By John Burton | |
SHREWSBURY — The sexual harassment controversy that has engulfed former Fox News host Bill O’Reilly has spilled over into the Two River area.
O’Reilly, the embattled former host and political commentator for Fox’s well-watched “The O’Reilly Factor,” has filed notice for Shrewsbury resident, business owner and former state Assemblyman Michael J. Panter to appear in court over comments Panter made on Facebook about O’Reilly and the TV host’s alleged treatment of Panter’s former girlfriend.
In court papers filed in Supreme Court of the State of New York in Nassau County, Long Island, on Oct. 27, O’Reilly and his lawyers are demanding Panter appear within 20 days to seek “redress for Defendant Panter’s intentional, malicious, and bad faith actions in making defamatory and false statements in a publicly-available social media post.”
The matter was filed in Nassau County because that is where O’Reilly lives, according to court documents.
O’Reilly is seeking relief of “not less than $5 million” for “the public hatred, ridicule, disgrace, and permanent harm to his professional and personal reputations as a result of Defendant Panter’s publication of knowingly false defamatory statements about Plaintiff, which were made with actual malice, as well as Defendant Panter’s intentional infliction of emotional distress upon Plaintiff,” according to court filings.
In response, Panter offered a counterstatement via Facebook on Oct. 30, writing “I am speaking the truth, and expect my account to be fully corroborated.” Panter went on to note, “After discussing this matter with a leading (law) firm, I believe there is a strong basis to bring defamation claims against Mr. O’Reilly.”
Panter declined to offer any additional comment beyond what has been posted on Facebook.
Fredric S. Newman and Andrew N. Bourne, the lawyers representing O’Reilly, did not return phone calls last week and this week seeking comment.
Panter, 48, who holds a law degree from Harvard University, is the managing partner of Panter and Kelly Financial, LLC, a Shrewsbury-based financial services firm, and is co-founder and partner of Realty Data Systems LLC, a real property data collection service for local governments. Panter served two two-year terms, from 2004-2008, as a Democrat in the state Assembly, representing the then 12th Legislative District, which is now largely the redistricted 11th.
On Oct. 24 Panter wrote a lengthy post on Facebook making references to the #MeToo social media movement – concerning women and men who are coming forward to tell how they’ve been victims of sexual harassment and worse – and the seemingly daily reports about of high-profile men who’ve been accused of being predators, taking advantage of subordinates and others who feared to report the charges.
Panter told of former girlfriends who’ve shared their experiences of being victimized. One in particular, a former Fox employee he didn’t name, “has publicly settled her case against Bill O’Reilly at Fox News.” She was bound by a nondisclosure agreement. “Bill (O’Reilly) should be aware that not everyone is bound by a non-disclosure…I am not,” Panter wrote.
Panter’s ex’s “career was largely dependent on staying in O’Reilly’s good graces,” leading to her reluctance to speak not only publicly but to Panter about the alleged harassment, Panter said. Panter, however, said he was privy to some late-night calls allegedly coming from O’Reilly “which would create tension and make her clearly uncomfortable,” given the sexual nature of the calls. On other occasions, “she’d come home stressed and reference O’Reilly, and only after some prodding would she reveal that he asked her out, adding that she should not tell anyone –that other women at the network would question it or be jealous,” Panter recalled. One other time when Panter and the woman were together, she allegedly received a call, first from Fox News’ head of Human Relations and a short time later from O’Reilly, regarding another woman’s allegations against the TV host, with O’Reilly hoping to get some information he could use against the woman bringing the new harassment suit. Panter said, “To her credit” she didn’t provide any information.
“So in a small way, I am trying as a man to call bullsh*t on another ‘man’ when I see it, and to do so publicly and non-anonymously,” Panter offered as an explanation for his public social media charges against O’Reilly.
According to the court notice, should he fail to appear in court on this matter, judgment would be entered by default against Panter in the amount of $5 million, plus statutory interest, fees and legal costs, as the court may award.
Panter concluded on Facebook, O’Reilly’s “actions give me a small sense of what victims must feel when speaking up against powerful men, and why more men hesitate to do so.”
Panter has established a GoFundMe page tagged #StandUpToBillO’Reilly.
As of Monday, the matter remains unassigned to a New York State judge and no date has been set for a hearing.
Attorneys Newman and Bourne are with Hoguet Newman Regal & Kenney, a New York City law firm whose website advertises it as certified by New York State as a “Women-Owned Business Enterprise,” with the New York Law Journal ranking it the fourth largest certified women-owned law firm in New York State as of 2016.
O’Reilly, 68, has been the subject of sexual harassment lawsuits going back to 2004, and has been the target of criticism from media outlets and groups for his alleged behavior and that of others at the conservative Fox News, particularly network head Roger Ailes, for creating a “toxic environment” at the network.
O’Reilly, according to The New York Times, had reached a previously undisclosed $32 million settlement for a suit charging O’Reilly with harassment and a nonconsensual sexual relationship with a regular female Fox News contributor.
O’Reilly had continually denied the allegations, saying the settlements were intended to protect his family. Fox News, faced with an advertiser backlash against O’Reilly and his hour-long evening talk show, which regularly outdistanced the competition in Nielsen TV ratings, canceled “The O’Reilly Factor” in April.
This article was first published in the Nov. 9-16, 2017 print edition of The Two River Times.
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