Political rivals agree to end suit

Snowden drops charge

Jones to apologize in defamation case

April 09, 1999|By Ed Gunts | Ed Gunts,SUN STAFF

Former Annapolis mayoral candidate Carl O. Snowden agreed yesterday to settle a million-dollar defamation suit against political rival Sylvanus B. Jones after learning that Jones is willing to issue an "apology" for making what Snowden considered slanderous remarks.

The two men abruptly agreed to end their dispute roughly four hours after testimony began in a civil case before Judge Martin Wolff and a six-member jury in Anne Arundel County Circuit Court.

In the case, filed in late 1997, longtime civil rights activist Snowden claimed Jones had "falsely accused" him of defacing Jones' campaign posters with swastikas when both were running for mayor in the summer of 1997.

In the 1997 Democratic primary, Snowden and Jones finished behind Dennis M. Callahan, who lost the general election to Republican Dean L. Johnson.

As a result of the accusations about the swastikas, Snowden said when he filed the suit, he "suffered great injury to his reputation as a civil rights activist" and suffered tremendous emotional distress.

Terms of the settlement were not disclosed.

Snowden, a former Ward 5 alderman who is now special assistant for government relations to Anne Arundel County Executive Janet S. Owens, said he expected to receive "a letter of apology, which will be widely publicized," and a monetary settlement.

"I am delighted with the settlement," he said. "For me, this has always been an issue of civil discourse and what is permissible political discussion. To be accused of being involved in a hate crime -- putting swastikas on some- body's campaign literature -- is something I take very personally. There are people who suggested I should just forget about it, but that's a very serious accusation."

Snowden said he did not file the suit for monetary gain and will donate any money he receives to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

"For me, it is not about money," he said. "It has always been about principle. All I wanted was a simple apology, a simple recognition that the statements attributed to him were not true or that he was sorry."

The dispute began in June 1997, when dozens of Jones' "Elect Syl Jones" campaign signs were spray-painted with black swastikas and other markings.

Jones blamed Snowden's campaign for the defacement.

Later, vandals drew a black swastika on the window of Snowden's campaign headquarters.

No arrests were made.

In opening statements yesterday, Snowden's attorney, Rebecca Brugger, said Snowden had nothing to do with defacing Jones' signs and that Jones never provided any proof that he did.

Annapolis Police Chief Joseph Johnson testified that his department investigated the case thoroughly and never considered Snowden a suspect or found any evidence linking Snowden with the vandalism.

News of the settlement came in the middle of the afternoon on the first day of what was expected to be a two-day trial when Wolff notified jurors that the two parties had agreed to resolve the dispute.

"We don't have any bad people here," Wolff told the jury. "We have two good people here who got involved in an argument. In the wisdom of the parties, they think it is best for both of themselves to settle. They were friends before, and maybe they can bury the hatchet and be friends again."

After the trial was halted, Jones declined to comment and referred questions to his attorney, Steven R. Migdal.

Migdal said terms of the settlement will remain confidential, but he confirmed that Snowden "will be receiving an apology of sorts" from Jones.

"I'd rather call it a statement," Migdal said. "But he can call it whatever he wants. The point is, both sides are happy that the case has been resolved."

Snowden had originally sought $1 million in compensatory damages and $1 million in punitive damages from Jones, a retired federal worker.

Snowden said he found the accusations particularly astounding because when he was a member of the Annapolis City Council in 1987, he introduced legislation that makes it a hate crime to deface property with racist or religious symbols such as swastikas.

"I have spent my entire adult life fighting against what I was accused of," he said. "I think that people who know me know that I would not be engaged in that kind of activity."

Pub Date: 4/09/99

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