Westport Dem calls lawsuit against first selectman candidate 'outlandish'

Westport Democratic Town Committee Chair Ellen Lautenberg

Westport Democratic Town Committee Chair Ellen Lautenberg

Sophie Vaughan / Hearst Connecticut Media

WESTPORT — Westport Democratic Town Committee Chair Ellen Lautenberg, who is mentioned prominently in a lawsuit against Democratic first selectman candidate Jonathan Steinberg — but is not a party to the suit has responded, calling it “outlandish and baseless.”

But Kristan Hamlin, the Westport resident and DTC member who filed the suit, said the statement unfairly focuses on a complaint Hamlin brought to the Democratic State Central Committee against Lautenberg, which is separate from the lawsuit.

The lawsuit, filed in state Superior Court in Bridgeport last month, makes multiple allegations against Steinberg, also a state representative, 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.

Lautenberg is mentioned multiple times in the suit, which alleges that Lautenberg, Steinberg, Lautenberg’s friend Melissa Katz-Kane and the suit’s co-defendant, Lisa Newman, subverted the democratic process to ensure that Steinberg got the first selectman nomination. Kane, the suit alleges, wanted Steinberg’s state representative seat.

Before filing the lawsuit, Hamlin — along with fellow Democrats Sal Liccione and Jill Saluk — filed a complaint against Lautenberg with the state central committee alleging six instance of violations of Democratic Party rules. The complaint was heard and a letter was sent last month, dismissing it.

In a statement issued to the DTC and obtained by Hearst Connecticut Media, Lautenberg said both the complaint to the state committee and the lawsuit are “filled with many allegations that were untrue.” She went on to say that the “clear intent of the suit is to inflict great reputational harm to Jonathan, Lisa, Melissa, and me, but it will not be successful. The allegations are simply not true.”

Lautenberg declined to elaborate further on Friday.

“I’ve no further comment beyond that statement at this time. I believe that statement speaks for itself,” she said.

Hamlin, meanwhile, said that the lawsuit and the complaint to the state central committee are separate.

“The State Central (‘SC’) complaint and the lawsuit are apples and oranges,” her statement read. “The SC Complaint was brought by numerous DTC members against Ellen Lautenberg, who is not a defendant in the lawsuit. It alleged different facts, most of which had nothing to do with me. Defamation was not alleged at State Central. Jonathan was not part of the complaint at State Central. So the complaint involved different parties, different facts and different claims.”

Hamlin’s statement goes on to say that, “No legal violations were brought to SC’s attention as SC has no jurisdiction over legal claims. SC’s decision basically said that there are no SC rules that prohibit the misconduct alleged by DTC members against Ellen, but SC did not say that they approved of Ellen’s misconduct in any way. SC panel members said at the hearing essentially, ‘ugly politics are ugly, but they are not against State Central rules.’ ”

Liccione, who joined Hamlin in bringing the complaint to the state committee, said he took issue with Lautenberg’s statement, but wants a resolution to the fighting within the town’s Democratic Party.

“We need to tone the temperature down,” he said. “We all need to work together. We need come to a resolution. We need to respect each other.”

Newman’s attorney, Joshua Koskoff, didn’t address Lautenberg’s statement directly, but said he will be filing a motion early next week to dismiss the case with the court.

Koskoff had previously said he finds that the suit “asserts no cognizable legal claim.”

Attorney Samuel Leaf, who was hired by Steinberg on Thursday to represent him in the case, deferred comment until he has had more time to review the suit.

“I’m still getting my hands around this case,” he said.