BY TOM MCLAUGHLIN AND SAVE THE TARPON – A PTTS lawyer is once again threatening to haul Save The Tarpon back into court – this time in an apparent effort to thwart the group’s recent and ongoing legal defense fundraising efforts designed to provide the resources needed to fight back at Port Charlotte boat dealer Gary Ingman’s attempts to silence critics of his beleaguered TV tarpon tournament.
Dennis A. Creed III, a partner in the Tampa law firm hired by the Professional Tarpon Tournament Series to gag Save The Tarpon and its more than 27,000 members and supporters, issued his latest threat in an email sent Monday afternoon (Jan. 12) to former Assistant State Attorney and Save The Tarpon lead counsel Tauna R. Bogle.
Creed’s email to Save The Tarpon’s legal team came on a day that saw the group’s 11-day-old online “crowd-sourcing” effort climb by more than $5,000 in less than 24 hours to take Save The Tarpon’s defense fund over the $15,000 threshold. In that brief span, more than two dozen donors came forward to offer contributions to the fund ranging from $50 to $1,000.
Save The Tarpon is currently seeking to raise $20,000 to fight back against a retaliatory Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation, or SLAPP Suit, filed against the group in 2013 less than a month after Florida’s fish and wildlife regulators banned the notorious “PTTS Jig” from Boca Grande Pass.
Monday’s email threat marks the second procedural attempt by PTTS lawyers to silence Save The Tarpon. Last year, as PTTS owner Gary Ingman’s SLAPP Suit continued to wind through the courts, Creed went before a Charlotte County judge to seek a gag order against Save The Tarpon in the form of a “prior restraint” demand.
In a “First Amendment Be Damned” maneuver commonly employed by deep pocket plaintiffs and their attorneys to silence and intimidate critics, the PTTS lawyers called on the court to pre-emptively order Save The Tarpon to cease writing about them and their troubled case on the group’s website, its Facebook page and elsewhere.
“Prior restraint,” as sought by the PTTS lawyers, is most commonly used to protect the privacy of young children and victims of sexual violence – not the hurt feelings of TV fishing tournament attorneys and their clients. The PTTS attempt to hide its case behind closed doors came as the tournament and its legal counsel were scrambling to limit the public image damage resulting from frivilous litigation and other sanctions totaling more than $6,500 that Creed and his clients were ordered to pay Save The Tarpon.
Monday’s emailed “five day notice” as required by Florida law, appears designed to cripple Save The Tarpon’s ability to raise the resources required to effectively fight back against the PTTS and its SLAPP-happy Tampa lawyers, Creed told Save The Tarpon’s counsel “I will be compelled to file a motion with the court regarding the previous orders asking your clients to stop this type of activity.” It’s unclear what “previous orders” (other than the order forcing Creed and the PTTS to pony up more than $6,500 in frivolous litigation and other money) Creed is referencing.
Despite a record of repeated failures in his past attempts at prior restraint and punitive action against Save The Tarpon, Creed remains seemingly undeterred. In response to the group’s continuing legal defense fundraising, Creed threatened “I will file a motion for sanctions in the current case, and I will file a personal defamation case against Save The Tarpon.”
Creed, however, failed to cite specifics, only that Save The Tarpon, its website, its Facebook page and its GoFundMe.com/savethetarpon campaign “are defaming my ethics/business character.” Creed’s five day notice email follows the same script the tournament’s lawyers have repeatedly used throughout the ongoing PTTS Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation. In his five day notice to Save The Tarpon and its legal team, the PTTS lawyer demanded the unspecified “defamation” be “immediately (within 24 hours) edited to remove such accusations of unethical behavior.”
In response to Creed’s email, Bogle told the PTTS lawyer that nothing written by Save The Tarpon in connection with its fundraising initiative mentioned or identified Creed by name. “But please tell me if I missed anything.” Bogle also noted comments associated with the Save The Tarpon campaign “look like fundraising attempts and comment/opinion of persons involved in a lawsuit.” The former prosecutor also invited Creed to “feel free to educate me” on why he believes long-established First Amendment free speech protections don’t apply to Save The Tarpon and its supporters.
Tom McLaughlin, chairman of Save The Tarpon and one of the defendants named in the PTTS SLAPP Suit, called Creed’s email an apparent attempt to short-circuit the group’s ability to raise money needed to mount a defense. McLaughlin said this most recent PTTS threat won’t affect the group’s efforts.
“The PTTS is clearly rattled by the outpouring of concern and support they’ve been witnessing in recent days,” he said. “The community is responding in a way Gary Ingman, Joe Mercurio and the PTTS never saw coming. The people of Charlotte County, the people of Southwest Florida and our supporters everywhere are telling Ingman and his lawyers they won’t be intimidated, they won’t be silenced, they won’t be SLAPPed around and they won’t back down.”
The nearly two-year-old case, one the PTTS has dragged through two counties and three judges in an undisguised attempt to spend Save The Tarpon into silence, is expected to go before a Charlotte County jury within the next few months.
To show your support for Save The Tarpon’s efforts to preserve and protect Boca Grande’s historic fishery, visit gofundme.com/savethetarpon.
Editor’s note: Wayne Daltry, the father of the “Lee Plan,” once noted the importance of the Boca Grande tarpon fishery and the role it plays in sustaining the island’s downtown commercial district’s vitality. Without the fishery, he said, Boca Grande would be in grave danger of becoming “yet another soulless gated community.” No organization has done more to protect and preserve our fishery from exploitation than Save The Tarpon. Without your help, without Boca Grande’s help, their 27,000 voices are now in danger of being silenced.