Philadelphia City Controller Alan Butkovitz is celebrating the dismissal of a defamation suit filed against him by Desiree Peterkin-Bell, a onetime aide to former Mayor Michael Nutter.
“Desiree and her lawyer knew from the beginning there was no basis to this suit,” Butkovitz said.
The suit, filed last year, was in response to a controller’s report slamming Peterkin-Bell’s tenure at the Mayor’s Fund, the city’s nonprofit fundraising arm. His office alleged that she had used some of the largesse as a personal slush fund, buying shoes and taking trips overseas with proceeds from the Philadelphia Marathon.
Nutter, who had previously clashed with Butkovitz over politics, called the controller “a snake” for filing the report and holding a press conference about it. Peterkin-Bell, a former City Representative under Nutter, filed suit over the report, alleging that Butkovitz concocted it as a “political stunt” to slander her.
But Common Pleas Judge Frederica Massiah-Jackson tossed the suit in a Tuesday ruling. In essence, the dismissal finds ample precedent granting most public officials – Butkovitz included – immunity from similar defamation suits, known as “absolute privilege.”
Butkovitz said in an interview today that he didn’t lose sleep over the suit.
“They acknowledged in their own motion paper that we had immunity,” he said. Indeed, the dismissal notes that Peterkin-Bell and her lawyer both alluded to executive privilege in their own written and oral arguments.
“I have to do my job and that involves stepping on toes pretty frequently,” he said, adding that Peterkin-Bell “was obviously unhappy about the initial report and that her conduct was being questioned. I don’t know if she had other reasons for filing the suit.”
Peterkin-Bell isn’t taking the dismissal lightly.
"It's a scary thought that elected officials, particularly in this political climate under the guise of performing their job, can defame someone in public and suffer no consequences," she said in a written statement.
Peterkin-Bell said she was exploring options to appeal the dismissal.