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Wandering Dago case to cost taxpayers $325K

Wandering Dago case to cost taxpayers $325K

Previous settlement cost $68K; additional litigation still underway
Wandering Dago case to cost taxpayers $325K
Customers line up at the Wandering Dago food truck in 2013.
Photographer: Gazette file photo

ALBANY — One half of the Wandering Dago’s five-year legal saga reached its conclusion, but there’s no end in sight for the other. 

The controversially named food truck is back outside the state Capitol, selling lunch, but its owner is still fighting to get her state job back.

In 2013, state officials banned the truck from state property and programs because of its name. (“Dago” is widely considered an ethnic slur against Italian-Americans, but the truck’s owner has insisted it is actually a nod to Italians’ early history in America, when many were day laborers paid “as the day goes.”)

Truck owner Andrea Loguidice mounted a fight in federal court against the ban on freedom of speech grounds, lost an initial ruling, but won on appeal. Earlier this month, part of the cost to taxpayers was revealed, as attorneys for Loguidice and the state submitted paperwork in federal court stipulating the state would pay her attorney $325,000 for legal fees and court costs. 

Because the state is represented by the Attorney General’s Office, whose staff would be drawing salary with or without the Dago case, that side of the pricetag is harder to quantify.

Saratoga Race Course faced a similar claim after ousting the Wandering Dago. NYRA later settled that suit for $68,500 without admitting liability.

Attorney George Carpinello of Boies Schiller Flexner said Loguidice wasn’t seeking reimbursement for revenue she lost when she was barred from state property and state programs, just an end of the ban. But he added that she did lose revenue. There are 10,000 potential customers within walking distance, and Wandering Dago missed out on every one of them during its exile, he said.

There’s more money still at stake for Loguidice and for state taxpayers as a result of state officials’ handling of the matter, Carpinello said Monday.

“This is only the end of the first chapter. We still have the second case to adjudicate,” he said, referring to Loguidice’s firing. “It’s really unfortunate that we’re five years into this.”

Loguidice was an attorney working for the state Department of Environmental Conservation when the Wandering Dago controversy boiled over. She was still on probationary status as a new hire, and officially was fired for conflict of interest: Bringing the food truck to a General Electric event while also being involved in legal matters involving General Electric’s dumping of PCBs in the Hudson River.

That’s unfounded for two reasons, Carpinello said. First, a GE property was the site of the event, not the organizer — a third party organized the event. Second, Loguidice was not involved in day-to-day operations of the food truck at that point, on instruction of her supervisors at DEC, though she retained ownership.

The purported conflict of interest is a pretext for punishing her for dubbing her truck Wandering Dago and then fighting back over it, Carpinello said.

“She was fired because of that controversy. Our claim is that she was terminated because she brought the lawsuit.”

In this part of the case, Loguidice is seeking more than legal costs: She also wants to be reinstated, with backpay.

“She would very much like to return to her job,” Carpinello said.

He said he hopes to go to trial soon, but pretrial processes are going slowly.

Loguidice has not practiced law since her firing.

Clarification: An earlier version of this article ​incorrectly reported that the state would reimburse its owner for $325,000 in legal fees and court costs after losing its attempt to block its operation near the state Capitol. In fact, the state will make that payment directly to her attorney.
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