," said Quinn. "I don't care who represents the six members, that's their preference. I think that with regards to representation of the Board of Education and the people who are out in the districts, I think that there should be separate counsel for that. There may be a conflict in those positions and I don't think it affects what you are trying to accomplish."

Credit WBFO's Mike Desmond
Anti-Paladino protestors were present at the last Buffalo School Board meeting before Carl Paladino's removal hearing in Albany.

Board Member Sharon Belton Cottman wanted to ensure the six will still be represented if board control shifts.

"Wherefore be it further resolved that, if in the future, it is deemed necessary that the law firm of Frank W. Miller is unable to represent either or all of the aforementioned board members during the course of this legal matter, that the board member or members should be authorized to select other legal counsel," she proposed.

Since the civil rights lawsuit also charges the school district and the overall board, Kuzma now has to hire a defense lawyer in that phase of the entangled case. All this comes at the same time the school budget cut the allocation for outside legal fees.

Kuzma said he cannot handle the case himself because board members are on opposite sides.

The case before New York State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia to remove Paladino is about to start in Albany. Paladino was not present at Tuesday's board meeting.

Mike Desmond is one of Western New York’s most experienced reporters, having spent nearly a half-century covering the region for newspapers, television stations and public radio. He has been with WBFO and its predecessor, WNED-AM, since 1988. As a reporter for WBFO, he has covered literally thousands of stories involving education, science, business, the environment and many other issues. Mike has been a long-time theater reviewer for a variety of publications and was formerly a part-time reporter for The New York Times.
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