My law partner, Vince Ward, and I represented Ched MacQuigg in his civil rights suit against Albuquerque Public School’s Board of Education, which recently settled. On Dec. 16, the Journal carried a front-page article about the settlement, extensively quoting the retired board chair, Marty Esquivel, who was responsible for the First Amendment violations that resulted, after years of litigation, in APS paying $575,000 in damages and attorney fees.
Esquivel had indefinitely expelled MacQuigg from APS’s public meetings after MacQuigg continued criticizing board members during “public comment.”
As reported by the Journal, Esquivel’s explanation for having expelled MacQuigg was that MacQuigg was disruptive and dangerous. Esquivel bemoaned the settlement, which, according to APS’s press release, was necessitated by unfortunate rulings by the federal court, the supposed unavailability of unnamed witnesses and the expense of continuing the litigation.
Anyone familiar with the case and the evidence would find Esquivel’s and the board’s explanations laughable.
Whether MacQuigg was disruptive and dangerous or just criticizing board members is easily resolved by viewing their interactions, which are available on YouTube: youtube.com/user/chedmacq. You’ll see what the judge saw. MacQuigg maintained his composure, and spoke calmly and earnestly.
Toward the end of the Nov. 4, 2009 meeting, MacQuigg addressed particular board members about what he believed were their roles in covering up embarrassing audits and criminal conduct, and ignoring whistleblower complaints. His thrust was that their conduct did not reflect the honesty and integrity embodied in APS’s “Character Counts!” program, to which APS students must conform.
Esquivel and others on the board reacted with hostility and disrespect, telling MacQuigg that his criticisms of board members violated the board’s rule forbidding discussion of “personnel matters.” The board had the police remove him.
Esquivel later notified MacQuigg that he would never be allowed back unless he promised to obey the board’s rules of “decorum.” MacQuigg was commendably unwilling to promise he would stop criticizing board members. We took his case because the right to criticize public officials is fundamental under our First Amendment.
After reviewing the videotapes, the federal judge found MacQuigg was not disruptive, his criticisms didn’t involve “personnel matters” and he ordered the board to readmit him. The fact that a federal judge had to order this should be of greater concern than the money APS paid.
Even though he’s retired from the board, Esquivel, is apparently not finished with MacQuigg. With a Journal reporter taking notes, the former chair defamed MacQuigg as guilty of “abhorrent behavior” that might have “become a tragedy” and that Esquivel was “worried about violence.”
MacQuigg did nothing to justify this slander. If Esquivel was honestly worried that MacQuigg was unstable and violent, why did he invite MacQuigg, in writing, to return to meetings if he would agree to stop criticizing board members?
The specifics that Esquivel supplied to the Journal as proof of MacQuigg’s “abhorrent behavior” are trivial and bogus. MacQuigg did not take hundreds of pictures. He took fewer than 10 over the years.
Yes, he wore an elephant mask, as the Character Counts! “elephant in the room.” The judge found this to be protected speech. Further, it occurred two years before the expulsion and played no role in it.
MacQuigg didn’t “loom behind” the superintendent. At a committee meeting, he stood off to the side, behind the superintendent, before the meeting began, and was asked to move to a different location, which he did. He spoke “out of turn” when a board member insulted MacQuigg to his face and MacQuigg blurted out that he should be allowed to respond – which, of course, the board didn’t allow.
These events did not make MacQuigg a threat to the board’s safety, as Esquivel states. Nor does criticizing board members make him a menace, except to the board members’ egos.
Esquivel should regret his statements, and the board should thank MacQuigg and the federal judge for giving its members a much-needed lesson in civics.
If you don’t know whose version of events is accurate, access the YouTube link above and view the videos. The Journal’s reporter should have.