Jay Jacobs, the owner of a North Sea parcel where he’s , filed a $65 million defamation lawsuit Friday against two of the camp’s fiercest critics.
Jacobs alleges that Little Fresh Pond Association President John Barona and Vice President John Gorman committed libel against him and his plan for the Southampton Country Day Camp in a flier distributed around Southampton urging neighbors to attend a public hearing on the camp application.
In addition to $65 million in damages plus attorney’s fees, Jacobs is asking the court to gag Barona and Gorman from making statements against him alleging "wrongful, criminal, or fraudulent conduct," and to require them to disclose the identities of those who received the fliers and take out a full-page newspaper ad recanting false statements made in the flier and on a website.
But Barona said Tuesday that he and Gorman did not make the flier in question, nor do they run the website, northseaneighbors.yolasite.com.
“After looking over the papers and talking to attorneys, I realized that it’s a huge intimidation tactic from someone who obviously feels like he’s losing the battle, and he’s trying to silence us and stop us from questioning this project," Barona said.
But Jacobs, who is also the chairman of the New York State Democratic Committee, insisted that he is not looking to suppress opposition to his project. “What I am doing is simply defending my reputation, which I believe I have every right to do,” he said, pointing to statements in the flier that accuse him of covering up plans to "spew sewage" into Little Fresh Pond and lying to gain an exemption from the town for his camp.
"I am an acting camp director and the executive director of a host of camps that rely on the confidence of the public for their success," Jacobs said. "Parents send their children to my camps because … they trust me." He said he is obligated to stop anyone from maligning and defaming him.
Jacobs did not buy Barona's statement that they were not responsible for the flier, which instructs readers seeking more information to call Gorman or Barona. “It defies logic that they are the president and vice president of an association and that they are now saying that this flier was put out without their knowledge and without their participation in any fashion, yet their names and phone numbers are on it.”
Barona said the North Sea residents and other opponents of the camp plan are protected from Jacobs' lawsuit by New York's Anti-SLAPP Law — strategic lawsuits against public participation. “He thinks he has big bucks and big money and can make us shut up.”
He added that those who were undecided or indifferent to the camp application have jumped to the opposition's side after learning of the lawsuit. “People are outraged that a big public figure like him would come after such little people like us for trying to protect the environment and our homes.”
Barona did stand by the statement that there would be increased sewage in the pond. "'Sewage' does not mean sticking a hose into Little Fresh Pond,” he said, explaining that there would be seepage into the pond through groundwater.