After a two-hour informal back-and-forth in his chambers Monday, Judge John C. Cooper of the 2nd Judicial Circuit Court of Florida denied motions by the Republican Party of Florida and two state senators to dismiss a lawsuit brought against them by disgraced former RPOF Chairman Jim Greer.
Greer resigned from the state party chairmanship in 2010 facing accusations of fraud and money laundering; he is currently facing criminal charges of having diverted some $300,000 from the party to his private company, Victory Strategies.
Greer, meanwhile, is suing the RPOF, former state Sen. Mike Haridopolos, R-Melbourne, and state Sen. John Thrasher, R-St Augustine, for $5 million, claiming they breached a contract promising him severance pay of $124,000 in exchange for his resignation.
All three defendants filed motions to have their suit dismissed.
Attorney Stephen Dobson for the RPOF told Sunshine State News that Mr. Greer filed a previous lawsuit that was virtually identical to this one, and theres some case law that says if a plaintiff refuses to participate in discovery, -- i.e., in the pre-trial phase in which parties seek to obtain evidence from opponents -- his suit can be dismissed. Thats what Mr. Greer did in the first lawsuit: he pled the Fifth Amendment and refused to answer questions; we felt it would be appropriate for fees and costs to be assessed against him, and for this present suit to be dismissed."
Attorneys Dean LeBoeuf and Ken Sukhia, representing Haridopolos and Thrasher respectively, argued that their clients could not be sued as private individuals because they signed the contested severance agreement in their representative capacities as party leaders. At the time the agreement was signed, Haridopolos was incoming Senate president and Thrasher was incoming RPOF chairman.
Why in Gods name would [Haridopolos and Thrasher] sign that contract if they didnt expect to be bound? Greers attorney Damon Chase asked aloud in frustration.
At one point in the discussion, an exasperated Judge Cooper removed a 40-year-old law school textbook from his bookshelf, blew off the dust, and proceeded to go through the common law elements of a binding contract with LeBoeuf and Sukhia, who insisted that the severance agreement did not constitute an entering into a contract by their clients.
Heres what Im gonna do, Judge Cooper eventually ruled.In motions to dismiss, the Florida Supreme Court says that Im required to treat all [the plaintiffs] allegations as set forth in the motion as true, and determine whether he has stated a valid claim.
Florida law requires a judge, when considering a motion to dismiss a suit, consider no evidence beyond what is referred to within the four corners of a plaintiffs complaint; in the present case, this meant Cooper was only allowed to consider the text of the severance agreement, and not external evidence as to how the parties interpreted that agreement.
Cooper admitted that the agreement, by itself, was ambiguous: the first eight paragraphs seemed to suggest that the agreement was a contract solely between Greer and the RPOF, but a ninth paragraph which Cooper said looked to have been drafted separately and tacked on at the last minute (a common occurrence when contracts are negotiated) seemed to say that Haridopolos and Thrasher were signing on as personal guarantors, committing themselves to do everything in their personal power to make sure the RPOF fulfilled its end of the agreement.
But in the face of such ambiguities, the law required Cooper to construe the evidence in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, Greer.
Although I find a lot of your arguments very persuasive, Cooper said to the defense attorneys, I just dont think I can make the decision at this point in the case of whos right and whos wrong.
Cooper then denied their motion to dismiss, but without prejudice, meaning the defendants are free to move for dismissal again if they find and produce additional evidence supporting their initial motion. LeBoeuf and Sukhia said they would try to find additional case law that would support their contention that their clients signed the agreements as representatives of the Republican Party of Florida, not as private individuals.
Reach Eric Giunta at egiunta@sunshinestatenews or at (954) 235-9116.