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COLONIE: EMT settles out of court

Colonie has settled out-of-court with the second former town paramedic who brought a federal suit against the town for using manufactured subpoenas to obtain their personal e-mail account information.

Hugh Skerker, 48, will be awarded $225,000 as part of the settlement made Thursday, Jan. 18, in U.S. District Court.

Skerker and former paramedic William Gardner, who was awarded $21,000 last year, were identified as the holders of source accounts of anonymous e-mails sent to the town in 2003 that alleged continued mismanagement and misconduct at the hands of several employees of the town's Department of Emergency Medical Services.

Skerker claimed in his suit that the town violated his federal and state constitutional rights when it used illegal subpoenas to identify him as one of the whistleblowers and then suspend him. Gardner, 55, was subsequently fired.

The town has contended that a mistake was made on behalf of the town attorney's office when officials used the wrong form as part of an inquiry into potential patient privacy violations under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) within the e-mails. Depositions show the move to use criminal subpoenas to obtain the account information from Time Warner/Road Runner was made after Colonie police informed officials that the content of the messages was not criminal.

Officials contend that the subpoenas were acted upon neither in malice nor ill-intent, as Skerker argued in his case.

Regardless of the claims, Town Attorney Arnis Zilgme apologized to town board members before a Thursday, Jan. 18, meeting for the outcome of the suit.

He and Senior Attorney Michelle U. Mercadante signed off on the subpoenas.

I apologize for the mistake that was made. It was a mistake at the department head, so it's on my shoulders, said Zilgme. "It was not done with ill-intent. We who try to keep you out of trouble got you in it, front and center."

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