MERIDEN — The city has agreed to pay $37,000 to settle a lawsuit filed against Mayor Kevin Scarpati earlier this year by a Libertarian Party congressional candidate who claimed the mayor violated his First Amendment rights by asking police to remove him from the Daffodil Festival while he was collecting ballot signatures.
Dan Reale, Libertarian Party state chairman and 2nd congressional district candidate, filed the lawsuit in May. He said that in addition to paying out $37,000, the city has also agreed to implement a “policy to leave petitioners alone going forward.”
“It doesn't reflect all the damage that the mayor did,” Reale said of the recent settlement on Friday, “but we are happy to confirm that, no, we don't live in Soviet Russia, and the First Amendment matters.”
Scarpati and City Attorney Deborah Moore couldn’t be reached for comment Friday. An attorney from the Stamford law firm Winget, Spadafora & Schwartzberg, which represented the city, also couldn’t be reached for comment.
Scarpati and the city denied “any and all allegations of wrongdoing asserted” in Reale’s lawsuit, the settlement agreement states. The city agreed to pay the state Libertarian Party $32,000 and Reale $5,000.
It’s unclear how much the Stamford law firm cost the city in legal fees.
The City Council voted earlier this month to approve the settlement after discussing the lawsuit in a closed door meeting.
“I think it’s unfortunate that we got into that situation to begin with,” Council Majority Leader David Lowell said Friday.
Lowell said he “fully supports” the settlement’s requirement that the Law Department conduct a review of the city’s procedures and policies for how to handle the public’s First Amendment rights at events going forward.
According to the suit, Reale, of Plainfield, and two other Libertarian Party members were at the bridge near the entrance to the Daffodil Festival in Hubbard Park collecting ballot signatures on April 27 when a police lieutenant informed them they would have to leave.
The group was gathering signatures for Libertarian candidates to get on the state's election ballot.
"No access to the festival was blocked or impeded, nor was any crime or disruption being committed," according to the suit filed in Windham Superior Court in Putnam.
The suit says Reale learned from the police that the order to have him removed came from Scarpati.
The lawsuit mentions that representatives of the local Democratic and Republican parties were preparing and selling food at the festival as part of an annual fundraiser.
Scarpati saw the petitioners at the park entrance near the shuttle bus area approaching festival goers as they arrived.
"I didn't know it was a political thing," Scarpati told the Record-Journal in an interview in June. "I just knew they didn't have a right to be there. I felt there was no need to have someone at the entrance to the park approaching people and their families."
Scarpati checked with members of the police, the Parks Department and the Festival Committee before requesting that Reale and his associates leave. Scarpati later saw a Tweet from Reale directed at him mentioning the Democrats and Republicans presence at the festival.
"The town committees paid to be food vendors," he said in June.
The settlement was first reported Friday by the Hartford Courant. Reale told the Courant he believes the city became more willing to settle after the Courant published an article on the lawsuit on Sept. 7, which gave “statewide exposure to the politically embarrassing situation for Meriden,” the Courant wrote.
Reale said the Libertarian Party became fed up from receiving similar pushback by municipalities in recent years while petitioning in public spaces and decided “enough’s enough.”
“We’re tired of it and decided to go after someone. Someone had to pay for this,” he said.
Reale said the settlement does not reflect the $200,000 in damages he claims Scarpati caused the party, along with the $40,000 in damages he claims were personally caused to him.