MANCHESTER — A judge allowed the majority owner of the commercial condominium housing Mortgage Specialists in Manchester to cut the power Thursday to a sign board displaying controversial messages, saying owner Michael Gill is in contempt of court for continuing to display words and images not related to his business.
Superior Court Judge Amy Messer issued the ruling Thursday, deciding in favor of David Goldstein, principal owner of Martins Management Associates — the majority owner of the commercial condominium that is home to Mortgage Specialists — located near the South Willow Street/Interstate 293 interchange.
The sign, located at 1031 Gold St. in Manchester, was shut off late Thursday afternoon, no longer displaying Gill’s controversial messages accusing business and political leaders of corruption, drug dealing and other crimes.
Goldstein said the messages — which are the subject of at least two defamation lawsuits — were affecting his business at Melody Mall, where he leases out the other two units. Goldstein’s attorney, John Cronin, argued last spring that the messages were prohibited under Melody Mall bylaws.
“It’s unfortunate it’s come to this,” said Cronin. “We didn’t want to get involved in the crossfire, but my client’s tenants had concerns we needed to address.”
Messer wrote in a court order dated Aug. 8 that the purchase and sale agreement under which Gill purchased the unit at Melody Mall in 2001 expressly stated that the property was subject to the condo bylaws.
Gill had argued during a June 22 injunction hearing that his messages constituted free speech and were protected under the First Amendment.
Messer’s Aug. 8 order gave Gill 72 hours to remove any words or images not related to Mortgage Specialists’ business, and disagreed with Gill’s assertion that stopping him from posting the messages would be harmful to the public interest. Gill has relayed his message through social media, his former radio show, online blogs and on his own website.
Cronin and Goldstein argued that Gill had violated the Aug. 8 order by continuing to operate the sign boards “in the customary manner posting offensive messages” about community leaders, business people, members of the bar and judiciary.
“An individual subject to a court order must obey that order until it is reversed on direct appeal, stayed or dissolved by the court,” Messer wrote in her latest order. “Failure to comply with the court order can result in a finding of contempt.”
According to Messer’s decision, Gill never argued that a valid court order existed, or that he did not comply. Instead, he argued that he did not comply with the order because he filed an appeal with the state Supreme Court, and believed compliance wasn’t legally required due to the appeal.
Messer wrote Gill’s argument was “inadequate to relieve them of the responsibility of complying with the court’s preliminary injunction order.”
“Where no stay has been ordered regarding the preliminary injunction, defendants are required to comply with the order,” writes Messer. “It is a longstanding rule that ignorance of the law, standing alone, is no defense against its enforcement.”
Messer’s order allows Goldstein to cut the power to the sign board, but also details a process for turning the sign back on if both sides agree on the content displayed.
“Defendants may seek restoration of power to the reader board signs by submitting to plaintiffs a copy of the images and words that defendants intend to place on the sign,” writes Messer. Both sides will then meet to determine if the images and messages are in compliance with the Aug. 8 court order.
If both parties agree they are, the power will be restored. If both parties can’t agree, Gill can file a motion to have the court determine if the messages and images comply with the order.
Messer is the latest judge to rule against Gill, who has been representing himself in court proceedings.
On Sept. 1 Superior Court Judge Brian Tucker granted a motion seeking summary judgment against Gill in a defamation lawsuit filed against him by three business leaders Gill has accused of drug dealing and corruption on his reader board signs.
“The plaintiffs contend correctly — the defendants do not say otherwise — that the statements plainly impute criminal conduct to them,” Tucker wrote in the eight-page ruling issued on Sept. 1. By finding the statements to be defamatory, Tucker sent the case to trial with only damages to be decided.
Tucker noted Gill has presented no material evidence supporting any truth to the statements, which the judge agreed were defamatory toward developer Dick Anagnost, auto dealer Andy Crews and banker William Greiner, all of whom filed the suit in spring of 2016 and have faced a lengthy court battle with Gill ever since.
Tucker issued a similar ruling in April, allowing Crews, Anagnost and Greiner to obtain a $12 million lien against property owned by Gill, based on “a reasonable likelihood” that the statements he’s made met the defamation standard.
In his Sept. 1 order, Tucker ruled that Gill is liable for damages “because the undisputed factual record establishes the defendant failed to exercise reasonable care in publishing without valid privilege a false and defamatory statement of fact’ about each plaintiff.”