Federal Judge Michael Ponsor has found that Westfield Mayor Daniel Knapik violated the First Amendment rights of two city candidates when he had their campaign signs removed.
It was back in November of 2011 the mayor ordered DPW workers to remove City Councilor David Flaherty's campaign signs as well as signs supporting Municipal Light Board member Jane Wensley.
A lawsuit was later filed listing Flaherty and Wensley as the plaintiffs. The two said the signs were wrongfully removed from private property, but the mayor says that's just not true.
"Well in fact, they couldn't prove that. We actually have a survey that shows we own it," said Knapik.
Knapik told CBS 3, the land that was in question is a tree-belt and city ordinances prohibit signs from being set up there.
He also said he felt the signs proposed a safety hazard.
"What if I didn't say anything and that ended up being the focal point of an accident that afternoon?" said Knapik.
Knapik said he has accepted Ponsor's ruling.
"This is a way to have all the litigation to come to an end, and I have a lot of things to attend to in the city and move on," said Knapik.
Flaherty said he is pleased with the judge's ruling.
"The federal court has ruled in a loud and clear voice that the mayor violated our First Amendment rights and acted outside the scope of his duties," said Flaherty.
City Solicitor Susan Phillips said the plaintiffs' councils are entitled to $53,000 in legal fees, a payment the mayor had agreed to pay.
But Phillips said it is the city who will be footing the bill do to an ordinance that states Westfield pays legal fees for the mayor as long as he or she did not act intentionally or in a willful or malicious manner.
"That's the standard that I have to look at as a city solicitor. I don't represent that mayor. I represent the city. It's my opinion the city has to indemnify the mayor or he would have an action against us," explained Phillips.
Mayor Knapik said the combined legal fees will cost the city roughly $100,000.
Phillips said she wouldn't need city council approval as long as the payments stay within the pre-approved judgement budget.
Flaherty said he has asked the State Inspector General's Office to intervene with the City of Westfield from spending public funds to pay the court awarded legal fees.
Copyright 2014 WSHM (Meredith Corporation). All rights reserved.