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Heading Off a Rumor

When a college journalist mistook George and Jerry for lovers on the celebrated Seinfeld episode "The Outing," George offered to have sex with Sharon, the reporter.

When a Paradise Valley Country Club assistant golf pro allegedly spread the rumor that member Michele "Missy" Pozgay and her friend Shelly Nixon had a sexual encounter in a parked car in the club's parking lot, Pozgay sued the assistant golf pro in Maricopa County Superior Court.

Not that there's anything wrong with that.
This is a case fit for TV's Ally McBeal, who represents doctors who transplant pig livers without permission and U.S. senators accused of breaking up marriages.

Nothing this big has happened at Paradise Valley Country Club--long renowned as the Valley's ritziest, most exclusive private club--since Lincoln Ragsdale, a black man, tried to apply for membership in 1990.

Will Barrett, the assistant golf pro/defendant, is claiming truth as his defense, according to court documents that also include a list of potential witnesses that reads like the Social Register.

The alleged rumor was hatched in summer 1996. PVCC member Missy Pozgay (pronounced "Pose-gay"--and, yep, that's her real name) filed her lawsuit--charging slander and defamation of character--in summer 1997. With summer 1998 fast approaching, the case is wending its way through tangles of legal arguments.

A group of club members were recently added as co-defendants in Pozgay's suit. Jon Pozgay--Missy's husband/attorney--claims the story of Missy Pozgay and Shelly Nixon's alleged parking-lot rendezvous has been heard as far from Paradise Valley as Mexico and Austria.

"Sometimes the only way you really can clear your name, if you will, or indicate the untruthfulness of the rumor is to go ahead and bring an action--particularly when some people won't come forward and do the right thing," says Jon Pozgay, acknowledging that the decision to sue was not easy, in part because the nitty-gritty details are now public record.

Missy Pozgay says she sued to clear not only her name, but Nixon's, as well. Nixon is a personal trainer at PVCC; the two women often golf together at the club.

"I'm not a kook that's bent out of shape because there was this ridiculous rumor," Missy Pozgay says. "There are a number of people that maliciously perpetuated this and then went out of their way to tell me that I should be very careful and that Shelly should watch her Ps and Qs. . . . I wasn't very happy about it. I was president of the [PVCC] women's golf association for two years. Shelly has never said an unkind thing about anyone in her life. It just seemed so incredibly unfair to me that this happened."

Reached through his attorney, Andrew Everroad, Will Barrett declined to comment.

According to court documents, the alleged rumor started when one of the club's security guards repeated a story to Barrett and four other PVCC employees. (Barrett no longer works there.)

The story, as recalled by Barrett in a deposition taken last January:
"Well, he [Al Scott, the security guard] said he was working security and he was in his cart--he has his own golf cart with the spotlight--and he witnessed Mrs. Pozgay and Mrs. Nixon exiting the club early in the evening. They left in the same car. . . . He said later that night they returned. . . . [H]e turned his light off because they were sitting there for a while, and he kind of drove by, and he only saw one person sitting in the car. And he thought they left with two people. He found that odd. Then he saw another head pop up in the same car."

According to court documents, Scott recalled the story later that evening, in the club's "Bag Room," for Barrett and four other PVCC employees.

Again, from the deposition, in which Barrett is questioned by plaintiff's counsel Jerry Busby:

Q. "Okay. Mr. Barrett, you said Al Scott told the story that he saw one person in the car after it drove up the second time. Is that correct?"

A. "I don't think he actually--I mean he noticed that the car was back."
Q. "He saw one person in it."
A. "Right."

Q. "Then sometime thereafter a second head appeared, second person appeared in the car."

A. "Yes."
Q. "Now, did he indicate or intimate at all in describing it that there was sexual activity going on?"

A. "Do you mean did he imply that?"
Q. "Yes, sir."
A. "I think it was an obvious implication with the telling of the story."

Q. "Was that your implication? Is that the implication you derived from his story, sir?"

A. "Yes."
Q. "The fact that there was one person in the car and then the next thing you know there's a second person who appears in the car, second head, from that you implied there must have been some sexual activity?"

A. "I--yes, with the exaggerations that followed shortly thereafter, it was a unanimous implication of those present."

Q. "All five of you just reached this conclusion that there was some sort of activity going on."

A. "Yeah. Yes."
Q. "And, you know, let's be blunt. Somebody--not necessarily you, but somebody there said, 'Oh, she must have had her head down in her lap performing something on the person.' Is that correct?"

A. "Absolutely."
Q. "And it just started--these slanderous jabs you talked about just kept growing, didn't they."

A. "They sure did."
The only other specific instance of the alleged rumor's mention, as described in court documents filed by Barrett:

"Mr. Barrett and Ms. Reyno [Barrett's date] ran into the Pozgays and Nixons in late September or October of 1996 at the Paradise Valley Country Club. Mr. Barrett and Ms. Reyno were asked to stop for a drink. After about 20 minutes, Mr. Barrett and Ms. Reyno left the table. Thereafter, Mr. Barrett believes that he commented that there was an unfortunate rumor going around that Ms. Pozgay and Ms. Nixon were engaged in some type of sexual activity in the parking lot. . . ."

One recent debate in the case centered on whether Jon Pozgay could represent his wife in court.

In a ruling on the matter--in which he prohibited Jon from representing Missy at trial--Judge Michael Dann wrote, "Plaintiff is represented by her attorney-husband. She is suing defendant for defamation, claiming he made statements she was a lesbian. Truth being a defense, defendant wishes to depose the husband and call him as a witness at trial. On the issue of truth or falsity, it appears that plaintiff also would want to call her husband of many years, the father of their children, as a witness."

Phoenix attorney Jerry Busby is now acting as Jon Pozgay's co-counsel.
In a motion requesting the judge's ruling on the matter of slander--oral argument is scheduled for later this month--Jon Pozgay argues that the "false imputation of homosexuality" is slanderous because although homosexuality is not illegal in Arizona, homosexual marriage is. Further, he writes, ". . . [L]ewd or lascivious acts, sodomy and public sexual indecency (including public acts of oral sexual contact) are considered criminal acts in Arizona."

But it is a private club, isn't it?
Who knows what the judge will say. When told of the alleged rumor, Jeff Ofstedahl--general manager of Echo, a local publication for gays and lesbians--says, "I think it's a compliment, myself."

Not that there's anything wrong with that, either.

Contact Amy Silverman at her online address: asilverman@newtimes.com


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