The next chapter in what residents referred to last fall as Signgate arrived Tuesday in the form of a lawsuit filed by former Greenwich Police Dept Captain Mark Kordick, who was terminated by Chief Heavey in April.
Kordick’s 21 page complaint filed in Stamford Superior Court asserts the “Trump/Camillo” signs he bought last fall, and which appeared in dozens of locations on Oct 24, 2019, were protected speech under the First Amendment of the US Constitution and under Connecticut’s constitution.
The turn of events took place just before the November 5, 2019 municipal election in which Republican State Rep Fred Camillo was a candidate for Greenwich First Selectman.
On the morning of Oct 25, 2019 residents and commuters got an eye full of what appeared to be local campaign signs. Closer inspection revealed the red and white signs said “Local Elections Matter” and “Trump/Camillo…Make Greenwich Great Again.” The signs also referenced a website www.FredCamillo.com, which linked to “Citizens for Trump.”
Commenting on the signs at the time, Camillo said, “This is a new low for Greenwich. It is desperate, dirty and fraudulent.”
Kordick’s complaint names the Town as a defendant in addition to Greenwich First Selectman Camillo, his campaign manager Jack Kriskey, former RTC chair Richard DiPreta and former First selectman Peter Tesei, who are all named as individual defendants.
Kordick is represented by Stamford attorney Lewis Chimes, who said on Tuesday afternoon, that while many cases in which police sue when they are terminated for hate speech including racial or mysoginistic speech, Kordick’s speech is on a higher level of protection.
“Mark’s speech was political speech, which is the most important speech in terms of the First Amendment,” Mr. Chimes said. “He was making his speech to try to influence the outcome of the election and understood it was not appropriate to do it as a police officer. He was going to do it anonymously.”
“We’re very confident about the case,” Chimes said.
First Selectman Camillo’s assistant replied to an email to say the First Selectman does not comment on pending litigation.
Kriskey and DiPreta did not reply to a request for comment. Mr. Tesei replied that he would make no comment.
The complaint alleges the Town retaliated against Kordick for exercising his constitutionally protect right to off-duty political speech and alleges Camillo, Kriskey, DiPreta and Tesei interfered with his employment with the Town by revealing his identity to his employer, Greenwich Police Dept, after working in concert to obtain Kordick’s receipt from a sign store in Texas through deceit.
The suit says that Kordick, a Greenwich resident and registered Democrat, had been politically active, openly and frequently expressing his political views on social media about President Donald Trump, and what he felt was hypocrisy of the local Republican party.
It asserts that Kordick had never been reprimanded, disciplined or warned about his open expression of his political views.
Kordick had been a member of Greenwich Police Dept for 30+ years, and, as noted in the suit, had been promoted to Captain in March 2010.
On Oct 28 Kordick was placed on paid administrative leave after he freely admitted he was responsible for the signs.
Six months later, on April 13, in the midst of a pandemic lockdown, Greenwich Police Dept chief Heavey issued a statement saying Kordick would be terminated effective April 17. The statement read in part:
“Objectivity and impartiality are some of the key values in which this Department does, and must, operate. After considering the totality of Captain Kordick’s deportment and actions in several incidents and the importance of maintaining fair and consistent discipline, I came to the difficult conclusion that Captain Kordick would be unable to continue as a Greenwich Police Captain.”—Chief James Heavey
On April 16 Kordick submitted a letter of resignation, but said he still hoped Chief Heavey would reinstate him. At the time he said he wanted his job back and was prepared to for fight for it.
Kordick seeks damages for lost wages and back pay; future lost wages and front pay; lost benefits, emotional distress, humiliation and injury to reputation, attorney’s fees, punitive damages pre- and post- judgement interest, costs of the court action and other relief the court deems just and proper.
Kordick’s attorney, Mr. Chimes said, “Mark made a good living and had no intention of retiring and would have worked at least another 5 to 10 years. He is entitled to lost earnings, emotional distress, and punitive damages. And, although he is getting his pension, the amount will be impacted by being let go.”
The complaint says Kordick’s signs were legal and that he posted them as a civilian, not associated with a political campaign party or political fundraising organization, and that he was openly outspoken about his views on Donald Trump and the alleged hypocrisy of the local Republican party on social media.
The suit claims that at all times Kordick’s expression of his political views was as a private citizen, not in his official capacity, and had nothing to do with his responsibilities and duties as a police officer.
The suit says political speech during an election campaign is protected by the First Amendment of the US Constitution.
In addition, the complaint says the Constitution of the State of Connecticut protects his right to speak out on political issues during a campaign anonymously.
In addition to his right to post the signs anonymously, the suit submits that Kordick’s signs complied with state election and campaign financing laws.
It argues that Kordick had concerns that since his political speech was adverse to Camillo, who would become Police Commissioner if elected First Selectman, that Kordick could be subject to retaliation.
The lawsuit said signs were obviously satirical and the intent was two-fold: “Republicans would predictably be outraged and decry the sign as ‘dirty tricks,’ and opponents of Trump and Camillo would find it amusing and expository….Most importantly the sign was to remind undecided voters and moderate Republicans unhappy with Trump, that Camillo and Trump were members of the same political party.”
The complaint asserts that Kordick perceived Camillo’s prior support of Trump and steady avoidance of association with the incumbent president in his campaign were powerful campaign issues, and that under CT Election & Campaign Financing laws he was not required to identify himself or the financial source of the signs as long as they were less than 32 sq ft and were not being financed or distributed by a political party or political fundraising organization.
The suit says Peter Tesei, then Republican First Selectman, saw the signs on his way to work and texted Mr. Camillo, and that Mr. Kriskey met with campaign staff and decided to issue a complaint to Greenwich Police. From there, the complaint alleges that Captain Robert Berry directed the department not to remove the signs, writing a memo that said, in part:
“We will not be getting involved in managing sign content or the removal of the alleged fake signs. …The Town Legal Department is reviewing the issue and interpreting town ordinances as they pertain to political signs, but they have agreed that we should not be involved in removing signs or related actions. …If someone wants to make a complaint, then by all means receive the complaint and document the parties involved, their concerns and whatever is evident at the time. However, at this time do not take any enforcement action or get involved in removing any signs. If charges are later determined to be appropriate, we will address the issue by seeking arrest warrants.”
The suit says after a teleconference with Captain Berry, Mr. Kriskey and town attorney Wayne Fox, the Greenwich Police Dept reversed itself and permitted the RTC to remove the signs, and announced police would not enforce the prohibition against their removal.
Kordick’s suit says Republicans and Greenwich Police coordinated removal of the signs and “falsely portrayed the decision as a bi-partisan decision.”
It asserts that Mr. DiPreta, then chair of the RTC, inaccurately stated DTC Chair Joe Angland had been consulted and “all had decided it was ok to remove the signs,” when in fact what Angland had said was the Democratic Party had no standing to remove the signs.
“The defendants falsely portrayed their illegal and unconstitutional conduct as ‘bi-partisan’ to deflect pubic criticism,” the suit asserts.
The suit said the defendants “outed” Kordick through false pretenses after learning the name and address of the store where the signs were purchased, and that Camillo campaign workers contacted the sign company by phone attempting to get a copy of the receipt by deception, falsely saying that the campaign purchased the sign and needed a receipt. But when that ruse failed, the Camillo campaign paid an individual in Texas to go to the sign company and obtain the receipt through deceit, not even telling the individual they hired in Texas the truth.
The suit said the payment to the individual in Texas who obtained the invoice was reimbursed by the Camillo campaign, and that that constituted an illegal use of campaign funds.
Kriskey and DiPreta gave police the receipt and reported Kordick to Greenwich Police with the authority of Camillo. Deputy Chief Mark Marino showed Kordick the receipt for the signs, putting him in “an untenable position in which he continue to assert his right to anonymity or face discipline for refusing to cooperate in an investigation.
Ultimately Kordick admitted he ordered the signs.
Count One of the lawsuit is against the Greenwich Police Dept, saying the Town retaliated against Kordick by putting him on administrative leave for six months, making disparaging public statements about his character and firing him, resulting in economic damages, suffering damage to his reputation, humiliation and emotional distress.
Count Two asserts tortuous interference and names Camillo, DiPreta, Kriskey and Tesei individually, saying they worked in concert to interfere with Kordick’s employment by revealing his identity for constitutionally protected anonymous political speech to his employer, Greenwich Police Dept.
It says the department acted with malice in retaliation, resulting in his being placed on leave and not permitted to do his job and ultimately resulted in his discharge.
The third count alleges an invasion of privacy, and names Kriskey, Camillo and Dipreta. This charge stems from the parties’ alleged deceit to get the receipt from the sign store in Texas, to retaliate for constitutionally protected political speech..