The $1 million-plus civil lawsuit filed by former Orange Township Fiscal Officer Joel Spitzer against Trustee Lisa Knapp and others concluded Dec. 14, 2018, when a request for summary judgment was granted by visiting Judge James A. Brogan.
It was Knapp who petitioned the court Aug. 24 for the summary judgment against Spitzer’s claim of defamation.
“Although it took a lot of effort, I was always confident I would win,” Knapp said Friday. “Joel Spitzer filed this entirely frivolous lawsuit intended simply to influence the fall 2017 election and to silence my attempts to keep township residents informed about legitimate concerns I had about the township’s financial operations. This absurd lawsuit has personally cost me $34,000 in legal fees so far and hundreds of hours of my time, causing irreparable damage to me and my family.”
When The Gazette broke the news to Knapp of Spitzer’s filing the lawsuit against her on Sept. 20, 2017, she said at that time, “It’s a frivolous lawsuit. Not one thing that I’ve written or posted has not been from public records. It’s freedom of speech. I’m allowed to say those things.”
Brogan concurred with Knapp in his ruling.
“The statements she (Knapp) made on her website are either true or protection opinion,” he states. “She is also entitled to summary judgment on all her posts made more than one year before the initiated complaint by Spitzer was filed because of the one-year statute of limitations.”
According to Brogan’s decision, Spitzer’s claim of defamation stemmed from posts on Knapp’s blog titled “Joel Spitzer’s Record,” which reports of fights, criminal records, arrest, suicide attempts, heightened blood alcohol, and the last post mentioned in judge’s decision came from the website “Residents for Lisa Knapp” stating, “Spitzer’s lack of competence at his position as Fiscal Officer allowed felony thefts by others to take place.”
Spitzer filed the lawsuit in Delaware County Common Pleas Court General Division, naming Knapp, Todd A. Daviso, Susan F. Tobias, and other unknown defendants in the lawsuit. He requested that the court grant restraining orders against the named parties and asked to be award compensatory damages totaling approximately $1.2 million.
Brogan denied Spitzer’s request for the restraining order Jan. 5, 2018.
Spitzer referred The Gazette to his attorney, Luther Ligget, for comment.
“We’re continuing to consider our options, but it’s just too quick and fresh to tell,” Ligget said. “Outside of that, we don’t have a comment.”
In Spitzer’s original court filing, he alleged: “Defendant Lisa Knapp acting alone and at times in concert with defendant Daviso, defendant Tobias, and others have been making false and defamatory statements about the plaintiff for up to six years both on defendant Knapp’s personal blog and on her official trustee and personal Facebook pages.”
“Defendant(s) and Knapp frequently post and causes posts to be shared, disparaging misinterpretations of the truth in order to make Plaintiff (Spitzer) look unhinged, untrustworthy, unable to serve the public, and incompetent.”
According to court documents, in the course of the lawsuit, Daviso and Tobias were dismissed as defendants either voluntary by the plaintiff (Spitzer) or through a motion for dismissal granted by Brogan.
However, Tobias filed a motion Dec. 27, 2017, for sanctions contending that Spitzer’s lawsuit against her was frivolous.
“… the Court finds that Spitzer’s lawsuit against Tobias was filed merely to harass her and that she is entitled to reasonable attorney fees under the statute. She is hereby awarded $585.00 in attorney fees,” Brogan states in his decision on Tobias’ motion.
At the end of his final decision, Brogan makes an observation and offers a little advice.
“This court would like to observe that the vast majority of public officials engage in their service to the public in a civil manner. The lack of civility between these two public officials has indeed been disconcerting. Fortunately, Mr. Spitzer has informed the court he has resigned from his position to spend more time with his family, his businesses, and his law practice. He notes that the township fiscal office is in good shape and has had no significant issues through eight state audits. It is the hope of the court that he will move on from this lawsuit to better things in the future.”
Brogan later writes on Jan. 3, “The Court assigns costs to Plaintiff Spitzer.”
According to the court’s financial statement, there is an outstanding amount of $727 owed on the $1,090 court cost.
Contact D. Anthony Botkin at 740-413-0902. Follow him on Twitter @dabotkin.