Nassau County Republican Party Chairman Joseph Mondello announced at a press conference on Tuesday that he is suing Newsday for $60 million, in a defamation of character suit based on the front page story of the June 15 Newsday.
Nassau Republican Party Chairman Joseph Mondello points to the front page of the June 15 Newsday, in which he believes he was maligned.
According to Mondello, although the correct information was in the newpaper's story, it was buried in paragraphs 15 and 17, while the front page photo and caption tied Mondello to the headline reading, "Nassau Tax Reductions Chosen Few," with the subhead, "Member of Little-Known Panel Resigns Amid Questions on Assessments Granted to Politically Connected." On the front page are two photos, one of the home of the chairman of the Independence Party and one of Mondello's home.
The story alleges that the vice chairwoman of the Independence Party, who was a member of a county commission on tax reassessment, gave special treatment to political figures and others. The story, in paragraphs 15 and 17, explains that Mondello, unlike others cited in the story, sent in a complete application for tax reassessment in a timely fashion . He noted that he has only met the woman accused of the misdeed once, and wouldn't even recognize her if she were in the room and had never spoken to her about a possible tax reduction. Mondello commented on the fact that the front page has his name on it and identifies his position with the GOP but never gives the name of the woman accused or what party she is affiliated with.
Mondello stressed that he filed just like any other taxpayer and received notice that he was being granted tax relief just as any other taxpayer would. This year, according to Mondello, 52,000 residents challenged their assessments. He added that in the past he has also filed, sometimes receiving the tax relief, sometimes not receiving any relief.
"Newsday clearly acted with malice when it published a headline and front-page photo that attempted to link me with what it alleges to be an attempt by one member of the Nassau Assessment Review Commission to improperly grant reductions in assessment," said Mondello.
The Nassau GOP Chairman stated, "Newsday defamed me by attempting to create in the mind of the reasonable reader the impression that I was an active participant in an unethical, if not criminal, conspiracy with a member of the Nassau Assessment Review Commission to gain preferential treatment leading to a tax assessment reduction on my home to which I was not entitled." Mondello added that although the correct information was in the body of the story, it was buried deeply and most readers read the headline and possibly the first few paragraphs, not the entire story.
Mondello feels that though the daily newspaper has always been critical of him in his political capacity, they have gone too far this time. Mondello added that in addition to the defamation of his character, part of the lawsuit also addresses the fact that a photographer drove into his driveway, while he and his two daughters were in that driveway, to take the photograph featured on the front page of the paper. While $30 million of the lawsuit is considered compensatory, Mondello adds that the last $30 million is for punitive damages, to punish Newsday for what he believes was intentionally damaging his reputation.
"This suit is about putting Newsday on notice that before it defames any other individual or group whose political or social agenda it disagrees with, it must consider that there are those willing to sacrifice a great deal in order to make it face the consequences of its actions," said the chairman. He said, it was with that in mind that he instituted the suit, not only for himself, "but on behalf of every police officer Newsday has defamed, every volunteer firefighter it has besmirched, every Roman Catholic cleric it has ridiculed, every other clergyman whose reputation it has sullied, and every public servant whose name has been tarnished by a newspaper that has shown it has no restraint."
A spokesperson for Newsday, in a published report stated, "The story is accurate and we shot the photograph from a public street."
Mondello noted that Newsday has always accused the Republican Party of being monolithic and stated that it is, in fact, Newsday that is monolithic. "Just what they give you in the news is all you get here in Nassau," said Mondello.
It is not the reporter who wrote the story that Mondello has a problem with, he said, noting that the reporter did have correct information within the story. He said it was the manner in which Newsday presented the information that led to the lawsuit. "I believe in the First Amendment," said Mondello. "I don't believe in witch hunts." He said that he feels that because the newspaper does not share his political beliefs, they have sought to tie him to wrongdoing of which he had no knowledge.
Both Mondello and his attorney John Ryan said that there is precedent for this case and they have found case law in which suits similar to this one have been won by the plaintiff.