Danbury Superior Court Judge Sheila A. Ozalis decided a libel case on Jan. 24 filed by Ridgefield Developer Dany Letourneau against Michael Zittel, who published an unflattering video about one of Letourneau's projects.
Letourneau proposed a development at 28 Gilbert St. on Dec. 16, 2011, for 12 multi-family housing units on .335 acres. The proposal was made under Connecticut General Statutes section 8-30g, involving affordable housing.
The Ridgefield Planning and Zoning Commission approved the proposal with eight units in July 2012 after reducing it because of traffic concerns. Ridgefield then sought a moratorium on affordable housing proposals using the state law in 2012.
But before the commission's approval, the defendant in the libel suit, Michael Zittel, published a video on Jan. 27, 2012, that said, according to the memorandum of decision, the developer had "exploited affordable housing law," and it said the town of Ridgefield could say, "Goodbye old town charm? Hello urban blight." The YouTube video was published on Ridgefieldtoday.com.
On Feb. 3, according to the decision written Jan. 24 by Judge Ozalis, Letourneau filed suit saying the video libeled him by saying he was exploiting the people of Ridgefield, he would bring urban blight to Ridgefield and he was motivated by greed.
Zittel hired Danbury Attorney Daniel Casagrande of the Cramer & Anderson law firm to defend him. Casagrande argued Zittel's video was protected by First Amendment freedom of speech rights and that Zittel was expressing his own opinions.
In her decision, Judge Ozalis ruled Zittel never said in the video Letourneau was exploiting the people of Ridgefield. No libel there. The video comments about over-development were rhetorical hyperbole, an opinion, and not an assertion of fact. No libel there, either. The question of "urban blight," is subjective opinion, and not libel, as was the question of "greed."
"It is a subjective rhetorical flourish that cannot be proved true or false," Judge Ozalis wrote.
Judge Ozalis rejected the libel claims and dismissed the suit saying there was no genuine evidence of libel.