Republican Legislator Peter Schmitt is being sued by the law firm Crowe-Deegan for defamation. Schmitt has a way of making things up (lying) and this time the people he lied about fought back.
Last April, the State Supreme Court ruled that Schmitt alone was responsible for his lies and he cannot hide behind his "job" as a Nassau Legislator. We reported last April "A State Supreme Court has ruled that 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. The case moves forward with the ruling that "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,"
The scary thing is that 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."
So now we come to this past week where the Appelate Court ruled that the lawsuit can go forward
Here is the ruling...
"DECISION & ORDER
In an action, inter alia, to recover damages for defamation, the defendant appeals from an order of the Supreme Court, Nassau County (Lally, J.), entered April 14, 2006, which denied his motion for summary judgment dismissing the complaint.
ORDERED that the order is modified, on the law, by deleting the provision thereof denying that branch of the defendant's motion which was for summary judgment dismissing so much of the third cause of action as alleged defamation, libel, and libel per se, based on the challenged statement appearing in the Newsday article dated February 29, 2004, and substituting therefor a provision granting that branch of the motion; as so modified, the order is affirmed, with costs to the plaintiff.
The challenged statement appearing in the Newsday article dated February 29, 2004, made by the defendant during the course of a legislative hearing, is entitled to absolute privilege (see Park Knoll Assoc. v Schmidt, 59 NY2d 205, 209; Schettino v Alter, 140 AD2d 600, 601-602).
In response to the defendant's showing of his prima facie entitlement to summary judgment dismissing the remainder of the complaint (see Alvarez v Prospect Hosp., 68 NY2d 320), the plaintiff demonstrated the existence of an issue of fact from which a reasonable jury could find "actual malice with convincing clarity" (Bose Corp. v Consumers Union of United States, Inc., 466 US 485, 514; see New York Times Co. v Sullivan, 376 US 254, 279-280; Prozeralik v Capital Cities Communications, 82 NY2d 466, 474-475).
The defendant's remaining contentions are without merit.
MASTRO, J.P., KRAUSMAN, FLORIO and BALKIN, JJ., concur."