In a victory reaffirming freedom of speech and rights protected by the First Amendment, Fair Share Housing Center Executive Director Adam Gordon, represented by the ACLU of New Jersey and its pro bono cooperating attorneys, Anselmi & Carvelli, LLP, has won the dismissal of defamation and conspiracy claims that were brought by former Cape May City Manager Jerome Inderwies in the New Jersey Superior Court for Cape May County.
The case, Jerome E. Inderwies v. Adam Gordon, et al., targeted comments made by Gordon published in a news article regarding a matter of significant public concern: the fact that the former city manager of Cape May had been investigated by the city in connection with the use of affordable housing trust funds. The ACLU-NJ represented Gordon in this action to defend his free speech rights and push back against what is known as a “SLAPP” suit, a strategic lawsuit against public participation, aimed at punishing people for expressing their opinions. In an opinion from Judge James H. Pickering, Jr., the Court dismissed all claims with prejudice and held that Gordon’s statements were nonactionable opinions, protected by litigation privilege, and not malicious or conspiratorial.
The defense released the following statements:
"The dismissal of this complaint sends a clear message to all New Jerseyans that free speech will be protected in this state," said Adam Gordon, Executive Director of Fair Share Housing Center. "As a public interest organization, it is Fair Share Housing Center's job to ensure that our state's fair housing laws are enforced and that funds designated for affordable housing are used properly, and we have and will continue to speak out to make sure that happens. To thwart individuals' or organizations' ability to express opinions about government conduct would do a disservice to our democracy,” said Adam Gordon, Executive Director of Fair Share Housing Center.
“We are very pleased with the court’s decision. We believe that it is the correct result and that it also came at the right time. In a case like this one, having the court review the complaint at an early stage is critical to protecting our constitutional rights. Decisions like this one protect the rights of every person to freely participate in public affairs and be involved in their communities,” said Zachary Wellbrock, Associate of Anselmi & Carvelli, LLP.
“Advocates across the ideological spectrum are protected by the constitution when they express opinions and concerns about the conduct of public officials. The court appropriately dismissed all claims, finding that Mr. Gordon was entitled to express his and his organization’s opinions about alleged misuse of affordable housing funds. This should serve as a reminder to all public officials that when you do the people’s business, you should expect your actions to be subject to public criticism,” said Jeanne LoCicero, Legal Director of the ACLU of New Jersey.