BRIDGETON - A state Pinelands Commission member is taking 14 people into state court over comments posted on her business Facebook pages, including one unsympathetic lyrical comparison to the devil, over her support for a natural gas pipeline.
Vineland resident Jane Jannarone claims, in a lawsuit filed in Cumberland County Superior Court on March 20, that the posts intentionally damaged her real estate business and her reputation.
Jannarone, a former Democratic freeholder in Cumberland County, is among the majority of Pinelands Commission members who voted in late February to allow the South Jersey Gas project to finally proceed.
"They went on (the social-media sites) and attacked my livelihood and they said a lot of things that were absolutely untrue," Jannarone said on Tuesday. "And none of these people have I ever done business with. And they're still going on, even after the suit. And frankly, it's quite intimidating. Someone who would post comments like that in print makes me nervous for my safety."
Jannarone said that any organization that counts the defendants as members should be "embarrassed."
Jannarone said the Cumberland County Prosecutor's Office is investigating the postings. She said a formal complaint was not filed but that the New Jersey Division of Criminal Justice was contacted through the Pinelands Commission about her concerns.
The Prosecutor's Office and the New Jersey Attorney General's Office would not comment on whether there is or is not an investigation.
Pinelands Commission spokesman Paul Leakan said he has no information on any commission's filing complaints. Executive Director Nancy Wittenberg was out of state, he said.
Jannarone said her understanding was that Commissioner Bob Barr of Ocean City feels threatened by pipeline opponents and that Wittenberg feels targeted.
The lawsuit alleges defamation by all 14 defendants and an additional charge that they illegally interfered with her business. The lawsuit does not specify the damages but states their extent will be “established at trial.”
The lawsuit attaches one social media post to each defendant mentioned.
For example, Cherry Hill resident Samantha Magpiong allegedly posted: “Thanks for selling out our pipelines! Think twice about using this business. You voted with your $$ people.”
The suit claims Oaklyn resident Scott Morse posted: “In my interaction with Jane, I found her to be very rude and unprofessional.”
The suit attributes to Medford resident Kate Slaughter Conlow a rewrite of The Rolling Stones song “Sympathy for the Devil.”
It reads: “Please allow me to introduce Jane Jannarone. She's a realtor of wealth and taste, been around for a long long time, stole the pinelands soul and faith. She was round when Jesus Christ had his moment of doubt and pain, made damn sure to pilate, washed his hands and sealed his fate. Jane is pleased to meet you, hope you guess her true name, but what puzzling you is the nature of her game.”
The lawsuit alleges statements were “made maliciously and with the intent to destroy plaintiff’s professional reputation and career." Jannarone also suffers “extreme mental anguish and distress,” it adds.
The New Jersey Sierra Club on Tuesday spoke out against Jannarone's legal action, calling it a strategic lawsuit against public participation (SLAPP) and adding it is meant to "censor, intimidate, and silence the public from any opposition."
"Instead of protecting the Pinelands, Jannarone is attacking the public for voicing their disapproval on this vote that puts the future of the Pinelands at risk," New Jersey Sierra Club Director Jeff Tittel said in a statement. "The Pinelands are an internationally and nationally recognized treasure with plants and animal species found nowhere else in the world. This area is the wilderness of 800,000 acres in the middle of the most densely populated state enjoyed by everyone. The Pinelands Commissioners who voted for the pipeline sold out the Pinelands instead of upholding protections. Her lawsuit clearly goes against the Constitution and people's First Amendment rights. It is disgraceful that the people who care about the Pinelands and keeping its environmentally sensitive areas protected are being attacked in this SLAPP suit."
Attorney Douglas Long, who represents Jannarone, responded to Tittel. Long, too, is a former Cumberland freeholder and is chair of the county Democratic Party.
“Everyone is entitled to their own opinion and can voice it as they see fit," Long said. "People are even allowed to be as vulgar and classless as the defendants in this case. However, people are not allowed to represent negatively doing business with a business they’ve never done business with in the first place. Again, give your opinion, just don’t knowingly damage my client and her business in the process – easy concept to understand.”
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