Madeline Gleason v. Janice Smolinski and Paula Bell: A New Haven judge has awarded more than $52,000 to the former girlfriend of one of the state’s best-known missing persons, ruling that the missing man’s family harassed and defamed the woman while accusing her of being involved in his disappearance.

Madeline Gleason, a school bus driver from Woodbridge, dated Billy Smolinski, 31, for a time until his disappearance on Aug. 24, 2004.

Though his body has never been found, authorities believe he was murdered. Police have reportedly said they believe Gleason’s son, Shaun Karpiuk, was the killer. Karpiuk died of a drug overdose seven years ago.

Gleason and Billy Smolinski reportedly had just broken up on the morning of his disappearance because Smolinski believed his girlfriend was cheating on him. A short time after Smolinski went missing, his parents, William and Janice Smolinski, along with their daughter, Paula Bell, launched an intensive campaign to publicize his case. That included putting up posters and renting billboards throughout the state.

The Smolinski’s caught wind that Gleason had allegedly torn down some of their posters, so Janice Smolinski and Paula Bell began following her and videotaping her, especially along her school bus route.

Gleason’s lawyer, John R. Williams, of New Haven, claims that the family intentionally inundated Gleason’s bus route with the missing person signs, believing she must know something or have something to do with Billy Smolinki’s disappearance.

“Mrs. Smolinski and her daughter both admitted to police that they were intentionally trying to drive [Gleason] nuts in hopes that by driving her nuts, they’d get her to admit to something,” said Williams.

In addition to all the posters, Williams said the family made harassing phone calls to both Gleason and the school district that contracted with her bus company “and said they were employing a murderer.” Gleason also claims the Smolinskis threatened to kill her.

“What these people did was unspeakable,” said Williams.

Finally in 2006, Gleason decided to file a lawsuit against Janice Smolinski and her daughter, accusing them of intentional infliction of emotional distress, defamation, and invasion of privacy. The two sides agreed to a bench trial before Judge Trial Referee Thomas Corradino in New Haven Superior Court in November 2011. The trial lasted three days.

“It was a very, very tense courtroom,” Williams recalled. “It was so bad in fact, their attorney told the judge and me in chambers that he feared for the safety of my client and asked the judge to send additional marshals in.”

During the trial, Williams said, the Smolinski women denied all the accusations and rejected the idea they were trying to upset Gleason with the placement of the posters.

Last month, Corradino issued a 34-page written opinion siding with Gleason and awarded her $52,666 in damages. Of that amount, $32,000 was for intentional infliction of emotional distress, $7,500 for defamation and $13,166 in punitive damages to cover attorney fees and costs. Corradino did reject the invasion of privacy charge.

“The Smolinski’s are to be admired for their persistent efforts to bring Bill Smolinski’s disappearance and their complaints to the highest levels of state government and the federal authorities,” wrote Corradino. “One cannot help sympathizing with their pain and frustration. But what is unacceptable here and worthy of a finding of outrageous and extreme behavior is the continuing aggravated nature of the defendants’ activity in hounding Gleason where she lived and worked and engaged in the ordinary activities of life.”

Mark Lee, of Waterbury, the attorney for the defendants, did not return repeated calls for comment for this story. Lee has filed an appeal of the judge trial referee’s ruling. “It is not over – this is ridiculous,” Janice Smolinski recently told the New Haven Register.

Williams described the verdict as “fair, just and reasonable,” especially since he noted that Judge Trial Referee Corradino is known in the state as “one of the most conservative Superior Court judges in the state when it comes to intentional infliction of emotional distress [claims].”

Since the verdict, Williams said things have taken another turn for the worse for his client.

“I had hoped that [the verdict] would put an end to this nightmare, but in fact it hasn’t,” said Williams. “As soon as the decision was released, they’re back following her in her bus route, putting up posters…the same thing they were doing before.”•