Saturday, February 25, 2006

Barbarians at the Gates

This week was a difficult one for activists Downtown. Reverberations continued from libelous anonymous letters and slanderous whispers. While the origin of these missives and remarks were masked but still well-known (emissaries of the nightlife crew) the more effective the community's actions were the more blatant became the response.

This coming week, for example, a Town Hall-style meeting (March 2nd at the Public Theater, 425 Lafayette Street) is being held with the combined efforts of the NoHo Neighborhood Association, the SoHo Alliance and LESA. The focus is on land use, traffic and S.L.A. reform. The primary organizer of the event, Zella Jones, is a tireless community worker who has spoken out at numerous Community Board meetings. She supported Andrew Berman's GVSHP initiative to curb the expansion of NYU while giving the Village residents a breather from constant development on and around Washington Square. And, as part of her NoHo organization's community efforts, she helped convince Community Board #2 to deny a liquor license at 26 Bond Street. Not only was there an issue of a safe emergency exit, but in addition it was unclear as to whether there were sprinklers or a C.O. for the building. Neighbors also spoke at the CB2 Full Board hearing and the Business Committee decision that had approved the license had its resolution overturned. Few wanted to be responsible for approving a license at a potentially dangerous location. Visions of the Happyland Social Club fiasco danced in people's heads when the vote came to the floor. A liquor license for the applicant at 26 Bond Street was soundly defeated.

So, between the activism afoot Downtown, and the retaliatory nature of the nightlife crew, what was the logical step? Defamatory remarks, anonymous letters, personal smears -- what's next?

Why, a lawsuit, what else?

A few hearbeats after Community Board #2 denied a liquor license to the applicant B-Flat, Inc., which was to open up at 26 Bond Street, a lawsuit was apparently filed by Saada Roberts, as "assignee" of First Pegasus Management Co., against Zella Jones, the NoHo Neighborhood Association, Ruth Bauman (who lives above the space) and Joelle Shefts, a next door neighbor. Saada Roberts reportedly is the daughter of Bahia Chambi, who, according to tenants and neighbors, is a legend on that block -- a person whom they claim has threatened numerous lawsuits. Chambri signed over the ownership of the building in 2000 to Pegasus. The lawsuit claims that defamatory remarks were made at the Community Board about the building at 26 Bond Street. But, while the summons and complaint asks for $5,000,000 in damages, in part for claiming that someone said "Fuck you, go back to your country" to the building owner -- the lawsuit doesn't deny that there is no C.of O. for the building. Curious logic.
One of the former commercial tenants in this building (subsequent to the antique store) was a massage parlor. The sexy young Russian girls who operated the short-term business, or their clients, didn't seem to worry about an emergency exit. Bars, however, do -- or should.

While nasty remarks have been made before at Community Board meetings, which will no doubt continue in the future -- they are not the proper fodder for litigation. Qualified immunity does apply to statements made during open discussions or hearings where facts can be discussed and comments rebutted. Courts take a dim view of suing Board members or aiding people who try to stifle freedom of expression, even if they are incorrect but spoken during the heat of passionate debate. And while some Board members have used the race card to influence approvals for liquor licenses, generally speaking discrimination is a bullshit ploy. Of all Boards, Community Board #2 has a history of embracing minorities of race, gender, or sexual proclivity. Even cross-dressing Republicans are welcome.

This case is reminiscent of what is euphemistically called a "slap suit" which is a lawsuit initiated and intended to prevent people from expressing their opinions.

Such litigation should not be condoned or permitted by the courts and sanctions should be sought for such adolescent back-biting behavior.

What is important here, though, is that it is entirely possible that such a weak legal tactic may be yet another ploy being used by the nightlife people and/or their lackeys among the business community to attack community activists. Is it possible that litigation, instead of trying to reach an accommodation with people among whom they wish to do business, has become another tool to silence activists? Calls placed by the SoHo Journal to Saada Roberts for a response or opinion were not returned.

On another matter this week, the SoHo Alliance and residents of SoHo took a bus ride up to the S.L.A. hearing for the "Eat 4 Health" Beer & Wine license to be located at 76 Wooster Street. The applicants, Rick Panson and building owner Ron Pasquale once again did not appear after 35 members of the community bused up to 125th Street. The applicants reportedly regretted missing the last appearance at the S.L.A.,according to their attorney, but it is not clear if they also regretted missing this one.

The new Commissioner, Joshua Toas -- a former Upstate Sheriff, and the new Chairman of the S.L.A, Daniel Boyle, appear to be attempting to follow through on their claim of being more community-responsive. After some haggling and complaining by residents that they were being stood up -- again -- the Commissioners ruled that the applicants have 30 days to obtain a Certificate of Occupancy. While the application stated that the building in question had a C.O., it turns out that it does not.

Considering the fact that it is virtually impossible to obtain a C.O. in 30 days, especially when problems exist, it appears that the application is as dead as Kelsey's Cow.

And, now for something completely different.

Congratulations to Noreen Doyle, Vice President of the Hudson River Park Trust -- who will be having a little one. We hope that all goes well and she has a healthy baby.....!

3 comments:

Goldpimp said...

I find the white type on black hard to read. FYI

defamation said...

Remember, there are two sides of the story. Don't take to heart this article against the lawsuit filed against Zella Jones, Noho Association, Ruth Bauman and Joelle Shefts due to the fact that the writer of the article above is displaying arbitrary views that are based on a personal agenda influenced by his association with these individuals and lacks any legal merit when it comes to the tortious act of "defamation", which is the basis of the suit. And the landlord refused to respond to the Soho Journal reporter because it was very obvious he called her after a meeting in Ruth Bauman's apartment the previous night. First, the building at 26 Bond street doesn't need a C of O, it is covered by a "grandfather clause". Second, the community board business section and the building dept. had "No Objections" to the establishment at the property. It was only due the the Defendant's false and defamatory statements that caused such an uproar. For example, the decision from the full board claimed that there were 100 signatures against the landlords tenant for a liquor license; but the facts show that the signature sheet had only 18 names. Most of them where the landlord's tenants and friends of the tenants. For example, family members of Ruth Bauman's husband who lived across the street signed the sheet. Plus, a recent engineer report at the property clearly indicated the soundness of the property. The fact is that the tenants, one of which is Ruth Bauman, have been fighting the owners of that building from obtaining a C of O because they are trying to prevent a rent increase. Ms. Bauman pays as little as $566 per month for a 1,200 sq foot Manhattan loft. In addition, they are afraid when the landlord obtains the C of O, they will be legally moved out to allow the landlord's family to move in, which is a solid law within New York State when someone buys a property. By renting out the storefront, the owners can obtain the funds to complete the C of O process and this is the true reason the tenants with the help of the Noho Association are fighting againt the storefront rental (Although a C of O is not needed for the commercial space) These tenants have engages in acts of sabotage over the years by creating violations and then calling the building dept. to issue the owener the violation. Ruth Bauman claims that the landlord has not repaired a 10 year violation; but fails to tell everyone that the 10 year violation exists within her own apartment that she created and refuses the landlord to remove (she create an illegal loft bed). In fact, the landlord has paid hundreds of thousands of dollars in improvements in the buidling (The suit will disclose all the repairs in time). Tenants refuse access to their apartments and complaining to the authorities that the landlord refused to do repairs. Subleasing their apartment and calling the sub-tenants friends who are watching out for their plants while collecting the money in cash by having the tenants deposit the funds in their bank account as cash each month to avoid detection, etc.... The writer of the original article is wrong about the immunity. No one can commit "defamation", it is still a tort within New York State whether said out on the street or in front of a community Board. The issue here is that the parties being sued made defamatory statements specifically to obtain community support against the landlord's commercial tenant to cause them to be refused a liquor license. This tortious conduct is against the law, and if the writer of the original article above feels that there is no legal cause for action then why not just have them make a 3211 "motion" to dismiss the lawsuit, which they have not done. The fact is they can't because defamation is against the law and they will have to defend themselves. The evidence against them is clear. Which consists of written letters made by Ruth Bauman and Joelle Shelfs that contained defamatory statements against the landlord. These people will have their depositions taken under oath and the truth will come out, and documents will be obtained via subpoenas. For example, letters sent by the defendants to state political leaders will be obtained. As well as deposition from individuals in the community that these defendants made statements to. Joelle Shefts has made the claim that the landlord hired "unlicensed" plumbers and electricians over the years. A depostion question will require her to disclose who those plumbers and electricians where. How did she know that they were or were not licensed? What documents did she review to ascertain that they were unlicensed ? Ruth Bauman used the word "extremely negligent" to describe the landlord's neglect of her building. A deposition question will require her to disclose in detail how the landlord was negligent. Did Ruth Bauman have an engineer inspect the property to establish such negligence and what qualifications does she have to make such an expert opinion? The Defendants claimed that the property was unsafe for a cafe. Again, a question within a deposition will require them to identify what engineer report they relied on?

You see the bottom line is that I am all for supporting a good cause; but do it legally and without wrongfully harming others by telling lies. When the suit picks up speed, the truth will come out. No one can commit a tortious act of defamation against another on the street or in front of a community board. There is no immunity against that. I challenge the original writer of the above article to post New York "case law" or "statute" here that states a person is "immune" from liability in front of a community board even when they "knowingly commit defamation". Even the defendant's attorney has admitted that the defendants can be held liable for what they said to the community board when he wrote a letter to the landlord claiming she must first prove they intentionally made false statements and committed defamation. The landlord is about to do just that in the pending suit against them.

defamation said...

UPDATE:

The required time to response to the suit pending against Ruth Bauman, Joelle Shefts, Zella Jones and Noho Neigborhood has pasted without a 3211 motion being filed by their attorney, George Wachtel, who happens to be the husband of Joelle Shefts. Mr. Wachtel sent the landlord of 26 Bond Street a letter requesting that she discontinue the suit or he will file a motion to dismiss. Not only has he failed to do so; but he has failed to Answer the Complaint. The landlord has no intentions of discontinuing the suit against the defendants and is planning to vigorously pursue the matter as she has documentary evidence against them that extends beyond a decade and will be used to support her claims against them in this present suit. To accommodate the Defendants, the landlord of 26 Bond street has served an Amended Complaint against the Defendants asserting defamation causes of action, which includes a cause of action for defamation Per Se based on defamatory statements written within letters mailed to the Community Board. Also, modified the Complaint to plead the causes of action with specificity as required by New York law. This time if the defendants don't respond, the landlord is going to move against them on default. The incredible thing about this suit against the defendants is that the landlord has documentary evidence against them that extends beyond a decade. The importance of this is that it creates a "pattern of behavior" that will be used against them at trial. The question will be why is Ruth Bauman and the others taking this tortious conduct against the landlord if it is not a question of the safety of the building. This documentary evidence will provide the true agenda behind the defendants actions during the pending suit against them. The fact is this, 26 Bond Street was inspected by an engineer who gave it a grade of "GOOD TO FAIR" condition for a building its age and use. The building is as good as or better than the buildings at 6 Bond Street and 47 Bond Street that are of the same age as 26 Bond Street and that house the restaurants IL Buco Corp. and Japond Restaurant. That defendants never produced any engineer report to substantiate their claims that the building was unsafe. In fact, Joelle Shelfts used the term "jerry-rigged" in her letter to the Community Board when she described the heating system in 26 Bond Street. However, the heating system was brand new, it cost the landlord over $100,000 to install. All permits and architectual plans where approved by the building department and surprisingly Ruth Bauman herself approved the heating system with the other tenants.
In addition, a rear egress that the defendants claim doesn't exist in the storefront at 26 Bond Street not only existed from the time the building was built; but there is a second exit in the rear of the store that leads to the backyard of 28 Bond Street also owned by the Landlord. This is the same backyard that 3o Bond Street uses for its single fire escape.