Lawsuit raises free speech question

By Seth Grossman, Political Columnist

?Just because you do not take an interest in politics, does not mean politics will not take an interest in you.?

? Pericles, leader of Athens, 430 B.C.

Absecon is a typical New Jersey suburb of 8,000 people located on Route 30 about seven miles northwest of Atlantic City. Like most New Jersey towns, Absecon?s zoning laws are so oppressive and unreasonable that it rarely pays for property owners to build anything new unless they get some special redevelopment variance.

Thanks to the NJEA and NEA teachers? unions, public education is now so expensive that Absecon spends $11,000 each year on each child ? not counting the cost of the building. So if two kids live in one house that pays $5,000 each year in taxes, the town must pay $22,000 on just the kids. Because of situations like this, most New Jersey towns have zoning laws deliberately designed to keep out new homes that families with kids can afford.

Five years ago, a real estate developer got a special ?redevelopment? zoning deal to build AbseconGardens, a 76-unit complex of condos bunched up on the site of an old abandoned elementary school. That was because the developer promised that only seniors over age 55 ? and no families with school-age kids ? would live there.

But why would retirees want to live in New Jersey these days? They can rent a nice condo in a red state like Florida for about what they pay for just property taxes here, and avoid income tax on their pensions. And when they die, their kids don?t get stuck with our 35 percent estate tax on anything over $675,000.

And so AbseconGardens failed, until two years later when it was bought by a company owned by Anthony Cappuccio. Cappuccio?s company applied for permission from the Absecon Planning Board to get rid of the over-55 requirement so that anyone, including families with kids, could live there.

This infuriated the neighbors, who believe that this project is so overcrowded and poorly designed for young people that mostly subsidized, low-income, high-crime families would live there. They believe this would lower their property values and quality of life, and raise their taxes as dozens of new school-age children flood their public schools.

Suddenly, dozens of Absecon residents who never before took an interest in politics realized that politics had taken an interest in them. Several of them joined

More than 100 organized and publicly opposed Cappuccio?s company before the Planning Board. When Cappuccio won, they appealed to Superior Court.

Meanwhile, Cappuccio?s company expanded the project, and is now requesting even more variances from the Absecon zoning laws ? and the relocation of a city street.

And Cappuccio did something else. He hired the lawyer/lobbyists of Cooper Levenson (the firm that helped Revel Casino get more than $400 million of state and local tax breaks) to sue one of the neighbors who publicly spoke out against the project for ?libel and slander,? a woman named Barbara ?Basia? Brown. Cooper Levenson also sent letters to other opponents of the project warning them to ?cease and desist? from making any ?defamatory verbal and written statements? against Cappuccio?s ?character and reputation.?

Both the lawsuit and the warning letters are unusual in that neither gives a clue as to what those ?defamatory? statements allegedly were, or when or to whom they were allegedly said.

Did Basia or other Absecon neighbors of this project maliciously make false statements about Cappuccio, knowing that they were false? If so, shouldn?t Cappuccio specify what they are, so Basia and the others have a chance to check their facts and apologize if they were wrong?

Or is Cappuccio?s legal action nothing but a ?SLAPP? (Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation)? Was it done to discourage Basia Brown and other Absecon residents from freely exercising their unalienable rights of free speech and assembly to oppose Cappuccio?s project?

I don?t live in Absecon and have no personal interest in Cappuccio?s project or Absecon?s zoning laws. But if Cappuccio?s lawsuit is baseless, yet succeeds in silencing Basia and the others because they cannot afford the expense, uncertainty or hassle of hiring lawyers and defending themselves, then my personal liberty, and yours, are also threatened.

Learn more. Meet Barbara ?Basia? Brown at our Saturday morning breakfast, call (609) 404-4444 or email . You can reach Cappuccio?s lawyer, Louis Niedelman, Esq. of the Cooper Levenson law firm at (609) 344-3161.

(Reprinted from July 18, 2012 Current-Gazette Newspapers of Atlantic and Cape May Counties,

Somers Point attorney Seth Grossman appears on 92.1FM 8-9 a.m. Saturday. For information see, email or call (609) 927-7333. Breakfast discussions are held 9:30-10:30 a.m. every Saturday at the Shore Diner on Fire and Tilton roads in Egg Harbor Township.

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  • Seth Grossman

    Seth Grossman is executive director of Liberty And Prosperity, which he co-founded in 2003. It promotes American liberty and limited constitutional government through weekly radio and in-person discussions, its website, email newsletters and various events. Seth Grossman is also a general practice lawyer.

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