Trump officially drops lawsuit against PBC over jets flying near Mar-A-Lago

Donald Trump has filed paperwork, confirming his plans to drop his $100 million lawsuit against Palm Beach County over jets flying near Mar-A-Lago, his private club in Palm Beach.

Donald Trump
Donald Trump

“It’s officially over!” County Attorney Denise Nieman wrote county commissioners on Wednesday.

While the president-elect’s attorneys had called her on Monday, saying they no longer planned to pursue the nearly 2-year-old lawsuit, they didn’t file necessary court papers until Wednesday.

It was the third lawsuit Trump filed against the county, claiming jets from Palm Beach International Airport were causing irreparable damage to the historic club, built in the 1920s by cereal heiress Margaret Merriweather Post and her then husband E.F. Hutton. The first lawsuit, filed in 1995, was settled and a second one was dismissed by a Palm Beach County circuit judge.

Airports Director Bruce Pelly said the county has spent more than $800,000 fighting Trump in court.

Trump officially drops lawsuit against PBC over jets flying near Mar-A-Lago

Donald Trump has filed paperwork, confirming his plans to drop his $100 million lawsuit against Palm Beach County over jets flying near Mar-A-Lago, his private club in Palm Beach.

Donald Trump
Donald Trump

“It’s officially over!” County Attorney Denise Nieman wrote county commissioners on Wednesday.

While the president-elect’s attorneys had called her on Monday, saying they no longer planned to pursue the nearly 2-year-old lawsuit, they didn’t file necessary court papers until Wednesday.

In a two-sentence notice, Trump’s attorneys John Marion and Bruce Rogow, a noted constitutional law expert, wrote that they were voluntarily dismissing the suit “with prejudice.” Neither the county nor Trump, they wrote, would seek court costs or attorneys fees in connection with the abandoned litigation.

It was the third lawsuit Trump filed against the county, claiming jets from Palm Beach International Airport were causing irreparable damage to the historic club, built in the 1920s by cereal heiress Margaret Merriweather Post and her then husband E.F. Hutton. The first lawsuit, filed in 1995, was settled and a second one was dismissed by a Palm Beach County circuit judge.

Airports Director Bruce Pelly said the county has spent more than $800,000 fighting Trump in court.

UPDATE: Facebook was weapon in nasty PBC judicial race

UPDATE: The “Truth About Gregg Lerman” Facebook page was taken down Friday. Richard Giorgio, Dana Santino’s political consultant, said in an email, “Several defense attorneys who are supporting Dana Santino contacted the campaign.  They felt the Facebook page “The Truth About Gregg Lerman” could be viewed as a commentary on all defense attorneys.  In deference to them, the page has been taken down.”

A Palm Beach County judicial candidate is using Facebook to blast her opponent as unfit because he works as a criminal defense attorney.

In a Facebook page titled, The Truth About Gregg Lerman, a political committee operated by Dana Santino’s campaign consultant attacks Lerman “for trying to free Palm Beach County’s worst criminals!”

lermanfb2The page, that offers links to newspaper stories about several high-profile cases Lerman has handled, underscores further how little Santino understands about the criminal justice system or what criminal defense attorneys do, Lerman said.

“A criminal defense attorney works to preserve the system and make sure it works,” said Lerman. He is challenging Santino in the Nov. 8 election for a seat on the county court bench, where misdemeanor cases and civil matters, worth less than $15,000, are decided.

A few newspaper stories don’t begin to tell the story of his 31-year career or the job of a criminal defense attorney, Lerman said. The job involves more than appearing in court. It often involves trying to get people help with demons, such as drug addiction, to keep them from committing crimes. It also involves protecting clients from overzealous prosecutors and making sure the punishment fits the crime.

He said he suspects Santino, who in an email to would-be supporters last week said Lerman represents “murderers, rapists, child molesters and other criminals,” has stepped over a line. Unlike those seeking other elected positions, judicial candidates are constrained by judicial canons and can face sanctions for violating them.

Richard Giorgio, Santino’s political consultant, said Santino is on firm legal ground. “We’ve looked at the canons,” said Giorgio, who administers Taxpayers for Public Integrity which created the website for Santino.

“Candidates are allowed to draw clear, honest, factual differences with their opponents,” he said. “There’s nothing misleading. One candidate focused her career on defending victims and one focuses his on defending perpetrators of crime.”

Santino, who works as a guardianship and probate attorney, worked as a victim’s advocate from 1993-94, according to her campaign brochure. Giorgio said she still represents victims of crime.

Lerman said he does, too. He said he and those close to him have been victims of crime. He said he understands both sides. “It’s aggravating because she doesn’t know me or what I do,” he said.

Santino, he said, is violating judicial candidates by misrepresenting his credentials and questioning the validity of the type of law he practices. “You can’t attack someone personally based on what they do and infer they can’t be fair and impartial,” he said. “That’s exactly what they claim.”

He said he intends to seek an opinion from a campaign ethics committee of the Palm Beach County Bar Association and file a complaint against Santino with the Florida Bar.

Giorgio indicated he isn’t worried. “He doesn’t represent these people because he champions constitutional principles. He’s doing it because he make a lot of money doing it,” Giorgio said.

Lerman accepts court appointments to represent people charged with murder. Most agree it is far from lucrative.

But, he said, he does it because he respects the criminal justice system and takes his responsibilities as a lawyer seriously. “I raised my hand 31 years ago to uphold the Constitution of the state of Florida and the Constitution of the United States,” he said.

 

PBC court race gets ugly – some say – in Donald Trump-like way

A Palm Beach County judicial candidate’s claim that her opponent’s legal chops are questionable because he represents “murderers, rapists, child molesters and other criminals” has inflamed criminal defense attorneys and raised concerns that Donald Trump tactics are being used in a county court race.

Gregg Lerman
Gregg Lerman

Comments Dana Santino made in an email last week about her opponent, Gregg Lerman, raise questions about her understanding of the U.S. Constitution which guarantees that anyone charged with a crime has the right to have an attorney represent them, attorneys said.

In a statement on Sunday, the president of the Palm Beach Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers made it clear the group isn’t backing either candidate in the nonpartisan race.

Dana Santino
Dana Santino

“However, we do support the Constitution of the United States,” wrote Christine Geraghty, an assistant public defender.  “Every lawyer in Florida takes an oath to uphold the Constitution.  Anyone who believes that there is something wrong with a lawyer upholding the ethical duty we have to our clients, to the Constitution, and to the rules of the Florida Bar does not understand how the legal system is supposed to work.”

Santino, a Palm Beach Gardens probate and guardianship attorney who worked as an intern in both the public defender’s and state attorney’s offices while she was in law school, said she understands the system.

“I completely respect and I’m proud of our justice system and while every person is entitled to a defense, Mr. Lerman is not a public defender and chooses to represent individuals who commit heinous crimes,” she said in a statement.

Lerman, a criminal defense attorney, said Santino’s description of his clients indicates she doesn’t understand another important Constitutional concept: innocent until proven guilty.

Further, he said in most cases he is appointed by judges to represent poor people accused of murder. Court-appointed attorneys are needed when the public defender’s office is unable to do so either because it is already representing a co-defendant or its workload doesn’t allow it.

Without private attorneys willing to accept such cases, the system would collapse, said Val Rodriguez, a private attorney who handles both criminal and civil cases and is supporting Lerman. “He’s performing a public service,” he said.

He said he was “flabbergasted” by Santino’s comments. “It’s so elementary. That’s why it’s so shocking,” he said. “It’s the first thing you learn in law school – to treat all parties with respect. You don’t call people criminals, especially if you’re a judge.”

Santino and Lerman are vying for a seat on the county court bench where misdemeanor cases and civil matters where less than $15,000 is at stake are decided.

Rodriguez likened Santino’s comments to criticism Trump leveled at Hillary Clinton during last week’s debate. The GOP presidential candidate accused Clinton of getting a man accused of raping a 12-year-old off and then laughing at the victim.

Early in her career, Clinton was appointed to represent the man, who ultimately took a plea deal. But, fact-checkers at the Associated Press said there is no evidence Clinton laughed at the victim when interviewed about the case years later.

Rodriguez said Santino is trying to tar Lerman with the same ugly brush. “She’s riding the coattails of these crazy Trump supporters,” Rodriguez said of Santino.

Santino said she is simply underscoring the differences between herself and Lerman. “I have spent part of my career and much of my life helping and advocating for victims of rape, homicide and domestic violence,” she wrote. “Those are simply the facts.”

Editor’s Note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly said Clinton worked as an assistant public defender. She didn’t. She was appointed to represent the man in the rape case.

 

Battling brewing in Grossman v. Bryson PBC county court race

In what could be a harbinger of a particularly contentious judicial election season, the Palm Beach County Bar Association has already logged its first ethics complaint against a candidate.

061010+OPI+bryson.jpg
A supporter of incumbent Judge Marni Bryson (above) has filed a complaint against challenger Lisa Grossman.

“We’ve never had a complaint filed this early before,” bar association CEO Patience Burns said of the complaint filed last week against county court judge candidate Lisa Grossman. “We’re not prepared to accept it.”

The Judicial Campaign Practices Commission, which reviews complaints of unethical behavior and issues advisory opinions, won’t be formed until after the election qualifying period ends at noon on May 6, Burns said.

That means the complaint, accusing Grossman of improperly converting her personal Facebook page into a campaign advertisement and dragging her nearly 300 “friends” along for an unplanned political ride, will be put on hold, she said.

Attorney Alka Sharma, co-chair of the campaign committee for incumbent Judge Marni Bryson,  said several people called her upset that Grossman was using their Facebook friendship to shore up her judicial campaign. Some of those “friends” are supporting Bryson in the Aug. 30 election, she said.

The page titled, “Lisa Grossman for Judge,” shows pictures of people holding Grossman campaign signs. Before the March 15 presidential primary, the North Palm Beach lawyer posted this: “Anyone interested in holding a sign at an early voting site between 10-6 this weekend please contact me!!”

Sharma said her research showed that the converting a personal Facebook page into one for a campaign is improper under rules that dictate what is and isn’t allowed in Florida judicial races. While such sites can be created by an election committee, they can’t be established or maintained by the candidate themselves, she wrote in the complaint. Even then, she said, the committees can’t control who counts themselves among the candidates’ supporters.

The rules for judicial candidates differ wildly from those seeking other offices. Grossman should bone up on them, Sharma said. “She seems to be kind of doing it Wild West style,” she said.

Gross declined comment. “At this point it’s all unsubstantiated hearsay,” she said.

 

Trump attorneys battle with members of Jupiter golf club

WEST PALM BEACH  – A federal judge on Thursday listened to nearly two hours of arguments about a long-running dispute between Donald Trump and those who aren’t happy about membership changes he made since launching Trump National Golf Club in Jupiter.

The hearing on Trump’s request to throw out the law turned on phrases like “legacy addendum,” “breach” and “deposit refund obligation.” At times, even U.S. District Judge Kenneth Marra was confused.

Republican presidential candidate Donald J. Trump holds a copy of his magazine during a press conference at Trump National Golf Club in Jupiter, Florida on March 8, 2016. (Richard Graulich / The Palm Beach Post)
Republican presidential hopeful Donald Trump holds a copy of his magazine at a press conference at Trump National Golf Club in Jupiter this month. (Richard Graulich / The Palm Beach Post)

“What are we fighting about?” he asked attorneys at one point.

Lawyers representing roughly 60 members of the club – the site of a much-talked about press conference this month where the GOP presidential front-runner displayed now-defunct Trump Steaks, Trump magazine, Trump water and other products to prove his business savvy  – claim more than $6 million is on the line. That is how much they claim their clients are owed in membership fees alone.

Trump attorneys counter that the former members will get their cash when new members join – a practice that has existed since the club was owned by Ritz-Carlton.

Marra, who quizzed both sides at length, said he would rule soon on Trump’s request to dismiss the lawsuit.

Check back for further updates.

 

Circuit Judge Amy Smith announces resignation in letter to governor

Circuit Judge Amy Smith
Circuit Judge Amy Smith

Palm Beach Circuit Judge Amy Smith, a family court judge who suffered an aneurysm last year, has announced that she is retiring at the end of the month.

Although news of Smith’s retirement has been spreading in legal circles for at least a week, Chief Circuit Judge Jeffrey Colbath in an email to other judges and court officials Wednesday said Smith has made her resignation official with a letter sent to Florida Gov. Rick Scott.

“I have enjoyed working with Judge Smith and like many of you will miss her greatly,” Colbath said, calling Smith a “longtime childhood friend’ who lived just four houses away from him while the two attended junior high.

Smith’s last day will be March 31.

Smith, a former prosecutor, was first elected to the circuit bench in 2004. According to Colbath, she served in many divisions, including family court at the south and north county courthouses and both felony and family court at the main courthouse in West Palm Beach. Smith also worked in the circuit civil division, Colbath said.

Between her time as a prosecutor and judge, Smith practiced insurance defense law for 15 years with Walton Lantaff Schroeder & Carson LLP.

In November, Smith was hospitalized with what friends later said was an aneurysm, but she had since returned to work. Her husband,