THE CHIEF-LEADER

Claimed Illegal Retaliation

Judge Dismisses Rival’s Suit Against COBA Head

Updated: 4:01 pm, Mon Jul 13, 2015.
By MARK TOOR  

A State Supreme Court Justice has dismissed a lawsuit filed against Correction Officers’ Benevolent Association President Norman Seabrook and the union by a dissident board member.

“At this point, the actions and inactions complained of in the petition amount to the internal workings of a union,” State Supreme Court Justice Carol E. Huff said in a three-page decision issued July 1.

‘A Rancorous Dispute’

COBA Corresponding Secretary William Valentin claimed in the Article 78 petition that Mr. Seabrook had unlawfully deprived him of his elected position and that the union had failed to consider countercharges he made against the union head. “Both Valentin and Seabrook made numerous accusations against each other in what is clearly a rancorous internal dispute,” Justice Huff wrote.

She agreed with COBA’s attorneys that Mr. Valentin’s suit should be dismissed because he had not exhausted his administrative remedies within COBA before bringing the Article 78 petition. Mr. Valentin’s lawyers had argued that “exhaustion of remedies is not required because it would be futile for him to attempt them,” the decision said.

But Justice Huff ruled that “Valentin has not established that following COBA procedure would be futile, or even that he has been deprived of his office, as opposed to being deprived of certain optional benefits. He has also failed to prove that his charges against Seabrook are not being pursued in accordance with COBA rules.”

Bharara on the Case

Both Mr. Valentin and Mr. Seabrook said that U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara had opened an investigation of COBA based on allegations by Mr. Valentin that the union president had invested $10 million without the executive board’s approval. Mr. Seabrook argued that he did not need such approval.

He said in a statement about Mr. Valentin’s suit, “Bringing these meritless claims was a waste of time and money, not just for our hard-working members, but also for the taxpayers of this city and state. We’re glad the judge agreed that they are without merit. Hopefully, our victory today will put this issue behind us and send a message to the person behind these frivolous claims that the matter is closed."

Mr. Valentin said in an interview that he did not consider the dispute concluded. He presented a May 18 letter from the head of the union hearing committee on his case, Valerie Flake, in which she said, “After a full investigation, reviewing the charges and supporting documents, the by-law provisions allegedly violated, and having had interviews with relevant witnesses, the committee finds that there is not sufficient evidence on any of these charges to hold a hearing.”

In a second letter dated July 9, she said, “The hearing committee has no further role to play in this matter.”

Reloading for New Round

So, he said, “COBA did rule on the issue,” and he did indeed exhaust his union remedies. He said he would re-file the Article 78 petition. “I’m still in the fight,” he said. “This is still going to continue.”

Mr. Valentin filed his Article 78 petition in April. He said in February that Mr. Seabrook fired him from the executive board last winter when he tried to obtain a copy of the union’s membership list, which he said he was responsible for updating.

The COBA president said at the time that Mr. Valentin had sought not only the membership list but also confidential information about Correction Officers, including their Social Security numbers. Mr. Seabrook said that when he did not comply with the request for the list, Mr. Valentin asked a union employee to give him a copy and “don’t tell Norman.”

At that point, Mr. Seabrook said, he determined Mr. Valentin was no longer trustworthy and revoked his release time, sending him back to duty in the jails. Mr. Valentin remains an officer of the union, Mr. Seabrook said.

Valentin’s Rebuttal

In his lawsuit, Mr. Valentin denied seeking confidential information. He said in his internal complaint to the union that Mr. Seabrook revoked or took back his union credit card, E-Z Pass, mobile phone, computer account and office computer. He said he was no longer notified of executive-board meetings.

He then filed charges with the union and the Article 78 petition on which Justice Huff ruled.