Written by Katie Piacentini, Kpiacentini@antonnews.com Friday, 08 March 2013 00:00
Manorhaven Village Attorney Charles Casolaro lashed out at a Manorhaven resident and the Port Washington News at a village board meeting on Feb. 28, over an advertisement that he claimed “is a bunch of B.S.”
The advertisement, placed by Manorhaven resident Jim Avena and paid for by the Manorhaven Residents Party, was published in last week’s issue of Port Washington News. The ad listed several complaints against the current Village of Manorhaven administration, such as a lack of response to Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) requests and the village awarding contracts to John Construction Corp., which the ad claims is not listed as a viable business under the New York Department of State’s Division of Corporations’ database.
While Casolaro did not present any information or documentation to refute the ad, he used vulgarities to criticize its content, and the person who placed it. Casolaro was seated at the dais and pointed to Avena, who was sitting in the section for meeting attendees, and shouted at him, “You’re a liar, it’s garbage, it’s crap and you don’t have the documentation to prove it.” Avena submitted dozens of pages of documentation to support his ad, which Anton News staff reviewed before publication.
Though Avena’s name was the only one on the ad, Casolaro made statements to the effect that local businessman Peter Dejana had written the ad, and threatened to sue him. “We’re bringing legal action against [Port Washington News] and [Jim Avena] and Mr. Dejana, ‘cause you people are out of control. You don’t know a damn good thing when you see it,” Casolaro exclaimed, apparently referring to the work of the current village board.
He also denounced the Port News, claiming, “I had a deal with these people… I had written a letter to the Port Washington News, I believe it was just before Christmas with Ms. Seaman, asking to stop this crap. That you don’t publish pieces against people who are trying to do a good job, and I had their word that they would never do it again.” Casolaro was referencing a verbal agreement he had with a former Anton News employee to not publish letters critical of the Manorhaven Village Administration.
While the ad questioned business practices of the village, Casolaro claimed it was written for political purposes. “We’re back in election time, Mr. Avena, we’re back into the swing of it, so here we go,” he said.
Jim Avena’s attorney, Daniel Millman, provided a clarification, noting that some of the information in the ad about the FOIL requests was inaccurate. He said that overall, Avena submitted a total of 10 FOIL requests, and at the time of this printing, six have been completely responded to and four have an incomplete response. Two of the 10 FOIL responses – one incomplete and one complete – were received after the ad was printed in the March 1 issue, he added.
Avena issued the following response to Casolaro’s comments: “I stand behind each statement made in the ad placed by the Manorhaven Residents Party published in the Feb. 28 edition of the Port Washington News, notwithstanding Mr. Casolaro’s diatribe calling me a ‘liar,’ and describing the ad copy as ‘garbage’ and ‘crap.’” He explained that he submitted numerous Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) requests to the village between Aug. 1 and Dec. 12. “Under NYS Law, the village is required to respond within five business days whether or not they have the requested documents. If more time is needed, they are given an additional 30 days to gather the documents and advise how much it will cost to photocopy. The village did not comply with the law even after I had the NYS Committee on Open Government contact them. It is true that the village responded to one of my FOIL requests last week, but that was late in the afternoon of the day the Port News was put to bed; it was too late to make a change in the copy,” he said
Peter Dejana also responded to Casolaro’s allegations. “I have been apprised of Mr. Casolaro’s vitriolic attack against me at the Feb. 28 village meeting, which I did not attend. Mr. Casolaro’s behavior is reprehensible. Contrary to his multiple misstatements, I neither wrote the ad nor am I responsible for its contents. I do not even belong to the Manorhaven Residents Party. Because Mr. Casolaro slandered my good name and reputation in public, I am considering suing the village and Mr. Casolaro in his personal capacity.”
Dejana continued, “As for his statement that the village is planning to sue the Port News, Jim Avena, as well as me, I suggest Mr. Casolaro bone up on his knowledge of defamation law. He will find that truth is an absolute defense.”
In a statement to Port News, Mayor Giovanna Giunta said, “On Feb. 28, our village attorney, Charles Casolaro, responded indignantly to an inaccurate and distorted advertisement which was taken out in the Port Washington News by Jim Avena, representative of the Manorhaven Residents Political Party. The advertisement, as later attested to by Avena’s attorney, contained inaccuracies and misrepresentations. As Mr. Casolaro demonstrated, it purposely gave the impression of malfeasance where none existed.”
She added, “Casolaro took exception with the Port Washington News publishing such an erroneous advertisement without first fact checking its validity with himself and/or the village. Casolaro’s family have been lifelong residents of Manorhaven. He has been an intrinsic part of all the hard work and diligence that has turned our village around and is moving it forward.”
Giunta continued, “Casolaro’s exasperation was a result of the acrimonious and negative politics that Avena’s ad seemed to be continuing. Manorhaven residents have complained to Casolaro and the board about Avena’s obstructive tactics at meetings, and about letters he sent personally to them. It was a direct result of Avena’s ongoing negative campaigning that elicited Casolaro’s forceful response. Village hall meetings under this administration have always been congenial and will continue to be so in the future.”
(Editor’s note: Former managing editor Cary Seaman sent the following clarification regarding the story "Village Attorney On Attack".)
"As managing editor of Anton Newspapers for many years before deciding to move on December, I never made an agreement with anyone not to print letters critical of government. Criticism of government is common in letters to the editor and such letters certainly have a place in newspapers. That said, I did have a standard for such criticism – no outright false statements or personal attacks. Thanks for letting me clarify an important point."