Activist loses case against Sparta Independent

| 22 Feb 2012 | 07:58

    SPARTA — Straus News was vindicated last week when a $2 million lawsuit was summarily dismissed. Local activist Jesse Wolosky filed a civil action lawsuit against Straus Newspapers last September seeking damages for what he claimed were statements that “seriously harmed his reputation and standing in the community” published by The Sparta Independent. The Independent is a sister newspaper to The Advertiser-News. Wolosky believed his name and reputation were sullied by an article printed in the Independent on Feb. 28, 2008, and by public comments about the article posted on the newspaper’s Web site. His suit also named the writer of the article, Rosa Kasper, and the editor of the article, Jane Primerano. Both were exonerated as well, when Judge Edward Gannon ruled in the Superior Court of New Jersey. The judge went so far as to dismiss the case “with prejudice,” meaning Wolosky’s only recourse is to launch an appeal. During the fall of 2007, Wolosky became known as a vocal opponent of the township’s municipal garbage plan. He organized the “No on Garbage” campaign and petition drive, and petition drives to recall then Mayor Mike Spekhardt and Councilmen Brian Brady and Manny Goldberg. Neither of these efforts was successful. Voters supported the township garbage referendum in March of 2008, and Wolosky’s group did not get enough signatures on their petitions to force a recall election of the three councilmen. The Feb. 28 article reported on a controversy regarding Wolosky’s use of two separate addresses for the same residence. He claimed the newspaper’s investigation of the controversy and attention drawn to him abused his rights as a private citizen and that the article was written with actual malice. Judge Gannon disagreed. He said Wolosky made himself a public figure when he initiated the garbage campaign and the attempt to recall the mayor, and it was reasonable to expect public attention and comment as a result. Gannon also said Wolosky’s claim of actual malice was not supported by the evidence he presented. In addition, Gannon said the Sparta Independent could not be held responsible for what people posted on the paper’s Web site, based on the Communications Decency Act, passed by Congress to protect Web sites from such suits. Speaking on behalf of his client, Wolosky’s attorney Walter M. Luers of Oxford, N.J., said, “We are disappointed by the judge’s ruling. Naturally, we disagree with his decision to dismiss the case and are considering an appeal.” Attorney for Straus News, Laura Handman of Davis, Wright, Tremaine LLP, of Washington D.C., said, “We are pleased that Judge Gannon, after reviewing the article in the Sparta Independent, and with due consideration of the central role of public debate in our system, dismissed all claims against the newspaper, editor and reporter.” The decision The Sparta Independent didn’t libel Wolosky. Wolosky made himself a public figure when he organized several campaigns against the township. The newspaper is not responsible for comments made by the public on its Web site.