Copyright © 2015 Albuquerque Journal
A longtime critic of Albuquerque Public Schools who was banned from board meetings for “disruptive behavior” will get $480,000 in attorney’s fees and $95,000 in damages to settle a First Amendment lawsuit.
Charles MacQuigg said the decision vindicates him and proves he did nothing to justify the ban, which went into effect in September 2010.
The retired shop teacher also criticized the district for pouring money into settlements while never admitting wrongdoing.
APS spent $288,000 on its own attorney fees to fight the lawsuit. Of the total $863,000 cost of the settlement to the district, APS’ insurance will cover $513,000.
“There is no limit to what they will spend on litigation,” MacQuigg said. “You cannot believe what you are up against when you sue APS.”
But former APS board President Martin Esquivel stood by his decision to ban MacQuigg.
Esquivel, an attorney specializing in First Amendment issues, contended that MacQuigg was so threatening at meetings that administrators and officials felt unsafe.
In one instance, MacQuigg refused to remove an elephant mask meant to represent “the elephant in the room.”
He also took hundreds of photos of APS employees in attendance, spoke out of turn and loomed behind then-Superintendent Winston Brooks while videotaping, according to Esquivel.
MacQuigg participated in nearly every public forum to push for a canceled Character Counts education program and question board members’ integrity.
“At the end of the day, I felt I had to prevent consistently abhorrent behavior from becoming a tragedy,” Esquivel said. “In this day and age, you have to worry about violence.”
Esquivel consulted with APS attorney Art Melendres on the legal issues, then decided to tell MacQuigg in a letter that he was no longer welcome.
The ban would have ended if MacQuigg had sat down to discuss his conduct, Esquivel said, but MacQuigg canceled a scheduled meeting.
MacQuigg filed suit against APS in 2012. A judge granted him an injunction to return to the meetings in 2014, arguing that MacQuigg had been excluded over frustration with his “ad nauseam belaboring of the board about Character Counts.”
Esquivel said he was disappointed at the result, particularly because Magistrate Judge Steven C. Yarbrough ruled without hearing live testimony he felt was key to APS’ case.
Witnesses could have shown that MacQuigg’s behavior was “very threatening,” not merely “boorish,” as the judge described it, Esquivel said.
Money was also a consideration, Esquivel said, with APS deciding to settle rather than fight.
The district has a $350,000 insurance deductible. APS attorneys’ fees were $288,000, which are counted toward that deductible. APS will pay the remaining $62,000 of the deductible toward the settlement. The remainder of the settlement – $513,000 – will be covered by the district’s insurance policy.
APS board President Don Duran declined to comment Monday until he could look into what he could legally say about the settlement, which he said was confidential. Early Tuesday, APS administration sent out an email with details of the settlement. Spokeswoman Johanna King said later Tuesday that APS had planned to release the terms but was working on the wording.
According to both parties, the settlement prevented MacQuigg from releasing the details.
MacQuigg contends the settlement shows there was no threat and APS merely wanted to silence him.
His appearances at public forums were taped, yet he said the district was unable to prove he had been inappropriate.
“I am proud of what I did,” MacQuigg said. “I was retaliated against horribly.”
Still, he is ready to move on and will no longer regularly attend APS board meetings.
“I have had it,” he said. “I am done fighting APS.”