Thursday, April 23, 2009

A SLAPP In New Hartford???

The OD reports tonight that New Hartford is considering filing a civil lawsuit -- discussed at a Town Board meeting in executive session this week. Although officials refused to reveal the target(s) of the potential lawsuit, the article mentions that the co-founders of Concerned Citizens for Honest and Open Government had found themselves locked out of Board meetings and that one of them had been accused by the Town Supervisor of screaming at a town employee. The juxtaposition of this information suggests that Mr. Wiatr and Ms. Lawrence may be the Town's targets.

While the Town alleges that employees have been intimidated, the Town admitted in an earlier OD article that "public safety was not in jeopardy." It is clear from Ms. Lawrence's blogpost "Using Scare Tactics," however, that it was she who felt intimidated.

Concerned Citizens has been in the forefront of getting New Hartford information out to the taxpayers and voters and exposing the workings of Town government, sometimes with embarrassing effectiveness. They forced public votes on issues that the Town Board rubber-stamped when they had a petition drive that successfully placed several bonding proposals on the ballot. They used legal processes when necessary to get the Town to "do the right thing," such as when they filed a Notice of Claim against the Stormwater Group, which forced its meetings to be opened to the public after a year behind closed doors.

In sum, Concerned Citizens has been a royal pain in New Hartford's governmental butt. . . But they were clearly working for the people, not themselves, because there is no personal gain from their activities.

The same cannot be said for Town Government. Meetings continue to be held behind closed doors, deals that appear to favor private interests continue to be made . . . and now retaliation may be in the offing.

If the Town files suit against these individuals, it would be a SLAPP -- A Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation -- per Wikipedia:
. . . a lawsuit that is intended to intimidate and silence critics by burdening them with the cost of a legal defense until they abandon their criticism or opposition. Winning the lawsuit is not necessarily the intent of the person filing the SLAPP. The plaintiff's goals are accomplished if the defendant succumbs to fear, intimidation, mounting legal costs or simple exhaustion and abandons the criticism. A SLAPP may also intimidate others from participating in the debate.

According to New York Supreme Court Judge J. Nicholas Colabella, "Short of a gun to the head, a greater threat to First Amendment expression can scarcely be imagined."
Is that what the Town of New Hartford is proposing to do? That would not be just a SLAPP against Concerned Citizens, it would be a slap against every Town resident.

4/24/09 Update: Looks like Concerned Citizens won't be backed down.


Anonymous said...

Although I agree strongly that the New Hartford government is a closed shop,I also think that civilty should be maintained in the name of respect to the process and good manners. The answer to reform is in the ballot box. We, for example, are New Hartford taxpayers who have communicated concerns and questions to our Board rep, Ms. Krupa. No response from her has been received. That is not only poor manners but a slap in the face of those she is sworn to represent. Evidently she could care less. We will work against her if she seeks reelection. Your point about the law suit is well taken.My sense is that a government sueing its own citizens would make the national news. Who knows, New Hartford could become a joke a la Utica politics.

Silence Dogood said...

This is clearly government for government by government attempt to scare the people they represent. Oh I forgot though they were elected by the majority of people, they seem to only represent themselves and special interests. Sounds like Congress. The beauty of the internet, it can be the great equalizer just like the first amendment is. Anyway we the taxpayers are going to fund this civil suit? Sounds strange to me to fight the freedom of speech with our own monies. What would Jefferson think?

Madame Bonet said...

I personally witnessed an attack upon Cathy Lawrence when Russell Cerminaro was running for public office.

The facts are as follows: Ms. Lawrence was standing on the steps adjacent to the Higby Road Elementary School door where voters would walk-in and vote for their respective candidate.

Mr. Gerald (Jerry) Green, Esq. a local attorney and New Hartford Town Attorney approached Ms. Lawrence and began talking to her in a very unprofessional and condescending manner. Mr. Green's verbalized attacks towards Ms. Lawrence were due to her community activism (i.e. Concerned Citizens for Honest & Open Government).

I even remember Mr. Green berating Ms. Lawrence when asking her, " come on Cathy...just how many members are in your group?"

Obviously, Mr. Green felt he needed to abuse his position as town attorney and too, his position as Chairperson - New Hartford Republican Committee.

Now, fast forward, we have the Town threatening Ed Wiatr, Jr., Co-founder of Concerned Citizens with a civil suit.

Perhaps, Jerry Green forgot to take a course on the U.S. Constitution. The first amendment is alive and well in New Hartford and will be until such time that people like Cathy and Ed feel it is time to retire from their dedicated and devoted civic duties.

I abhore the bully tactics exhibited by Mr. Green and perhaps, the Legal Bar Association or whatever they are called should investigate the moral turpitude of this individual?

New Hartford Government are replete with the bully mentality and really do believe they are above the law.

Judging by what I personally witnessed, Earle Reed owes Ed Wiatr, Jr. an apology for his libelous remarks.

Since when has the Observer Dispatch used "hearsay" as a basis to write an article supporting a statement that was not told them by the alleged "injured" party. This was poor reporting on the O.D.'s part.

Strikeslip said...

Mme Bonet's comment is more opinion than "fact." Perhaps her opinion is based upon other encounters not documented here, but it is an opinion none the less.

How is asking Ms. Lawrence how many people are in her group "berating" anyone? How is it an "attack?" One person's "berating" or "attack" is another person's "discussion." How is it "unprofessional?" Were any Canons of Ethics violated?

Mme Bonet's accusing Mr. Green of attacking Ms. Lawrence is just like Mr. Reed's accusing Mr. Wiatr of "screaming" at a Town employee.

Neither Mme Bonet's nor Mr. Reed's statements are credible . . . and the public tires of hearing such nonsense.

Leo said...


In reading your blog and comments, I think what Madame Bonet was saying or maybe did not say it correctly was the attorneys demeanor when he was talking to Ms. Lawrence?

That aside, what of the previously reported treatment of a Mrs. or Ms. Alessi, a town resident (?) who sent a letter to Chief Philo of the New Hartford Police Force who refused to accept a registered letter?

We also heard where this same woman had to write to Earle Reed, Town Supervisor because of Chief Philo's refusal to sign for the registered letter?

This woman was treated with disrespect and she feared for her life. Mr. Reed's words can be heard on the videotaped meeting taken in June or July of 2008.

Mr. Reed later commented, "my good friend Scott McNamara was contacted - we will not be hearing from Ms. Alessi again?"

What we have hear is an elitist group of individuals who feel that the law does not apply to them, however, they can insult and ridicule the very town residents whom they are sworn to protect and serve.

I do believe Madame Bonet was expressing her concerns over demeanor which may be somewhat more than substance?

Incidentally, the newspaper article was more about sensationalism based on non-fact over the truth? I take almost everything said by newspaper reporters with a grain of salt, especially when it pertains to the Town of New Hartford. They do not back-up their written comments with first-person interviews. Why?

Greens and Beans said...

Does this call for a New Hartford version of the “Boston Tea Party?” But then again, a New Hartford Tea Party may overload the already over stressed sewer system.

If any public employee feels threatened or intimidated by the general public, they have an obligation to call for assistance immediately. This assistance should be, but does not have to be limited to their immediate supervisor, security personnel or police assistance. The key to remedy any unusual situation is to address the unwarranted behavior at once. To wait to report an alleged uncomfortable encounter with a member of the public to feed into the antagonistic behavior of their superiors is deplorable at best. And if the supposedly Lame Duck elected officials capriciously spend thousands of public dollars on bogus law suits to simply monetarily punish someone they dislike is deplorably unethical. If this is the case, the taxpayers of New Hartford should be picketing Butler Hall to draw attention to these apparent narcissistic Town Officials.

In any event, this seems to be a classic example of shameful behavior. It is as if they had no more pressing public issues facing them to address. It should be obvious that these difficult economic times do not call for any public government body to squander the ultra-limited pot of public money on unproductive frivolous lawsuits.

Leo said...

Greens and Beans,

I personally believe it is the latter. You are right, if there was such a "disturbance" as alleged, why was not action taken immediately?

The bigger question here to ask, " Why on April 8th were the rear town doors locked to Concerned Citizens, a group who have over a period of months and years met with the same people?

I believe the answer lies in the statement made by Mr. Reed that this group was writing to many requests for town records and the town supervisor reacted like he always does, inconsiderate and shooting from the proverbial hip.

Don't you find it odd that the newspaper would quote as another writer stated, "hearsay?" If I was the reporter, I would have asked the supposedly "injured" party, the deputy town clerk - Melody?

When town officials abuse their positions of office, someone had better come in and straighten them out or do a recall, if allowed in this state.