Man wins lawsuit in Little Italy feud

Jury finds that mother, daughter conspired against area leader

September 20, 2002|By Allison Klein | Allison Klein,SUN STAFF

A simmering, eight-year feud in Little Italy culminated yesterday when a Baltimore jury awarded the community association president more than $163,000, finding that his neighborhood nemeses conspired against him.

"They tried to make me look like a bad person and they failed," said plaintiff Roberto Marsili, president of the Little Italy Community Organization. "They tried to dirty me up. I may be a little bit rough sometimes but I'm not a bad person."

The eight-member jury found that community residents Rosa Aquia, 78, and her daughter Gia Blatterman, 55, conspired, then maliciously prosecuted Marsili by bringing an erroneous harassment suit and other legal action against him.

The jury listened to eight days of testimony in Baltimore Circuit Court, which included heated exchanges, accusations, name-calling and an appearance by Orioles Hall of Fame pitcher Jim Palmer.

Marsili, 72, said Palmer showed up for about an hour this week to support him. Marsili said Palmer, who is known to frequent restaurants in Little Italy, has been an acquaintance of his for about 10 years. Palmer couldn't be reached for comment last night.

Yesterday, the jury deliberated for about five hours before awarding Marsili the money, $100,000 of which was for punitive damages.

"He underwent seven years of hardship and anxiety and had to spend over $60,000 of his own money on legal fees," said Marsili's lawyer, Domenic R. Iamele.

Blatterman said she would appeal to reduce the award.

"It's just crazy," Blatterman said. "I've never in my life seen something like this."

Blatterman took the stand earlier this week, and her testimony was so fiery that she and Iamele argued for hours, prompting Judge John N. Prevas to tell her several times she was out of line.

During the trial, Gerald C. Ruter, who represents Blatterman and Aquia, painted Marsili as a neighborhood bully who should not be encouraged.

The jury decided in favor of Marsili for 13 counts, finding that Aquia and Blatterman maliciously abused the legal process by filing charges against him, and sought to violate his freedom of speech.

"You always have the sharks that want to abuse the system," Marsili said after the verdict was read.

Aquia and Blatterman have sued Marsili or accused him of crimes on several occasions, including once in 1997, when Marsili pleaded guilty to assaulting Blatterman with his car. He received a sentence of six months' probation.

In 1999, Blatterman pressed charges against Marsili after accusing him of being a "peeping Tom." The charge was dropped by the state's attorney's office.

In 1998, Aquia charged Marsili with assault and harassment, and in 2000 she sued him for defamation. The jury sided with Marsili.

That suit contended that Marsili defamed Aquia in his neighborhood newsletter, The Guardian, by criticizing a $250,000 no-payback loan Aquia received from the city for renovating two houses.

Marsili's lawyer has said that the women had wanted to stop him from putting out The Guardian.

"It's clear the evidence presented showed a pattern of prosecution designed to silence Mr. Marsili," Iamele said.

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