ORANGE PARK – A town council member has threatened to file a lawsuit against a handful of town residents for defamation.
The proposed Orange Park Plaza project has riled up people on both sides of the argument. Council member Roland Mastandrea has been especially vocal of his support of the plaza. Town residents have spoken in favor of it with passion as have town residents against the project. Mastandra said during the May 19 council meeting that he has filed lawsuits against town members for defamation that’s arisen out of the plaza debate.
“I filed suit against four people,” Mastandrea said. “It wasn’t a letter made to look legal. It is legal. Two have apologized and I have released them [from the lawsuit]. I’m telling the remaining...that it’s going forward. You can talk about me as a politician but not my family.”
Town resident Antoine Kouchakjy posted into the Orange Park Hub Facebook group on May 19 a picture of a legal letter from what appears to be Mastandrea’s legal counsel. Kouchakjy said in the post that he considers the letter a threat.
“It is understood that you have made statements of falsity as relates to Mr. Mastandrea’s professional behavior and economic relationship to the Orange Park Plaza development,” the letter from Krumbein Law, PLLC, of Jacksonville reads. “Mr. Mastandrea will forego litigation if you will retract your statements by way of a public apology. That apology must be in writing and to be posted over social media whereby any statements that were made attacking the character, professionalism, and allegations of corruption including self-dealing or use of public office (motivation) for private gain must be addressed affirmatively.”
“Mr. Mastandrea requires your written retraction and public apology within (10) days of this letter or litigation will ensure.”
During the public comment section of the May 19 council meeting, some residents mentioned the letter and asked that the council address it. The council didn’t necessarily formally address it – they aren’t required to do so – but Mastandrea did address it during the council member comment section of the meeting.
He listed a number of examples of the things being said about him and explained that while he can take the things directed at him, it wasn’t until his family was involved that he filed the lawsuits. He said he apologized for how emotional he’s been as it relates to the Orange Park Plaza project but said he’s still pursuing litigation to those who haven’t yet apologized to him as stated in his legal letter.
Those that have received this letter have said they see this as a threat and as a silencing of their right to speak out against government action. Kouchakjy said Mastandrea should resign, issue a retraction of the letter and provide a public apology within 10 days to all members of the community that he threatened.
The Clay County court records don’t indicate Mastandrea has filed the suit. A search in the court records for his name pulled up three closed court cases, none related to the legal letters sent. Kouchakjy’s letter says, “Cease and Desist Defamatory Statements in Slander of Mr. Roland Mastandrea” and “Roland Mastandrea v. Antoine Kouchakjy.” Clay Today did not find this case in the court records but it is important to note that the case might just not be in the court system yet.
The letters sent by Mastandrea have a May 11 date on them and Mastandrea himself said during the council meeting that these letters aren’t made to just “look legal” but that each letter “is legal.”
In other news, council member Alan Watt is the new mayor of Orange Park after a 5-0 vote with another 5-0 vote placing council member Randy Anderson as the vice mayor.