Tempers erupted, resulting in the arrest of a local affordable housing proponent, during talks at the Stamford Court House that led to a possible settlement in a lawsuit his wife filed against the Darien Little League.
Though it is his wife, Margaret’s, defamation suit against the league, it was Chris Stefanoni’s dispute with Majors Commissioner James Batson that resulted in Stefanoni’s arrest by state police for breach of peace.
The dispute occurred after, according to Stefanoni’s statement, the couple met to discuss settlement terms at the Stamford Court House Tuesday and “Batson began the meeting by reneging on several terms of the proposed settlement.”
Margaret Stefanoni sued Darien Little League in early 2011 for $1 plus a written retraction after the league called her accusations about her son’s fall baseball placement false, characterizing her as a liar, and “half-baked,” saying it implied she was crazy or on drugs and damaged her reputation.
Stefanoni’s original accusations against the Little League included the singling out of her son in 2010 by not allowing him to play with his spring and summer teammates in the top tiered level in fall, which they said was appropriate with his abilities.
She said the move was personal and unprecedented, and said at the time all she asked for was consistency.
Batson, and The Darien Little League, declined comment on this week’s incident when asked by The Darien Times.
“The argument turned heated when Chris Stefanoni referenced an email Jim Batson had written to Margaret Stefanoni back in September 2010 posing as a disinterested party asking for email evidence she claimed she had against Darien Little League,” the statement says.
Stefanoni pointed out that Batson later became a league board member and is also an “expert forensic lawyer specializing in email evidence discovery.”
“Jim Batson was arrogant, condescending, and insulting by stating that Darien Little League did nothing wrong to the Stefanoni’s son in 2010 and that the Stefanonis were wasting Darien Little League’s time,” Stefanoni said.
“According to Chris Stefanoni, feeling that DLL once again had no interest in his son’s well-being and was more than disrespectful about his son, Stefanoni then also raised his voice and used profanity, at which point a court marshal entered the room and broke up the meeting,” the statement said.
Despite the dispute, the couple and the Little League were able to reach a settlement on the defamation suit. However, after they reached that settlement, “Jim Batson, the Darien Little League representative, pressed charges against him (Stefanoni) for the earlier argument in the conference room.”
A judge denied the Little League’s motion to strike in late 2011.
Stefanoni and her husband Chris have proposed several affordable housing projects in residential areas of town, including two current projects on Pheasant Run and Hoyt Street, resulting in angry responses from neighbors and other community members.
By using state statute 8-30g, the Stefanonis have attempted to overstep local zoning laws by proposing housing projects that include some affordable units.
Both projects were denied by the town’s Planning & Zoning Commission, decisions the couple is appealing through the court system. A judge recently decided in the couple’s favor on a third project on Leroy and West Avenues.
The Stefanonis have previously said a neighbor of their Hoyt Street project is a former Little League board member and their son was targeted in retaliation for their current project on Hoyt.
The Darien Little League, which at the time of the original incident declined to speak on the record about Stefanoni’s allegations, issued a written statement in response to questions from The Darien Times denying the move was personal.
In the complaint, Stefanoni contends that “The Darien Times is a weekly local newspaper that is delivered free of charge to the approximately 6,500 households in the Town of Darien as well as to those nonresidents who have a subscription.”
Stefanoni says that in her role as an affordable housing developer, she would be making presentations and seeking approvals and permits from boards and commissions “comprised of Darien residents who receive The Darien Times.”
“Plaintiff’s credibility when making representations and attesting to the veracity of information submitted as part of an application to these boards and commissions is an integral part of the application and of great value to the plaintiff,” the complaint says.
In addition to the letter to The Times, Stefanoni had a problem with the same letter being sent to all members of the Darien Little League and posted on its website. She also said the Little League did not respond to her request for an apology. She was also seeking a retraction of the statements.
Attorney Thomas Luz, who previously spoke on behalf of the Darien Little League, said the league “would have preferred expedited relief from what we view as a meritless lawsuit, we stress that his decision is based entirely on technical procedural grounds” in 2011.
“It does not pass on the substance of the allegations and does not lend any credence to the plaintiff’s position,” Luz told The Times in 2011.
“This recent accusation finally gives me the opportunity to go to court and expose the wrongdoing to my son by Darien Little League. DLL made a big mistake of insulting my family again, especially during the talks to settle that DLL so desperately wanted right before trial was to start next week,” Stefanoni told The Darien Times Friday.
“I have coached well over 30 teams and love baseball, but DLL thinks nothing of bullying families and hurting children,” he said.
“Just like the Board of Education, an organization that is meant to serve children will go to great lengths and expense to cover up wrongdoing and find ways to justify it,” he said.
“Youth baseball is still alive and well in America, but it is no surprise that Little League is going down the tubes,” he said.
The Stefanonis were also featured in a recent book, “Snob Zones,” by Lisa Prevost which reports on whether towns like Darien, which is prominently featured, has exclusionary land practices.
Breach of peace in the second degree is a class b misdemeanor, punishable by up to six months in prison and/or a fine of up to $1,000.
Read more about this story in next week’s Darien Times print edition.