$50 MILLION PRESS RELEASE

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A coleslaw manufacturer is preparing a heaping platter of payback for a group of low-income East Brooklyn parents–in the form of a $50 million libel lawsuit.

Blue Ridge Farms, which employs 600 people at its Cypress Hills cold salads plant, is claiming that the “Let’s Build I.S. 171” Committee libeled them by printing a press release charging the company with breaking its pledge to help find vacant space for a new school. The parents, wrote Blue Ridge lawyer Sheldon Farber in his late-May complaint, subjected Blue Ridge to “contempt [and] ridicule [that] has diminished the reputation” of the company.

“The purpose of the lawsuit is to silence, harass and intimidate the community. It won’t work,” countered Hillary Exter, a lawyer for the Brooklyn Legal Services Corporation, which counter-sued on behalf of the 50 community members.

For most of the 1990’s, the parents, Blue Ridge and the state’s School Construction Authority have been wrangling over the few vacant parcels of land adjacent to both the overcrowded school and the company’s grounds. Blue Ridge wants the space for a long-planned expansion and the city has tried to broker a compromise to keep the matter from being decided by the courts.

But during a March town hall meeting in the predominantly Hispanic neighborhood, Mayor Giuliani indicated that he was backing Blue Ridge’s bid for the disputed sites–and that any new school would be built elsewhere. The parents’ committee protested and sent out a press release announcing the event, reading: “[Blue Ridge] has claimed for 4 years it would give the City a “swap” site to relocate the school. Now the company is abandoning that promise. Farber labeled the statement as “motivated by actual malice.”

The parents disagreed. “First, the press release was true,” Exter said. “Second, we were exercising our basic constitutional rights. Their case is a joke.”