Lawsuit dismissed for West Hartford removing Native American names

WEST HARTFORD — A judge has dismissed a lawsuit brought by two residents who sought to stop the school board from renaming the city’s high school nicknames.

The council moved forward with the decision to change the names to comply with Public Law 21-2, which would eliminate Mashantucket Pequot and Mohegan Fund funding to municipalities that use “any name, symbol or image that represents, refers to or is associated with a state or federally recognized Native American tribe or Native American individual, custom or tradition, such as a mascot, nickname, logo or team name West Hartford was to receive nearly 28,000 $ of this fund.

In a statement released Tuesday in response to the judge’s decision, Dallas Dodge, the city attorney, called Zweig’s claims “baseless.”

“I can certainly respect differences of opinion on education policy, but litigation is not the answer to what is fundamentally political disagreement,” Dodge said. “The Superior Court’s decision confirms that Attorney Zweig has failed to establish even the most basic elements of standing, and we hope he will finally drop his baseless legal claims as well as his ridiculous demand that the city pay the costs of his own trial.

School board president Lorna Thomas-Farquharson said in a statement that the decision should allow the city to move on.

“The board’s decision to remove Native American team names is consistent with our goal of creating an equitable and inclusive learning environment for all students,” Thomas-Farquharson said. “This issue has been the subject of extensive and often contentious debate. We look forward to continuing to serve the youth and families of our community.

Zweig responded to the dismissal, saying in a statement that they were “disappointed” with the decision.

“The Court’s decision does not address the merits of our claims,” ​​Zweig said. “The Court’s finding that we have no standing to sue does not mean that the Board of Education acted lawfully in its hasty and pre-determined campaign to erase the names of warriors and leaders from our schools. Unfortunately, the residents of West Hartford will not have the chance to have the Council’s misconduct examined by the Court.Instead, the decision may embolden the Council to continue to ignore its own written policies and the interests of its voters.

Zweig, who is an attorney, said in his lawsuit that there were “numerous procedural and substantive flaws” in the process in which the school board voted to change the names of the teams, including a claim that the council was to hold two public hearings on the release.

A month later, the city asked the court to dismiss the lawsuit, saying the plaintiffs “did not have standing to sue in the first place.”

At a hearing on August 29, Zweig told Superior Court Judge James Sicilian that taxpayers’ money had been spent “unnecessarily” to change the names.

“That money has been spent and that money can never be returned to the taxpayers,” Zweig told the judge during the virtual hearing. “By spending funds unnecessarily to change these names, the actual cost to West Hartford outweighs any positive benefit as there is no net benefit to removing the names. The city does not benefit from the change.

Zweig also told the hearing that because the city received permission from Chief Richard Velky of the Schaghticoke Tribal Nation, it was exempt from Public Law 21-2 and could keep the names.

James Healy, an attorney with the law firm Cowdery & Murphy who served as special litigation at West Hartford, said Zweig’s ratepayer arguments lacked merit and the Schaghticoke endorsement did not apply to them.

“Plaintiffs advance theories of standing that simply contradict binding precedent,” Healy said during the hearing. “The exemption was not applicable here. If you’re dealing with a name like Warrior or Chieftain or Brave, you’re…referring to a Native American custom or tradition. The only way to get an exemption… is from a state or federally recognized tribe that is located in the geographic area or historically associated with this school.

Zweig had also sought to bring the issue to the vote of city voters with a petition, which West Hartford officials said in September did not meet sufficient parameters.

“There were 40,250 voters on the last completed registration list, meaning the petition must be signed by no less than 2,818 voters in order to begin the initiative and referendum process,” Clerk Essie wrote. Labrot. “The petition only has 1,714 signatories, however, which does not meet this threshold. The petition is therefore insufficient.”

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