August 24, 2012
County apology settles slander suits
Attorneys sought $12 million for comments made by former county administrator
Two matching $6 million defamation lawsuits filed in 2009 were resolved Thursday as Cortland County Legislature Chairman Mike Park issued an apology to local lawyers Rick VanDonsel and Mary Leonard.
The Legislature voted unanimously to settle the lawsuit and Park (R-Homer) produced a letter of apology.
Park said he decided to settle the matter about two months ago when the opportunity was first presented to him. In June, State Supreme Court Justice Robert Mulvey asked both sides to reach a settlement after hearing arguments in state Supreme Court in Tompkins County.
Leonard and VanDonsel sued former County Administrator Scott Schrader and the county, arguing Schrader’s call to investigate their part in a failed land deal with the county damaged their professional reputations when the former administrator mentioned a possible criminal conspiracy.
In June, Leonard and VanDonsel added to their initial complaint, saying Cortland County has made it a pattern to allow its employees to ruin the reputations of public figures. VanDonsel said the county uses the news media to smear certain reputations.
VanDonsel wanted a trial in the matter and called for a public apology.
In the letter, Park says Schrader’s statements were made in performance of his administrator duties but may have caused Leonard and VanDonsel distress.
“... I offer an apology to Mr. VanDonsel and Ms. Leonard and to Mr. Schrader on behalf of Cortland County for any perceived harm resulting from that memorandum or the county’s actions or inactions relating to that memorandum,” Park states in his letter, referring to a memorandum Schrader issued in 2007.
Park said that although Schrader was acting in the county’s best interests, “the manner in which he did so may have been construed otherwise.”
VanDonsel and Leonard did not return a phone call for comment.
Schrader’s attorney, Alan Pierce, was not available for comment by press time.
Legislator John Troy (D-1st Ward) said he is happy to have the lawsuits behind the county.
“This thing has been hanging over our heads a number of years and I’m glad Mr. VanDonsel and Ms. Leonard decided to drop the lawsuit with an apology,” Troy said.
Park said the county can now focus on the
future of Cortland County.
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