Federal judge to Trump: No disrespect intended

Dealing with Donald Trump can unleash unexpected fury as a federal judge in California discovered in June when the then-presidential candidate questioned the jurist’s Mexican heritage.

Trump ordered to pay $5.74 million to members of Jupiter club

Donald Trump
Donald Trump

In ruling against Trump on Wednesday, in a decision involving Trump National Golf Club Jupiter, U.S. District Judge Kenneth Marra made it clear he meant the new president no disrespect when he referred to him simply as Donald Trump or D. Trump throughout the 22-page order.

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But, to make sure there was no misunderstanding, Marra added a footnote.

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“At all times relevant to this lawsuit, Donald J. Trump was a private citizen. As a result, the Court will refer to him as such in this decision. In doing so, the Court means no disrespect to him or to the esteemed position he now holds.”

Read more Donald Trump coverage from The Post 

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.


Boca attorney asks PBC judge to declare Trump incompetent

Claiming he is worried about the future of the country, a longtime Boca Raton guardianship attorney has filed a petition in Palm Beach County Circuit Court asking a judge to declare Donald Trump mentally incapable of seeking the presidency.

Donald Trump
Donald Trump

In the “petition to determine incapacity” filed last week, attorney James Herb claims the GOP presidential nominee exhibits signs of histrionic and narcissistic personality disorder – both recognized mental health ills listed in the “Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders” of the American Psychiatric Association.

Herb is asking judge to order an examination of Trump to determine if he is capable of holding any job. Herb isn’t asking Trump to be stripped of any rights that are often taken away from those who are deemed incapacitated, such as the right to vote, file lawsuits, drive or travel. Citing dozens of statements Trump has made over the last year, Herb claims the part-time Palm Beach resident has illustrated he is incompetent.

“This is for Mr. Trump’s benefit. He doesn’t have the mental capacity to seek this kind of employment” said Herb, insisting he is acting alone without any encouragement from Trump’s opponent, Hillary Clinton, or any Democratic groups.

He said he is also acting to protect himself and others. “I’m scared sh–less for myself and everyone in Palm Beach County, the state, the United States and the world,” Herb said.

Florida law gives any “adult person” the right to question someone’s competency, said West Palm Beach guardianship attorney John Morrissey, who is not involved in Herb’s quest. A judge will appoint an attorney to represent Trump. The attorney will alert Trump that the petition has been filed against him.

Once Trump has been properly informed that his mental fitness is in question, a three-person examining committee – generally composed of a psychiatrist, a psychologist and a lay person – will meet with Trump to determine if Herb”s claims are justified. Trump, of course, can contest any claim that he is incompetent to hold a job much less become the leader of the free world.

However, Boca Raton guardianship attorney Edward Shipe said he doubted it would go that far. While acknowledging that case law isn’t clear-cut, he said the guardianship statute requires anyone filing such a petition to explain their relationship with the person they claim is incompetent – something Herb failed to do. He said that is a fatal flaw.

“It can’t just be, ‘I’m sitting here watching TV, I don’t like him and I’m going to have him declared incompetent. That doesn’t make sense,” he said.

If it was that easy, courts would be clogged with petitions, Shipe said. Trump supporters could file a similar petition against Clinton. Warring neighbors could use it for revenge.

While giving Herb an “A for a publicity stunt,” he predicted a judge will throw out the petition. Further, he said, Herb may regret going after Trump in such an unconventional manner.

Under the state’s guardianship laws, the target of a frivolous petition can demand that the person who filed it be forced to pay his attorneys fees and court costs. “I fear that Mr. Trump with his litigious history may make Mr. Herb’s life hell,” Shipe said.


Donald Trump unlikely to testify in person at next week’s trial in West Palm Beach

Donald Trump is not expected to appear in person in federal court in West Palm Beach next week to refute allegations that he improperly kept as much as $6 million in refundable deposits from members when he took over a country club in Jupiter four years ago.

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

In court papers filed late Monday, both Trump’s attorneys and those representing members of the Trump National Golf Club in Jupiter both said depositions taken of the GOP presidential candidate would be read to U.S. District Judge Kenneth Marra, who will be deciding the case.

While a jury trial was planned, Marra last month approved a request from both sides that he alone decide the dispute that has raged since Trump bought the club on Donald Ross Road near Alternate A1A for $5 million from Ritz-Carlton Golf Club & Spa.

While Marra rejected Trump’s request to throw out the lawsuit, attorneys representing the real-estate-tycoon-turned-reality-TV-star have asked the judge to reconsider that decision. In the alternative, Miami attorney Herman Joseph Russomanno III is asking Marra not to allow the case to proceed as a class-action lawsuit.

Members of the club claim that Trump breached contracts they had with the Ritz when he in 2012 took over the club that had been losing as much as $4.2 million a month under its prior owners.

Under Ritz-Carton’s rules, members could continue to pay dues and use the club even after announcing their intentions to resign. Once a new member signed up, however, their deposits, which ranged from $35,000 to $210,000, were to be refunded.

Once Trump took over, he wrote a letter, alerting those who announced their intentions to resign “you’re out.” Members say they were denied entry to the club. Trump attorneys said it was because they hadn’t paid their dues. Further, Trump attorneys said, members could get their deposits back once new members joined.

Eric Trump, who operates the club for his father, is also on the witness list for the trial that is to begin Monday. It is unclear whether he will testify in person or, like his father, will allow sworn statements he made in previous depositions to be used to explain his position.

The club was the site of a primary campaign event in March where Trump surrounded himself with various products that bear his name, such as Trump magazine, Trump Steaks and Trump water, to dispute allegations from GOP rivals that many of his products were failures. It is also where his then-campaign manager Corey Lewandowski was accused of manhandling an online news reporter. Palm Beach County State Attorney Dave Aronberg declined to file charges.


Judge paves way for trial against Donald Trump over Jupiter golf club take-over

Donald Trump is likely to be forced to take a break in his campaign for president next month to appear in federal court in West Palm Beach to explain why he hasn’t returned an estimated $6 million to members of his country club off Donald Ross Road.

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 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)

U.S. District Judge Kenneth Marra this week paved the way for a trial to begin on August 15 by denying Trump’s request to throw out the lawsuit filed by those who were members of the club before the businessman-turned-TV-celebrity-turned-GOP-presidential-nominee bought it for $5 million in 2012.

In the 12-page ruling, Marra said there were “genuine questions of material fact regarding whether (Trump) breached the contract” with members of Trump National Golf Club in Jupiter by refusing to return their deposits, which ranged from $35,000 to $210,000. That means, he said, the lawsuit must be decided by a jury.

Members claim that Trump changed the rules once he bought the club from the Ritz-Carlton Golf Club & Spa, which had been losing as much as $4.2 million annually trying to keep it afloat. Under the previous rules, members could continue to pay their dues and use the club even after announcing their intentions to resign. Once a new member signed up, however, their hefty deposits were to be refunded.

Shortly after taking over the ailing club in a gated community off Donald Ross Road near Alternate A1A, Trump announced to those on the resignation list: “you’re out.”

In a December 2012 letter to club members, he wrote, the rules had to be changed to assure the club became the “ultra-prestigious club” he envisioned.

Therefore,  he explained, “if a person is on the resignation list, the membership does not want them to be an active member of the club — likewise as the owner of the club, I do not want them to utilize the club nor do I want their dues.

“In other words,” he continued, “we are committed to seeing Trump National Golf Club – Jupiter on the list of the best clubs in the world and if you choose to remain on the resignation list, you’re out.”

Shortly after, members said they were barred from using the club. Further, they claim, club officials have refused to return their deposits as they were required to do under their membership contracts with the Ritz.

At a hearing in March, Trump attorneys argued that the disgruntled members were denied entry because they hadn’t paid their dues. Further, they argued, Trump offered them attractive options to remain members.

If they agreed to give up their deposits, their annual dues would drop to $17,500 for three years and they would also get the use of 14 other Trump clubs around the country, including Mar-A-Lago in Palm Beach. Those who didn’t “opt-in” would see their annual dues jump to $21,500 and they wouldn’t get the chance to use other Trump facilities, according to the letter.

The options, those who filed suit claimed, constituted a breach of contract because it changed the terms of the long-standing agreement they had when they joined the club.

But, Trump attorneys countered, the club didn’t refuse to refund the deposits. Under another plan, longtime members would get their deposits back once new members signed up. Those who filed suit simply wanted to jump to the front of a very long line, they argued.

Marra said there is a true difference of opinion regarding the new rules. The disagreement turns on various details, such as the definition of such terms as “recall of the membership,” he wrote. That, he said, will be up to a jury to decide.

Fight begins over whether local judge seat should be elected or appointed

Gregg Lerman
Gregg Lerman

A local defense attorney on Tuesday made official what is shaping up to be a Florida Supreme Court fight over whether Florida Gov. Rick Scott has the power to appoint someone to a judicial seat some believe should be up for a public vote in the August election.

Gregg Lerman has filed suit filed against Scott and Secretary of State Ken Detzner for starting the judicial vacancy appointment process for County Judge Laura Johnson’s seat, which she resigned to run for a circuit judge seat.

Lerman, and County Magistrate Thomas Baker have since filed paperwork to run for Johnson’s seat, and Palm Beach County Supervisior of Elections Susan Bucher has recognized the position as elected. Detzner later sent Bucher a letter telling her not to accept the candidates’ papwerwork to qualify for the position because Scott has already started the customary process of accepting applications to appoint Johnson’s replacement.

Thomas BakerBut Lerman and others say Scott doesn’t have that right by law, saying Johnson’s April 18 resignation letter complied with a state statute requiring some elected officials to resign their current positions to run for another. It is that law, according to Lerman’s attorney Len Feuer, that makes Johnson’s seat and elected position and not subject to a governor’s usual right to fill judicial vacancies due to resignation and retirement.

“The public’s right to choose who should fill the seat in Group 11 through an election should not be abridged by the Governor’s attempt to fill the same position through an appointment,” Feuer wrote.

Lerman is asking that the high court compel Scott and Detzner to provide legal reason to show by what authority Scott feels he has the power to appoint Johnson’s replacement.

Attorney for Trump campaign manager no stranger to controversy

West Palm Beach attorney Scott Richardson, who was tapped Tuesday to represent GOP presidential hopeful Donald Trump’s campaign manager on a battery charge, is no stranger to high-profile cases.

Defense attorney Scott Richardson (front) in court in 2014 with John Goodman during the polo mogul’s trial for DUI manslaughter.

Throughout his career, which began in 1978 as a prosecutor in the Palm Beach County State Attorney’s Office, the 62-year-old registered Democrat has represented priests accused of stealing from the collection plate, cops accused of killing suspects and politicians behaving badly.

Most recently, he was a member of the defense team for John Goodman when the Wellington polo mogul in 2014 – for a second time – was convicted of DUI manslaughter in the 2010 crash that killed engineering graduate Scott Wilson.

Those who have known the defense attorney, whose courtroom style is more professorial than dramatic, said they weren’t surprised Richardson, along with former U.S. Attorney Kendall Coffey, were hired to represent Corey Lewandowski on a battery charge.

“He’s a great lawyer, an exceptional trial lawyer and he’s extremely ethical,” said defense attorney Michael Salnick, who shares his longtime friend’s love of the law, baseball, the Beach Boys and Brian Wilson. “He’s an excellent choice to represent this man.”

Lewandowski turned himself in at the Jupiter police station Tuesday morning and was given a notice to appear on a misdemeanor battery charge in connection with allegations made by Michelle Fields, a former reporter for the online Breitbart News Network. At a March 8 press conference at Trump National Golf Club in Jupiter, the 28-year-old Fields claims Lewandowski manhandled her when she tried to ask Trump a question — a claim Lewandowski denies.

Richardson, often working with Salnick and former Palm Beach County State Attorney Barry Krischer, built his career representing cops accused of crimes. One of his most headline-grabbing cases was in 1991 when he and Krischer represented West Palm Beach police officers Glen Thurlow and Stephen Rollins in the beating death of Robert Jewett.

Despite an autopsy that showed Jewett’s injuries included a broken neck, nine broken ribs, a bruised lung, a puncture in his heart and blood-filled testicles, jurors cleared the officers of any wrongdoing.

In 2005, he worked similar magic for Delray Beach police officer Darren Cogoni in the shooting death of 16-year-old Jerrod Miller at a school dance. Taking the calculated risk of allowing Cogoni to testify before the grand jury, the panel cleared the rookie officer of wrongdoing.

He also represented the Rev. John Skehan, a longtime priest at St. Vincent Ferrer Catholic Church in Delray Beach. Admitting he stole from the parish from 2001 to early 2006, the 81-year-old priest pleaded guilty to grand theft over $100,000 and received a 14-month prison sentence after police said he embezzled as much as $8 million from the church.

When Palm Beach County State Attorney Michael McAuliffe was elected in 2008, he sought to shore up the office by hiring Richardson. McAuliffe created a special position for Richardson as his chief counsel, earning praise from underlings. A big part of Richardson’s job was to train young attorneys – part of what McAuliffe called his desire to build a prosecutorial force of  “national caliber.”

When McAuliffe unexpectedly quit the job before his term was up, Richardson returned to private practice.

Richardson, who is famously tight-lipped with the press, wasn’t immediately available for comment. Years ago, when asked why he counted so many police officers as clients, he explained that he enjoyed bursting misconceptions people may have about cases that received enormous attention in the press.

“I enjoy being able to present the facts within the rules governing the admissability of evidence and oftentimes overcoming initial misconceptions about the guilt or innocence of the officer,” he said.