Eagle files motion to dismiss $50 million lawsuit

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PITTSFIELD — The Berkshire Eagle has filed a motion seeking to have what the paper's attorney called the "frivolous" $50 million defamation suit filed against it dismissed.

The suit was filed in Berkshire Superior Court in October by then-Pittsfield City Council candidate Craig C. Gaetani, 69, who alleged that an Oct. 24 article written by Eagle reporter Amanda Drane, which documented a candidate's forum, defamed him and would likely cost him the election.

At issue are the final two paragraphs of the story in which Drane documented an encounter between Gaetani and an individual who recommended that he not drive home, saying he smelled alcohol on Gaetani's breath.

One of the problems with Gaeatani's suit, according to the motion to dismiss filed by attorney David Valicenti, of Cohen, Kinne, Valicenti and Cook, is that in it, Gaetani acknowledges what Drane wrote was true.

"This is a frivolous ... defamation action concerning a completely accurate article published in The Berkshire Eagle," part of a memorandum in the case filed by Valicenti on Nov. 15 reads.

"In addition to the undisputed fact that the article is true, (Gaetani), as a candidate for public office ... is a public figure," according to the memorandum. "His complaint contains no allegation of knowledge of falsity, and therefore, fails on this point alone."

"In his pleading, (Gaetani) does not allege the article is inaccurate, but instead, confirms its accuracy," according to the memorandum.

The memorandum goes on to dispute Gaetani's claim that the article would "probably" cost him the then-upcoming Pittsfield City Council election.

"While the loss of the election did come to fruition ... this is not (Gaetani's) first unsuccessful campaign for public office," according to the memorandum. Gaetani lost a bid for Pittsfield mayor in 2015.

"(Gaetani's) completely speculative assertion that the article contributed to his loss ... is baseless and cannot support a damages claim," the memorandum reads.

Gaetani received the fewest votes among the six candidates vying for an at-large City Council seat.

The motion to dismiss also noted the inclusion of Fredric Rutberg as a defendant, in his capacity as president of The Eagle along with Drane and The Eagle itself, is without merit.

"There is no allegation that Mr. Rutberg ... read the publication and knew it was false, which is the requirement for 'defamation by conduct,'" part of Valicenti's memorandum reads.

Gaetani responded with his own brief handwritten motion asking the court to deny The Eagle's motion to dismiss.

He also filed a motion seeking a change of venue outside Berkshire County, on the basis that Rutberg was once the chief justice of the Central Berkshire District Court.

Rutberg retired from the bench in early 2015.

The case is being handled in Berkshire Superior Court. As of Thursday, no hearing date had yet been set.

In the past, Gaetani has threatened to sue individual Eagle reporters, and once threatened to purchase the newspaper outright and fire a pair of reporters with whom he took issue, but this appears to be the first time he has filed a suit against the paper.

Gaetani was convicted in two criminal cases this year, and a civil suit he filed against the city of Pittsfield was dismissed in August 2016.

In May 2017, Gaetani was found guilty of making a series of harassing phone calls and threatening to shoot a city employee in 2015, during his unsuccessful bid for mayor of Pittsfield.

He was given a six-month suspended jail sentence, placed on probation for two years and ordered to undergo a mental health evaluation.

In July, Gaetani was found guilty of breaking and entering into a motor vehicle and witness intimidation for removing a title from inside a car he didn't own and threatening the couple involved in that dispute.

In that case, he was given a two-year jail sentence, which was suspended for a 2 1/2-year period of probation.

Despite the conviction, Gaetani maintained his innocence after the verdicts and claimed that the charges were "political sabotage," apparently referring to his bid for office. He made similar claims regarding his criminal charges during his 2015 mayoral bid, calling them a "smear campaign."

Gaetani has another criminal case against him, on a charge of disturbing the peace from a January 2017 City Council meeting, after he tried to address the council without signing up for public comment. That case is tentatively scheduled for a bench trial in January.

Reach Bob Dunn at bdunn@berkshireeagle.com, at @BobDunn413 on Twitter and 413-496-6249.


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