Barbara Wilson, a Southampton Town and Southampton Village justice, was ordered on Friday to pay her neighbor $250,000 after a State Supreme Court jury found her guilty of defamation of character.
At a Southampton Village Board of Architectural Review and Historic Preservation meeting on April 13, 2015, Ms. Wilson — who had an application before the board to modify her home by installing a staircase on the exterior of her house on Elm Street — accused neighbor Anthony Gugliotta of being a “sexual predator” and “sexual pedophile,” according to court documents, prompting Mr. Gugliotta to file the defamation suit.
After a three-day trial, which included Ms. Wilson taking the stand, a six-member jury deliberated for 40 minutes on Friday and determined that Ms. Wilson damaged Mr. Gugliotta’s character. She was ordered to pay $250,000 for damages.
Mr. Gugliotta initially filed the lawsuit in State Supreme Court against Ms. Wilson in 2015, and sought $2.2 million.
Ms. Wilson had an application in front of the ARB to install an exterior staircase on her home so that if there was a fire, her daughter, who was 16 at the time, could use it as an emergency exit. But Mr. Gugliotta said during the meeting that he did not understand why the staircase was needed when Ms. Wilson’s daughter’s bedroom was downstairs.
Ms. Wilson then accused Mr. Gugliotta during the meeting of installing a security camera on his house and pointing it toward her daughter’s bedroom window.
Video posted on the Southampton Village’s website shows Ms. Wilson addressing Mr. Gugliotta’s comments and concerns. “First of all, I’ll try to say this as calmly as a mother,” she said, turning toward Mr. Gugliotta. “I’m so glad you’re worried about my daughter.”
After being told by then-ARB Chairman Curtis Highsmith to address the board instead, Ms. Wilson told the board, “When people bring up my daughter, it’s a little upsetting to me … especially when grown men want to look at little girls.”
The video shows Mr. Highsmith cut in to stop her, and at the end of the video, Ms. Wilson can be heard telling Mr. Gugliotta to stay away from her daughter — the video was also shown on SEA-TV.
“It’s a just verdict,” Melville-based attorney Anton J. Borovina, who represented Mr. Gugliotta, said on Tuesday. “The compensation is something he’s very happy with. It recognizes the severity of the accusation that was made by the person who said it, the way it was circulated and the impact that it had on him as perceived by members of the public and his standing in the community. They said $250,000 without hesitating. We were very happy with the verdict.”
Although the full $2.2 million was not awarded to Mr. Gugliotta, Mr. Borovina said the verdict and high fine says much.
Mr. Gugliotta is a builder, Mr. Borovina said, and when people do a Google search for homes and find out that someone accused of being a pedophile constructed the home, agents or brokers could be hesitant to show the house.
With a verdict ordering that the person who accused Mr. Gugliotta of being a pedophile comes down, ordering her to pay $250,000, Mr. Borovina explained, it helps clear his name.
Mr. Gugliotta agreed with Mr. Borovina, saying clearing his name was more important than the money.
“The issue was, we were at an ARB meeting and she tells the public, on TV, that I’m spying on her daughter,” Mr. Gugliotta said. “I’m in the building business. What real estate broker is going to show my house? We have 10 good builders out here, and I’m one of them. You think they’re going to push my house when they have nine other good builders when this guy’s a ‘pedophile’?
“My question is, I don’t know how she can go on practicing being a judge with this kind of behavior,” he added.
Ms. Wilson’s attorney, Brian Lester of East Hampton-based Tarbet & Lester PLLC, did not immediately return calls seeking comment about the verdict, or whether his client planned to appeal the jury’s decision.