Hamburg resident Elizabeth Reszka believes politicians should be held accountable for their actions, and as a result has filed a lawsuit in State Supreme Court seeking the removal of Hamburg Town Councilman Joseph Collins, who recently started the final year of his current term.
Reszka, whose husband Peter is Chairman of the Town Planning Board, wants to see Collins removed for breaching his duties during his tenure as councilman after he was elected to the board in 2009.
Steven M. Cohen of the law firm HoganWillig in Amherst, was retained by Reszka for the Article 36 lawsuit.
Some of the reasons Reszka is seeking Collins removal date back to 2010 and Cohen said the only reason they did not act sooner was because he was just retained in recent weeks and is just learning about the accusations against Collins – who was most recently censured for two violations last month.
Cohen said the length of time this could take to decide will depend on a number of issues.
“It depends upon the discovery,” he said.
Cohen anticipates it could take between seven and eight months before a decision is made.
When asked if the charges were political in nature, Reszka denied politics had anything to do with her decision to seek his removal.
“No, why would it be?” she responded.
Reszka said as a taxpayer she is concerned about the amount of money the town spends to defend lawsuits against the town that Collins is involved in – sometimes serving as council against the town. She said the town has spent about $60,000 fighting lawsuits against the town that involve Collins.
Cohen said he was unclear whether the Town of Hamburg would pay to defend Collins, even though he is a sitting member of the board.
Charges against Collins in the suit include:
• On or around Feb. 12, 2010, Collins was advised by letter that he could not appear as an attorney on behalf of clients in the Town of Hamburg Justice Court because this appearance would constitute a conflict of interest. The charges claim Collins continued to represent clients with positions adverse to the Town of Hamburg.
• On or about Feb. 4, 2010, Collins directed a Town of Hamburg employee to post flyers in town buildings advertising Collins’ legal practice in an attempt to solicit town employees as clients.
• On or about Dec. 22, 2011, Collins included a third party who was the subject of an investigation confidential copies of correspondence relating to Town of Hamburg business.
• On or about Sept. 29, 2010 Collins allegedly sent an email to Town of Hamburg employees innacurately advising that the town was attempting to modify employees’ terms of employment.
• After taking the oath of office on Jan. 1, 2010, Collins continued a previously filed notice of claim against the Town of Hamburg on behalf of a personal client through his law firm.
• On or about May 7, 2010, Collins filed with the Hamburg Town Clerk a Notice of Defect on behalf of a Town of Hamburg resident who was a client of Collins law firm, that was all contrary to the best interests of the Town of Hamburg.
• A harassment complaint was filed by a female employee of the Town of Hamburg against Collins on or about June 17, 2010.
• Following an investigation of the harassment complaint, and an opportunity for a hearing, the Town Board found that Collins violated the Town of Hamburg Code of Ethics by failing to disclose his conflict of interest, by failing to recuse himself from votes of the town board regarding matters that directly or indirectly related to the notice of claim which he filed on behalf of a client of his law firm, by practicing law before and/or against the Town of Hamburg during his tenure as a Councilman.
“We’ve never seen such a consistently blatant violation of ethics and possibly the law by any public official,” Cohen said.
Although Cohen admitted that filing an Article 36 lawsuit is rare, he said he was involved in one to have a fire commissioner removed several years ago and he is confident that this suit can be won.
According to Cohen, he believes a town councilman should be “loyal to the town they serve.”
“(Article 36) is a citizen’s route to impeachment,” Cohen said.
Collins has not announced yet whether he intends to seek reelection this year, as his seat, along with Town Supervisor Steven Walters and Councilwoman Amy Ziegler, are up for election in November.
According to Collins, he has sent in a request to the Town of Hamburg asking for the town to defend him.
“Under the law, I’ve made a request that they defend me,” Collins said.
He said he sent the request to Town Attorney Kenneth Farrell’s office, but has yet to get a response.