Fighting words. Parking Utility head sues for defamation

Fighting words
Parking Utility head sues for defamation

05/16/2004  Hoboken Reporter - Tom Jennemann
COREAN CONFLICT - Hoboken Parking Utility Monitor John Corea said in a lawsuit that he was damaged by comments on an Internet message board and in a letter.  
With the growing popularity of Internet message boards, this new venue has become one of the favored outlets for anonymous mudslinging - especially in politically heated Hudson County.

But now, a local figure believes he's been misrepresented to the point where he can sue. Hoboken Parking Utility official John Corea and his wife have filed a lawsuit against, the provider of a Hoboken Internet message board, as well as unknown individuals for defamation and libel over comments. The suit also names Hoboken Resident John Glasel, alleging defamation and libel over comments made in a letter to the editor of this newspaper.

The suit was filed April 14 in the Superior Court of New Jersey. Libel is technically the publication of a false statement that injures one's business or personal reputation. In the case of a public figure or official, he must establish "clear and convincing" evidence that the statements were made with actual malice. According to the Associated Press' Briefing on Media Law, the Supreme Court has set two criteria to be a public figure. In some instances an individual may achieve such pervasive fame or notoriety that he becomes a public figure for all purposes and in all contexts. More commonly, an individual voluntarily injects himself or is drawn into a particular public controversy and thereby becomes a public figure for a limited range of issues.

Corea, a lifelong Hoboken resident and local businessman, first came into the spotlight in 2003 when he ran for the Hoboken City Council on the Hoboken First political slate. After Corea lost, he supported Mayor David Roberts' candidate. In January of 2004, the Roberts administration hired Corea to head the Hoboken Parking Utility. The always-controversial Parking Utility is the city agency that was formed when the City Council voted to dissolve the quasi-independent Parking Authority last year.

Critics of the administration criticized Corea's hiring at the time. They noted that 11 months before the hiring, a professional independent parking consultant had been hired to conduct a national search to hire a head of the HPU. Around 25 resumes were collected, and four finalists were selected. After many months, the administration, without council approval, hired Corea for the job. Many of the critics of the administration said the hiring was political, but the Roberts administration said Corea was the best man for the job.

In the "Hoboken Forum" of NJ.Com, there were attacks on Corea alluding to drug use and other questionable conduct. Corea said that not only are the comments untrue, but they are libelous. Corea is seeking damages, the cost of the suit, interest and attorney's fees, and "any relief that the court deems proper." Corea said that the lawsuit is a personal matter, and he declined to comment further for the record.

Site responds

In recent years, suits like this one have been filed against providers of electronic bulletin board systems. According to the lawsuit, NJ.Com has allegedly continued to publish in the "Hoboken Forum" false statements implicating Corea in "criminal conduct, sexual misconduct and misconduct in his professional affairs." Advance Internet, Inc., whose offices are located in Jersey City, owns NJ.Com. The web site is affiliated with Advance Publications, a privately held media company that owns newspapers including the Star-Ledger, the Times of Trenton, the Jersey Journal, the Express-Times, the Gloucester County Times, and Today's Sunbeam.

Dean Betz, editor-in-chief of NJ.Com, said he is aware of the lawsuit and that the company's lawyers are handling it. According the web site's user agreement, a condition of use is that posters do "not to use any obscene, indecent or offensive language or place on the Service any material that is defamatory, abusive, harassing or hateful." While Betz declined to comment of the specifics on the case, he said NJ.Com takes no official position on the Hoboken Forum or any of its other message boards. He added that there is link beside every post that immediately notifies the webmaster of inappropriate or defamatory posts, and posts that break the user agreement are removed when the webmaster finds out. One post made on April 4, 2004 was, according to the lawsuit, "accusing him of a crime and is replete with sexually suggestive language." The portion of the post that is cited in the lawsuit does not include sexually suggestive language but does hint that he has used drugs.

According to the complaint, "as a direct and proximate result of the careless, reckless and negligent conduct," Corea was caused to suffer both public and professional humiliation. But even as the suit continues, posts about Parking Utility issues still occasionally pop up. On Thursday, a poster named FirstAmmend stated, "Why doesn't the mayor put a stop to his monitor of the P.U.'s lawsuit against the senior citizens in the 4th Ward? Aren't they worthy of a voice?" The post was removed by Friday morning. Later that day, more posts about Corea's suit appeared. One poster referred to himself as "CoreaSuedMe."

The city said the suit was a personal issue and declined to comment. Corea's lawyer did not return several phone messages left for him last week.

Glasel also sued

A Hoboken resident who is often a vocal member of the public at City Council and other meetings is also mentioned in the suit. John Glasel was cited for a letter he wrote to the Reporter criticizing Corea's hiring and linking to a web site from the New York Stock Exchange. When Corea was a member of the New York Stock Exchange in the 1990s, he was found guilty of improper trading, and was censured and permanently barred from trading again on the New York Stock Exchange.

According to documents from the NYSE, the error was in the range of $700,000. According to Corea, a client walked away from a debt incurred during a falling market. Because Corea had brokered the deal, he faced the civil action. No criminal charges were ever filed. "Clearly, Defendant John Glasel published a defamatory and libelous statement accusing Mr. Corea of criminal activity," reads the complaint. Glasel said Thursday that the suit is nothing more than "a frivolous" attempt to stifle free speech and public comment. Glasel added that it was perfectly acceptable to question past problems with the stock exchange. "I have every reason to believe it was true," he said.

Councilman Tony Soares, who was critic of the Corea's hiring, said that part of the life of public figures is dealing with insults and criticism. "Politics and public life can be rough business," said Soares. "You have to have a thick skin."

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