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Defamation suit against Jack Schnirman allowed to proceed

Steve Labriola, left, in Rockville Centre on Aug.

Steve Labriola, left, in Rockville Centre on Aug. 17, 2017, and Jack Schnirman, right, in Wantagh on Feb. 1, 2018. Photo Credit: Daniel Silverman / Barry Sloan

A state Supreme Court justice last week declined to dismiss a $2 million defamation lawsuit filed against Nassau County Comptroller Jack Schnirman by Oyster Bay Town Councilman Steven Labriola, who ran against Schnirman for comptroller in 2017.

Labriola, a Republican who served as chief compliance officer for former Republican County Executive Edward Mangano, sued Democrat Schnirman last year for allegedly making “malicious and patently false statements” about Labriola in a campaign commercial.

Schnirman, then Long Beach city manager, alleged in the ad that Labriola was responsible for Mangano’s “corrupt contracts.” Mangano was convicted last month in federal court of accepting bribes from ex-Oyster Bay concessionaire Harendra Singh in exchange for helping Singh secure more than $20 million in loan guarantees from Oyster Bay.

Labriola contended the accusations were “false” with “no basis in reality.”

Schnirman asked the court to dismiss Labriola’s complaint, arguing the statement was “political rhetoric in the course of an election campaign.”

Justice Antonio Brandveen, in a seven-page decision, defined defamation as “a false statement that tends to expose a person to public contempt, hatred, ridicule, aversion or disgrace.” A public official, Brandveen said, “must prove the statements were made with ‘actual malice’ that is with the actual knowledge of their falsity or with reckless disregard as to whether they were true or false.”

Brandveen said that based on past legal decisions and without the benefit of any pretrial evidence gathering, “the complaint adequately states that [the defendant] acted with actual malice.” He ordered Schnirman to file an answer within 20 days and appear for a court conference on May. 7.

Labriola said in a statement the decision, “holds Jack Schnirman accountable for his dirty playbook of lies, manipulation and defamation … ” Labriola’s lawyer, Bryon Divins said, “I look forward to deposing Mr. Schnirman and hearing his explanation for his defamatory comments.”

Vincent Gerbino, Schnirman’s attorney, said in a statement, “The claims asserted by Mr. Labriola are politically motivated and have no merit. We are disappointed that the Judge did not dismiss the Complaint at this very early and procedural stage but we are extremely confident that Mr. Schnirman will prevail once the Judge sees the lack of any evidence to support Mr. Labriola’s claims.”

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