A civil lawsuit in which a New Canaan-based trader alleges a town woman and NBC Universal libeled him online is expected to go before a judge on May 4.
According to the suit, filed in in Stamford, Mitchell Vazquez is seeking $15,000 in monetary damages and $100,000 in punitive damages from Teri Buhl and the New York-based television network.
The suit alleges Buhl posted a story on her blog in December containing "false and defamatory" statements. The post, dated Dec. 30, 2011, and updated on Jan. 5, accused Vazquez of violating orders given by the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission following an investigation into his company’s trading practices between 1999 and 2001. In addition, Buhl wrote that Vazquez might have traded under his girlfriend Pamela Mercedes Chiesi's name in 2009 to get around the CFTC’s orders and "[lied] to… clients about the value of some derivative contracts" while serving as a trader for Bankers Trust in 1996.
Also according to the complaint, John Carney, a senior editor at NBC Universal-owned CNBC.com, published an online article on Jan. 6 urging readers to read Buhl's post about Vazquez and provided a hyperlink to her site. "I don't want to steal Buhl's thunder, so click on her report for the big reveal," Carney wrote.
Carney did not respond to a request for comment.
Vazquez wrote in his affidavit that "[these] defamatory statements are causing irreparable harm to my personal and professional reputation and if they continue to be published on the Internet, they will severely harm me and my business.”
The case has already attracted attention in wider First Amendment circles.
“We are aggressively fighting this case,” Buhl's attorney Carol Head told Patch. Head’s online bio notes her work in helping filmmaker Michael Moore in a defamation claim involving “Fahrenheit 9/11.”
Vazquez’s attorney says this isn’t about infringing on anyone’s First Amendment’s rights.
“We believe bloggers are entitled to their opinion, but [are] not entitled to allegedly misstated facts,” said Stamford-based Mark Sherman.
Buhl responded: "I'm not surprised Vazquez would try to bully a freelance journalist, who has the potential to uncover more problems in his trading business, with litigation. But for attorney Mark Sherman to take this frivolous case reads like a truck full of money showed up at his door and he couldn't refuse it."
Buhl and Sherman also disagree on what prompted Sherman to drop his request to prevent Buhl from talking or reporting on his client. Buhl says he dropped it because he knew any attempt to prevent a journalist from reporting something before a finding of legal fault runs afoul of the First Amendment, but Sherman says it was dropped after Buhl made edits to her posts about Vazquez that were satisfactory to his client.
Attorneys for NBC could not be reached for comment.
Buhl's post reported the arrest of Helen Kapoutsos, who served as Vazquez's assistant, by New Canaan police. According to the post, Vazquez accused Kapoutsos of stealing money from his bank account. Kapoutsos revealed to police that she was having a sexual relationship with Vazquez, Buhl wrote, and that he was paying her $2,000 a night to stay at his house and have sex with him and his “fiancé.”
Buhl continues to write and speak publicly about Vazquez, including recent appearances on the Kaiser Report, a video chat show on financial matters [Buhl starts at 13.49], and international finance show Capital Account [Buhl starts at 3.15]. She told Patch that she has “crowd-funded” $3,600 from her readers for her latest reporting involving Vazquez. This one seeks to uncover what Buhl believes is New Canaan’s swinging sex underground, or, as she states in her pitch paragraph for the funding, “...A story that could make the movie 'The Ice Storm' look like kiddy [sic] play.”
This is not the only legal issue involving Buhl locally.
She is also still facing criminal charges stemming from a 2010 arrest by New Canaan police. Buhl is accused of posting personal and sexually explicit information on Facebook about her boyfriend's daughter, who was 17 years old at the time. She faces charges of second-degree harassment, second-degree breach of peace and interfering with an officer, and is scheduled to appear in state Superior Court in April. Buhl in favor of a trial.