June 25 (Bloomberg) -- A defamation lawsuit by former American International Group Inc. Chief Executive Officer Maurice Greenberg against Eliot Spitzer may move toward trial, a state judge ruled after throwing out many of the claims against the ex-New York governor.
Greenberg, 89, sued Spitzer, 55, in New York state court in Putnam County last year seeking damages for statements he made in 2012 accusing the former executive of fraud. Today’s ruling comes weeks after Greenberg was ordered to face a lawsuit filed in 2005 by then-New York Attorney General Spitzer accusing him of orchestrating sham transactions to inflate AIG’s financial health.
The statements “are part of a long-standing malicious campaign by Mr. Spitzer, through the publication of false and defamatory statements, to discredit Mr. Greenberg and damage Mr. Greenberg’s reputation and career, while attempting to bolster Mr. Spitzer’s own reputation and career,” Greenberg said in his complaint. The former executive denied any wrongdoing in the AIG case and has repeatedly sought its dismissal as meritless.
Today, New York State Supreme Court Justice Lewis Lubell said the defamation suit may move forward after granting a request by Spitzer to dismiss most of his statements, including allegations regarding Greenberg’s departure from AIG.
The judge threw out comments about Greenberg’s departure, his invocation of the Fifth Amendment and comparisons to organized crime. Lubell allowed statements to remain in the case including allegations about Justice Department charges and statements about efforts to affect AIG’s stock price.
Lubell ordered Spitzer to face claims that he defamed Greenberg by accusing him of accounting fraud and by writing in his book “Protecting Capitalism” that the U.S. Justice Department joined with the Securities and Exchange Commission to bring claims against Greenberg. Spitzer conceded it was a mistake, and that the case only involved the SEC.
Claims “brought by the SEC pertain to civil liability, whereas charges brought by the DOJ pertain to criminal liability,” Lubell wrote in his ruling. “By stating that the DOJ brought charges against Greenberg, a reasonable listener or viewer would be inclined to believe that the person charged engaged in some sort of criminal misconduct. Thus, the court is persuaded that the statement is reasonably susceptible of a defamatory connotation.”
The court dismissed the “vast majority” of Greenberg’s claims and found that they were completely without merit, said Jay Ward Brown, an attorney with Levine Sullivan Koch & Schulz LLP representing Spitzer.
Brown said he is “confident that when he later does so, the rest of the case will be dismissed.”
“We look forward to proceeding with Mr. Greenberg’s claims that Mr. Spitzer defamed Mr. Greenberg,” Robert Dwyer, an attorney for Greenberg with Boies Schiller and Flexner LLP, said a statement.
Spitzer was ordered to file his answer to Greenberg’s suit within 21 days and the parties were scheduled to appear for a preliminary conference on Aug. 25.
The case is Greenberg v. Spitzer, 1436/2013, New York State Supreme Court, Putnam County (Carmel).
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