Highway One threatens defamation suit

Letter: Moskowitz, Hanson, Appelbaum, Smith “put on notice”
July 12, 2019

Highway One has threatened legal action against former and current Dewey commissioners and the director of a watchdog group in a July 5 letter.

Highway One attorney Stephen Spence’s letter to Commissioner David Moskowitz, former Mayor Diane Hanson, former Commissioner and Town Manager Marc Appelbaum and Dewey Citizens for Accountability’s Jeffrey Smith states their recent statements defame Highway One business Northbeach and owners Alex Pires and John Snow.

The letter was sent in advance of a 6 p.m., Friday, July 12 Dewey commissioners’ meeting in which the agenda calls for discussion and public comment on town response to incidents near Northbeach and the Lions Club.

The letter states Highway One is willing to withhold legal action to de-escalate the situation, but warned recipients they must preserve emails and texts regarding Highway One that could be used as discovery in a lawsuit against them.

“If your wrongful conduct continues, Highway One will take the steps necessary to protect itself and seek redress for past, present and future defamatory statements,” Spence wrote. “Now that you have been put on notice of my clients’ concerns, we trust your future actions will be guided by this warning.”

The letter states two communications, a June 20 personal newsletter sent by Moskowitz and a June 26 email blast sent by Smith, contain defamatory statements about Highway One.

Moskowitz’s newsletter links to articles on fights at Northbeach, and calls upon Mayor TJ Redefer to hold a public meeting. The newsletter lists 16 suggestions to end the violence, including raising pay for seasonal and part-time officers, and hiring budgeted but unfilled positions for full-time police officers.

Moskowitz said he sent the email to inform the public.

“I stand behind my decision to disseminate this information because these issues are being concealed by town management,” he said in a July 10 email. 

Smith’s email includes articles about fights and liquor law violation charges against Northbeach, which was granted a seven-year lease by property owner Dewey Beach Lions Club in March. The email states Redefer and former Building Official Bill Mears, both Lions, advocated for Northbeach to be awarded the lease.

Spence’s letter states Smith and Moskowitz’s statements, and emails sent by and among all four letter recipients, suggest collusion regarding the Lions Club’s decision to award the lease to Northbeach.

“You accuse certain leaders of the Lions Club, who are or were also town officials, and Highway One of engaging in public corruption,” the letter states. “These communications allege undue influence and bribery by Highway One with respect to these Lions Club members. These allegations are categorically false and actionable.”

The letter alleges recipients used the town email list to send communications and serve their political aspirations. “The email list maintained by the town is town property,” Spence wrote. “Your misuse of this information violates the privacy of individuals who provided their emails to the town, and may also violate campaign laws which generally prohibit the use of public resources in connection with political campaigns or for other personal purposes.”

Moskowitz said the town website informs users who sign up to receive town emails that information they provide is subject to the Freedom of Information Act and could be requested by anyone. He said he is not associated with DCA in any official capacity.

“The DCA's emails are their own, and are not a direct reflection of my views, opinions or statements,” Moskowitz said. “My emails as an official should not be lumped in with an accountability group, particularly since I do not write, nor have control over, that platform.”

Smith said residents sign up to receive DCA emails through the DCA website. “I’ve never heard that claim before. I’ve never gotten a town’s list.”

In a July 9 eblast, Smith said DCA will continue to send emails that link to articles on Dewey issues.

“Pires’ July 5 letter will not serve its purpose to intimidate DCA’s free speech rights,” Smith wrote. “To the contrary, it’s an opportunity for residents and DCA, a nonpolitical group, to demand accountability from him for the reported and documented chaos and violence at Mr. Pires’ owned bars, and the politicians who support him at the expense of their duty to the town’s residents’ concern for safety.”

The letter also requests Moskowitz “refrain from following Mr. Pires and engaging him in public or private spaces, and further requests that Mr. Moskowitz not call, email or text him.”

Moskowitz said he has no plans to speak with Pires.

“However, in any setting I encounter him, I will always treat him professionally and with respect,” Moskowitz said. “Alex has done some good things for Dewey Beach, such as the July 4th fireworks, but there are always things to improve upon. He should be a part of the solution by helping the town fix the violence issues that affect everyone.”

Appelbaum said he wants no involvement in town affairs. “I have no reason to communicate with anyone and haven’t attended town meetings in years,” he said. “I have no interest.”

Smith agreed. “Marc is not part of this at all; none of our news and agenda comes from Marc.” 

Hanson scoffed at the letter.

“I believe that anything I've ever said about Northbeach is true,” she said. “It has had a long history of violent disturbances documented in the press and in town history. I will not be intimidated by such unfounded and vague complaints.” 

Spence and Pires could not be reached for comment.


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