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Ban is lifted on APS critic

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — A critic of Albuquerque Public Schools may return to school board meetings after a federal judge ruled the district cannot ban him.

Board member Marty Esquivel barred Charles “Ched” MacQuigg, a former APS teacher, from board meetings in 2010. Federal Judge M. Christina Armijo granted MacQuigg a preliminary injunction March 31, saying he could return to board meetings.

Meanwhile, MacQuigg’s suit seeking damages against the district is ongoing.

Esquivel said he imposed the ban – with the backing of the board – because MacQuigg would shout out during board meetings, would hover over administrators and once donned an elephant mask that made employees and members of the public feel uncomfortable and unsafe.

The ban was not because MacQuigg criticized APS or because of his outspoken support for an education program called Character Counts, Esquivel said.

Armijo was dismissive of APS’ arguments.

“The Court finds that the real reason for excluding Plaintiff from Board meetings is the Board’s frustration with Plaintiff’s ad nauseum belaboring of the Board about Character Counts, and that the justifications offered by the Board are pretexts masking viewpoint discrimination,” she wrote.

MacQuigg’s attorney, John Boyd, said he and his client are pleased with the preliminary injunction. He said APS was out of line barring his client from board meetings.

“All I can say is that Mr. MacQuigg’s behavior has never included anything that would form a legitimate reason for ejecting a citizen from a public meeting of elected officials,” Boyd said.

Esquivel, an attorney who works on First Amendment issues, said the judge should have listened to witness testimony regarding MacQuigg’s behavior and not just relied on court briefs.

“I have never disagreed more with a legal opinion in my 25 years of practicing law,” Esquivel said. He added the board would have lifted the ban had MacQuigg agreed to tone down his behavior.

Armijo said the injunction doesn’t stop the board from maintaining order during meetings.

“Unquestionably, the Board has the authority, consistent with the First Amendment, to expel an attendee who actually disrupts or impedes the orderly conduct of the Board business,” Armijo wrote.

In addition to APS, MacQuigg’s suit names Esquivel, former board member David Robbins, Superintendent Winston Brooks, former police chief Steve Tellez and communications staffers Monica Armenta and Rigo Chavez.

Both sides are seeking a summary judgment of the case in their favor. If neither request is successful, the case could head to trial.