A judge has dismissed several causes of action in a defamation suit brought by wind farm development supporters against a local blogger, while a second blogger has reached a settlement with the wind supporters.
Richard C. Wiley Sr., author of a blog at jeffersonleaningleft.blogspot.com, and Kathryn A. Hludzenski, author of pandorasboxofrocks.blogspot.com, were sued in July in state Supreme Court by Gary J. King, Marty T. Mason, Donald J. Mason, Harvey J. White, Paul C. Mason, Darrell and Marlene Burton and Frank J. Giaquinto, all of whom have been involved in either Voters for Wind or Citizens for Fair Government groups. The plaintiffs maintained that blogs written by Mr. Wiley and Mrs. Hludzenski contained defamatory statements that harmed their personal and civic reputations.
According to a stipulation of discontinuance filed Monday at the Jefferson County clerk’s office, the action against Mr. Wiley has been discontinued with prejudice, meaning the action cannot be litigated again. Suzanne M. Messer, Syracuse, an attorney representing Mr. Wiley and Mrs. Hludzenski, could not be reached for comment Monday as to what led to the settlement or its terms.
The action against Mrs. Hludzenski continues, but there remains only one alleged defamatory statement at issue after Judge James P. McClusky ruled that several statements made on her blog were either factual or protected opinion, not defamation.
In a post relating to Marty Mason and Donald Mason, Mrs. Hludzenski had written that they both have contracts on their land with wind developers, and that Donald Mason had introduced a resolution before the Town Council in an attempt to limit who may vote in Cape Vincent. Judge McClusky wrote that these statements are true and provided the basis for Mrs. Hludzenski’s opinion that the men were not fit for their offices. Both men lost council seats in the November 2011 election and blamed Mrs. Hludzenski’s comments for the defeat.
“If the court were to hold that such a statement is actionable, virtually any criticism of a candidate for office because he supports one position over another would be actionable and the first amendment would be totally gutted,” Judge McClusky wrote in dismissing that action.
He also dismissed an action over a second post in which Mrs. Hludzenski had claimed the plaintiffs were “attempting to take the right away from people to be voters against wind” and “wanted to deny citizens in our community a choice.” Judge McClusky said an affidavit provided by Mr. King said that he and the plaintiffs had gathered to find a solution to voting practices that they believed were illegal. Seasonal town residents, most opposed to wind power, were changing their voting registration from the municipality in which their primary homes are located to Cape Vincent.
“No evidence has been presented to show (Mrs. Hludzenski’s) statement is false,” Judge McClusky wrote. “The Plaintiffs may legitimately believe these people do not have the right to vote in Cape Vincent, but their belief does not make the statement false or slanderous.”
The judge refused to dismiss a statement in which Mrs. Hludzenski referred to the plaintiffs as a gang that was using “intimidation or exacting retribution” against individuals who had registered to vote in the town. Mrs. Hludzenski’s blog claimed Harold Wiley and Mr. King collected a list of new voters and sent letters to assessors of the municipalities where they previously were registered to vote. Mr. King admitted that he collected the names of the new voters and was aware of the letter being sent, but denied that he drafted it, signed it or authorized its issuance. Judge McClusky said that, with questions of fact being contested, he could not dismiss this portion of the complaint.
“It is not the statement that he sent the letter that is defamatory, but rather that the defendant then used an untrue fact to conclude he intimidated or exacted retribution from prospective voters,” Judge McClusky wrote. Mr. King “is entitled to discovery to learn if (Mrs. Hludzenski) knew that Mr. King was not the true author and disregarded the information.”
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