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Defended Municipal Board Action against Claims of Pre-judgment Bias

Petitioner commenced an Article 78 proceeding challenging, among other things, members of a village board of trustees’ right to deliberate and vote on a project about which the members expressed personal opinions. Hodgson Russ represented the board of trustees and its members. Petitioner argued that the expression of opinions and signing a petition against a project were examples of bias and that the board members were precluded. Supreme Court, Monroe County agreed and annulled the determination, finding that the board members had a prohibited conflict of interest and enjoined them from any deliberations with respect to the project. The Fourth Department reversed, holding that mere expressions of opinion, absent more, are not enough to demonstrate bias. Elected, public officials should be free to express their views to their constituents, especially during their run for election. This is a seminal case that clarifies that the mere expression of opinion does not require disqualification of board members.