Jury Finds That Doherty Defamed Alvarez
Updated: Sep 21
Update: September 21, 2023;
Late this afternoon, a six-member jury unanimously decided that Sullivan County Board of Legislators' Chair Robert Doherty had defamed his predecessor, County Legislator Luis Alvarez, when he publicly claimed that Mr. Alvarez had called a female county commissioner a "cunt" and when he further claimed that this allegation was "founded." Comprised of four women and two men, the jury returned its verdict after about two hours of deliberation following a three-day trial in Monticello at which ten witnesses testified.
Mr. Alvarez initiated his lawsuit in the spring 2021, claiming that Mr. Alvarez acted with actual malice and recklessly made these allegations knowing they were false. The jury agreed. Mr. Alvarez testified at trial that he never called the Commissioner this vile term, and that Mr. Doherty issued a press release on January 22, 2021 after behaving dismissively and hostilely toward him during their first year together in the County Legislature.
Fellow county legislator Nadia Rajsz was the trial's last witness and testified that she had worked closely with Mr. Alvarez in the legislature, had never heard him speak in this manner and found him honest. Mr. Doherty's testimony was marked by numerous contradictions, changing accounts of events and answers inconsistent with those he provided at his deposition eight months ago and with that of other witnesses.
In his testimony, Mr. Alvarez told the jury that clearing his name and restoring his reputation motivated his lawsuit, not money. He specifically explained that he was not suing for money. The jury awarded neither compensatory not punitive damages to Mr. Alvarez who commented, "All the money in this world is not as meaningful as a jury of our peers finding that Mr. Doherty defamed me in two ways. He recklessly accused me of a despicable act, damaging my well-earned reputation. He then had the gall to claim that this baseless allegation was "founded" when he knew full well that my accuser had failed to ever even raise any such claim when speaking about my conduct to either the Director of Human Resources or the Ethics Board. The claim was never founded by anyone. I feel vindicated and appreciate the hard work of this jury and of presiding Judge Bryant."
Both Mr. Alvarez and Mr. Doherty are both seeking re-election as legislators this November. Mr. Alvarez remarked, "We cannot continue to elect leaders who have a profound disregard for the truth and a disrespect for the processes our County has established to investigate serious claims of harassment and discrimination. If Mr. Doherty truly believed that I engaged in this despicable behavior, he should have respected the privacy of the woman who came forward and referred her to the proper authorities in our county for a proper investigation. Instead, he wanted to embarrass me and politically assassinate me
and issued a scurrilous press release and then engaged in facebook posts which compounded the damage. But he has failed and I look forward to continuing my service to Sullivan County and its resident." Mr. Alvarez retired in 2015 from the Sheriff's Department where he honorably served for thirty years.
For further comment, please reach Michael Sussman, Mr. Alvarez's lawyer at 845-294-3991.
(August 11, 2022 story)
A State Supreme Court judge this week rejected a motion by County Legislature Chair Rob Doherty to throw out a defamation lawsuit filed last year by Luis Alvarez, who is a county legislator and the immediate past chair of the body.
Legislator Luis Alvarez , top row at center, can move forward with his lawsuit against Rob Doherty, second row at center, after a judge this week rejected Doherty's motion.
The suit, filed in March 2021, alleges that Doherty made a "libelous and false statement" online and also defamed him by spreading the lie that Alvarez used the "c" word in a meeting in late 2020 with former Health & Family Services Commissioner Stephanie Brown.
Alvarez has said repeatedly that he did not use the word but that he did at times express anger at Brown and others for the way his wife was being treated as a resident of The Care Center at Sunset Lake, an institution that Brown was in charge of at the time.
Judge Kevin R. Bryant wrote:
"This Court has considered the comments made by Defendant ( Doherty) and finds that the comments are reasonably susceptible to a defamatory connotation. Whether the statements are untrue or whether Defendant had a reasonable basis to believe that they are true, the question of whether they rise to the level alleged by Plaintiff, is properly determined by a jury. "
But Bryant also criticized the court filings filed by Doherty's lawyers : "It is the finding of this Court that significant credibility questions are raised by the pleadings, affidavits, and exhibits."
Doherty was first elected chair of the Legislature in 2020, replacing Alvarez, and has regularly made public comments during legislative meetings that mocked his predecessor's track record. He has also spent considerable taxpayer time personally attacking Legislator Nadia Rajsz, in comments deemed by many as sexist, as well as Legislator Joe Perrello, who he called "a punk" three times at a public meeting. In February 2021, Rajsz called for Doherty to be censured and spoke at that time about Doherty's use of the taxpayer-funded county website to attack Alvarez publicly.
Soon after Doherty became chair, he appointed Michael McGuire as the County Attorney just after the State Commission on Judicial Conduct recommended that the former county court judge be removed from the bench. McGuire was officially removed by the New York Court of Appeals on August 26, 2020.
Since McGuire's appointment, he has acted much more as personal attorney for Doherty instead of the entire legislative body, as written in the County Attorney's job description.
The SullivanTimes had reported exclusively that Doherty is being represented in this case by Stephen Coffey, the same Albany-based attorney who represented McGuire when he was under investigation by the State Commission on Judicial Conduct.
It still remains unclear if Sullivan County taxpayers are footing the bill for Doherty's legal defense. Multiple requests made by The SullivanTimes to various County officials asking who is paying for Doherty's defense bills went unanswered.