Court overturns award against missing man Billy Smolinki’s relatives

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HARTFORD — The Connecticut Supreme Court has overturned a $53,000 defamation and emotional distress award against the family of a Waterbury man who has been missing since 2004, citing free speech rights.

The former girlfriend of William Smolinski Jr. sued Smolinski’s mother and sister in 2006 alleging they harassed her, defamed her and falsely accused her of involvement in Smolinski’s disappearance.

Smolinski’s mother and sister, Janice Smolinski and Paula Bell, cited free speech rights in their appeal of the award.

The Supreme Court ruled 5-2 Wednesday that the trial judge did not consider various limitations that First Amendment free speech rights place on making defamation and emotional distress claims. Justices ordered a new trial. The ruling overturns a state Appellate Court decision.

No arrests have been made in Smolinski’s disappearance.