Ex-aide to Kent supervisor files lawsuit over firing

By MICHAEL RISINIT
THE JOURNAL NEWS
(Original publication: May 29, 2002)

KENT The town supervisor's recently fired assistant is suing Kent, Supervisor Annmarie Baisley, two Town Board members and Town Justice Joseph Esposito, claiming he was asked to lie as a witness in a state investigation concerning the judge and then was dismissed when he didn't.

Vincent Pasquantonio, 55, was fired from his $33,860-a-year job almost three weeks ago, about three months after he testified before the state Commission on Judicial Conduct. The commission, according to town officials and the suit, has been investigating Esposito's off-the-bench conduct. Esposito, a retired town police officer, is accused of trying to increase the assessment on property owned by a former town justice.

Pasquantonio's lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in White Plains, seeks unspecified monetary damages and accuses Baisley of mismanaging the town "from time to time while in a drunken stupor."

"What he got taken out for was his thoughts and speech," his lawyer, Jonathan Lovett, said yesterday. "His civil rights were violated in a particularly mean-spirited way."

In addition to accusing Baisley, Esposito, Councilman Louis Tartaro and Councilwoman Kathy Doherty of punishing him for his testimony by terminating his employment, the suit alleges that Esposito has repeatedly told town officials and employees that Pasquantonio is a "liar." Pasquantonio, a Democratic Town Committee member, was Baisley's assistant for almost two years.

The claim that Baisley was occasionally drunk, Lovett said, illustrates her lack of control over town matters. Baisley, the suit claims, joined Esposito in trying to get Town Assessor Chris Boryk to raise the assessment on the home of former Town Justice James Dove.

"The way she's running the government, poorly, leads to her abusive behavior, leads to her attempts to cover everything up, including her dealings with Esposito," Lovett said.

Baisley, Doherty and Esposito, who are aware of the suit, yesterday declined to comment. Town Attorney Tim Curtiss didn't return telephone messages yesterday. Tartaro couldn't be reached for comment.

At the time of Pasquantonio's firing, Baisley refused to comment, citing confidentiality of personnel issues. Pasquantonio said he was told that he was a political appointee who served at the pleasure of the supervisor.

Examples of mismanagement listed in the suit include charges that the town paid insurance premiums for years on vehicles it no longer owns, that Baisley instructed a potential accounting contractor to prepare spreadsheets in pencil and then provide them to her, and that the town was "hoarding" reserve funds in excess of $5 million. The suit also accuses the supervisor and the two board members named in the suit all Republicans of holding illegal meetings.

Pasquantonio is running for the Town Board seat vacated April 1 by two-term GOP Councilwoman Christine Woolley. Pat Madigan, who lost a bid in 2001 for a second term, is the Republican candidate.

The lawsuit centers on actions associated with the apparent investigation of Esposito by the state Commission on Judicial Conduct. In the past several months, the commission has subpoenaed several other town officials, including Baisley, to testify before it. The group won't comment on an investigation or even if one is taking place. Gerald Stern, administrator and counsel for the commission, didn't return telephone messages yesterday.

Pasquantonio, according to the suit, witnessed attempts by Baisley and Esposito to coerce Boryk to raise Dove's assessment. Shortly before he testified as a witness before the commission in January, the suit alleges, Baisley and Esposito's wife, Carol, contacted Pasquantonio and urged him to lie to protect the judge. On May 9, Pasquantonio was "summarily terminated because of his truthful testimony given to the Commission on Judicial Conduct," the suit claims.

Councilman Joseph D'Ambrosio, the board's lone Democrat, wasn't named in the suit because he didn't take part in the decision to fire Pasquantonio, according to the document. Lovett said he expected both sides would meet with a judge in the next few weeks to set up the case's schedule.

"I think it's going to be a fun case to try because they have a whole lot of skeletons," he said.



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