By Rob Nikolewski │ New Mexico Watchdog
The “Elephant Man” has won another round in court against the Albuquerque Public School Board.
On Monday, a federal judge rejected a motion by the board to reconsider an earlier ruling in favor of Ched MacQuigg, a former APS shop teacher who has harshly criticized the board and twice wore an elephant mask at meetings to protest what he says is the board’s infringing on his free speech rights.
“There being neither an intervening change in the law, new evidence previously unavailable, nor a demonstration of clear error in the Court’s (previous) ruling … defendants’ motions for reconsideration … are denied,” Chief U.S. District Judge M. Christina Armijo said in a terse ruling.
The ruling keeps in place Armijo’s decision earlier this year, granting MacQuigg a preliminary injunction that ruled the board had no right to keep him out of its public meetings.
“They want the public forum to be according to their rules, which means they’re never made to feel uncomfortable about anything,” MacQuigg said. “They’ve said a number of times that if you want to stand up at a public forum and praise them, there’s no problem, even praising them by name. But if you want to criticize them, you’re not allowed to.”
School board member and attorney Martin Esquivel banned MacQuigg from board meetings in 2010. It’s unclear whether APS will appeal the injunction. New Mexico Watchdog left messages with Esquivel on Tuesday and Wednesday, but didn’t receive a response.
After Armijo ruled against the board in March, Esquivel told the Albuquerque Journal, “I have never disagreed more with a legal opinion in my 25 years of practicing law.”
MacQuigg has filed a lawsuit against APS and says the board is wasting taxpayers’ money fighting the case.
“They could have settled this about three years and settled for about 20 grand but they decided to engage in this litigation,” MacQuigg said.
Earlier this year, APS communications specialist Johanna King told New Mexico Watchdog the school district had spent “about $250,000.” But that was prior to filing the motion to reconsider.
“If they go to trial on this, they’re going to add another half million to the taxpayers’ tab,” MacQuigg said in a telephone interview Tuesday.
MacQuigg’s wrangling with the board started in 2006, when MacQuigg accused board members of not living up to the spirit of an APS curriculum called “Character Counts,” which has since been phased out.
Esquivel and other board members accused MacQuigg of speaking out of turn and interrupting meetings. They also said MacQuigg made personal attacks and, in papers filed with Armijo, worried MacQuigg was a “ticking time bomb.”
At two meetings, MacQuigg wore an elephant mask because he believed the board was ignoring him and said the mask represented the “elephant in the room.”
Three years ago, MacQuigg was physically escorted out of one board meeting.
But in March, Armijo ruled the board was out of line.
MacQuigg may have “exhibited idiosyncratic behaviors,” but the public “has an interest in seeing public meetings conducted in a manner that respects attendees’ First Amendment rights,” Armijo said in her March 31 decision.
Monday’s ruling comes on the heels of the APS board approving a $350,000 buyout for Winston Brooks, who is resigning after six years as APS superintendent. The agreement with Brooks has received criticism because its details haven’ t been released to the public.