By Dan Moffett
Saying they want to hold down expenses, Gulf Stream commissioners are changing their lineup of lawyers as the town appeals its federal racketeering case against Martin O’Boyle and Chris O’Hare.
Mayor Scott Morgan says Joanne O’Connor of the West Palm Beach firm of Jones, Foster, Johnston & Stubbs will be taking over most of the work in the RICO case, replacing Gerald Richman of Richman Greer.
Town Attorney John Randolph is a shareholder in Jones Foster, and the firm has had a working relationship with Gulf Stream for years. O’Connor has handled dozens of suits over public records that O’Boyle and O’Hare have filed against the town.
Morgan told commissioners on Sept. 11 that Jones Foster was willing to charge a “reduced hourly rate” to pursue the RICO appeal. Gulf Stream is setting aside $1 million in the next fiscal year to cover legal expenses against the two men, so money is no small issue.
“Most of an appeal is formulaic, preparing documents and what-not,” Morgan said. “It can be done at a lower expense. There’s no need to pay high-priced attorneys.”
Billable hours aside, Richman hasn’t given commissioners much to feel good about since he proposed suing O’Boyle and O’Hare under the civil RICO (Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations) statute late last year.
U.S. District Court Judge Kenneth Marra threw out the suit in June, essentially buying none of Richman’s arguments that O’Boyle and O’Hare were abusing public records laws to extort legal settlements from municipalities around the state.
Then the town’s appeal of Marra’s ruling got sidetracked in August when the clerk for the U.S. 11th Circuit Court of Appeals informed Richman that his bar membership had lapsed and he was ineligible to file motions. Though that glitch was quickly resolved, it did nothing to enhance commissioners’ confidence in Richman’s management of the case.
The commission has unanimously approved appealing the ruling, and Morgan believes there are grounds to persuade the court to take a second look.
“We have been advised by our attorneys that there are justiciable actions there that would justify the return of the case back to the trial court for hearing,” Morgan said. “Is there a guarantee? Of course not.”
At the Sept. 11 meeting, O’Boyle told commissioners they were “dreaming” if they believed $1 million “was even close to enough” to cover future legal fees.
“I can’t express to you how wrong you are,” O’Boyle said. “The litigation can be resolved — promptly and at a very low cost. Supporting this (appeal) is pouring gasoline on a fire.”
O’Hare told the commission he was losing business because of damage to his reputation from the RICO suit.
“It is devastating,” O’Hare said. “Take me out of it.”
The town’s officials and attorneys say attempts to settle the legal issues with the two men have failed because they have not been willing to negotiate in good faith and drop their lawsuits. O’Boyle and O’Hare say the same is true of the town.
Those who attended the September meeting were treated to a display with poster boards and stacks of log sheets recording the roughly 1,700 public records requests the two men have made — some under fictitious names such as Wyatt Burp, Prigs Hypocrites and Patrick Henry, some under affiliated groups such as Stopdirtygovernment LLC — that have led to dozens of suits over the past three years.
“Right now, every judge in the 15th Circuit has more than one, and in some cases three or four, of these (public records) cases,” said Vice Mayor Robert Ganger.
“I can’t tell you how many municipalities, who unfortunately are enduring the same kind of trickery, are on our side … who’ve said ‘The same thing is happening to us. Somebody has got to do something about it.’ We are the only town that I know of that has the courage to do something.”