By Peter Ricci
Andrea Geller, the Coldwell Banker agent the Chicago Association of Realtors (CAR) has sued for defamation, is planning on “vigorously” fighting the lawsuit, according to an exclusive interview Chicago Agent conducted with Donald Battaglia, Geller’s legal counsel.
“Andrea is going to vigorously defend this,” Battaglia said. “They picked the wrong person to bully.”
CAR v. Andrea Geller
Battaglia told us that Geller was just served CAR’s lawsuit this past weekend, and he and she now have 30 days to formulate their response; therefore, at this point, he cannot comment on a specific legal strategy, though he was clear that Geller will be fighting the charges in court, and he did share a number of observations on the nature of the complaint, which can be read in full here:
- Battaglia says this defamation suit is no different than most of the defamation suits he has seen, which come down to what he called “bullying tactics,” or, efforts by a large, powerful organization to silence an outspoken member. Typically, Battaglia said, the suits involve nothing more than “saber rattling,” and as such, the organization succeeds in intimidating the defendant, quelling his or her opposition, and then throwing out the suit after the member agrees to stop speaking out.
- It’s clear, he continued, that CAR had such a strategy in mind when it filed the lawsuit: the $50,000 fee, he said, serves no specific purpose for the association; the complaint is general, sparse on detail and lacking in exhibits, which are documents that give the full context for the allegedly defaming statements (Battaglia said CAR’s complaint amounted to a “shotgun approach,” so lacking was it in specifics); and the entire effect of the complaint, he concluded, was to intimidate and scare Geller.
- Ultimately, the burden of prove is on the association, Battaglia said, and for it to prove that Geller made knowingly false statements on both Facebook and Chicago Agent‘s stories on Bob Floss’ removal from the CAR presidency.
- On the burden of proof, Battaglia made two additional points – first, the majority of Geller’s statements amount to statement of opinion, and from the perspective of an association member who wants to better the organization, at that; and two, that with Geller challenging the lawsuit, she and Battaglia will be able to ask the court to compel CAR to be more specific and articulate their positions in the complaint – which might prove difficult for the association. “They may have bitten off more than they can chew [with the complaint],” Battaglia said.
Chicago Agent reached out to Peter Friedman, CAR’s general legal counsel, for more information from the association on the lawsuit, but he declined to answer our questions; instead, Friedman referred us to the association’s complaint and the statement from CAR that accompanied the complaint’s filing, which we quoted at length in our first story on the lawsuit.
The Andrea Geller Legal Fund
Geller herself declined to comment on this story, deferring instead to Battaglia; she did tell us, though, that she has received donations for her legal fund from agents as near as Lincoln Park and as far away as Hawaii.
“Many agents and brokers have offered to officially establish [a legal fund],” Geller said. “I have received checks which I have not done anything with yet. The ongoing support of the real estate community, locally and nationally, has been overwhelming.”