Lawsuit: Westport first selectman candidate lied about career, used 'cronyism'

Photo of Amanda Cuda
State Rep. Jonathan Steinberg (D-Westport)

State Rep. Jonathan Steinberg (D-Westport)

Erik Trautmann / Hearst Connecticut Media

WESTPORT — A lawsuit filed in state Superior Court in Bridgeport last month makes multiple allegations against state Rep. Jonathan Steinberg — who recently announced he was running for First Selectman of Westport — including that he misrepresented his background, used “cronyism and quid pro quo” to secure his nomination and made defamatory statements against those who opposed him.

The suit was filed by Westport resident and Democratic Town Committee member Kristan Hamlin and named Steinberg’s campaign chairperson Lisa Newman as a co-defendant. Both Steinberg and the attorney representing Newman said the suit lacked merit and accused Hamlin of playing politics.

The 45-page lawsuit poses multiple charges against Steinberg, starting with the allegation that he misrepresented his career in marketing. The lawsuit alleges that Steinberg advertises on the professional networking site LinkedIn that he has worked as a marketing executive for JPS Marketing for the past 14 years.

“That assertion is entirely false,” the suit claims.

It goes on to say that a review of corporate registrations filed with the Connecticut secretary of the state shows “that there is no such entity by the name of JPS Marketing or ‘JPS’ plus any name that is registered in the state as associated with Steinberg’s name or for which he works.

The document states that Steinberg’s “fraudulent misrepresentations about his professional background constitute a fraud on the voters and volunteers who supported his state representative candidacy, and his First Selectman candidacy.” It further claims that Steinberg has “not worked in marketing during the past fourteen years, because his previous conduct with employers has rendered him unemployable in the marketing profession, because he cannot secure a good reference from his last or previous employer.”

The lawsuit also claims that Steinberg and Newman engaged in nefarious tactics to secure his nomination. The document includes a lengthy section alleging that Steinberg conspired with Melissa Katz-Kane to get Steinberg the first selectman nomination.

According to the suit, Kane wanted Steinberg to run for first selectman so that she could run for his state representative seat.

“Steinberg therefore conspired with Kane to enter into a corrupt deal, in which Kane would use her influence on (Westport DTC Chair Ellen) Lautenberg to appoint a Nominations Committee weighted in Steinberg’s favor,” the suit alleges. “If nominated and elected for First Selectman with Kane’s help, then Steinberg’s state representative job would open up.”

According to the suit, Newman told Hamlin that Lautenberg had told Newman they should choose Steinberg to become the first selectman candidate so his job would be free for Kane. The suit alleges that Newman told Hamlin in 2020 that, if she would forgo running for the DTC’s executive committee, Lautenberg would put her on the nominations committee. Hamlin allegedly agreed to the arrangement.

However, the suit goes on to say that Newman later wrote Hamlin “a text message that she had already concluded that Steinberg was a ‘nightmare’ as a candidate and could never win against the predicted Republican candidates, Jen Tooker and Andrea Moore.”

In light of that and other alleged critical statements Newman made against Steinberg, Hamlin purportedly “expressed enthusiasm” for two other candidates who submitted their names for the first selectman race.

Hamlin alleges in the suit that, upon hearing that she spoke favorably of the other candidates, Lautenberg removed Hamlin from the nomination committee.

The suit goes to on to detail other ways in which Steinberg, Newman and others allegedly undermined the democratic process in Westport. It accuses Steinberg of falsely claiming he was the DTC-endorsed candidate for first selectman, and accuses of him making defamatory statements about Hamlin, including that she was spreading lies about him and was out to get him.

“Plaintiff has in fact worked tireless and selflessly over fourteen years to promote all DTC candidates and has never taken any action ever to destroy any DTC candidates,” the suit states.

The suit alleges that Newman made defamatory statements against Hamlin as well. Hamlin is seeking damages in excess of $15,000 and is seeking a jury trial on the matter.

Newman’s attorney, Joshua Koskoff, said in a statement Friday that the suit “asserts no cognizable legal claim” and that he would ask that the case be dismissed.

“The case seems to have been born from a bruised ego and is filled with personal attacks and disparagements, rather than facts supporting a viable claim for defamation,” Koskoff’s statement read.

Steinberg said Friday he believed that the suit was without merit.

“We all know that politics has an ugly side,” he said. “Kristan has made it clear she plans to impede my campaign. Using the legal system to do it is just plain wrong.”

Hamlin referred comment to her attorney William Lalor, who said multiple people complained to the Democratic State Central Committee about the DTC’s actions.

“Plaintiff and others complained about the rules violations and were retaliated against,” Lalor said in a statement Friday. “The DTC had just confirmed the Plaintiff in January as Chair of Communications Strategy, but when she complained about corrupt processes, that all changed.”

The photo accompanying this story has been updated to reflect that Jonathan Steinberg is a Democrat.