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Mineola school superintendent's lawsuit dismissed

A defamation lawsuit filed by the former Mineola schools superintendent against a Board of Education vice president who he said had made false and defamatory statements against him has been dismissed.

State Supreme Court Justice Ute Wolff Lally held that a school superintendent is considered a public official and allegedly defamatory statements about that official are judged by a different standard. Also, "defamatory statements made by school board members, related to a Superintendent's qualifications and performance in public office, are absolutely privileged.

"The absolute privilege shields defendant herein, who is a school board member, and . . . discussed plaintiff's qualifications and performance in his public office," the decision read.

An attorney for former Mineola Superintendent Lorenzo Licopoli said Friday that he plans to appeal the decision issued last week regarding the suit against Laraine Salvatore.

"Nothing in that decision exonerates Salvatore's behavior," Licopoli's attorney, Rick Ostrove said Friday. "The court decision merely states that even if her statements were defamatory, she can say whatever she wants. We don't agree with that position of the court and we intend to appeal."

It all began in 2008 when Licopoli, who served as school superintendent until June 2009, said Salvatore gave him poor marks during his annual job evaluation. The review was initially discussed behind closed doors, until Licopoli waived confidentiality.

Among the accusations, the lawsuit says Salvatore said in a review of Licopoli that he "often takes Fridays off with no adjustments to his time sheets," which Licopoli said was false. Court papers also say that Salvatore said Licopoli harassed employees and administrators who are friends of Salvatore and that he had told the board he was "on his death bed" and did not know how much time he had left.

Richard Hamburger, an attorney for Salvatore, said the decision "pushes back against the litigious nature of society.

"A superintendent should be a big boy and shouldn't sue a school board member who criticizes his performance even if that criticism may have gone too far or have been a bit unfair," Hamburger said Friday.

Licopoli has also filed suit in federal court against three board members alleging the board took action against him after he filed suit against Salvatore. That case is still pending.

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