Jim Greer lawsuit can go forward, judge rules; Haridopolos and Thrasher duck blame

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One front of embattled former Republican Party of Florida Chairman Jim Greer’s multipronged legal war with his former employer can go on, a Leon County judge ruled Monday, after a lengthy hearing that showed the complexities of an agreement that lies at the heart of the case, reports Brandon Larrabee of the News Service of Florida.

Circuit Judge John Cooper rebuffed efforts by the RPOF, Senate President Mike Haridopolos, R-Merritt Island, and Sen. John Thrasher, R-St. Augustine, to get Greer’s case against them thrown out on a variety of grounds.

Most of the two-hour hearing, though, dealt with Haridopolos’ and Thrasher’s responsibility to make sure Greer got paid under the terms of a secret severance agreement Greer signed with the party, Haridopolos, Thrasher and House Speaker Dean Cannon, R-Winter Park, in 2010. At the time, Haridopolos and Cannon were about to assume their leadership positions and Thrasher was the favorite to take over as chairman when Greer resigned.

Greer has not been paid under the terms of the severance agreement and claims party leaders broke the agreement and owe him more than $123,000. The suit also asks for punitive damages of more than $5 million. Party leaders point to a fundraising scheme that has led to criminal charges for Greer.

In essence, the argument boiled down to whether Haridopolos was signing as an individual or as Senate president-designate, which has no official role in the RPOF but had some control over some party funds. If the latter is true, Haridopolos could be shielded from personal liability.

Attorneys for Haridopolos and Thrasher also argued that even if they signed the agreement, any lawsuits on the contract would have to be directed at the RPOF, the only defendant specifically recognized as a party in the contract’s language.

“He’s not a party to the agreement,” said Dean LeBoeuf, who represented Haridopolos at the hearing. “He has no personal responsibility for this.”

But Damon Chase, a lawyer for Greer, and Cooper both kept returning to the fact that the three officials, including Haridopolos, still signed the agreement.

“Why in God’s name would he sign that contract if he didn’t expect to be bound?” Chase asked.

Chase said Cannon is not included in the suit because the speaker testified in a deposition that he argued for paying Greer under the severance agreement, but Thrasher and Haridopolos didn’t work to ensure the payment.

Kenneth Sukhia, who represented Thrasher, pointed out that Thrasher eventually became chairman of the Republican Party. But Cooper noted that Thrasher signed the agreement in two different places — only one of which seemed specifically related to his then-impending duties at the RPOF.

Sukhia also said that the decision to have Haridopolos, Cannon and Thrasher sign the agreement was not their idea.

“Mr. Greer is the one who insisted that these other people sign,” he said.

Cooper openly struggled with how to treat the agreement — at one point calling it “this thing, this contract, whatever it is” — but told lawyers for the defense that a motion to dismiss, which is supposed to deal largely with legal issues and not include arguments over evidence, was not the right time to figure that out.

“Although I find a lot of your arguments as very persuasive … I just don’t think I can make the decision at this point in the case who’s right and who’s wrong,” Cooper said.

He also threw out a motion to dismiss by the RPOF based on Greer’s unwillingness to give a deposition in an early lawsuit Greer filed similar to this one. That case was dismissed.

Greer is still facing a criminal trial in February for money laundering and fraud in relation to an alleged fundraising scheme in which he is accused of steering party money to Victory Strategies, a fundraising company, while he was chairman. Greer said party leaders knew what he was doing and that the severance agreement should have protected him from any criminal liability.

And Greer is suing lawyers who helped him set up Victory Strategies and who were involved in the drafting of the severance agreement.

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including SaintPetersBlog.com, FloridaPolitics.com, ContextFlorida.com, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. SaintPetersBlog has for three years running been ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.