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A Manhattan restaurant is seeking $2.5 million in a federal lawsuit filed against a judge who was recently censured and the co-op board on which he served. The lawsuit claims the judge used his influence to obtain an advantage in civil litigation against the restaurant, which is a tenant in the co-op. The suit, filed last week in the Southern District of New York, alleges that Brooklyn Supreme Court Justice Richard D. Huttner and his fellow board members conspired to deprive the restaurant of its First Amendment right to petition the government for redress and its 14th Amendment right to due process. According to the complaint, the judge used his position on the judiciary to help the co-op board win an injunction that barred its tenant, El Rio Grande Restaurant, from operating an outdoor bar. The owner of the Tex-Mex restaurant, located on Third Avenue, claims it has lost $500,000 in revenue since the injunction was imposed. It also claimed it incurred more than $300,000 in legal fees in its successful attempt to move the case to Ulster County Supreme Court, based on its belief that it could not get a fair trial in New York City where the judge has ties to the judiciary. Justice Huttner was censured last month by the Commission on Judicial Conduct for his role in the litigation. In its ruling, the commission found that the judge’s involvement left “the unseemly impression that the cooperative was using his judicial status to advance its position in litigation.” It also found that the judge, a sitting Supreme Court justice since 1986, had displayed “a remarkable insensitivity to his ethical responsibilities.” Justice Huttner said yesterday that he had not seen the suit. He resigned from the co-op board in September and agreed to take no further part in the restaurant litigation. Andrea L. Roschelle, an attorney from Greenstein Starr Gerstein & Rinaldi who represents the co-op board, also said she had not seen the suit and could not comment. Roschelle said the litigation that is ongoing in Ulster County, which involves a suit by the co-op board and a counter suit by the restaurant, was set for trial on May 6. The co-op board has claimed that the restaurant had violated its lease by offering outdoor service other than sit-down table service. Ronald L. Kuby, who filed the federal lawsuit on behalf of the restaurant, described the suit’s constitutional claims as “procedurally unusual but not unprecedented.” He said the totality of the judge’s actions, coupled with the board’s knowledge of his influence, amounted to a conspiracy to obtain an unfair advantage and deprive his client of meaningful access to state courts. The case, Rio Restaurant Associates v. Murray Hill Mews Owners Corp., 02 Civ. 0850, has been assigned to U.S. District Judge Robert W. Sweet.

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