A new element from Michalek and Pigeon’s relationship emerged in court over the last two days – an extortion charge against Pigeon.
One of the favors Pigeon allegedly asked from Michalek was for the judge to appoint a young local attorney as a receiver. Appointment of a receiver to temporarily manage a business, property or other entity involved in a foreclosure action or some other litigation can be lucrative for an attorney, according to legal experts.
“Depending on the length and complexity of the litigation, a receivership can earn an attorney anywhere from a few thousand dollars to six figures,” one knowledgeable Buffalo attorney told The Buffalo News.
Michalek admitted in court that, in 2012, Pigeon asked him to appoint a local lawyer as a receiver in a case Michalek was handling. The attorney was a recent law school graduate and had not yet been approved by the state courts as a qualified receiver. Nonetheless, Michalek gave him the assignment.
“We pushed it through anyway … have to give them a spec reason etc. … will figure it out … John,” Michalek emailed to Pigeon in May 2012.
Later, according to state prosecutors, Pigeon pressured this receiver to hire some of Pigeon’s “cronies” to do some work on a property the receiver was overseeing. The receiver refused to hire the “cronies,” and Pigeon retaliated by taking $5,000 from the receiver by “extortion,” according to court papers.
That receiver was Edward A. Betz, a former Pigeon associate who is now general counsel for the Buffalo Public Schools.
While declining to talk in any detail about the receivership or the alleged extortion, Betz told The News: “My only involvement in this matter is that I was asked to violate my ethical responsibilities as a receiver, and I steadfastly refused to do that.”
While Betz confirmed that he was the attorney appointed to the receivership, he declined to address any further questions about the Pigeon case. Sources said he has cooperated with the state attorney general’s investigation.
Here's a fun question to ask: How did Betz get the Buffalo schools gig?
It was several months in the making, but it’s official: Rashondra M. Martin is out as general counsel for Buffalo Public Schools.
Edward A. Betz is in.
After a closed-door session lasting about an hour and a half Wednesday evening, the Buffalo Board of Education took only a matter of minutes to fire Martin and appoint Betz, who was recommended by Superintendent Kriner Cash.
The two separate resolutions were supported by board majority members Jason McCarthy, Carl P. Paladino, Patricia Pierce, Larry Quinn and Board President James Sampson. The actions were opposed by the other board members who were present – Sharon Belton-Cottman, MaryRuth Kapsiak and Barbara Seals Nevergold. Theresa Harris-Tigg was absent.
In the end, Martin, who was hired by then-Superintendent Pamela C. Brown, was fired effective immediately and Cash was given the green light to negotiate a contract with Betz to take over the position at an annual salary of $160,000, which is $33,000 more than Martin was making.
Prior to voting, Belton-Cottman, Kapsiak and Seals Nevergold said the termination seemed like “punitive action” against Martin, who had filed a civil rights complaint against Paladino with the state Division of Human Rights. It was filed after a February 2015 board meeting in which Martin was asked to give advice on a key matter of parliamentary procedure. Her response frustrated members of the board majority, including Paladino, who asked Martin, “How can you be so ignorant?”
Terminating Martin was not an act of retaliation, argued some of the majority members of the board, but rather an issue of incompetence.
Paladino said Martin failed to disclose pertinent and time-sensitive information to the superintendent and the board, and she has failed to cooperate with Cash.
Members of the minority bloc said hiring Betz gave the perception of favoritism because Betz has no experience in school board law or as a district counsel, and he will be paid more than Martin was. They also pointed out that Betz was Quinn’s campaign manager when he won his School Board seat last year, and represented McCarthy in a matter that went before the state Education Department.
Members of the majority bloc and Cash countered that Betz is a former assistant corporation counsel for the City of Buffalo, a former general counsel for the Erie County Water Authority, has extensive knowledge of state Civil Service Law and the Taylor Law and experience in public employee relations matters.
I'm sure Betz's "extensive knowledge of state Civil Service Law and the Taylor Law and experience in public employee relations matters" was why Betz got the general counsel gig.
I mean, three and a half years out of law school is a lot of time, you know?
Here's one commenter on the Betz hire: