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This Ain’t Russia, Lawyer Says

This Ain’t Russia, Lawyer Says

'APS had lost in court, every step of the way, because federal judges ... understand that citizens have a right to speak their peace to elected officials, during a public comment period' - Albuquerque attorney John Boyd

BY DENNIS DOMRZALSKI

The Albuquerque Public Schools board will pay $575,000 to settle a lawsuit bought by a former APS teacher who had been barred from board meetings because he dared criticize board members by name.

The retired teacher, Ched MacQuigg, will get $95,000 and his attorneys will get $480,000, APS said Tuesday in a news release. APS also said it paid its attorneys $288,000 to defend the case, which MacQuigg filed in 2012.

APS said $513,000 of its cost will be covered by its insurance company.

“Due to some adverse court rulings, continued costs of taking this mater to trial and the unavailability of certain witnesses, a difficult decision was made to settle the matter with a majority of the funds coming from insurance proceeds and not from APS operating funds,” the district’s statement said.

MacQuigg was tossed out of one APS board meeting in 2009 when he began criticizing board members by name. In September 2010, APS notified him that he was barred from future meetings until he agreed to stop criticizing him. Instead of caving, MacQuigg, a former shop teacher, sued the district in federal court. APS agreed to settle the case last week.

One of those “adverse court rulings” APS mentioned in its release was a March 31, 2014, preliminary injunction that enjoined the school district from barring MacQuigg from its meetings.

MacQuigg told ABQ Free Press he was outraged by APS’s statement. “Adverse rulings, they got their asses handed to them and they never produced a bit of evidence,” MacQuigg said. MacQuigg’s attorney, John Boyd, said APS settled because it lost “every step of the way” in court and had no choice but to settle. He blasted the defendants as “pompous public officials” and said the district’s claims of missing witnesses as “laughable.”

“APS had lost in court, every step of the way, because federal judges in general, and this federal judge in particular, understand that citizens have a right to speak their peace to elected officials, during a public comment period, regardless of whether some pompous government official is offended by righteous, calm criticism,” Boyd said.

“This is the United States. It is not Russia or China. Ched MacQuigg was never disruptive, and the federal judge agreed,” Boyd continued. “All he ever did was speak his peace about the need for the APS Board members to conduct themselves in a way that is consistent principles of good character that the Board requires of its students. The APS Board, led by its then chair, expelled him and banned him from its meetings for years for having had the nerve to criticize its members. The Board then refused to allow MacQuigg to attend their public meetings unless he promised to stop criticizing them. It took a federal judge’s order before MacQuigg was able to exercise the rights that we are supposed to be able to take for granted.”

Boyd continued, “It is no surprise that the Board’s behavior provoked a lawsuit, which the Board needlessly dragged out for years, when all the Board had to do was to let Ched MacQuigg attend their meetings and speak during public comment. Now the Board claims they are settling, and paying all this money, only because they are missing some witnesses and because they got some bad rulings from the Court. This is laughable. All the witnesses are either available in person, or their deposition testimony is already recorded and admissible if they were for some reason beyond the reach of a subpoena for trial.”

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Dennis Domrzalski is managing editor of ABQ Free Press. Reach him at dennis@freeabq.com.

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