Volume 75, Number 18 | September 21 - 27, 2005

City settles ‘voodoo powder’ lawsuit

The city has paid Amy Velez, a former Community School Board 1 member, $50,000 to settle her lawsuit against former Schools Chancellor Harold O. Levy and three former local board members. The suit charged that Levy violated Velez’s constitutional rights when he removed her from office after three fellow board members accused her of placing “voodoo powder” on the district superintendent’s doorstep after a school board meeting on Jan. 23, 2002.

The suit also charged former board members Nancy Ortiz, Jacob Goldman and Joyce Early for defamation, and charged Board of Education investigators with negligence for having carried out a flawed investigation. The settlement ends a three-year legal battle that went to federal Appeals Court after a lower court had thrown out the suit.

In March 2002, citing Ortiz’s accusation, Levy removed Velez from the school board, without offering her a conciliation meeting required under state education law.

An Education spokesperson confirmed that under the settlement, Velez received $50,000 and her lawyer received $130,000. The spokesperson noted that the incident occurred during a previous administration and that the current department would not comment on the case.

Velez, who got her check two weeks ago, said she gave $30,000 of her settlement to another lawyer who had her case previously, leaving Velez with $20,000. But it doesn’t matter, she said — the main point is that she is now vindicated.

“It’s O.K. — it’s not about money,” she told The Villager. As for why the city settled, she said, “I think the Board of Education knows we have a really strong case. What the chancellor did was outrageous. It was politically motivated.”

However, Goldman downplayed the settlement, saying it proved nothing. The city settles many cases each year, giving away hundreds of millions of dollars in the settlements, he noted.

“Anyone that thinks settling a case is indicative of vindication and winning a case — they’re spin doctors,” he said. “This was a case that was thrown out of a lower court. Michael Jackson and O.J. Simpson — who at least went before a jury — have more vindication.”

Goldman and Velez were on opposing factions of the now-defunct school board. Velez’s faction opposed the appointment of Helen Santiago as the Lower East Side district’s new superintendent. Under Mayor Bloomberg, the elected school boards have been replaced by appointed community education councils.

By Lincoln Anderson

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