Two North Sea residents facing a $65 million lawsuit over allegations that they defamed New York State Democratic Committee Chairman Jay Jacobs said they plan to file a countersuit in State Supreme Court this week.
The residents, Little Fresh Pond Association President John Barona and Vice President John Gorman, have opposed Mr. Jacobs’s proposal to create a seasonal day camp on property he owns on Majors Path, and they posted a flier critical of the project. That flier, which accused him of lying in connection with the project, is the subject of the original lawsuit waged by Mr. Jacobs.
In the countersuit, the neighbors describe Mr. Jacobs’s original suit as a “Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation”—a SLAPP suit, which runs counter to New York State statutes—commenced for the purpose of “harassing, intimidating, punishing or otherwise maliciously inhibiting the free exercise of speech, petition or association rights.”
Mr. Gorman and Mr. Barona are countersuing Mr. Jacobs for compensatory, punitive and legal fees in an amount to be determined by the court, according to the papers. They are asking for an amount “sufficiently high to act as a deterrent to similar conduct and proportionate to plaintiff’s stake in the permits being sought.”
Mr. Gorman explained that the penalty the two are seeking will be a substantial amount of money that is “commensurate with the size of the project.”
When reached on Monday afternoon, Mr. Jacobs said he had not seen the countersuit.
“I will simply say the fliers they distributed speak for themselves, and you do not have the right to defame and malign people publicly,” he said. “That is unchanged. I suspect that they’ll be legal maneuvers back and forth, and the courts will determine what’s accurate and what’s not.”
Mr. Jacobs also said that if the neighbors merely apologize for their actions, he would withdraw the lawsuit. “I think it would have been a lot easier for them to simply issue the apology and the retraction, but they can take whatever course they choose,” he said. “That’s their right.”
Both Mr. Jacobs and neighbors around Little Fresh Pond have been butting heads since Mr. Jacobs first introduced an application to create a children’s seasonal day camp on about 17.3 acres earlier this year. Mr. Jacobs, under Southampton Day Camp Realty LLC, is seeking to develop a camp on the property that could eventually attract an enrollment of 350 to 400 children during the summer months. Under that plan, about 60 camp counselors would live on the grounds. He plans to pursue the project by renovating current facilities and buildings on the site.
Concerns of neighbors mainly have centered on potential impacts on Little Fresh Pond, and many have argued that the project would pollute the fragile body of water. In September, some neighbors challenged a determination by the town’s chief building inspector, Michael Benincasa, that declares the project isn’t an expansion or change of use from what currently exists at the property. The case has been heard by the Southampton Town Zoning Board of Appeals and it is expected to continue before the board at a public hearing today, Thursday, December 1, at 7 p.m.
In an email statement on Tuesday, Mr. Barona said he’s confident his lawyers have the best interest of the community at heart.
“I believe Mr. Jacobs is trying intimidate me,” he said. “I’ve lived here for 56 years and have seen a lot of changes, some good and others, like the expansion of a pre-existing non-conforming camp in a residential area, not so good. It’s not what the people who live and work in Southampton desire. I believe and hope the town officials will do the right thing for the taxpaying residents.”