Update: The City of Greece filed a motion Friday asking the court to vacate its earlier default judgment. In a statement, Greek Town Supervisor Bill Reilich blamed the town’s no-show on “an innocent and good faith administrative error.” He added that the city supports the police department, which “strongly denies the allegations” and intends to vigorously defend itself against the lawsuit in court – if given the opportunity.
The original story is below:
When he called 911 in late summer 2023, all Ken Budinski wanted was to save his beloved Arborvitaes trees from being cut down by workers at the nearby auto repair shop.
Now, he appears poised to receive a $1 million settlement from the Greek city for his failure to respond that day and since.
The details of what allegedly happened are laid out in the lawsuit filed by Budinski, 84, in U.S. District Court.
Budinski called Greek police on September 1 to report the two men for destroying 14 trees planted along the perimeter of his business. That company is Bud Labs, a lubrication and friction testing company located on Dewey Avenue. Budinski planted the trees around 2011 to create a buffer between the automotive sector and his workshop. The trees had never been a problem until that morning, when he stopped by the store and caught the two men in the act.
He described the responding officer as casual, refusing to press charges against the men. He also noted that the officer was reluctant to give him his name or badge number.
So he took a different legal tactic: writing by hand and filing a federal lawsuit against the Greek police. In that complaint, he alleged that the department violated his 14th Amendment property rights by failing to protect his trees from being cut down. His two demands were for the two men who damaged the 14 trees to be arrested and compensated $1 million for “police negligence.”
He filed the lawsuit Oct. 6 and notified the Greek Police Department of the lawsuit the same day, according to federal court records. He hasn’t heard from the city, he said.
No response from the city has also been filed with the court, records show. In federal court, a defendant has 21 days to respond to a complaint. At this point, they are at risk of default, meaning the plaintiff can ask the court to grant the requested monetary relief. This decision can be made by the court clerk.
According to Cornell Law Schooll, the registrar is able to render a judgment if the plaintiff has made a request for a specific sum, or if the sum can be calculated by the registrar.
Budinski requested a default judgment on November 27. And U.S. District Court Clerk Mary Loewenguth entered a judgment in Budinski’s favor the next day, records show, awarding him the full $1 million, plus $50,000 in interest.
“The time allowed for defendants to appear, respond or act against the complaint has expired,” Loewenguth’s ruling states.
Budinski was told by the court that he did not need to take further action. Still nothing happened. Until Thursday.
After WXXI News left messages with Town Supervisor Bill Reilich and other Greek officials about the case, the town filed its first notice of suit. Court records show Greece has retained two attorneys — Erin Elmouji and John Mancuso, both of the firm Weaver Mancuso Brightman PLLC — to represent the city in the case.
Neither Elmouji nor Mancuso responded to requests for comment.
Reilich, in a phone call, said he was not aware of the complaint until Thursday.
“Ultimately, this is the first I’ve heard of it and I’m investigating it now,” Reilich said. “And I mean getting to the bottom of why I don’t know about it.”
Reilich declined to comment on the continued employment of the two attorneys, or any possible legal avenues for the city.
Budinski, who stood outside the Bud Labs storefront, was also at a loss for words. He said he was worried about retaliation from the city.
“You can put that in your article, I’m afraid of what they, the city of Greece and the police here, can do,” Budinski said. “They can do a lot of things.”