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A New York state judge has declined to dismiss a defamation suit against a prominent Long Island lawyer who was quoted as saying his client, a law firm bookkeeper, acted with the “full knowledge and consent” of his superiors in stealing millions in client funds from the firm. Supreme Court Justice Daniel R. Palmieri also rejected a request by defendant Thomas F. Liotti that the judge recuse himself from Galasso Langione & Botter v. Liotti, 019276/07, noting that he had been assigned the case randomly and that “this Court harbors no ill will towards, nor any desire to aid, any party to this action.” The suit arose out of the criminal prosecution of Anthony Galasso, a longtime employee of Galasso, Langione, Catterson & LoFrumento in Garden City. In February, Galasso pleaded guilty to embezzling upwards of $2 million from the firm, where his brother, Peter, is a partner. In June, County Court Judge George R. Peck sentenced Anthony Galasso to 2 1/2 to 7 1/2 years in prison for his crimes. According to the decision, while the criminal case was pending, Liotti, who represents Anthony Galasso, was quoted in Newsday in October 2007 as saying that “Anthony didn’t do anything that he was not instructed to do by his superiors. Whatever he did, he did with their full knowledge and consent. Dipping into company accounts was a common practice among attorneys there. Is the Galasso firm going to say they never went to a concert or a sporting event using this money? I think that’s something that should be addressed.” The law firm subsequently brought the defamation action. In a May 12 decision, Palmieri granted a motion by the firm to strike several affirmative defenses presented by Liotti, including an argument that the statements made were true. Liotti brought a motion to renew and reargue Palmieri’s previous decision based on the introduction of affidavits by Anthony Galasso he had previously withheld “because he did not wish to harm the plaintiff,” the judge said. Palmieri granted the motion to renew but adhered to his original determination that the case could go forward. He did not directly quote the affidavits but described them as “replete with tales of alleged ethical violations and questionable practices” by the partners of the Galasso firm. However, Anthony Galasso “nowhere directly states (let alone provides supporting detail) that any other person participated in the actual theft of any client funds, which formed a principal part of the criminal case Liotti was defending at the time he made his statements to the press,” Palmieri said. The judge also noted an exchange in February between Anthony Galasso and Judge Peck during Galasso’s plea allocution. When asked by the prosecution whether, regarding the theft of client funds, “he did this on his own,” Peck directed Anthony Galasso to answer over Liotti’s objection. Galasso answered affirmatively. As a follow-up, Peck asked, “Did anyone help you?” Anthony answered “No.” “Accordingly, Anthony’s affidavits, to the extent they are offered to support what Mr. Liotti said about plaintiffs’ complicity in the theft of client funds, is contradicted by his own sworn testimony before Judge Peck, and thus is insufficient to change the result of the prior motions,” Palmieri held. In an interview, Liotti, of Westbury, said that “even if he had” made the statements, they were “harmless” in the overall context of the litigation. In court papers, Liotti took the position that he was performing his duty to zealously represent his client. “I simply raised a question, which is ‘did Anthony act alone, or did he have help?’” Liotti wrote. “This is the job of a criminal defense attorney — to raise reasonable doubt.” NOT PUBLIC FIGURES Looking to the landmark defamation case New York Times v. Sullivan, 376 US 254, Justice Palmieri ruled that the “actual malice” standard required to advance a defamation claim where public figures are involved did not apply here. “[I]n the instant case the plaintiffs were not public figures, and there is little more than unfounded speculation, as opposed to evidence, that the plaintiffs affirmatively sought out media attention for themselves such as that they might be considered ‘limited purpose’ public figures,” Palmieri wrote. In court documents, Liotti contended that any statement he made was based on information provided to him by Anthony Galasso. “At the time I made the allegedly defamatory statement … I believed it to be true based on my conversations with Anthony and my independent case investigation,” Liotti told the court. “Additionally, Anthony still steadfastly maintains that the firm and its partners engaged in illegal and unsavory practices.” The judge did not accept that argument as it applied to another affirmative defense — that the firm’s reputation had already been “besmirched” by media accounts of the embezzlement. “The only proof advanced in support of defendant’s claim that he did not know that what he was saying was false are Anthony’s affidavits, in which Anthony avers that he did tell Liotti, as his attorney, that the plaintiffs were involved,” the judge wrote. Thus, no “admissible proof” that the firm’s reputation had “already been sullied by media accounts — other than the defendant’s statement — is submitted.” The judge denied a motion by the Galasso firm for partial summary judgment on the issue of liability and for an immediate trial on damages. He set a preliminary conference date for September. Liotti, who also serves as village justice in Westbury, said he plans to appeal the decision and ask for a stay in the proceedings. He is representing himself in this case. Frederick K. Brewington of Hempstead represents the firm.

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