LOCKPORT – Former North Tonawanda Mayor Lawrence V. Soos, who was fired from the Niagara County Board of Elections after blasting county Democratic Chairman Nicholas J. Forster at a party meeting, filed a notice of claim against the county Wednesday.
Soos also was denied unemployment benefits by the state Labor Department in the wake of the firing, which the county attributed to “misconduct.”
“I’ve talked to a couple of attorneys. They say this is totally baloney,” Soos said.
The notice of claim is a mandatory preliminary to a lawsuit against a local government. It gives Soos 15 months to follow up with an actual lawsuit.
Soos said that his constitutional rights to freedom of speech and freedom of association were violated when he was fired from a part-time elections position Oct. 2, the day after he took on Forster at the Democratic Party’s reorganizational meeting.
Forster, who was elected chairman that night, got into a shouting match with Soos, who took the floor to speak in support of the chairmanship candidacy of the incumbent, Jeremy N. Schnurr. Schnurr withdrew from the race moments later, conceding he would have lost to Forster.
Soos told Forster, “I’ve been involved for the last 11 years, and I haven’t seen you at a single Democratic fundraiser. Where the hell have you been?”
Forster shouted back, “I’ve been on this committee on and off for 30 years. Where the hell have you been?”
The next afternoon, Democratic Election Commissioner Nancy L. Smith called Soos into her office and fired him.
“I understand that. Her job’s on the line, too,” Soos said.
Forster said he sees no problem with reappointing Smith as commissioner, but a meeting set for Monday that would have made the appointment was canceled because of bad weather. It has yet to be rescheduled.
Smith did not return a call to comment on Soos’ notice of claim.
“When it goes to court, I’ll be glad to comment when it’s dismissed,” Forster said.
The Labor Department’s rejection notice for Soos’ unemployment claim said that he and other county employees were told to be at the Oct. 1 party meeting. It said Soos was recognized to speak but was warned to avoid personal attacks.
“Nancy was chairing the meeting, and she said, ‘You can’t do that,’” Soos said Wednesday.
“Although you were entitled to express your own opinions, you were there as a county employee. Your actions were detrimental to your employer’s interest and constituted misconduct,” the Labor Department wrote.
Soos, who said he is seeking a hearing on his jobless claim, denied he was there in any county capacity.