A New York State Supreme Court judge has dismissed a $1 million defamation lawsuit against three members of the Southampton Village Board.
In a decision dated Feb. 8, Judge Paul J. Baisley Jr. granted the defense a summary judgment in their favor, throwing out the case filed by Chris Broich, a former sergeant, against Mayor Mark Epley and village Trustees Nancy McGann and .
The defendants were served with the lawsuit in May 2008, accusing them of making false and damaging statements against Broich. Baisley determined that regardless of whether the alleged statements were true, Broich had failed to prove malice, which he would need to do to win a defamation lawsuit.
The lawsuit was over statements made during the 2007 village election debate and a statement Epley made to this reporter for an April 10, 2008 article on Broich's run for village office that year.
The lawsuit also alleges Robinson told a village resident that Broich "is a problem," and "He lost his job because he was holding on to tickets that he shouldn't be holding on to."
Broich claimed the statements damaged his reputation and ability to find work.
The lawsuit states that during a debate for the 2007 village election, McGann and Robinson both made false statements that an investigation into the police department's ticket handling turned up hundreds of blank tickets in Broich's locker at the department.
The investigation arose because of a complaint Broich filed, claiming a ticket-fixing scheme was in place at the village police department. An outside agency cleared the police department of wrongdoing, but it did criticize the department for keeping poor track of its ticket books. The police have since moved to an electronic ticketing system.
As for Epley's comments that were made a subject of the lawsuit, he said "At one point in time Chris Broich was a very good police officer," but things have changed, and now Broich's actions speak for themselves.
The defendents argued that they had "qualified privilege with respect to the statements," and the judge agreed.
"Here, the first two statements were made during a public debate while the defendants were running for office and regarded a matter of public concern, namely the issue of missing tickets in the police department," Baisley wrote in his decision. "The third and fourth statements were made while the plaintiff was a candidate for public office."
Broich recently had a , but , intending to bring the case to the U.S. Court of Appeals.