The Charlotte County Court issued an order on July 15 canceling a scheduled, non-jury hearing in an ongoing case between the two corporations. That case began in April, 2013, when SKE purveyor of a televised tarpon fishing contest, filed a complaint against STT accusing the local nonprofit of interfering with SKE’s contracts and business relationships, and accusing defendants named (including local guides and captains) of defamation and civil conspiracy.
According to Tauna Bogle, attorney for the defendants since September, 2014, this was always meant, from their perspective, to be a jury trial.
“This is an issue of public importance,” she explained. “We want the citizens of Charlotte County to have a say in it.”
The defense has an unlikely ally in the plaintiff, who requested a jury trial in its initial complaint and indicated during discussions with Bogle that they favored a proceeding before a jury.
The court’s referral to a magistrate, without a jury, was more of an attempt to carry out basic housekeeping, said those familiar with court procedure, and is usually an effort to clear as many cases as possible in an expeditious manner.
A magistrate can’t issue orders, but instead issues a report and recommendations that are submitted to a judge, who then issues orders in a case.
Dennis Creed, III, attorney for the plaintiff, was not available for comment.
If the defense has its way, the entire case may not go to trial. It submitted a motion for summary judgement on all four counts against them in 2014, but was denied.
They have since filed a motion for partial judgement, maintaining that the count of civil conspiracy against them should not stand. Even if it were granted, however, three counts would still remain.
For some, the case represents deep-seated tensions between two camps of fishermen, each with its own ideas about how to interact with the local tarpon fishery and what protections the animal should enjoy.
SKE owns and operates a television show, The Professional Tournament Tarpon Series, which was accused of using equipment which has since become illegal, designed to snag fish instead of hooking them in the mouth, among other things. Those accusations became the root of charges related to defamation.
Bogle said her clients are “basically fighting for their free speech and what’s right.”
According to Bogle, a judge in the case has admonished parties involved not to disseminate information that would lead to its being “tried in the media” after a screenshot of an SKE representative’s computer was released. That screenshot contained unflattering information.
The court has set a pretrial conference for August and a trial date, expected to last as long as four days, for November 3 at 9 a.m. in the Charlotte County Justice Center.