Pittsfield City Council candidate files $50 million defamation suit against The Eagle


PITTSFIELD — City Council candidate Craig C. Gaetani has filed a $50 million civil suit against The Berkshire Eagle, its president and one of its reporters, claiming that information in a recent article defamed his character.

Gaetani, 69, filed the suit Wednesday in Berkshire Superior Court. In it, he names The Eagle, its president, Fredric Rutberg, and reporter Amanda Drane.

In his handwritten, three-page filing, Gaetani claimed that the article was a "character assassination" that put him "in a bad light in the city of Pittsfield."

At issue are the final two paragraphs of an Oct. 24 article about a forum for the six candidates running for the four at-large seats on the Pittsfield City Council.

The article ends with a description of an incident in the parking lot after Gaetani had left the forum.

Drane wrote: "Out in the parking lot, a man tried to convince Gaetani not to drive home, saying that he smelled alcohol on his breath. Gaetani said the man didn't know what he was talking about, prompting the man to report the incident to police. A desk officer confirmed receiving the call, but said they'd been unable to locate Gaetani and likely would not have another chance to follow up."

In his filing, Gaetani corroborates Drane's account of the event.

He writes that, as he was leaving the forum, two men he didn't know approached him and told him they thought he shouldn't drive, and that he smelled of alcohol.

"I brushed them off as being kooks and got in my car," he wrote.

Gaetani said the men told him they were going to call police, and he invited them to do so.

In the lawsuit, he predicted that the story would cost him at the polls.

"This article will probably cause me to lose the election," he wrote. "The article lacks any facts and is a vicious attack against me."

He did not challenge any information in the article, aside from the final paragraphs.

"The lawsuit filed against the Eagle and individuals associated with The Eagle has absolutely no merit," said Rutberg, a retired District Court judge. "I look forward to the opportunity to bring the matter before the Superior Court, where it will be resolved in our favor."

As of Thursday afternoon, no court date had been set in the case.

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.

In the suit, Gaetani suggested that he was working with an attorney in the case, whom he did not name.

He has rejected the assistance of legal counsel in previous court cases, claiming that he is "better" than attorneys and, when he hires attorneys, he loses his cases.

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.

He acted as his own attorney in all three cases.

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 21/2-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 current 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 staff writer Bob Dunn at 413-496-6249 or @BobDunn413 on Twitter.