NJ educator in trans rant beer throwing case sues for libel
GALLOWAY, NJ (AP) – A New Jersey college assistant principal who was filmed throwing a mug of beer at people who recorded his wife’s rant against an apparent transgender woman’s use of the public restroom is suing them for defamation, claiming he has never said a word about transgender issues.
Michael Smurro, deputy principal of Neptune Middle School who has been on unpaid leave shortly after the April incident at an outdoor restaurant in Galloway Township, has filed a civil suit against four people suing him him and his wife for this incident.
In his counter-suit, Smurro accuses Carolyn DiPietro, Christopher Benino and Robert and Debra Harris of defamation and invasion of privacy in a false light, claiming in this latest charge that the defendants have made public statements accusing him of something he didn’t do.
“Defendant Michael Smurro himself has never said a word to plaintiffs or anyone who denigrates transgender people, or indeed anyone,” his lawyer Alexander Schachtel wrote in court documents filed earlier this month . “The complainants have alleged, stated or implied on several occasions that (Michael Smurro) had made a speech or a transphobic speech, or made sectarian comments about them, although he had never actually declared or uttered a such and such a thing. “
The lawyer also wrote in court documents that the identity of the person who used the toilet was never determined, “and it also remains unknown whether that person was in fact transgender or rather a man who had decided, for some reason to use the women’s restroom. “
Schachtel told The Associated Press on Monday that the civil lawsuit against Smurro is without merit because those who filed it suffered no harm.
“Michael is being sued because his wife made comments that offended the sensitivity of the plaintiffs,” Schachtel said. “Michael and Lisa Smurro have the right to have their opinions and the right to express them in public, even though some may find them distasteful. No one should have their livelihood threatened for expressing an opinion. When this story went viral, Michael and Lisa Smurro were fiercely attacked and vilified on social media. There was a lot of outrage and little search for the truth. We hope to clear things up. “
David Shanies, the lawyer for those suing Smurro, replied: “Some people, when they find themselves in a hole, come out. Others continue to dig deeper and deeper. Anyone who watches the videos and hears (Lisa Smurro) shout “He’s a man! It’s a man ! can make up their own minds about whether she is talking about seeing someone she thought was a man rather than a transgender woman.
The Smurros and people who say he was hit with beer from his mug when he threw it in their direction have filed criminal complaints in city court for harassment. This case is pending.
Footage from the open-air restaurant shows Lisa Smurro complaining at length about a person she apparently believed to be a transgender woman using the women’s toilet. New Jersey law prohibits discrimination based on gender identity and allows people to use public restrooms that match their gender identity.
The footage shows that when the couple realized someone was filming, they stood up and walked over. Lisa Smurro continued to complain and a woman at the table replied, “Please take your hate elsewhere. “
Michael Smurro then threw the contents of a beer mug at the occupants of the table.
“There you go, mate,” he said on the video. “Here.”
Smurro’s counter-suit claims his career and reputation were damaged, “possibly irreparably,” noting that Neptune school administrators received 80 voicemail messages demanding disciplinary action against Smurro in just three days after the publication of the case.
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