Judge dismisses libel suit filed by resort developer

By Jay Braman Jr.
A New York State Supreme Court judge has rejected a libel suit brought by local businessman Dean Gitter against a Phoenicia-based newspaper.
The Dec. 15 decision by acting state Supreme Court Justice Henry F. Zwack was the justice’s final word on the lawsuit brought last year. The suit was filed by Gitter personally and claimed that the bi-weekly newspaper Phoenicia Times published a letter “with malicious and with specific intent to harm Plaintiff.” Gitter’s suit named as defendants not only the newspaper itself, but its editor, Paul Smart, and its publisher Brian Powers.
Gitter filed the lawsuit because the newspaper had published a letter by someone identified as Bonnie Grant on March 27, 2008. The letter refers to Gitter as having “paid off” the New York State Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) in conjunction with his proposed Belleayre Resort at Catskill Park, over which the DEP has permitting authority. The letter goes on to state the writer’s belief that government officials accepted bribes from Gitter
Zwack wrote, “The Court has considered the context and content of this letter and finds that it is an assertion of opinion only and therefore the complaint must be dismissed. The court finds that the average reader of this letter, while they may be initially drawn in by the provocative opening sentence (“Dean Gitter Paid Off the DEP”), will soon come to realize upon reading the first paragraph in full, that the writer appears to be stating her belief …” Zwack said that it was clear that the writer was equating lobbying fees paid by Gitter to a payoff of governmental officials. “It is clear from the context and tone of the entire letter taken as a whole that any allegation that plaintiff had bribed government officials is purely the opinion of the writer, based upon the fact that plaintiff paid lobbying fees…”
Powers said in a prepared statement, “Mr. Gitter was quite clear about why he filed a lawsuit against us. His lawyer in fact explained it twice to make sure people would understand his motivation and what he said was, ‘This is about the money.’ In our view that’s another way of saying I’m doing this to try and financially hurt these two people.”
Joan Lawrence-Bauer, a spokesperson for Gitter’s Crossroads Ventures LLC., which is proposing the resort, said Monday that Gitter is currently out of the country and could not be reached to comment on the court decision.
Gitter’s attorney Paul Gruner, who could not be reached at press time, told the Kingston Daily Freeman that he intends to file an appeal.