Opinions, Accusations Attacked and Defended in Clarkstown Lawsuit

Rockland Republican Chairman Vincent Reda, Rockland County Legislator Frank Sparaco and Clarkstown Highway Superintendent Wayne Ballard, at a press conference about tapes. Patch file photo
Rockland Republican Chairman Vincent Reda, Rockland County Legislator Frank Sparaco and Clarkstown Highway Superintendent Wayne Ballard, at a press conference about tapes. Patch file photo
A lawsuit winding its way through the courts in Rockland pits two Clarkstown gadflies against three politicians and a local businessman over campaign-season polemics.

The plaintiffs are Clarkstown Highway Superintendent Wayne Ballard, Mark Mondelli, owner of Mark’s Onsite Truck and Equipment Repair in New City, Rockland County Legislator Frank Sparaco and Rockland Republican Chairman Vincent Reda.

The defendants are Patch bloggers Michael Hull  and Anthony Mele.  Hull is a Bardonia resident. Mele lives in Spring Valley.

The lawsuit filed in November 2013 alleges that posts Hull and Mele wrote on New City Patch and on Facebook in the fall "express what appear to the reader to be facts but which are actually opinion" and are deliberately and recklessly put in a context to imply wrongdoing.

"Freedom of speech does not give one the right to yell fire in a crowded theater; freedom of religion does not give one the right to practice cannibalism even if it is part of one's religion; and freedom of the press does not give one the right to tell falsehoods," said the plaintiffs' attorney, Duncan Rogers Lee II.

William Bave, Hull's attorney, answered the suit Jan. 17 by denying wrongdoing and arguing Hull is pursuing his First Amendment rights. Mele is being defended by  Dan Bertolino.

Lee said in the complaint that the blogs contain statements about the plaintiffs which "directly and indirectly cast them in a false light and which directly and indirectly falsely accuse them of wrongdoing, unethical behavior and criminal activity."

For example, the suit quoted a September blog post by Mele: "The recent expose involving Legislator Frank Sparaco manipulating absentee ballots and a Board of Elections Commissioner seemingly aiding and abetting voter intimidation and fraud has become the symbol of everything wrong, and the picture of sickening corruption in Rockland County."

And, in response to a comment on that blog, Mele said "The FBI swooped up these folks."

The suit complains that Hull cherry-picked parts of a public meeting transcript to twist their meaning. And he used phrases such as "It now appears crystal clear" to make opinion seem like fact, the suit alleges.

In fact, the plaintiffs' attorney states, Sparaco has never been charged with impropriety relating to absentee ballots, never been named in a lawsuit or criminal complaint about it, and has never investigated or arrested by the FBI. Nor did he do political or personal activities while working at his community liaison job at the town's Highway Department, the suit says.

"Alleged overcharging" and "apparent markup" are two of the phrases Hull used to cloak personal accusations against Mark's Onsite Truck and Repair, the suit says, quoting this sentence from Hull's blog: "These vendor charges, and particularly those from Mark's Onsite Truck and Repair, may be perfectly legitimate. Yet there appears to be ample concern…"

The suit also gets into the whole controversy surrounding Sparaco's taping of discussions with other county officials he feared were bribing or threatening him.

Bave called the whole lawsuit "frivolous."

Among other things, he said a reasonable reader would conclude the blog posts, written during campaign season, were Hull's opinions. Also, Hull's blog posts are protected by the U.S. and New York state constitutions.

Furthermore, he accused the plaintiffs of bringing the lawsuit to "stifle legitimate criticism of their actions." He said the fact that the chairman of the county Republican Party is named as a plaintiff but not referenced in the complaint "indicates the political nature of this litigation."

In the lawsuit, the plaintiffs ask for "monitory" damages for causing the plaintiffs mental anguish, embarrassment and emotional injury, for loss of compensation and financial harm.

They also ask the court to order Mele and Hull to stop any further dissemination of the defamatory statements "of implied wrongdoing created through manipulation of facts by publishing selected wording out of context and selective highlighting."

For his part, Bave requested the judge make the plaintiffs pay court costs and attorney's fees for Hull and impose sanctions "to insure that those who govern will not be allowed to censor their critics."

The deadline for both sides to file all documents they want to be considered in the case is Feb. 24. A judge has not yet been named. 

Related articles ---

Politicial Corruption or Politics As Usual In Rockland 

Release of Tape Excerpts Brings Promises of Lawsuits

Borelli Blasts GOP After Removal From Committee

Malone Files Defamation Lawsuit Against Sparaco, Ballard, GOP Leaders

Rockparent January 22, 2014 at 08:50 PM
Sparaco is pathetic. He is just upset because he can't form a simple sentence that isn't rife with errors. He writes like a 3rd grader.
ADK January 22, 2014 at 09:40 PM
www.thefreedictionary.com/monitory mon·i·to·ry (m n -tôr , -t r ). adj. Conveying an admonition or a warning: a monitory glance. n. pl. mon·i·to·ries. A letter of admonition, such as one from a bishop or ... ‎Admonitory - ‎Premonitory - ‎Monitory letter Perhaps the three amigos' lawyer was absent during 5th grade English class....the word is monetary...just a small blip in this assault on free speech and decency...these people are nothing more than street thugs masquerading as "statesmen". Just my OPINION of course...wouldn't want to be next on the docket!!
ADK January 22, 2014 at 09:44 PM
While we are at it, can someone direct me as to how I can verify Mr Sparaco's time sheets from the last few months? Perhaps FOIL his official highway department phone records to see how often he interacts with his constituents on a weekly basis, or his official time sheets? As a public employee all of these are a matter of record, correct?
Thomas Leonard January 22, 2014 at 11:55 PM
“If freedom of speech is taken away, then dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to the slaughter.” ― George Washington
Charles Clewsow January 23, 2014 at 08:08 AM
This is sure to ingratiate them with their constituents. Perhaps they forgot that the last election for County Executive rendered the third party scam no longer effective. Said another way for the benefit of the amigos, It ain't gonna woick no more.
Watchdog January 23, 2014 at 08:13 AM
Would this law suit make these guys the SEWERS and the people the are suing the sew...eeees?
Joan K January 23, 2014 at 09:42 AM
Neither Mr. Hull or Mr. Mele are squeaky clean. You know what they say about people that live in glass houses.
Watchdog January 23, 2014 at 09:43 AM
John, contributions can be made right here.... http://gfwd.at/19WgYoW
Mike Hirsch January 23, 2014 at 10:39 AM
ADK, I don't believe time sheets are required by Alex, as most political appointees are on the "honor" system, a practice which I believe began under Holbrook.
ADK January 23, 2014 at 10:45 AM
Understood Mike, but the phone records should be available,,,,after all that's the stated reason for his job, so there should be copious amounts of calls from Sparaco's office to constituents, especially around storm times.
Rob T January 23, 2014 at 11:38 AM
How did they get a picture of Mo, Larry and Curly ?
Mike Hirsch January 23, 2014 at 11:59 AM
ADK, there is an article (May 2, 2002) from the old Rockland County Courier by Peter W. Sluys entitled "The Great Clarkstown Giveaway" which I can scan and send to you if you'll give me a call and your email address.
ADK January 23, 2014 at 12:32 PM
Thanks Mike...adkping@aol.com
Charles Clewsow January 23, 2014 at 12:38 PM
Joan K...whoever you are..can you be more specific with your libelous remark? If you want to attack someone why do it in a cowardly way?
Lanning Taliaferro (Editor) January 23, 2014 at 12:43 PM
While we encourage people to be honest and post what’s on their mind, communities thrive when people care about each other, and as such, Patch expects all of its users to be respectful of others. This means that whether you are being complimentary or critical, whether you are agreeing or disagreeing with the subject of an article or another user’s comment, you should act in a civil manner and refrain from personal attacks – after all, these are your neighbors.
Jimmy R January 23, 2014 at 12:58 PM
In USA Today - "Bloggers Have Rights Too" www.usatoday.com/story/opinion/2014/01/21/first-amendment-blogging-scotus-column/4733781
Richard Sena January 23, 2014 at 05:39 PM
Gov. Andrew Cuomo released program bill in August 2013 with a measure designed to repeal the Wilson-Pakula Law of 1947, a new oversight counsel at the Board of Elections and an expedited process for registering in a political party. Repealing Wilson-Pakula would officially end third party tricks
Charles Clewsow January 23, 2014 at 07:17 PM
What is the status Richard? I am hearing the entrenched politicos are not happy with his bill?
Charles Clewsow January 23, 2014 at 07:24 PM
http://gfwd.at/19WgYoW.......please see this site and make any contribution you can. Thank you...Charles
Mike Hirsch January 23, 2014 at 09:10 PM
Charles, of course the entrenched politicos don't want any changes to the election laws because any changes would threaten their job security. Remember when NYS redistricted a few years back and Mayor Koch had most of the legislators sign a pact to promote independent redistricting? They signed the pact and of course did nothing. In the words of our town attorney, Amy Mele: "I don't work for you!". Most of them work for themselves and the public be damned.
Kevin Roy January 23, 2014 at 10:18 PM
Unbelievable. In my opinion, these individuals suing makes me more suspicious. Even more frustrating is the thought about the amount of taxes we pay and the politicians (town, county, & state) that make the decisions on how it's spent.
Charles Clewsow January 23, 2014 at 10:35 PM
I am wondering if all the judges that quickly recused themselves when Reda was a defendant in his pea coat shoplifting case will now see fit to recuse themselves now that Reda is a Plaintiff? It happened rather quickly in the case of the alleged shop lifted peacoat but this case began in November and not a word from the judicial community. Perhaps the editor of PATCH can investigate and shed some light on the matter?
Pat Godfrey January 24, 2014 at 02:48 PM
This frivolous lawsuit is an attempt to quiet the critics of government. It is a direct assault on the the 1st amendment. This is exactly what our constitutional rights are about. This is exactly what Reda and company want to end. If the judge has let this go to trial we then have to question the motivation of the judge.
Jeanine Vecchiarelli January 24, 2014 at 06:03 PM
Richard, the county legislator who is a co-plaintiff in this lawsuit recently remarked on a Facebook thread regarding the Wilson Pakula that people are making a big deal out of nothing. He said if we didn't have the WP it would just mean that voters would get to choose their candidates. Did I miss something there?...
Jeanine Vecchiarelli January 24, 2014 at 06:13 PM
I would also like to know what kind of attorney would take a case such as this - allegedly pro bono, no less. Aren't attorneys supposed to argue cases within the scope of our laws? Why would he willingly take a case that seeks deliberately to shut down citizens' First Amendment protected right to free speech? This particular attorney happens to be a senior GOP committeeman. It is my understanding he has family members working for the Board of Elections. He also recently lost a run for judge in Nyack. It's going to be interesting to see whether his name appears on a future ballot, or if we hear of his appointment to some legal position or other. He must be expecting SOMETHING big in return; after all, how cheaply would he sell his honor?
Watchdog January 24, 2014 at 08:46 PM
John, you are sort of off topic but I do recall you started your crusade against Brega under an assumed name and failed to disclose that you were once employed by Brega and some surmised that you were either fired or let go as a disgruntled employee and were working for a competitor. Those facts severely damaged your initial credibility and when you were finally outed and started to use your real name and disclosed your new employer, it was too late and few trusted what you had to say. Your description of the events as they unfolded is sorely lacking some of this information. . In any event, I do not see how any if it relates to today's events.
Watchdog January 24, 2014 at 08:49 PM
Jeanne, I doubt anyone in that sphere of influence does anything for nothing.
Ace of Hearts January 26, 2014 at 10:24 AM
I agree with Charles but investigative reporting is severely lacking in Rockland County news. I get most of my news from the bloggers. Lets send a blogger out to investigate. This lawsuit sounds frivolous. Hopefully a judge will see it as just that and throw it out.
Watchdog January 26, 2014 at 12:19 PM
Reda is likely judge shopping. please contribute..... http://gfwd.at/19WgY
Michael N. Hull January 26, 2014 at 03:44 PM
I am following all of the comments with regards to the lawsuit both here on Patch, in the Journal News, and on the Facebook page (Clarkstown: What They Don't Want You To Know). As all of you will understand I can not comment directly about the specifics of the case. Suffice it to say that I will be continuing to write my usual blogs and have been overwhelmed by the amount of personal emails I have received and the comments I have seen in support of open government and change in Rockland County's politics. We are not going away and we are not going to be silenced. Together we must stand up against patronage, out-of-control local government spending, exorbitant property taxation and rising property taxes. You can help with the legal part of this fight at ... http://gfwd.at/19WgYoW .... and I will see all of you online in a week or so with my next article "The Great Clarkstown Giveaway" starring several of the usual characters ;-)


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