Defamation lawsuit against town officials dismissed; another round on horizon

BUFFALO – A defamation lawsuit against several current and former Town of Cheektowaga officials was dismissed by Erie County Supreme Court Justice Tracey A. Bannister Cheektowaga Chronicle has learned.

Cheektowaga Highway Superintendent Mark Wegner brought the suit alleging that former Supervisor Mary Holtz, former Councilmember James Rogowski, and current Councilmembers Christine Adamczyk and Gerald Kaminski made false accusations saying Mr. Wegner engaged in monetary waste, abuse, and criminal actions in the deployment of his workforce while performing his role as highway superintendent for the town.

Judge Bannister granted an October 17, 2018 motion from the town’s legal team to dismiss the case if Mr. Wegner could not file a second complaint “setting forth the exact defamatory words allegedly spoken against plaintiff by each and every defended” within 45 days.

Ryan J. Lucinski is a Partner at Hodgson Russ LLP and represents the town officials in this case.  He emailed a statement to Cheektowaga Chronicle Thursday saying, “The Town is gratified that the matter is finally concluded.”

Cheektowaga Chronicle reached Mr. Wegner by phone Thursday, but he referred us to his attorney Michael J. Stachowski for comment.  Mr. Stachowski respectfully declined to comment, saying further legal action could be brought in the case.

This was the second legal blow dealt to Mr. Wegner’s case.  This past March, the Supreme Court’s Appellate Division overturned Ms. Bannister’s decision to allow what the defendants called a “fishing expedition” during the discovery phase of the case.

An amended complaint was filed by Mr. Stachowski in April, and an offer to settle the case for $50,000 was floated to the town.

“Put it to bed, because they’ll spend more than that on attorneys,” Mr. Stachowski told Cheektowaga Chronicle in April.  “The town damaged him, and it cost him a lot.”

“No way, no way,” Councilmember Gerald Kaminski says.  “There was no wrongdoing on the town’s part so why would we settle?”

Mr. Kaminski tells Cheektowaga Chronicle he would have much rather seen the case go to court.

“The whole case was hokey from day one.  That’s why I would honestly would have like it to go to court where the truth would have come out,” Mr. Kaminski says.  “This would have gotten straightened out because nobody would address the issue with the investigation that we had Phillips Lytle perform.”

The Phillips Lytle investigation initiated by the town council on February 10, 2015, allegedly revealed “monetary waste, abuse, and criminal actions” in the Highway Department.  Mr. Kaminski said when the Attorney General was notified, the AG’s office sent a letter back saying they would not look into the case at that point in time.  The Erie County District Attorney’s Office said there was not enough evidence to prosecute.

“Constitutional violations – you’re telling me that’s not worth investigating,”  Mr. Kaminski added.

The Town of Cheektowaga has employed three different law firms since May 2016 defending the town.  A summary of legal bills obtained by Cheektowaga Chronicle through a Freedom of Information Law request shows that the town has spent $51,160.73 as of April 4th on outside counsel.

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