ELLSWORTH — The attorney for a law firm named in a lawsuit filed by a Bar Harbor man alleging defamation and libel is asking the court to dismiss the complaint.
John Whitman of Richardson, Whitman, Large and Badger made the request in his answer to a lawsuit filed Feb. 16 by Arthur Greif, who himself is an attorney. Whitman is representing the law firm Bernstein, Shur, Sawyer and Nelson P.A.
Greif filed his complaint in Hancock County Superior Court, alleging that Robert Crawford of Bernstein Shur made defamatory and libelous statements in a February 2015 letter to Greif, a copy of which was sent Bar Harbor Town Manager Cornell Knight.
Crawford’s letter was in response to a letter Greif sent to Bar Harbor Town Councilor Gary Friedmann expressing concerns about proposed amendments to the town’s land use ordinance. Greif stated he was writing “as a citizen and a lawyer.”
Greif at the time was representing several Bar Harbor residents in a lawsuit against the town intended to stop construction of an Emera electric substation. Crawford, in his letter, requested that Greif stop communicating with town officials regarding the land use ordinance and how it related to the substation. Such communications, Crawford wrote, are violations of the Maine Rules of Professional Conduct and ethics opinions of the Maine Board of Overseers of the Bar.
Greif denied he had violated these rules and claimed, as a resident, he has a constitutional right to communicate with town officials. He asked Crawford to retract his “libelous statements.” Instead, Greif wrote in his complaint, Crawford restated his claims.
In the answer to Greif’s complaint, Whitman denied that Crawford made any statements in his original letter that “falsely defamed [Greif] in his business reputation.” Whitman denied all other allegations in the lawsuit and listed eight affirmative defenses of the suit that included Greif’s failure to state a claim and that the complaint is barred by the statute of limitations.
Whitman further stated Greif is a public figure and “his claim is subject to the standard of actual malice.” Under the law, for actual malice to exist in a libel case, a public figure must prove that the libelous statements were made with the knowledge that they were false or with “reckless disregard” to whether they were false or not.
Whitman is asking the court to dismiss the lawsuit and award Bernstein Shur any costs incurred and other relief the court feels is appropriate.