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Supreme Court to rule on claim in Billy Smolinski’s missing person case

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HARTFORD -- The state's highest court will hear arguments in April about a family's right to post missing-persons fliers.

Family members have been searching for Billy Smolinski since he went missing in 2004.

Eleven years later, Supreme Court justices will decide whether his family was merely pushing for justice or committing harassment.

After Billy disappeared, his mother and sister posted fliers in various towns, including near where his ex-girlfriend, Madeline Gleason, worked. Billy's family was soon accused of inflicting harm to Gleason, though she was caught on camera tearing the fliers down.

Smolinski's family ended up in trouble, but the family argues they were simply asserting their right to free speech in the search for their son and brother. Janice and William Smolinski say they lost their son and then seem to have lost the right to find out what happened to him.

"We've been punished, we've been disrespected, and for only one reason, for the love of a child and bringing him home," said Mrs. Smolinsky.

Her son, 31-year-old Billy Smolinski, vanished from his Waterbury home in 2004.

His mother and his sister Paula began posting his photo across Waterbury, Woodbridge, parts of New York and other locations.

Gleason told police the fliers were targeting her and their placement near her workplace constituted harassment.

Billy's mother was arrested.

Then in 2007, Gleason sued Billy's mother in civil court.

"They would follow her, they would taunt her.", said John R. Williams, Gleason's attorney.

In 2012, a judge ruled in Gleason's favor, awarding her more than $50,000.

"The family just fixated on her when they couldn't find him and they're obviously in a lot of pain and they wanted somebody to blame so they picked on her," said Williams.

The Smolinskis say that's not true. They appealed the ruling and lost in appellate court, but the case will now head to the state Supreme Court on April 27.

What's at issue is essentially whether the family was exercising their right to free speech or if their actions defamed or harassed Gleason.

"There's nothing that we did wrong. We're just trying--we're not harassing nobody, we're not trying to hurt anybody. All we want to do is find our son," said Mr. Smolinski.

The family's Maryland-based attorney, Steven Kelly, will come to Connecticut for the hearing. He told Fox Connecticut on Tuesday that what's at stake in the case is the right of all crime victims and their families to seek justice for loved ones.

"John Williams' motivation was to fire a shot across the bow and shut these people up--and in large part he succeeded," said Kelly.

Kelly said there is a lot more to the full story than the battle between Gleason and the Smolinskis over the fliers.

"Essentially this pits free speech rights of a family to seek justice against the claimed rights of somebody who feels attacked by the speech. The real story here is there's a lot of really shady stuff going on," said Kelly.

Janice Smolinski believes that Williams' legal success has blocked her right to fight for the truth.

Now there's one more chance for the Smolinskis to vindicate their efforts to search for their son.

"That's the main purpose, to bring Billy home. All these other things that happened is absurd. It's a nightmare, that just won't go away," said Janice Smolinski.

Kelly said that several nationally-based victims' rights groups are paying close attention to the Smolinski case and the Supreme Court's forthcoming decision on the matter. He said the case has implications for all victims of crime and their families across the state.

If you'd like to read the suit, click here.

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