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 Velezs constitutional rights when he removed her from office after three fellow board members accused her of placing voodoo powder on the district superintendents 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 Ortizs 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 doesnt matter, she said the main point is that she is now vindicated.
Its O.K. its 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 theyre 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. Velezs faction opposed the appointment of Helen Santiago as the Lower East Side districts new superintendent. Under Mayor Bloomberg, the elected school boards have been replaced by appointed community education councils.
By Lincoln Anderson