Chesley/Knickerbocker Cleared of Defamation Charge

A Danbury jury returned a not-guilty finding against Bethel First Selectman Matt Knickerbocker and former Superintendent of Schools Gary Chesley in a case claiming they defamed a Bethel personal trainer.


Bethel First Selectman Matt Knickerbocker and former School Superintendent Gary Chesley were cleared Tuesday of having defamed a Bethel resident in an e-mail sent to the Board of Education in August 2009.

Dan Gaita, a Bethel personal trainer, claimed the e-mail hurt his business and caused him distress. The e-mail warned board members about a video Gaita created.

Knickerbocker, the Bethel first selectman since November 2009, said he didn't write the email, and he wasn't in the room when it was written. He said Chesley's goal was to let board of education members know a video was being circulated that dealt with Bethel Schools. The email might have gone a bit beyond its goal by referring to the video as hate speech.

It was campaign season in Bethel, and Knickerbocker was a candidate for first selectman. The video portrayed him as a bad politician, Knickerbocker said, and was a political attack.

Gaita had created the video raising questions about Knickerbocker, a former Board of Education member, who was running for first selectman. It raised questions about renovations at Bethel High School that took place in 2001 and 2002 when Knickerbocker was on the board.

Both Chesley and Knickerbocker were cleared of defaming Gaita by the jury Tuesday.

"Both of us won," Knickerbocker said. The jurors started deliberations Tuesday morning, and finished before 3:45 p.m. Tuesday. Chesley retired last year after serving as Bethel's Superintendent of Schools for 12 years.

Verify September 26, 2012 at 03:39 PM
Mark, when you quote Kinckerbocker saying "Both of us won" it would help if you mentioned that Knickerbocker probably meant meant "Knickerbocker and Chesley" and not "Knickerbocker and Gaita".
Dan Gaita September 26, 2012 at 03:49 PM
Please note: The jury did rule that Dr. Chesley's email was both defamatory and his accusations were false. He was not cleared of the charge of defamation. He was however protected from a plaintiff’s verdict by way of the defense claim that his email constituted "fair comment" as to a matter of public concern. The jury did determine that his email was defamatory - and the jury did determine that the accusation of his email were false. The jury read this determination to the judge three times. (No media was present in the courtroom when the verdict was read) The jury did determine that Mr. Knickerbocker did not take part in the writing or publication of the email. Mr. Knickerbocker was cleared of any and all wrong doing by the jury, but Dr. Chesley was not. Given that, I do feel partially vindicated. The court record shows Dr. Chesleys accusation about me in his email was not true, and that his email was false. I'd certainly like to see greater accountability, but the Jury had the final say. Thank you to everyone that encouraged and supported me throughout this entire ordeal.
Crusader Rabbit September 26, 2012 at 04:05 PM
So, is Dan responsible for court costs?
Dan Gaita September 26, 2012 at 05:35 PM
The jury did find that Dr. Chesley's email was defamatory, and was false. That part I did win. Knickerbocker was cleared on all counts in the claim, that part he won. The Jury however could not provide a verdict for the plaintiff due to the special defense of "fair comment/privilege"
Dan Gaita September 26, 2012 at 05:38 PM
I have already paid all court cost. The town has had no liability in the action. This has been confirmed with our treasurer and comptroller. I hope this serves to clarify your concerns.


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