Matteo Anello Happy Suit Finally Settled

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“I’m happy it is settled, it has been quite a stretch,” said Matteo Anello on Wednesday, the day after the Niagara Falls City Council voted unanimously to settle his federal free-speech lawsuit dating back nine years for $156,414.25 with $40,469 going to Anello and the rest to his attorneys in the case.

“While I’m happy it is done, I feel badly for the citizens who had to pay to defend the city,” said the brother of then-Mayor Vince Anello who sued three councilmen after he was removed from a council meeting on Oct. 22, 2007, after refusing to stop his speech that was aimed at the late Robert Anderson–who was president of the council at the time–for allegedly insulting Anello’s Italian heritage.

In addition to Anderson, also named as defendants in Anello’s suit were former Councilmen Sam Fruscione and Chris Robins. Anello won a verdict by a federal court jury against the three lawmakers in 2015, but the judge later removed Fruscione from the case, ruling that Fruscione did not violate Anello’s free speech rights when he turned off the recording microphone in council chambers, but not the microphone used to amplify his speech.

While lawmakers are not liable for their official actions, the city is accountable and fought the suit rather than seek a settlement, a very costly decision given all the years involved and the likely staggering legal bill paid to outside counsel.
Vince Anello said on Wednesday that he was pleased his brother’s suit was finally settled but added “I can’t understand why the city fought it, because it was clear his First Amendment rights had been violated.”

The former mayor said he will take whatever steps necessary to find out just how much the city paid to outside lawyers to fight his brother’s civil rights lawsuit that, in his mind, was an open and shut case.

A federal court jury awarded Matteo Anello a total of $105,000 in compensatory and punitive damages in 2015, a verdict the city appealed. Federal Judge William Skretny dismissed Fruscione’s role and reduced the punitive awards against the other two lawmakers to $10,000 from the jury’s $25,000 total. Judge Skretny also reduced the fees paid to Anello’s attorneys.
The council approved the settlement on Tuesday on the advice of City Corporation Counsel Craig Johnson, who warned that if the city didn’t pay the claim, it would likely be held in contempt.

Matteo Anello also said on Wednesday that he made a mistake in taking an ACD on the disorderly conduct and trespassing charges filed against him. He was taken out of the council chambers in handcuffs by police after he refused to stop his speech.

“It really wasn’t explained to me by my lawyers,” he said, lamenting the fact he now has that ACD on his record when he feels he’s not guilty of any crime.

In addition, he strongly believes citizens should have the right to speak as long as it takes at council meetings, and not be held to a stopwatch to make their points to lawmakers and the public.

“Citizens have a right to express themselves,” he said, saying they should not be restricted because lawmakers don’t want the meetings to run too long.

As to when he will get his money from the settlement, Anello said it has been a long fight and he will just let the process play out and when the money comes, it comes, emphasizing again that he feels bad for citizens who got stuck with the bill because of the improper conduct of their elected officials.


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