By Alex Robinson
A federal court judge has removed herself from the court battle over the firing of six Queens Library trustees because of her friendship with a justice the nonprofit hired to conduct an internal whistleblower investigation.
Federal Judge Roslynn Mauskopf made the decision after she was told former Federal Judge Barbara Jones was conducting the investigation for Queens Library to figure out the source of leaks which have put its president, Thomas Galante, in hot water since January.
Fired trustee George Stamatiades filed a whistleblower complaint to the board in July following months of Daily News reports detailing allegations of fiscal mismanagement at the nonprofit and revelations about Galante’s $392,000 salary.
“As time went on, confidential information about the board’s deliberations, much of which was mischaracterized, began to be leaked,” Stamatiades said in court papers. “The information turned up in a steady stream of negative stories in the Daily News, which before long began to echo [Borough President Melinda] Katz’s complaints about Galante’s stewardship of the library.”
The library launched the investigation into the leaks six days before the trustees were dismissed, according to court papers.
“It is disturbing that Mr. Galante, without board approval, can direct library resources to be used in this manner,” Katz said of the whistleblower investigation. “These resources should be going toward providing library services to communities like the Rockaways, who still have their branch being run out of a trailer. These are all diversionary tactics and they are tiresome. The Queens Public Library doesn’t belong to one trustee or to one executive director. We need to let the remaining trustees move on with the business of the library.”
The six rogue trustees sued Katz after she removed them in July for failing to oust Galante. The board also refused to fully open the nonprofit’s books for an audit by city Comptroller Scott Stringer.
When it became clear the trustees would not replace Galante, Katz approached the state Legislature, which then passed a law granting her and Mayor Bill de Blasio new powers to remove members before the end of their terms.
“Melinda Katz does not want the public to learn how much of her own time and her office’s resources have been spent orchestrating her campaign of falsehoods and personal attacks,” said Doug Grover, an attorney representing the trustees suing Katz. “That’s why she removed the trustees who voted in favor of a whistleblower investigation conducted by a respected jurist. Katz fears the investigation will finally expose her machinations to take over the Queens Library and install her political cronies.”
The trustees appealed their removal and challenged the constitutionality of the law in court, describing it as a power grab by the borough president.
Reach reporter Alex Robinson by e-mail at [email protected] or by phone at 718-260-4566.