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Hendricks Files Suit Against Oneida County DA

Utica, NY (WIBX) - An Oneida County Legislator is suing the county’s District Attorney for libel, slander and alleged violation of his constitutional rights.

William Hendricks believes he was maliciously prosecuted by DA Scott McNamara after circulating a letter the media that accused the Board Chairman of an inappropriate relationship. Hendricks claimed in the letter that the relationship made Chairman Gerald Fiorini a target for blackmail by then County Legislator Larry Tanoury, Jr.

Hendricks and Robert Barry, who delivered the letter to local media and members of the county board, were indicted by a grand jury for aggravated harassment. Both were arraigned on the same day Hendricks was sworn into office as a legislator, January 4, 2010.

The charges against both was ultimately dismissed. The District Attorney’s Office said the case had become hard to prosecute after a blog from Tanoury that questioned whether the letter fell under freedom of speech.

Hendricks defeated Tanoury in the November 2009 election to reclaim his former seat on the county board. In the letter, he accused Tanoury of blackmailing Chairman Fiorini in order to secure a grant for Tanoury’s district, which Hendricks believed would help Tanoury defeat him in the election.

The lawsuit alleges that Hendricks prosecution, because of the letter, violated his right to free speech. Furthermore, it claims Hendricks rights to equal protection based on race was violated. The suit says Hendricks, who is African American, ‘is the only County Legislator in the history of Oneida County to be charged with a crime based on a letter…’

The libel and slander claims are for comments made on the WIBX First Look program in which McNamara expressed his belief that the letter was written to harass Fiorini and Tanoury. McNamara said that if Hendricks believed what he wrote in the letter, he should have taken it to the police, rather than the media.

Hendricks suit claims McNamara’s action and comments caused him to be harmed physically and emotional, and subject to ridicule, and to be ostracized among the public and his family.

McNamara is being sued in his capacity as district attorney, and personally.

No specific dollar amount for damages or compensation are mentioned in the suit, instead it seeks ‘compensatory damages, including the cost of prospective future income, and conscious pain and suffering and mental anguish’…’punitive damages in such other amount as the jury may determine is sufficient to punish them for and deter others from committing the constitutional violations alleged in the Complaint’…and asks to the court to grant relief that is just and proper.

The suit was filed in US District Court of the Northern District of New York.

McNamara, and Robert Julian, who is representing Hendricks, declined to comment on the suit.

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