Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Res ipsa loquitur

The News-Review was the lead news item on Riverhead radio station WRIV all day today. The newspaper — and its co-publisher Denise Civiletti — "have been sued" by Michael Cholowsky, according to the news report.

But we still haven't seen any lawsuit.

Cholowsky's lawyer yesterday sent out a press release (to WRIV, but not to The News-Review) announcing the lawsuit. In the press release (I got a copy from WRIV when the station called me for comment) he misrepresents what we printed in our coverage last month of the Cholowsky saga and the state DEC — and then says we got it wrong! Clever, ain't it?

I called the lawyer today and asked what's up with the lawsuit I've heard rumors about.

He didn't know. "Um, uh, that's being handled by my associates," he told me today. Punt!

Similarly, on Dec. 20 he admitted he didn't know what was inaccurate in my story when he faxed me a letter that day accusing me of printing inaccurate information and warning me against going to press with a follow-up story and editorial he said he believed I was working on. (I was.) I called him then, too, demanding to know what error I'd made. Absolute accuracy is important to me, and I take care to correct mistakes when I make them, quickly and fully. But he couldn't tell me. When pressed, all he came up with was, "I've only had the file one day." A couple weeks later and he's still short on substance, instead accusing us of printing things we didn't print and then crying foul.

Accuracy, like fairness, is a journalist's stock in trade. Accusing a journalist of being intentionally inaccurate is in itself libelous, and I take it seriously.

So I'm very interested in what this lawsuit is going to say, assuming it gets served. I'm curious to see whether an attorney, an officer of the court, will have the audacity to misstate in court papers what our newspaper printed and then complain that, as miscast, it is libelous.

But Cholowsky's attorney has had a lot of other things on his plate in the last couple of days.

His client was served Tuesday with an appearance ticket, initiating a felony prosecution for filing a false instrument (the Emjay application in which he answered "no" to a question about prior criminal convictions). He's scheduled to be arraigned next month in county district court in Islip.

Cholowsky was also served Tuesday with a revocation notice by the DEC informing him that Calverton Industries' operating permit is revoked, effective immediately.

And he was served at the same time with a notice that the DEC intends to revoke his Emjay operating permit too, because of statements in the Emjay permit application that the DEC now says were false.

So Cholowsky's attorney is one busy dude. The man has a history of keeping lawyers busy though. He's a litigious guy -- Riverhead town has been in almost constant litigation with him for almost a decade now.

Frankly, we fully expected to be on the receiving end of a lawsuit after publishing Cholowsky's permit history in the paper last month. So be it. The thing about libel law is this: TRUTH is an absolute defense.

Check out our story in the Jan. 11 edition of The News-Review at We've also posted on our Web site several pertinent documents, including Cholowsky's criminal docket from 2000, his Emjay application "record of compliance," his Calverton Industries permit, and the April 2000 affidavit he gave the DEC swearing he wasn't and wouldn't become involved in the solid waste industry.

As they taught us in law school: res ipsa loquitur. The thing speaks for itself.