NYC Firefighter Takes on City Hall

     BROOKLYN (CN) – A former New York City firefighter claims in court that the department tried to discredit his campaign for City Council by giving medical records to the Village Voice indicating that he spent most of his tenure on medical leave.
     “These medical records are confidential and protected from unlawful government search and seizure and public dissemination by federal statute and by the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution,” Peter J. Gleason says in his federal complaint. Gleason, who is also a lawyer, claims he drew the ire of the FDNY by suing them on behalf of his colleague and client William Kregler.
     “Kregler claimed that the FDNY violated his First Amendment rights by retaliating against him by terminating his application for appointment to the position of City Marshal because of his public support of Robert Morgenthau who was then a candidate for District Attorney,” the complaint states.
     A federal judge in Manhattan rejected Kregler’s claims as implausible on Aug. 17, 2009. A month before that case closed, Gleason threw his hat in the ring in a race for City Council. He claimed that the FDNY and a firefighters union closed ranks against him because of his advocacy in the Kregler case.
     The defendant Uniformed Fire Officers Association, or UFOA, refused to endorse him after an interview that “bombarded” him with “hostile questions regarding his representation of Kregler,” Gleason says in his new complaint.
     Weeks after this interview, he says, the FDNY seized his medical records without a warrant and passed them on to the Village Voice, which was backing his political adversary.
     In an Aug. 19, 2009 article, the newsweekly’s reporter Wayne Barrett gave readers “The Skinny on Challenger Pete Gleason,” in a story that concluded the records showed that Kregler spent only 3 of the 10 years he claimed to put into the FDNY on active service.
     When Barrett asked for a comment on the records, Gleason said he did not doubt the findings and complained about the leak, the Voice reported.
     Gleason now claims that the article reported on an “inconclusive” CAT scan that showed a “serious back injury: a herniated disk that was so severe that it impacted the thecal sac,” according to the complaint.
     Gleason says the FDNY trumpeted the article to the rank-and-file shortly before the election: “The unlawful search, seizure, publication and public dissemination was arbitrary, served no legitimate governmental interest and was motivated solely by a desire to punish plaintiff for his representation and to serve the FDNY’s political animus and that of individual defendants in this action. Defendants also republished the Village Voice article to firefighters by forwarding a link via email blast,” the complaint states.
     “In accessing plaintiff’s medical records without court authorization and without legitimate government interest and then publishing plaintiff’s medical records, the FDNY wanted to punish plaintiff for his representation of a client and did so, effectively destroying his candidacy and damaging his reputation. The FDNY’s behavior was extreme and outrageous, warranting punitive damages.”
     Gleason brushed off as a “sham” the FDNY’s assurances that it was investigating the leak. He says the UFOA gave Barrett an award for outstanding journalism in October 2010.
     This is not the first time Gleason has claimed to be the center of a conspiracy against him. When Gleason represented tabloid-dubbed “soccer mom madam” Anna Gristina, the New York Daily News wrote an unflattering profile of him reporting that he once sued his alma mater, CUNY Law School, in an unsuccessful complaint that claimed a professor flunked him because she overheard him make an anti-feminist remark.
     Defendants in his new complaint include Brian Grogan, a supervising fire marshal in the FDNY’s Bureau of Fire Investigation; former Fire Commissioner Nicholas Scoppetta; former “lieutenant or battalion chief” George Belnavis; active Lt. Edward Boles; and Capt. Patrick Reynolds.
     Institutional defendants include the FDNY, the UFOA and New York City.
     Gleason seeks punitive damages for violations of constitutional rights.
     He is represented by Raymond Dowd of Dunnington Bartholow & Miller.
     The New York City Law Department told Courthouse News that it will “review the matter thoroughly” when it is served.

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