Princetown town justice fights loss of clerk post
PRINCETOWN Princetown Town Justice Michelle Van Woeart has filed her legal action against the town, challenging her removal from her court clerk duties.
Now the two sides are awaiting a judge’s ruling on a motion by the town to dismiss the suit.
Van Woeart filed her action, an Article 78 proceeding, earlier this month, alleging the town board was arbitrary and capricious and abused its discretion in removing her from her clerk duties.
Among her demands are that she be reinstated to her clerk’s position and be reimbursed for all lost salary and benefits as a result of the board’s action.
In the suit, Van Woeart contends that an Attorney General’s opinion used by the town to remove her from the clerk’s job didn’t mean what the town contended it meant.
The positions, Van Woeart contends, are compatible because there is a second clerk who “readily performs all the functions necessary for the operation of the court clerk,” the suit reads.
The town “failed to properly evaluate the positions inside the court clerk’s office and also failed to perform a thorough review of the duties of the job prior to removing [Van Woeart] from a position which she had held for fifteen years,” the suit reads.
The town should have, at a minimum, made specific findings to support their claim of incompatibility, Van Woeart contends in the suit. The town never did so.
The legal action is a continuation of a months-long dispute over whether Van Woeart could hold both the justice and clerk position, posts she had held simultaneously for 15 years.
Van Woeart was removed from the clerk position in September, a removal town officials have said was done as a matter of law after the town received a letter from the state Attorney General’s office on the issue of her holding both the justice and clerk posts.
She had indicated previously that she would file the legal action. She filed it earlier this month.
The town, though, moved to have the claim dismissed. Arguments were held on that issue recently, town attorney Michael Cuevas said Wednesday. A ruling is expected in the coming weeks.
For Van Woeart prevail, though, Cuevas said Van Woeart would have to show the town board acted without rational basis, something he doesn’t believe she’ll be able to show.
“When you have an opinion letter from the New York State Attorney General that says that the position of town court clerk clearly is incompatible with the position of town justice in the same court, that certainly seems to be to present a rational basis for the town board’s actions,” Cuevas said.
There is also the issue of her term as clerk, which was to expire at the end of the year, Cuevas noted.
Van Woeart is represented by attorney Stephen G. DeNigris. He could not be reached for comment last week.
Van Woeart was a court clerk when she became town justice in 1997. By 2011, she was making $19,548 per year as a justice and $26,667 as clerk, according to the town budget. An assistant clerk makes $25,885.
Town officials have said they proposed a compromise, to allow Van Woeart to work reduced hours and retain health benefits through the end of the year. Van Woeart, though, rejected it. She and her attorney disputed how much time she had to consider it.
Van Woeart was censured in September by the state Commission on Judicial Conduct, which found that she failed to handle properly tickets issued to her and her sons for alleged animal control violations involving their dogs.