As a Hoboken citizen and on behalf of Stevens Institute of Technology, I'd like to thank the Hoboken Reporter for its evenhanded reporting about Stevens' defamation suit against Ron Hine and his group FBW (the March 1 issue).
In the initial phases of a legal case of this kind there is an opportunity for the defendant to request dismissal of the case. Should the case be dismissed, the defendant can demand payment of all legal fees, and of course can counter-sue for damages. We believe Hine and his attorneys are focusing on portraying this defamation suit as "frivolous" as part of a strategy to dismiss the case.
There is nothing "frivolous" about this case. Stevens incurred more than a million dollars in unnecessary costs due to Hine's baseless allegations, and the community was fed a lengthy and alarming stream of rhetoric proclaiming nonexistent cancer threats.
Naturally occurring asbestos such as is found in the rock under much of Hoboken is low in concentration and tightly bound within the rock. Excavating that rock does not threaten a community. It may interest readers to know that courts of law agree with geological experts about this. Over the many years of asbestos litigation, worldwide, we could not find a single legal case concerning a situation even remotely comparable to Stevens' excavation that was demonstrated to have caused a cancer risk. In researching more than 100 law firms dealing with hundreds of thousands of asbestos cases, we were unable to find a single instance where anyone doing an excavation and removal of asbestos-bearing rock was found to have put anyone's health in jeopardy.
There are many forms of asbestos, and dangerous exposures do not occur while excavating outcroppings such as the serpentine rock in Hoboken. The dangerous exposures occur when people repeatedly breathe the commercially processed form of asbestos found as insulation in older buildings, such as, for example, the old Maxwell House plant in Hoboken. Great care will need to be taken when those buildings are demolished. Of course that's why we have regulations for asbestos abatement.
Because of the SLAPP laws Hine's attorneys refer to, there is a high burden of proof incumbent on Stevens in bringing charges against Hine. Stevens recognizes these high hurdles as being necessary to preserving free speech in this country. This burden of proof includes the need to prove malice on Hine's part. In other words, it would not be enough for Stevens to demonstrate that Hine was wrong in his allegations. We are obliged to prove that these allegations were done with an intent to do harm, and that Hine had motivation to want to cause this harm. We believe we have strong evidence to support our case.
Citizen of Hoboken and
Director of University Relations
Stevens Institute of Technology