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Ashfield resident sues officials for ‘defamation’



Recorder Staff
Thursday, June 09, 2016

ASHFIELD — Claiming that five current and a former town official have damaged her reputation — causing “extreme mental humiliation, anguish” emotional and physical injuries, as well as economic losses — Suzanne Corbett of Ashfield is suing them and is seeking jury trials in separate civil actions in Franklin County Superior Court.

The complaints were filed against Selectboard Chairman Thomas Carter, Selectboard member Ron Coler, Board of Health member Duncan Coulter, Health Agent Claudia Lucas, Town Treasurer Laura Blakesley and former selectman Bill Perlman. All have responded to the complaints by counter-filing a motion to dismiss the charges. This starts a process in which Corbett’s lawyer, former Ashfield Selectman R. Dave DeHerdt, responds to the motion to dismiss before the attorneys file their response in court. The town officials’ lawyer is Jeffrey Trapani of Robinson Donovan, and Perlman’s lawyer is Michael Aleo of Lesser Newman Aleo & Nasser.

According to the court documents, pretrial hearings for the cases are scheduled to take place 18 months from now, in December 2017, unless the charges are dismissed before then.

In all the complaints, Corbett says she has suffered $47,000 worth of damages caused by “extreme mental distress, humiliation, anguish and emotional and physical injuries, as well as economic losses, all to her damage in amounts to be proven at trial.”

Corbett formerly owned the Ashfield House apartment building, now owned by the Franklin Redevelopment and Housing Authority. For several years, she and a few others attended Selectboard and Health Board meetings, bringing up concerns about how the property was being managed.

The basis of most allegations goes back to 2013, when Corbett and a couple other residents made so many public record requests that the town appropriated extra money for additional staff time to process them. Also, in 2013, the town appropriated an additional $12,000 for a lawyer to address several open meeting law complaints that Corbett and the others submitted to the Attorney General’s Office, complaining of potential open meeting law violations by the town’s Selectboard and Board of Health — mostly on issues related to the Ashfield House. In her suit against Carter, Corbett said the selectman “reported false, malicious, scandalous and defamatory words” in the 2013 Ashfield Town Report, saying that “accusations submitted by Suzanne Corbett and others” have resulted in an 800 percent increase in public records requests, creating higher costs and the loss of elected and appointed town officials.

A similar charge was brought against Health Board Chairman Duncan Coulter for his comments about Corbett’s public record requests in the 2013 Annual Town Report.

The lawsuit against Health Agent Lucas charges that Lucas made defamatory references to Corbett in emails released through public records requests, although Corbett’s name was not in the emails.

Coler was accused of making a statement at a public meeting that questioned Corbetts’ state of mind.

Blakesley is being sued for invasion of privacy, for publishing “facts related to the plaintiff of such a private nature that any reasonable person would find the public disclosure of such facts highly offensive.” The charges don’t specify what was published. The complaint also accuses Blakesley of “intentional infliction of emotional distress,” through “outrageous conduct” toward Corbett.

Perlman has been accused of referring to Corbett as a “political psychopath” in a July 2014 public meeting, according to her suit. The suit against Perlman also claims he said Corbett had caused the Franklin Regional Council of Governments “to expend significant amounts of money when responding to ridiculous records requests.”

When asked for comment, Perlman’s lawyer, Michael Aleo, said, “Mr. Perlman has filed a motion to dismiss it, and seeks recovery of the fees and costs that will incur through the course of this litigation.”