Home Courts New Rochelle corporation counsel sues Iona College for defamation

New Rochelle corporation counsel sues Iona College for defamation

Kathleen Gill, who has worked as an attorney for the city of New Rochelle and for Iona College, has sued the college for $10 million, claiming defamation.

Previously, Iona College had sued Gill and had asked a court to bar her from participating in any college matters as the city’s corporate counsel.

kathleen gill iona college new rochelle
Kathleen Gill

Gill claims that Iona College and its outside law firm used fraudulent documents and made defamatory statements in its case, to sully her reputation and to “coerce and intimidate Gill into taking actions favorable to Iona.”

Gill, who is now chief of staff/corporation counsel for New Rochelle, filed her lawsuit on Dec. 19 in Westchester Supreme Court. The complaint also names Kathleen McElroy, Iona’s general counsel, Anthony D. Dougherty, outside counsel, and his firm, Tarter Krinsky & Drogin of Manhattan.

“We intend to vigorously defend against these allegations,” college spokesman Whit Clay said. “They are quite simply an unfortunate attempt to use litigation to harm the reputation of the college, its employees and our legal representation as part of an ongoing disagreement with New Rochelle over zoning.”

Dougherty, who was out of the office and unavailable to respond directly, issued a statement through a spokesman.

“The allegations are absolutely baseless and untrue, and will be vigorously addressed in the appropriate legal forum.”

Gill went to work for New Rochelle’s law department in 1995. She left in 2013 to work for Iona as senior policy adviser and later as its first general counsel.

She returned to the city in 2015 as corporation counsel and chief of staff for policy and governmental affairs.

The dispute developed last year as Iona was asking the city for land use approvals for a campus expansion.

Gill said she asked an Iona land use attorney if the college would prefer to have another city attorney handle its applications. The college attorney allegedly responded that Iona president Joseph Nyre “specifically requested that Gill not recuse herself and stay involved with all pending matters involving Iona,” the complaint states.

Still, Gill said, she hired an outside law firm to act in her place.

The city denied Iona’s zoning application in November 2016. The college sued the city in February to overturn the decision, claiming that New Rochelle had improperly changed a zoning law so as to a require greater city oversight of campus expansions.

Iona also charged that Gill had acted unethically, by not recusing herself and by using privileged information against the college.

Iona’s lawsuit included an exhibit of a handwritten note that Gill had allegedly written. Gill says she did not write the note, a handwriting expert verified that she had not written it, and a legal ethics attorney attested that she had not acted unethically.

Acting Supreme Court Justice Susan Cacace dismissed Iona’s lawsuit, ruling that the college had failed to exhaust administrative remedies.

As to Gill, Cacace curtly denied the request to bar her from Iona matters, “without further comment from this court.”

Gill’s lawsuit fills in more of the back story. She claims that Dougherty called her a couple of months before Iona sued and suggested, “We can work this out quietly, which will be better for you.”

Gill said that Dougherty said the lawsuit would be uncomfortable for her because the college board “wants to vent against her.”

Iona sued her and the city, she claims, because she had refused to capitulate to its demands.

Even after Iona filed the lawsuit, she says, it issued a “campus communique” that stated, “holding city officials accountable for acting ethically and lawfully is key to a healthy democracy.”

That statement, Gill said, could only be understood as referring to her.

“It is time for the city of New Rochelle and its employees to stop this legal nonsense,” Clay wrote in an email. He said issues should be addressed “in a mature manner based on their merits and not personal differences.”

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