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Court Tosses $45M Defamation Lawsuit Against Pond Association Heads

Lawsuit arose in the fight over a North Sea day camp proposal.

In a decision dated July 3, State Supreme Court Justice John J.J. Jones Jr.  dismissed a $45 million defamation lawsuit against the heads of the Little Fresh Pond Association — calling the litigation "patently frivolous" — and ordered the plaintiff, day camp operator Jay Jacobs, to pay their attorney's fees and court costs.

The lawsuit arose over an anonymous flier that circulated North Sea criticizing Jacobs' plan to run a day camp off Majors Path that would abut Little Fresh Pond. Jacobs said that flier contained lies to derail his project, which was before the Southampton Town Zoning Board of Appeals, and he . Jacobs asked the court to gag Barona and Gorman from making statements against him alleging "wrongful, criminal, or fraudulent conduct," and demanded a retraction. But Barona and Gorman said they did not author the flier. They , calling the litigation a SLAPP suit — a strategic lawsuit against public participation, designed to chill free speech.

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Jacobs, who owns several day camps and is the chairman of the New York State Democratic Party, previously told Patch that he is obligated to stop anyone from maligning and defaming him, and that the flier, which encouraged readers to contact Barona and Gorman for more information, was obviously written by the pair.

But Barona said on Thursday, “Our names just appeared on the flier because we're the president and vice president of the association — but we didn’t make it.”

Jacobs did not respond to an email from Patch this week.

While Jacobs has said that his plan to turn a former tennis camp into a day camp with staff housing is consistent with the past uses of the property, the Little Fresh Pond Association and other community groups in North Sea said it would be a radical change that would negatively affect quality of life in the neighborhood and the health of an ecologically fragile pond.

“For him it was just another multimillion dollar business venture, and for us, it's our passion, our home and something we protect," Barona said.

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To Barona and Gorman's delight, the Zoning Board of Appeals declared on March 15 that the proposed camp — a prerequisite that will be difficult to obtain and could stop the camp in its tracks. However, Jacobs said he with his application and the need for a variance is only a minor setback.

The parties will be back in court Aug. 8 for a hearing to determine the amount of attorney's fees and costs to which Barona and Gorman's counsel, Phillips Nizer LLP, is entitled. The law firm took on the case pro bono.

But Jones' decision fell short of granting Barona and Gorman compensatory and punitive damages, saying that the defendants failed to offer evidence to establish that the lawsuit was commenced in bad faith to harass, intimidate, punish or otherwise maliciously inhibit free speech.

Barona said he does not mind that he will not receive any money as a result of the judge's decision, because the lawsuit cost him nothing out-of-pocket — only months of stress.

Jaguar-Guy July 12, 2012 at 07:47 PM
He will appeal the decision, and will not pay attorney fees voluntarily (even when negotiated). This "plaintiff" is the worst kind of lawyer there is. Judge Jones is an awesome and honorable Judge - a pleasure to deal with. I hope no Variance can proceed until this is all settled. Although the Judge did not award compensatory and punitive damages, had the defendants offered proof in admissable form, Jones would have granted them against Jacobs for such a frivilous suit.
Faustina July 13, 2012 at 03:27 PM
I hope Jaguar-Guy is wrong and that this SLAPPing developer, and upstate Frakker will be compelled to pay damages by law. Punitive damages should have followed the decision that this was a meritless, frivolous SLAPP lawsuit the intent of which, by definition, is to discourage public participation i.e. opposition. Thanks to these defendants for countersuing. This may provide the only deterrent to egomaniacal developers with deep pockets and a deep, deep sense of entitlement.
highhatsize July 13, 2012 at 04:17 PM
The article is in error. Jay Jacobs "stepped down" from his position as NYS Democratic Party Chairman on May 24, some four months before the end of his term. He should have been stepped down as soon as he committed the SLAPP outrage.
Jaguar-Guy July 13, 2012 at 05:26 PM
I love the finish HHS. Where have you been - Jogging on Meeting House ? Have a good W/E.
Jaguar-Guy July 13, 2012 at 05:27 PM
Agreed, would be lovely. However, they were not out of pocket and dollars since their lawyer represented them Pro Bono, and they could not prove that Jacobs had acted recklessly, willfully and maliciously. We all know he did, but that is not enough in Court (in front of Judge Jones), you must introduce evidence. Had they produced a letter or email stating that Jacobs was going to sue them "to get even" or for revenge - dead in the water.
COMMON MAN July 14, 2012 at 05:30 AM
Isn't it something. Top figure in the state democratic party. Then when it comes to his own personal multi-million dollar business venture possibly derailed by outspoken citizens, he resorts to unlawful legal tactics to silence and defeat his opposition.. He violates the state civil rights law by initiating a SLAPP lawsuit. He resorts to underhanded, undemocratic actions to get his way. Is this what the democratic party now stands for? Remember, he STILL is the Chairman of the Nassau Democratic Party. Deplorable
highhatsize July 14, 2012 at 07:06 PM
Don't Nassau Democrats ever look at the bottom of their shoe?
Munchkin Man July 15, 2012 at 07:29 PM
What's happening with him running for Nassau County Supervisor? Can't the defendants still pursue for damages?
Munchkin Man July 24, 2012 at 12:25 AM
Thanks to Tom Calvin of Sag Harbor for giving his thoughts on the lawsuit against civil rights in the Press last week.

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