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Lawsuit Against TEA Party Dropped; More Legal Fireworks Ahead

Individuals suing the Florida TEA Party have dropped their federal case. Now they're looking at a counterclaim of $200,000 in damages.

The plaintiffs, led by South Florida Tea Party director Everett Wilkinson, sued TEA Party Chairman Fred O'Neal and others, charging that the newly formed political party had illegally appropriated the "tea" name. The case was filed in U.S. District Court in January.

Adding to the legal wrangling, Wilkinson went on to register the "Florida Tea Party LLC" and to declare himself chairman.

But when the plaintiffs' attorneys, who were paid a reported $20,000 a month by GOP political operative Michael Caputo, quit this summer, the case stalled.

"Today, everyone now knows that the lawsuit was bogus and without legal foundation. It was a deliberate attempt to smear the TEA Party name and to cast doubt among tea party activists," said TEA consultant Doug Guetzloe, one of the defendants.

Guetzloe said the TEA Party will sue for $200,000 in "legal fees and costs."

"This is just the beginning," he said. Naming plaintiffs Wilkinson, Caputo, Patricia Sullivan and Tim McClellan, Guetzloe vowed, "We will pursue these individuals through the court system until they pay for the damage they've done."

Robin Stublen, a Punta Gorda tea activist not involved in the case, called Wilkinson's suit "a mistake."

"It was a loser from the beginning. They (O'Neal & Co.) had a right to form the party. We should have done it. Now all these people are going to have to hire attorneys on their own dime," Stublen said.

Wilkinson said his group dropped the suit "with prejudice, which means we can bring it back anytime."

Meantime, he said the election results showed that the TEA Party had "zero effect."

In contrast, Wilkinson said the generic tea-party movement, mobilizing for Republican candidates, scored "a huge victory" at the polls.

Sullivan and Caputo did not respond to Sunshine State News' request for comment. McClellan could not be reached.

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