Injunction By Former Library Trustees Rejected

BY JOE MARVILLI
Staff Writer

The six ousted Queens Library trustees have received a setback in their lawsuit.

The Hon. James Orenstein, United States Magistrate Judge for the Eastern District of New York, recommended against granting a preliminary injunction that would reverse the trustees’ removal from their positions at the library. He will send his recommendation to Federal Judge Margo Brodie for consideration.

The six trustees, Joseph Ficalora, Jacqueline Arrington, William Jefferson, Grace Lawrence, Terri Mangino and George Stamatiades, were removed last month after a bill passed in the State Legislature, allowing the Borough President and Mayor to do so. BP Melinda Katz said she removed the trustees for failing to properly oversee the finances of the Queens Library. The trustees countered that the move was a power grab by the Borough President.

The trustees’ lawsuit states that the State law violates the Contract Clause of the U.S. Constitution and their removal impeded on their first amendment rights.

Orenstein disagreed, saying that the trustees were removed for their job performance, not for the context of their speech. This decision is a new obstacle in the trustees’ attempt to prevent Katz and Mayor Bill de Blasio, who removed two other members, from appointing replacements.

The suit will now go to Brodie, who took on the case after Brooklyn Federal Judge Roslynn Mauskopf recused herself. She said she is a close friend of former federal judge, Barbara Jones, who is conducting a whistleblower complaint on the behalf of Stamatiades. He is looking into who leaked the initial information about CEO Thomas Galante’s salary, second job and taxpayer-funded smoking deck. It was this information that set this year’s controversies about the Queens Library into motion.

Doug Grover, counsel for the plaintiffs, stated their dissatisfaction in Orenstein’s recommendation, but said they would continue to support the Queens Library.

“The six trustees are distinguished leaders with long records of service to the community. They could not allow the actions by the Borough President to go unchallenged. They brought this action to assert the independence of the Library and the right of every trustee to act without political interference,” he said. “They are understandably disappointed by today’s outcome but remain true friends of the library and hope for its continued success.”

The remaining trustees on the Queens Library board also released a statement that spelled out their intent to adjust to the new State law’s provisions.

“While we are still reviewing today’s action by the court, the Queens Library Board and its committees will be working throughout the months ahead to implement changes to the Library’s by-laws mandated by State law, improve transparency and adopt best practices of not-for-profit corporate governance,” they said. “The Board’s goal is to achieve the same recognition in matters of integrity and oversight as the Library achieved in matters of innovation and service delivery.”

Reach Joe Marvilli at (718) 357-7400, Ext. 125, jmarvilli@queenstribune.com, or @JoeMarvilli.