Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Nebbish NEVILLE Wants City to Fund Bogus Libel Lawsuit Against Michael Gold and Historic City News

St. Augustine commissioner seeks defamation lawsuit over article on news site
Posted: September 14, 2015 - 11:52pm
St. Augustine commissioners are considering whether to sue a local news website after Commissioner Todd Neville suggested it over an article related to a controversial development in downtown St. Augustine.
Neville brought the issue before the commission Monday night during commissioner comments. The item was not on the agenda because it missed the deadline, Neville said.
Neville said a Historic City News article constitutes defamation in part because of an inaccurate statement about Neville having a conflict of interest. However, the editor of the news site says the information is factual and he did not write that Neville did anything illegal.
He also said a lawsuit would harm press freedom in criticizing public officials.
“If the press can be sued for defamation when they report the truth [because] public officials don’t like it because it doesn’t look good for them, then we’re all in trouble,” said Michael Gold, editor of Historic City News.
The commission did not decide whether to move forward with a lawsuit Monday but asked City Attorney Isabelle Lopez to bring them information on defamation case law before they make a decision.
Gold wrote the article after the commission’s 4-1 vote approving the rezoning of the former Dow Museum of Historic Houses. The vote allowed the rezoning of a collection of eight historic homes in a historic preservation district in downtown St. Augustine.
Gold wrote about a few campaign contributions that Neville received while running for City Commission in 2014, including from developer David Corneal and Corneal’s attorney, Ellen Avery-Smith. He also wrote about business ties between Neville and Corneal’s son, though an opinion by the Florida Commission on Ethics indicates Neville does not have a current business relationship with the developer’s son. The post described the campaign donations and said Neville had “a direct, undisclosed financial conflict of interest.”
Avery-Smith represented Corneal in the Dow application before the commission. Gold also wrote that Neville “refused to recuse himself.”
The post, which is still online, also said that “Historic City News will continue its independent investigation of the facts in this transaction and, if warranted, forward the results to state officials for further action.”
Neville said the statements in the article are false about the conflict of interest. That statement and the sentence about possibly forwarding results to state officials incorrectly suggested he violated state law, Neville said.
“It’s just factually wrong,” Neville said.
The campaign contributions are on the Supervisor of Elections website, and no other disclosure was needed during the hearing, Neville said.
The city attorney got a response from the Florida Commission on Ethics that there would be no “voting conflict” for Neville in the scenarios described. The city attorney requested Gold publish a retraction.
Gold moved the article from the Government section of the website to “Editorial” to be clearer. But he did not post a retraction. When Gold refused, Neville asked Lopez to pursue a defamation lawsuit over the article, but Lopez had to bring the matter before the commission first, Neville said.
Gold said Monday the article is factual — Neville did not announce the contributions before voting on the issue, so it was undisclosed, he said. And he said he did not write the commissioner had a voting conflict but that he had a conflict of interest, which he said is not illegal.
“To have defamation of a public figure, it’s got to be false and you’ve got to have malice,” Gold said. “I don’t see how he’s got any of that ... the word illegal, that doesn’t appear anywhere in the article.”
Gold also said, “I stand ready to correct that if anybody can show me anything that’s inaccurate.”
Neville said the article was also an attack on the city and commissioners. Commissioners agreed they wanted more information on legal issues before making a decision.

In other business

■ Dana Ste. Claire, director of the 450th Commemoration, said details of the king and queen of Spain’s visit have not yet been released. However, they will be in St. Augustine on Friday and will speak to the public around noon, he said. The location has not yet been disclosed.

■Commissioners moved to second reading a rezoning at 134 Riberia St. The rezoning would change the parcel, which is less than two acres, from Maritime Use District to residential general office. The rezoning would expand options for what could go on the land, which is less than two acres. If rezoned, things such as a hotel, parking facility and retail shops could be allowed. Planning and Zoning Board members, who did not recommend approving the rezoning, expressed concern about the possibility of a parking garage at the site.

Ellen-Avery Smith, the attorney for the owners, said an engineer is analyzing the possibility of a parking garage. But she also said that is not the intent of the project. The idea is to leave existing warehouse buildings, use some space for offices and possibly add space for retail or lofts.

Your rating: None
Even an unsuccessful lawsuit can be expensive and time consuming. These threats of a lawsuit by government against individuals for defamation of elected officials are bald faced intimidation and smack of methods used in communist countries. Government is far more financially able to sue individuals on behalf of elected officials than individuals are financially capable of defending themselves in court. To this layman their certainly does not appear to be any apparent libel or defamation of character of any type in Gold's writings. Could it possibly be time for The Record to get out of bed with the city commission and take long objective look at what transpired in the disputed subject?

SkateG 09/15/15 - 09:06 am 96Did We Wake up in the Soviet Union?
Is Neville serious? Threatening the only local news outlet willing to do investigative journalism with a suit is completely unacceptable. Demanding to use public money to intimidate the press is embarrassing for St Augustine. The City Attorney needs to put this to bed, pronto. If we had a real newspaper instead of a tourism and development promotion rag, there would be an editorial decrying Neville's outrageous behavior.
Anyone willing to bet that Todd doesn't have an "enemies list" stashed away somewhere?

Firstcoaster 09/15/15 - 11:10 am 73Mr. Neville
you are a public figure. Suck it up, because if you can't stand the heat, get out of the kitchen!

PearlOfWisdom 09/15/15 - 11:35 am 63Hahaha!
I certainly hope these knuckleheads plan on spending their OWN money on this most frivolous lawsuit! They are public figures, the bar is set very high on defamation.

Who even cares if the charges are true? Any of the Commissioners that sign up for this should make an appointment with Doctor Phill! Hysterical!

sponger2 09/15/15 - 11:36 am 63Putz
Poor bastarghe. Tell you what, I'll play, you turn the pages.

JoeJoe 09/15/15 - 11:47 am 43When I first saw him and listened to him
I said to myself this guy is not cut out for public service. You have to have a thick skin. I guess he is going to sue anyone who questions him? By the way Just Asking Y, Mayor Shaver was the ONLY commissioner to dissent on the Dow PUD.

Morris1 09/16/15 - 01:50 am 40"Not cut out for public service" is right...
... and while you're at it, have Isabelle Lopez bring you everything she knows about §57.105, because some thin-skinned politician vexatiously litigating against a local journalist or blogger probably isn't going to put you in very good stead with our local judges and that could get quite costly.

This is not to even remotely endorse or defend any particular publications which may or may not, in my opinion, have specific agendas and may or may not operate up to ethical standards associated with traditional journalism.

What it is to say is that as a politician, the sanctity of your widdwe-feewings aren't enough to haul someone into court and there are sanctions available in Florida for bogus lawsuits that wind up costing other people money to defend.

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