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September 30, 2013

Filing an application with the court to have a local public official removed from his or her public office


Filing an application with the Appellate Division to have a local public official removed from his or her public office
2013 NY Slip Op 06141, Appellate Division, Fourth Department

Public Officers Law §36 permits a “citizen resident” of a town, village, improvement district or fire district to file an application seeking the removal of an officer of the jurisdiction, other than a justice of the peace, for alleged “… misconduct, maladministration, malfeasance or malversation in office” with the Appellate Division of Supreme Court.* The term maladministration is used to describe one's performing official duties corruptly or inefficiently, the term malfeasance refers to performing one's official duties inadequately or poorly, and the term malversation refers to the misuse of public or other funds while holding public office.

A member of the Town Council [Member A] initiated a proceeding in the Appellate Division pursuant to Public Officers Law §36 seeking the removal of another member of the Town Council [Member B] from office for alleged “wrongdoing.” Member A’s petition alleged instances of conflicts of interest and self-dealing on the part of Member B, an attorney with a legal practice in the Town.** 

1. Member A alleged that Member B filed a Notice of Claim against the town on behalf of a legal client after taking office, that Member B was the subject of a complaint of harassment filed by a town employee and that Member B “repeatedly [filing] frivolous actions" against the Town.

The Appellate Division held the Member B “conclusively refuted” all of Member A’s allegations, and that Member A failed to present evidence to the contrary sufficient to raise a triable issue of fact.
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2. Member A alleged that Member B had "repeatedly appeared" in the Town's Justice Court on behalf of his clients..

Member B, said the court, “conclusively refuted that allegation” by submitting an affidavit by a Town Justice who affirmed that Member B had not appeared in the Town's Justice Court "after taking his elected position." Member A, said the court, “failed to present any evidence to the contrary.”

3. Member A alleged that Member B circulated an email to a Town employee facing disciplinary charges.

The Appellate Division held that here was no indication that the e-mail constituted "confidential correspondence" that Member B should not have sent to that Town employee.

Accordingly, the Appellate Division dismissed Member A’s petition.

* §36 requires that the officer be notified of the fact that an application seeking his or her removal, together with a copy of the allegations, to be served on the official at least eight days prior to the filing of the application with the court.

** In Jones v Filkins, 238 AD2d 954, the Appellate Division indicated that removal of an individual from public office is appropriate in situations involving “self-dealing, corrupt activities, conflict of interest, moral turpitude, intentional wrongdoing or violation of a public trust

The decision is posted on the Internet at:
http://www.nycourts.gov/reporter/3dseries/2013/2013_06141.htm
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