By Katina Caraganis
SHIRLEY -- An attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union who has filed suit against the town on behalf of an official banned from all public-owned buildings said Friday that her client's constitutional rights have been violated.
The Board of Selectmen banned Robert Schuler from all town buildings May 9, 2011 after he expressed his frustration with the pace of the budget process in town by saying at a meeting he wanted to "pull my gun out and start shooting or something."
As a result of the ban, Schuler has not been able to enter any town-owned building. Schuler serves on the Finance Committee and Sewer Commission, and must participate remotely for both boards.
He was recently reappointed by the moderator to the Finance Committee, and won re-election to the Sewer Commission during townwide elections in 2012.
The suit asserts that Schuler's rhetoric neither explains nor justifies banning him from public property, according to Matthew Segal, legal director of the ACLU of Massachusetts.
"The Constitution protects both popular and unpopular speech, including hyperbole," he said in a prepared statement issued by the ACLU Thursday.
The suit alleges that the ban is in retaliation for his public criticisms of the Shirley selectmen, and that it "deprives him of constitutionally projected rights to free speech, to petition the government, and due process," the statement reads.
Schuler has publicly apologized for what he said, but the selectmen have refused to lift the order, saying he either needs to take anger management classes to have the order lifted or step down from both positions.
"We actually sat down with the selectmen a couple months ago because we thought we could fix this without having to go through litigation, but they weren't willing to change their position," Laura Rotolo, Schuler's attorney said Friday afternoon. "We see this as a free speech issue. It didn't rise to a threat or anything illegal."
She said he was also never given the chance to have a hearing to defend himself or call witnesses on his behalf who were at the meeting.
She also said she disagreed with the selectmen's ruling that if Schuler underwent anger management classes, the ban would be lifted, saying that it's out of their scope of work to ask another town volunteer to do something like that.
"We think it is an invasion of privacy. They're not medically trained to oversee that process, and decide when he may be ready to return to town hall. They're not qualified to assess his mental state," she said.
She said it is her understanding that this was not the first time Schuler has expressed disdain for the way things were handled in town, and nothing was ever done then.
"If the police were truly concerned, they would have charged him, and they didn't," she said.
Selectmen Kendra Dumont and Dave Swain said they had not seen the lawsuit as of Friday afternoon, and cannot comment on pending litigation even if they had seen the litigation.
"We had no idea this was happening. I can't say anything because I haven't talked to town counsel yet," Dumont said. "Obviously it's part of litigation so I'm limited on what I can say anyway."
Follow Katina Caraganis on Twitter @kcaraganis.