WGRZ’s Kelly Dudzik requested comments from Barry Covert, a noted Buffalo First Amendment attorney, on Buffalo School Board member Carl Paladino’s threat to take legal action against three fellow school board members and the district’s general counsel. Mr. Paladino says they are slandering him with accusations that he is racist and sexist.
Click here for the full interview.
Accusations of racism and sexism
In the e-mail sent on February 25 to board members Sharon Belton-Cottman, Theresa Harris-Tigg, and Barbara Seals Nevergold and the district’s general counsel, Rashondra Martin, Mr. Paladino said he would “take all appropriate legal or other action at my disposal to do so.”
When asked by Ms. Dudzik if he really intends to sue, Mr. Paladino said, “If they keep up the nonsense, and playing the race card, and playing this sexist thing, you know, it just so happens that the minority group [on the board] is African American, and they’re women.”
Malice would need to be proven
Mr. Covert said, “As reprehensible as it is in his eyes that he’s being called a racist or discriminatory or sexist, nobody wants to be called that, it’s a very high standard for him to ever prevail at a trial.”
In New York State, Mr. Covert explained, “the courts are very protective of First Amendment rights, especially when it comes to public officials. As a public figure, Paladino would have to show there is actual malice or an intent to do harm.”
Mr. Covert pointed out that Mr. Paladino “does not have to bring any legal action. But it will be interesting if they claim again that he’s a racist or that he’s anti-women whether he’s going to follow through with the lawsuit.”
District may not bear the legal expenses
Ms. Dudzik ends the segment by saying that Mr. Covert pointed out that Mr. Paladino said in the email he could sue each woman personally and not as board members, which would mean they would have to defend themselves and be responsible for any damages, if it came to that, instead of the district paying the legal bills.
In addition to vigorously defending clients in First Amendment lawsuits, Mr. Covert practices in other constitutional law areas, including the Second Amendment, civil rights actions, and the federal False Claims Act. He also represents clients in New York State and federal criminal trials and appeals; defends against allegations of scientific misconduct, scientific fraud, research misconduct, research fraud, plagiarism, and fabrication of evidence; and provides defense of professional licensing. He is a member of Lipsitz Green Scime Cambria’s Criminal Defense Trials and Appeals Practice Area.