ELLSWORTH — A Bar Harbor man is claiming an attorney representing the town made defamatory and libelous statements about him in an email to Bar Harbor Town Manager Cornell Knight.
Arthur Greif filed the lawsuit in Hancock County Superior Court on Feb. 16, naming the law firm Bernstein Shur as the defendant. Greif, himself an attorney, wrote in his complaint that attorney Robert Crawford made the remarks in response to a February 2015 letter Greif sent to Town Councilor Gary Friedmann expressing his concerns about proposed amendments to the town’s land use ordinance. In that letter, Greif stated he was writing “as a citizen and a lawyer.”
Crawford responded to Greif and sent a copy to Knight. In that letter, Crawford wrote to request Greif “stop communicating verbally or in writing directly with town officials” regarding the land use ordinance and how it relates to a proposed Emera electric substation in Bar Harbor. Greif, at the time, was representing several residents in a lawsuit against the town intended to stop construction.
Crawford goes on to state that Greif’s communications with town officials in the matter violate Maine Rules of Professional Conduct and ethics opinions of the Maine Board of Overseers of the Bar.
Greif denied that he violated these rules and, in response, wrote to Crawford, stating, “You have libeled me in my hometown concerning my profession of 37-plus years. Greif claimed that, as a Bar Harbor resident, he has a constitutional right to communicate with town officials. He called for Crawford to write Knight and admit he was mistaken.
In response, Crawford noted that he believes Greif’s communications with Friedmann relate directly to the Emera substation and the proposed land use ordinance amendments. This “relationship is more than tangential, and I also believe that even a tangential relationship is sufficient to constitute a violation.” Crawford maintained that “we do not believe [a retraction] is warranted.”
In his complaint, Greif, who filed his claim three days before the expiration of the statue of limitations, wrote that Crawford restated his defamatory and libelous statements in his second response despite Greif’s claim of constitutional protection. This, Greif stated, “was done with malice and intentional disregard of the law” and suggests to the court that punitive damages should be levied.
Bernstein Shur has retained John Whitman of Richardson, Whitman, Large and Badger to represent the firm, according to Paul McDonald, Bernstein Shur’s litigation practice group leader. A response to Greif’s complaint is to be filed on Friday.
“We will present a strong defense to the claims made against us based on the law and the facts of the case and we fully expect to be vindicated by the court,” McDonald said.