ACLU Defends Local Artist Sued by Duane Reade
‘Back Off Jack’ –That’s what the New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU) told Duane Reade’s lawyers in a recent letter regarding their lawsuit against Tribute Park memorial designer Patrick Clark.
"We have reviewed the (lawsuit) complaint and find it to be so without merit that it appears to be little more than an effort to intimidate Mr. Clark and punish him for engaging in entirely protected advocacy (speech)," the letter says. "If the lawsuit is not promptly withdrawn, we will defend [Clark] vigorously…"
Clark, and Wave Publishing Company (The Wave) are being sued by pharmacy-giant Duane Reade. In papers filed with the New York State Supreme Court, the company alleges that Clark wrote false and defamatory statements about Duane Reade, and that The Wave committed libel by printing his paid advertisement.
"Duane Reade has no desire to inhibit legitimate free speech including opposition to its business," the company said in a recent statement to The Wave.
But NYCLU Associate Legal Director Christopher Dunn disagrees.
"Clark is fully entitled to express his opinion about Duane Reade…. we’re from page 2
going to defend his Constitutional rights," Dunn said.
Wave attorney Cameron Stracher, said, "The Wave intends to defend its free speech right."
Controversy erupted because the new pharmacy being built at 115-30 Beach Channel Drive is right next door to what will soon be Tribute Park. Clark, and many others have voiced concern over, in particular, a large roof-top sign, which he feels will ‘intrude’ on the park.
"My ad was an effort to say how the community feels—it’s a valid concern," Clark said. "Their lawsuit is nothing more than an attempt to crush me, put me out of business, and prevent me from building the memorial," he added.
Clark said as an artist it is "a challenge to pay the rent every month," and that he has basically "no money, and no assets."
With the park’s opening scheduled for Sept. 11 of this year, Clark is working day and night and has little time to prepare a defense to a lawsuit, he said. Clark says all this makes him nervous, because it threatens to leave him bankrupt, and unable to build what would be his most significant artistic achievement—the memorial to those who perished in the 2001 World Trade Center attack.
In addition to the support from the NYCLU, another group, the Rockaway Artists Alliance (RAA), has quickly backed Clark.
"RAA is outraged that Duane Reade would bully The Wave, our hometown newspaper, and local artist Patrick Clark, with this baseless lawsuit. RAA is 100 percent behind Clark, who was selected to design the Rockaway tribute dedicated to our family, friends, and neighbors lost on 9-11," said RAA President Geoff Rawling.
Another RAA member, Denis Macrae, said he is upset that "such an outstanding contributor, not only in terms of art, has been attacked by a lawsuit." He added that Duane Reade’s actions are disrespectful to not only Clark, but to the memorial and what it will represent.
Duane Reade’s complaint papers contain several factual inaccuracies. In their papers, they say the Tribute Park is a memorial to "those lost on September 11, 2001, as well as for passengers killed in the crash of TWA Flight 800."
While the Tribute Park is scheduled to memorialize only those who died on September 11, the air disaster that occurred in Rockaway was not TWA Flight 800, but American Airlines flight 587, which crashed into Belle Harbor in November of 2001.
The pharmacy’s complaint further states, "The company has contributed tens of thousands of dollars in cash and improvements to the project."
In fact, Duane Reade has made only in-kind donations including electricity, water, and foundation provisions, but "has not contributed any cash," according to a representative for the New York City Parks Department.
The Wave’s legal representatives must respond to the complaint filed by Duane Reade by May 14.