CITY OF NEWBURGH — A domestic violence advocate is suing local and state domestic violence organizations, and their leaders, saying they defamed her.

Grace Perez of Newburgh filed the lawsuit in Albany state Supreme Court against Safe Homes of Orange County and its executive director, Kellyann Kostyal,and the New York State Coalition Against Domestic Violence and its CEO, Michelle McKeon, and board President Catherine Mazzotta.

"We find that the complaint has no merit whatsoever," said the lawyer for the state coalition, Jeffrey Hurd of Burke, Scolamiero, Mortati & Hurd in Albany. "The coalition will be vigorously defending this case."

Kostyal said Safe Homes disputes the claims, and is retaining counsel.

"In the interim, we're not going to let this distraction dissuade us from exercising our best efforts to shelter and advocate for victims of domestic violence in our community," she said.

In early 2011, Perez was working as a consultant for Newburgh-based Latinos Unidos, pursuing a federal grant to create a new program targeted specifically at Latina victims of domestic violence. The program was intended as an adjunct, not a competitor, to Safe Homes, according to the lawsuit. Perez has long worked as an advocate against domestic violence; she was executive director of the NYC-based Violence Intervention Program until an abrupt ouster in 2007. Perez has a separate lawsuit against the Violence Intervention Program, said lawyer Jimmy Santos, who represents Perez in both cases.

On Feb. 28, heads of Latinos Unidos and Perez met at Safe Homes with Kostyal. The suit alleges that Perez challenged Kostyal on how well Safe Homes serves the Latino population.

The suit claims that after the meeting, Kostyal told others that Perez had misrepresented her consultant role and that Kostyal had felt threatened by her during the meeting. Safe Homes called in the state coalition for assistance, and McKeon met with Latinos Unidos about pursuing the grant without Safe Homes' support. McKeon and Mazzotta send a letter to Latinos Unidos outlining Safe Homes' concerns. A board member at Latinos Unidos had told McKeon, allegedly in error, that Perez was not a consultant; she had been hired pro bono by the executive board.

Perez's lawsuit contends that McKeon made negative comments related to Perez's ouster from VIP and called Perez "vindictive."

Perez's suit seeks $2 million in economic damages and $2 million for physical and emotional distress.

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