A New Jersey judge has dismissed a defamation suit lodged by a lawyer against his former wife, which alleged that she called him a raft of nasty names in front of longtime clients of his firm.
But the judge declined to impose frivolous-litigation sanctions on the lawyer, Mark Kentos of Schibell Mennie & Kentos in Ocean Township, as the ex-wife’s attorney had requested.
Kentos filed the suit against his former wife, Kelly, over comments she made to longtime Schibell Mennie client Radomir Jovanovic, his wife and their daughter at an April 10 meeting.
Kelly Kentos, an employee of United Healthcare, was visiting the Jovanovic’s home as part of her job, selling supplemental insurance to Medicare recipients. The daughter, according to briefs filed in the case, recognized Kelly’s last name and asked if she knew Mark Kentos.
Over the course of the next two hours, Kelly allegedly launched into a wave of invective in which she said her ex-husband was a “sociopath,” a “psychopath,” a “control freak” with a “God complex,” a “sex maniac,” and a “pervert.” She also said he should be disbarred, according to the suit.
Kelly’s lawyer, Bruce Rosen of Florham Park’s McCusker, Anselmi, Rosen & Carvelli, moved to dismiss.
In a brief filed on Aug. 15, Rosen said the episode was nothing more than “hyperbole, name-calling and invective,” called the suit an outrageous misuse of the court system and said Mark Kentos was pursuing a “personal vendetta.”
Rosen cited the state Supreme Court’s ruling, in Ward v. Zelikovsky, 136 N.J. 516 (1994), that name-calling is protected by the First Amendment.
The statements should be regarded as a “part of life for which the law of defamation is not a remedy,” he said, quoting Ward. “If everyone who has been called or referred to by these names in a relational dispute … sued, the courts would not be able to function, nor would society.”
In a brief opposing the motion, Kentos’ attorney and partner Richard Schibell argued the language used was not just colorful and that it rose above the level of mere name-calling. “[T]he definitions are sinister and describe a callous and depraved individual and are incompatible with the traits one seeks in an attorney,” he said.
Schibell argued that Kentos should at least have the opportunity to determine, through discovery, whether he was defamed. “An attorney’s reputation is paramount, and it precedes him,” Schibell said. “Attorneys go to great lengths to ensure that their reputations remain untarnished, and they are entitled to ‘the dignity and peace of mind that comes from maintaining a good name,’” he added, quoting the court’s ruling in W.J.A. v. D.A., 201 N.J. 229 (2012).
“An attorney should be able to rest assured that if someone interferes with his right to his good name, he has a remedy,” Schibell added.
Monmouth County Superior Court Judge Patricia Cleary ruled on Sept. 27 that the statements, if made, did not rise to the level of defamation. She declined Kentos’ request to enjoin Kelly from discussing him with other people.
“This case was totally frivolous,” Rosen said after the ruling. “My client didn’t do what they said she did, and even if she did it was merely name-calling.”
Kentos declined to comment. Schibell was away from his office Monday and could not be reached.