A federal appeals court has upheld the dismissal of Mark A. Sacha’s lawsuit against Erie County District Attorney Frank A. Sedita III.
Sacha said Sedita fired him in September 2009 after he publicly accused Sedita of failing to pursue a case against political operative G. Steven Pigeon. Sacha claimed his firing came in retaliation for his public criticism of Sedita, and that the move violated his First Amendment rights.
The 2nd Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals this week affirmed Chief U.S. District Judge William M. Skretny’s dismissal of Sacha’s lawsuit last year, although it cited a different reason in upholding his ruling.
“Sedita has demonstrated that Sacha’s speech was sufficiently disruptive to justify terminating his employment as an assistant district attorney,” the three-judge appeals court panel said in its review of Sacha v. Sedita.
“Though the public’s interest in the subject of Sacha’s speech is significant,” the judges said, “it is not significant enough to overcome the systemic disruption to the Erie County District Attorney’s Office that First Amendment protection for speech such as Sacha’s has the potential to cause.”
The judges also said they had considered Sacha’s other arguments and found them “without merit.”
Sedita welcomed the ruling.
“After living a nightmare for four years” following Sacha’s accusations, “the fact remains that a federal judge summarily dismissed his suit, and then the second highest federal court dismissed it and added that none of his arguments have merit,” Sedita said.
Sacha, a former deputy district attorney under Sedita, called the ruling shocking and discouraging.
He said he is weighing another appeal.
The judges found significant public interest in the issues Sacha raised, but they said that public interest is outweighed by the potential for those issues to disrupt the District Attorney’s Office.
“This is a continuation of what has been going on since the beginning,” Sacha said of the appeals court ruling. “They are avoiding the issues.”
Sacha said the three judges who heard the appeal were all appointed by then-President Bill Clinton, whom he described as “a good friend of Pigeon.”
He said the judges had a conflict of interest in hearing a case involving Pigeon, who he said supported Clinton and his wife Hillary Rodham Clinton in their election campaigns.
“Out of a total of 22 judges on the 2nd Circuit, six were appointed by [Bill] Clinton,” he said. “What are the chances that three of the judges appointed by Clinton would end up hearing this appeal?”
Sacha’s suit detailed Pigeon’s alleged involvement in laundering a $10,000 contribution in the 2007 race for county executive. The money allegedly came from the campaign of former County Executive Joel A. Giambra and went to the unsuccessful county executive campaign of former West Seneca Supervisor Paul T. Clark, a Pigeon ally.
Both Sedita and his predecessor, Frank J. Clark, have said they viewed Pigeon as a witness, not a target, during their investigation of Paul Clark, who is not related to Frank Clark.
Sacha alleged that both Sedita and Frank Clark opted against pursuing charges against Pigeon because of his powerful role in local politics. The two prosecutors have denied the allegation.
In his suit, Sacha claimed that while he was investigating Pigeon’s alleged involvement in laundering the contribution to Paul Clark’s campaign, Pigeon helped orchestrate a series of endorsements that allowed Sedita to win election as district attorney.
Sacha has claimed that Pigeon’s political and personal relationship with Sedita and Frank Clark accounts for them passing on prosecuting Pigeon.
Skretny found Sacha’s public criticism of Sedita’s relationship with Pigeon was not protected by the First Amendment or the state whistle-blower law.