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Judge Slapped with $2.2 Million Suit when Driveway Feud Turns Ugly

Justice Barbara Wilson of Southampton, NY is being sued by neighbor Tony Gugliotta for defamation. The story begins as a fairly standard argument over a shared driveway, a portion of which Judge Wilson claims is hers. While surveys show that the part of the driveway in question belongs to Mr. Gugliotta, Justice Wilson claims adverse possession or “squatter’s rights” to the disputed ground.

While perhaps not the Platonic ideal of how we might expect a judge to act (who chains an SUV to a porch column? More importantly, who chooses that shade of yellow?), things didn’t get really interesting until the April 13th meeting of the Southampton Village Architectural Review Board and Historic Preservation.

First, I’d be remiss if I didn’t direct you to the videotape of the meeting, the opening music of which would do John Tesh proud.

During the meeting, Mr. Gugliotta discusses Ms. Wilson’s desire to build a stairway, ostensibly for fire safety, on her property. During his discussions of the reasons that the Review Board should reject Ms. Wilson’s application to build the stairway, Mr. Gugliotta mentions Ms. Wilson’s daughter.

The relevant portion runs from minutes 1:22:31 – 1:23:24.

Mr. Gugliotta:
As far as the purpose of the staircase, I don’t see a reason for the staircase. The house is two-family; it’s been rented for years as a two-family going up the front stairs and coming out the back stairs. No issues ever before and now, all of a sudden there’s an issue that we need, she needs, a second staircase for the rear for her daughter’s safety, if I remember the last time. Her daughter has been living there for the last, since, if I remember, for the last 16 years – has a bedroom downstairs and she has a bedroom upstairs. So I don’t see any issue that she needs a staircase to get out of the house in the event of a fire.

Chairman Curtis Highsmith:
I won’t get into…parents need to make sure their daughter, child is protected. Being a father of a daughter, trust me, I’d build an elevator if I could.

But things get really spicy when Justice (remember, she’s a judge) Barbara Wilson gives her concluding remarks at minutes 1:34:23 – 1:34:37 of the videotaped meeting.

Judge Barbara Wilson:
Just when people bring up my daughter it gets a little upsetting to me.
Chairman Highsmith:
Oh I understand that…
Justice Barbara Wilson:
Especially when grown men want to look at little girls.
Chairman Highsmith:
Whoa…Don’t want to, don’t want to get into that.
Justice Barbara Wilson:
I don’t want it to get into it either.

And cue defamation. Mr. Gugliotta’s suit claims that Ms. Wilson’s statements at the meeting “falsely, and in a defamatory manner, accuse and claim plaintiff of being a pedophile and a sexual predator of children.” The suit is for $2.2 million.

So what do you think, pre-law types: is the Judge in trouble or is Mr. Gugliotta staring down the wrong end of a bright yellow chained SUV?