Be careful what you say on social media!
BY DYLAN SKRILOFF
The Village of Pomona has been hit with sanctions in its court case with the Congregation Rabbinical College of Tartikov due to social media posts of Mayor Brett Yagel and former trustee Rita Louie.
Lawyers for Tartikov filed a complaint when they discovered that in 2013, Louie had expressed dismay at the presence of a large all-male gathering of Orthodox Jews at Provident Bank Park Stadium in Pomona, citing their practice of gender segregation. Following the post it was revealed that Mayor Brett Yagel chastised her for expressing a view that could be viewed as harmful to their court case with the proposed Orthodox Jewish religious institution and that Louie then deleted the posts.
In November 2014 Yagel mentioned the deleted conversation in a Facebook comment string underneath a Rockland County Times article and lawyers for Tartikov took notice.
Yagel wrote underneath the Rockland County Times article: “FACT: Rita Louie, while still a Trustee, posted on Facebook, inappropriately, about an ‘ALL MALE gathering’ at the Provident Bank Ballpark. Especially given the lawsuit which the Village of Pomona is involved with and the NATION [sic] IMPLICATIONS it could have. i.e., federal law potentially being struck down as unconstitutional, just as it’s [sic] predecessor (RFA) was. Total lapse in reason and judgment. Here [sic] explanation (have the text still Rita), on medication and I’ve removed it. And if a vacancy should occur (post this village election), how could anyone in their right mind (i.e. New Mayor), consider this person as a viable candidate to fill an [sic] trustee unexpired (his), given their predisposition to making such blatant and inappropriate remarks.”
Tartikov had requested in discovery all records of comments made about Hasidic and Orthodox Jews, so Yagel’s revelation that Louie had decided to delete her comments was legally out of bounds, the judge ruled.
Judge Kenneth M. Karas sanctioned Pomona, ruling that because Louie had removed the comments referenced by Mayor Yagel, the jury must assume that their contents indicate evidence of a prejudice against Orthodox Jews. Judge Karas stated, “The jury will be instructed that it may infer that the contents of the Facebook post indicated discriminatory animus toward the Hasidic Jewish population.”
The sanction could end up being worth millions to the village, as Tartikov contends that the village created zoning laws to stop their proposed college and expansive dormitories partially due to animus against their religious community. The village contends the laws are intended only to protect the residential nature of the Village of Pomona. The village has noted that because Hasidic custom is to marry in the late teens or early 20s, the religious college dormitories have been proposed to house the entire immediate families of students for years at a time.
If built, the college could increase the population of the village by over 1,000 persons. As of 2013 Pomona’s estimated population is 3,173. If the village loses the case, the jury could charge taxpayers with millions in legal fees, as well as require the village codes to be changed to allow development.
Paul Savad, lead counsel representing the plaintiffs, said “although the Village of Pomona tried to deceive us by trying to destroy evidence that they knew would adversely affect their case; Judge Karas did the right thing by punishing them for their bad faith.”
The judge also ruled that Tartikov’s lawsuit is worthy of being heard by a jury and refused the village’s motions for dismissal.