samedi 20 avril 2013

Attorneys for Concrete Busters amend lawsuit, dismiss allegations against Trout Point Lodge, others

Yesterday, the Smith & Fawer law firm amended its complaint on behalf of Concrete Busters of Louisiana and Waste Remediation of Plaquemines against Frederick Heebe, River Birch Landfill, and others, according to the Public Access to Court Electronic Records (PACER) system of the federal courts. This follows a bizarre move a couple of weeks ago when the law firm sent out a letter retracting allegations of involvement in criminal racketeering they had made against Trout Point Lodge and Cerro Coyote, stating that their information had come from Doug Handshoe's blog Slabbed, and was actually not true. Trout Point and Cerro Coyote--which operate small hotels and vacation properties--are owned by longtime business partners Daniel Abel, Charles Leary, and Vaughn Perret, who during the 1990s owned Chicory Farm and the Chicory Farm Cafe in Louisiana.

This can't be good news for homophobic blogger Handshoe, who is being sued by attorney Abel for defamation, including over allegations of involvement in organized crime first made by Handshoe and then repeated in the Concrete Busters lawsuit. Handshoe was also found liable for $427,000 in defamation damages and costs by the Nova Scotia Supreme Court in February of 2012. Enforcement of that judgment in favor of Trout Point, Leary, and Perret is currently before the 5th Circuit Court of Appeal in New Orleans.

Trout Point and its chef/proprietors lost a summary judgment proceeding against Handshoe in the Federal District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi last December. The about-face by Smith & Fawer and its clients is significant because in that decision, the federal court took judicial notice of the Concrete Busters lawsuit's allegations. The court also stated that former Jefferson Parish President Aaron Broussard was a defendant in that Concrete Busters complaint, which was in fact not true, and that Mr. Abel was Broussard's law partner, which Abel has also sworn in an affidavit was never the case. No court filings in that case made such an allegation, which has only appeared on Slabbed itself.

Strangely, a look at PACER revealed the clerk for the Federal District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana--where the Concrete Busters complaint is filed--erroneously listed Aaron Broussard, Trout Point Lodge, and Cerro Coyote as defendants in that lawsuit. The error was later corrected, but only after the Mississippi court had made its decision in favor of Handshoe, citing the fact that Broussard was a defendant in a lawsuit also involving Trout Point and Cerro Coyote.

This action against Handshoe was the first disputed case in which a U.S. court applied the federal Securing the Protection of our Enduring and Established Constitutional Heritage (SPEECH) Act. Handshoe and blogger Anne-Marie Vandenweghe continued to blog about Abel, Perret, Leary, Trout Point, and Cerro Coyote while the court was making its decision, ramping up publishing about them, seemingly in an attempt to convince the court of the truth of their criminal accusations (which if false would be per se defamatory and actionable in Mississippi). The court's decision states that the court monitored Slabbed, taking note of the large number of posts referring to Trout Point, Perret, and Leary in 2012 alone. The fact that the court relied on the now-retracted Concrete Busters allegations as well as other questionable facts could be significant to the appeal. This is because the court was operating under Mississippi law's requirement that a plaintiff prove falsity in a defamation case, something at times very difficult to do. Abel, Leary, and Perret have always insisted they had nothing to do with the criminal activity alleged over and over by Handshoe. Both the Times-Picayune and Fox 8 WVUE have long ago retracted any erroneous identification of Trout Point Lodge belonging to Aaron Broussard. 

Handshoe says that the retractions were coerced from media as part of a conspiracy and coverup. The Concrete Busters lawsuit, in turn, said Trout Point and Cerro Coyote were "shell companies" used by Broussard and Heebe in a criminal conspiracy, and that Leary and Perret were working to silence a valid investigation through their suits against Handshoe and others, including WVUE. Those accusations have now been officially dismissed in addition to the earlier Smith & Fawer retraction.

In another remarkable twist, Abel wrote a letter to the same Mississippi federal court, attaching as an exhibit the letter from Smith & Fawer. The Mississippi federal judge chose to file Abel's letter and exhibit into the public record available on PACER. The Abel letter refers the court's attention to possible fraud by Team Handshoe. Abel's claim is based on the fact that Handshoe likely knew the Mississippi court was perusing Slabbed while deliberating. Handshoe has not denied the allegations.

Indeed, not everything went Handshoe's way. The federal court flatly denied Handshoe's motion for attorney's fees and an appeal bond, stating that there was no suggestion the appeal of its own decision by Trout Point Lodge, Leary, and Perret to the 5th Circuit was frivolous. This was despite the fact that the SPEECH Act allowed for Handshoe to recover reasonable attorney's fees. Handshoe attorney Bobby Truitt (who also represents Anne-Marie Vandenweghe) was asking for an extraordinary $60,000 in fees on the summary judgment motions. In its initial decision the federal court also agreed that Handshoe was on a "campaign to damage" Leary, Perret, and their business. 

Abel's lawsuit alleges that Handshoe and former Assistant Parish Attorney Vandenweghe conducted their multi-year campaign of defamation in an effort to sway public opinion in the New Orleans/Jefferson metro area at the same time as the federal criminal probe of Broussard, Heebe, and others was underway. This would have benefitted Vandenweghe's own whistleblower lawsuit as well as the criminal prosecutions. He says that Vandenweghe used multiple online personalities, engaging in sock puppetry on Slabbed and elsewhere. Abel has also pointed to an instance where former Assistant U.S. Attorney Salvadore Perricone (posting anonymously) cast doubt on the Times-Picayune's retraction regarding Trout Point Lodge. Perricone had also speculated that Vandenweghe was indeed Slabbed's alter-ego in the context of an article about Vandenweghe's lawsuit against Jefferson Parish, which remarkably just settled out of court this past week before there had been any deposition of Vandenweghe. Abel also claims someone from the New Orleans U.S. Attorney's Office called Trout Point Lodge and then hung up the phone just as Leary & Perret were first seeking to enforce their $427,000 judgment against Handshoe in the Mississippi court about a year ago.

Abel is currently fighting separate motions to dismiss his lawsuit made by Handshoe and Vandenweghe. Vandenweghe went to law school with both former U.S. Attorney James Letten and his top prosecutor former Assistant U.S. Attorney Jan Maselli-Mann. Both left the Department of Justice after a blogging scandal involving Heebe unmasking Perricone and Maselli-Mann as anonymous online commenters. Perricone had resigend his post a few months earlier. Abel's brief responding to Vandenweghe's motion unmasks some of her multiple online personae using literary and grammatical analysis, similar to the technique used by Heebe to shed light on Perricone and Maselli-Mann's online activities. Abel says he has an M.A. in English literature.

The suggestion is that Vandenweghe's used her position as Assistant Parish Attorney in charge of Public Record Requests, as well as her contacts, to resolve personal vendettas and gain a lawsuit victory, seriously injuring Abel and his partners as innocent bystanders in the proces.

As previously reported, Smith & Fawer client Waste Remediation of Plaquemines is owned by Hank Lauricella, who was a Louisiana state senator at the same time Vandenweghe was on Jefferson Parish Council. Both represented Harahan, the home of both Vandenweghe and Perricone. Smith & Fawer's predecessor law firm also represented Handshoe's business partner Fred H. Goodson in his criminal trial, in which he was convicted for racketeering, fraud, bribery, and money laundering involving truck stop gambling. Lauricella did not seek re-election after his name came up in the same federal criminal probe of video poker in Louisiana, termed "Operation Hardcrust." Handshoe was corporate secretary for Goodson's company Slidell Motel, Inc., a segment of the O'Aces Casino operation ordered forfeit as part of the criminal conspiracy by the federal court after Goodson's conviction. Checks from Slidell Motel were used to make contributions to Louisiana government officials, according to FBI wiretaps.

Aucun commentaire:

Enregistrer un commentaire