NISKAYUNA – The defamation and now libel lawsuit filed by the former Niskayuna interim police chief against the former comptroller will continue in court after the judge in the case denied a request by the defendant to dismiss the matter.
Former interim police chief Fran Wall left the department in June 2021 after 36 years on the job. Prior to retiring the town board was expected to reprimand Wall after she was investigated by the town’s Hazard Reduction Team for allegedly threatening to kill now former Comptroller Ismat Alam and harassing her eight separate times.
Wall has denied the allegations from the beginning. In court documents filed in November 2021 Wall said statements made by Alam, including statements made in a hostile workplace complaint filed Jan. 17, were false and caused damage to her reputation, thereby defaming her. The allegations were published in both The Gazette and Times Union. Wall has now added a libel claim to the lawsuit, according to court documents filed April 21.
However, Judge Thomas Buchanan dismissed two claims that the statements made by Alam damaged Wall’s reputation and could make it more difficult for her to get post-retirement opportunities, according to Wall’s lawyer Paul Davenport of Albany-based Whiteman Osterman & Hanna.
“The court’s decision had no impact on Chief Wall’s main claim that seeks damages for the defendant intentionally making false and defamatory statements designed to harm her and to protect the defendant against the workplace complaints the Chief had made against her,” he said. “We intend to pursue those claims vigorously and look forward to proving our damages in Court.”
Alam’s attorney John W. Bailey of Bailey, Johnson and Peck in Albany said they will file a motion to dismiss again. However, that likely won’t happen until January, Bailey said, noting the two sides must first go through the discovery process.
Bailey said he requested the dismissal for three main reasons: there was no slander or libel, it’s protected speech and a ruling in Wall’s favor could have future chilling effects on people making workplace violence complaints.
What was said in the workplace violence report isn’t defamatory or libelous if it’s true, Bailey said. He also said the complaint wasn’t readily made available to the public but became available due to the repeal of 50a, which had originally concealed police records. Bailey also argued that Alam falls under qualified privilege, which allows someone to make a statement that would typically be defamatory, but isn’t because the person making the statement has a legal, moral duty to make it and the statement is not made in malice.
But one of Bailey’s biggest arguments is that by ruling in Wall’s favor it may prevent people from filing workplace violence complaints in the future due to fear of being sued.
“When we get to tee this up a little later in the case, we think he’s (Buchanan) going to agree with that argument and if he doesn’t then we may look at an appeal on that,” Bailey said. “That’s all hypothetical – down the road. We don’t know exactly what will happen but that’s kind of the way it could play out.”
Reporter Shenandoah Briere can be reached at [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter at SB_DailyGazette.net.