WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. (CN) – A Web site that published public court filings against a real estate developer is the target of a defamation lawsuit by the developer in Westchester County Court.
Marc Castaldi says the Goetz Fitzpatrick law firm hurt his reputation and business by creating a web site that compiles unflattering court filings against him.
The site was taken down last week, but previously it did not identify its sponsor and claimed to be a “depository for publicly filed complaints.” In his complaint, Castaldi characterizes the site differently, saying the 15 documents posted on the site contained mostly motions and other filings that portray him as “unethical, dishonest and incompetent.”
Goetz Fitzpatrick represented homeowners Helene and Matthew Byrnes in a $2 million lawsuit against Castaldi in 2008, claiming negligence and fraud involving construction in a home he sold them. The Web site includes that complaint as well as a notice of pendency the Byrnes filed, a collections action from 2007 and a construction fraud claim from 2005.
Castaldi claims the site tried to discourage the public from doing business with him by offering a skewed selection of allegations. In his papers, the developer says John Simoni, a partner with Goetz Fitzpatrick, told Castaldi’s attorney that he planned “to put Marc Castaldi out of business.”
Answering via e-mail, Simoni said he could not comment because he is a named party in litigation that is pending.
The authorship of the website was discovered through Network Solutions, said the complaint, where it was shown that Goetz Fitzpatrick had registered the web site and that the law firm’s IT director was listed as the technical contact.
Commenting on the issues raised by the litigation, Dave Heller, a first amendment lawyer with the Media Law Resource Center, says that New York’s fair report privilege law protects those who publish fair and true reports of judicial proceedings from facing civil action.
“Where they’ve done nothing more than publish the documents, I can’t see how under New York law there can be any kind of claim,” Heller says. “Court documents speak for themselves. They may reflect poorly on the subject; they may not. But people can understand that the court documents reflect one side of the story, and there can be another side.”