Law professor sues Times Publishing, columnist
By LEANORA MINAI, Times Staff Writer
ST. PETERSBURG -- A law professor who won custody of his daughter has filed a defamation lawsuit against Times Publishing Co., which publishes the St. Petersburg Times, and one of the newspaper's columnists, Bill Maxwell.
Gary Minda, 55, accuses the newspaper and the columnist of "publishing written statements that falsely and maliciously accused" Minda of physical and mental abuse and of obtaining custody through his legal connections.
"The story, both in tone and content, falsely suggested that Mr. Minda used his alleged legal connections and financial means to overpower and intimidate," said the lawsuit, filed Thursday in Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Court.
The lawsuit also names Donna Marie Kostreva as a defendant. The lawsuit states that Kostreva e-mailed Maxwell's column to more than 120 people, including Minda's peers.
Minda, a tenured professor at Brooklyn Law School who has been a visiting professor at Stetson University College of Law in Gulfport, is asking a jury to award him damages of more than $15,000.
Minda could not be reached for comment Monday at his residences in St. Petersburg and Brooklyn, N.Y. His attorney, Brian Torres, also could not be reached.
Times attorney George Rahdert said the newspaper, which published a correction, clarification and letter written by Minda after the August 2001 column was published, will fight the lawsuit.
"The column was largely an expression of opinion, which is protected by the First Amendment," Rahdert said. "In a democratic society, there is no such thing as a wrong opinion."
On Aug. 15, 2001, Maxwell's column, headlined "The deck was stacked against unwed Mexican mother in custody battle," appeared in the newspaper and its Web site. The column was removed from the newspaper's Web site Monday.
The column centered on a custody battle between St. Petersburg resident Theresa Noelle Ponce, a 33-year-old U.S. citizen of Mexican descent, and Minda, a law professor who owned a home in Gulfport and lived in Brooklyn.
Ponce and Minda had a romantic relationship after meeting in March 1999, and Ponce gave birth to a baby girl in December. A DNA test in May 2000 determined Minda was the girl's father.
Pinellas Circuit Judge John C. Lenderman awarded primary custody of the girl to Minda.
It was Maxwell's position in the column that the judge made the wrong decision in awarding primary custody to Minda. Maxwell said Ponce was up against an attorney and law professor who knew how to work the system.
Ponce, who was unsuccessful in appealing the judge's decision, is allowed visitation, monthly and otherwise, with the daughter in Florida at the father's expense.
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