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Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Judge Rules in Favor of Newspaper Over Free Speech

Judge rules in Democrat and Chronicle's favor
The Democrat and Chronicle by Gary Craig - August 5, 2011

The Democrat and Chronicle does not have to release information about four individuals who anonymously posted Web comments about members of the Brockport police and Brockport Police Chief Daniel Varrenti, a judge has ruled. State Supreme Court Justice David Barry ruled that the comments were clearly opinion and could not be considered defamatory, as the police officers and Varrenti contended in a lawsuit against the anonymous Web posters and Gannett Co. Inc., which owns the Democrat and Chronicle. Because opinion can not be the basis of a claim of defamation, “Gannett is not required to unmask the identities of the four anonymous internet commentators,” Barry wrote in an opinion filed today. The police and Varrenti contended in separate lawsuits that the anonymous comments were defamatory. The police were accused in the comments of wrongful arrests, a break-in and overtime-padding. Barry ruled that the comments were obviously “sarcastic, hyperbolic, and based on rumors” and were not presented as factual statements.


Village police officers sue D & C
The Stylus by William Matthias - April 8, 2011

Four members of the Brockport Police Department, including Police Chief Daniel Varrenti, have sued the media company Gannett Co. Inc., asserting that registered users of the Democrat and Chronicle's website have posted libelous comments on one of the newspaper's stories. The officers filed two lawsuits in State Supreme Court on Wednesday, March 29, that also name the four anonymous people, using online pseudonyms, as defendants. Officers Brian Winant, Stephen Mesiti and Sgt. Adam Mesiti are named as plaintiffs in one of the lawsuits, with Varrenti filing individually. Judge David M. Barry signed the order to show cause in Varrenti's case Monday, April 4 and set a court date — for both parties to present an oral argument in a "special term motion" — of May 11, said a secretary in the Judges' chambers. Varrenti's order states that the relief sought is to "compel" the D & C to "cease and desist" posts and provide information on the unidentified defendants, and provide other relief as the court deems necessary. The other officers' lawsuit is deemed as a "related case" with the same cause of action. In several comments on the D & C article titled, "Brockport, Sweden and Clarkson feud over fire, ambulance services," the unidentified defendants allege that the officers committed a multitude of crimes. The alleged crimes include "breaking into" a home and "wrongly arresting the residents," and inflating the police department's documented calls for service. Varrenti said the officers agreed to defer all media inquiries to their attorney, Jon Getz. According to records from the Monroe County Clerk's office, Getz contends that all of the statements are "factually false." He was unavailable for comment Monday, April 4. Varrenti's verified complaint form states that the defendants "knew or should have known that these statements were false or acted with reckless disregard for the truth of the statements," and that Varrenti's "reputation and good name has been damaged." The D & C's lawyer, Christopher Thomas, said he expects the case to be dropped. "The Communications Decency Act protects the D & C from damages the plaintiffs are seeking against the newspaper," Thomas said. "We still have not been served [the summons], but we will make a motion to dismiss, which I expect to be granted."

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