Monday, April 24, 2006

Schmitt Loses in Court Again

A State Supreme Court has ruled that Legislator Peter Schmitt must bear the cost of the $10million defamation lawsuit against him.
Leg. Dave Mejias tells Newsday "The taxpayers of Nassau County should not have to pay for Peter Schmitt's personal, political attacks and lies,"
The lawsuit stems from charges made by Schmitt in 2004 about the law firm of Crowe-Deagan. Schmitt accused the firm of false billing, illegal campaign contributions and tampering with evidence.
The New York Law Journal reports "At a Jan. 12, 2004, news conference and in an accompanying statement, Schmitt said the nine-lawyer firm, which he said was hired to represent several county agencies without bidding, was receiving "exorbitant, unauthorized amounts of money for work they did not perform." He also said the firm had exceeded campaign contribution limits to give "illegal money" to David Mejias, a successful Democratic legislature candidate. "
"Schmitt moved for summary judgment on the grounds that his statements were either true or constitutionally protected opinion. He also argued that the law firm was a public figure unable to meet the actual malice standard set by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1964's New York Times v. Sullivan, 376 U.S. 254. That landmark case required public figures, such as politicians, suing for defamation to establish that false statements about them were made knowingly or with reckless disregard to the truth of the statements."
State Supreme Court Justice Lally denied a request for dismissal of the lawsuit by Schmitt saying "Legislator Schmitt made statements ... outside the protection of legislative immunity," which means he is liable for any defamatory comments he makes.
Mejias tells Newsday that this "proves once and for all that Peter Schmitt will say anything, even lie, to take back control of Nassau County."
The judge ruled that because Schmitt cited actual figures, "While the term exorbitant may constitute protected opinion, language stating that Crowe Deegan received an unauthorized amount of money for 'work they did not perform' and language stating that the firm contributed 'illegal' money 'over the legal limit' to Legislator David Mejias is precise and capable of being proven true or false,"
Schmitt gets hoisted on his own petard with that one.
Schmitt has frequently cited false numbers to bolster his arguments and has been called out on it. Now his words are in a court of law and he can't say he misspoke or change his story as he usually does.
Schmitt tried to play it too cute with the "illegal campaign contributions" to Dave Mejias. Schmitt charged that the firm gave Mejias $4000 which is over the $2000 limit.
Schmitt didn't get that the firm is a partnership and as Lally ruled "A partnership by definition includes at least two persons," which means two partners can give $2000 each which is the $4000 Schmitt was using.
Schmitts attorney Paul Millus argued that it's okay for Schmitt to lie. He actually makes a case for lying "Politicians have to have the flexibility to say things in the public interest."
As a side note, remember last year during the election the republicans complained and complained about non-nassau county residents working for the county and firms employed from outside too?
So who does Schmitt go to?
A Manhattan-based firm Snitow Kanfer Holtzer & Millus

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