Judge dismisses civil rights lawsuit against city

Former city attorney says he was fired after campaign announcement


A $1 million federal civil rights lawsuit filed against the city last year by a former city attorney — who was fired 48 hours after he announced his run for Long Beach City Court judge — was dismissed last month.

Former Assistant Corporation Counsel Ted Hommel, who worked for the city for more than two years, said that City Manager Jack Schnirman fired him last May, two days after Hommel, a Republican, announced his candidacy for City Court judge.

Hommel — who ran unsuccessfully against incumbent Judge Roy Tepper, a Democrat, last November — said that he was not given a reason for his termination, but believes the move was political retribution by the Democratic administration. Hommel said he was given only a brief letter stating that he was being let go. At the time, Hommel said he believed that it was not a coincidence that he was fired after announcing his candidacy.

Hommel’s attorney, Francis X. McQuade, filed the lawsuit against Schnirman and the city in U.S. District Court in Central Islip last June. McQuade claimed that the firing was illegal because it violated Hommel’s constitutional rights to free expression and equal protection, and also violated New York state labor law.

At the time, a city official who declined to be identified said that Hommel had been hired by the previous administration, and was earning $60,000 a year. Because his job included representing the city in court — often in front of Tepper, one of two judges in the city — the official said, Hommel’s candidacy created a conflict of interest. The city filed a motion to dismiss the case last August.

In his March 14 ruling, U.S. District Judge Arthur D. Spatt said that because the duties of assistant corporation counsel include litigating cases on behalf of the city and its employees, and drafting legal documents, “the court finds that this status is a policymaking position that falls outside the protection of the First Amendment. Indeed, federal courts have uniformly held that government attorneys occupy such positions inherently demanding political loyalty …”

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