Former New Jersey attorney James P. Sweeney admits he threw pasta at a man during an argument, just as a woman suing him claimed.
But he denied he was drunk, or that the pasta had fra diavolo sauce, as the plaintiff alleged.
“The defendant was insistent that he did not order fra diavolo,” said plaintiff counsel Jeremy D’Amico, a Connecticut lawyer with D’Amico & Pettinicchi in Watertown and member of the Florida Bar. ”But, the two people who had the food thrown on them felt it and were adamant it was hot and spicy, and said it was fra diavolo. Mr. Sweeney said it was cavatelli with sausage and broccoli, and said he had a receipt to prove it.”
Toppings aside, though, a Connecticut jury agreed with plaintiff Constance Koulmey, a bystander who got the brunt of the pasta dish meant for another target, and who then fell and struck her head. The Waterbury Superior Court jury deliberated about three and a half hours on May 31, before returning a verdict finding Sweeney liable in the food-throwing incident. It awarded $85,049 plus interest for a total of $102,550 to pay Koulmey’s medical expenses and noneconomic damages.
Sweeney, 65, is a real estate attorney who practiced in New Jersey, Florida and Maryland before his recent retirement to Florida. He was arguing with another man at Roma Ristorante in Oakville, Connecticut, in March 2015 when he picked up the pasta from a dish and tossed it, striking both Michael Cosmos, his intended target, and Koulmey, according to court pleadings.
Koulmey, a 57-year-old executive recruiter for Connecticut engineering companies, got the brunt of the throw, and complained at the time that her eyes were burning, according to D’Amico. She had spicy sauce dripping down her head, and onto her face and eyes causing her to fall and strike her head, D’Amico said.
Sweeney was charged with second-degree breach of peace and third-degree assault. Both charges were later dismissed. He could not be reached for comment Thursday. His attorney, Eric Schwerzmann of Trantolo & Trantolo, declined to comment. He has until July 1 to appeal to the Connecticut Appellate Court.
Koulmey filed an amended complaint May 31 in Waterbury Superior Court. She claimed Sweeney was drunk and arguing with another man, whom he meant to assault, but hit her instead. Her two-count complaint alleged negligence and battery, claiming the attorney’s actions left her with multiple injuries, including a concussion, blurred vision and radiating back pain.
Sweeney denied any wrongdoing with regards to the plaintiff. He denied striking her and pointed to her alleged inaccuracies in her claims with regards to the pasta toppings to bolster his arguments Koulmey misrepresented the incident. He claimed Koulmey’s injuries, particularly to her neck and back, were pre-existing and had nothing to do with his throwing pasta in her direction.
Defense court filings also argued Sweeney acted in self-defense and was “provoked into acting.”
But plaintiff counsel used surveillance video to counter Sweeney’s version of events. D’Amico played a restaurant surveillance tape, which showed most of the incident, to the jury several times.
“You can clearly see on the video that he looks left and right to make sure no one is watching him, because the bartender had left the area,” D’Amico told the Connecticut Law Tribune Thursday. “In order to act in self-defense, you must act in reaction to imminent bodily harm, and there was not any. He did not have fear if he was looking both left and right.”
D’Amico said he was particularly frustrated with how Sweeney responded to the lawsuit.
“We as lawyers do not have the best public perception,” he said. “Here we have a lawyer who, in my mind, felt that he was above the law and could bully his way out of a legal claim. He was calling her a liar from the get-go. That rubbed me the wrong way from a moral perspective, a professional perspective and from a basic human perspective. I thought he should be brought to justice.”
Read the complaint:
Read attorney James Sweeney’s answer: