PTTS breaks its silence on its lawsuit fail … and you won’t believe what they’re saying now

PTTSTV.com Welcome Message

Above: The PTTS statement as posted to the tournament’s website Friday, Nov. 20. We pre-screened it for Tallahassee ‘dating’ site links.

The following was posted to the Professional Tarpon Tournament Series website shortly before noon, Friday (Nov. 20, 2015), four days after tournament owner Silver King Entertainment LLC abruptly walked away from its lawsuit filed nearly three years ago against Save the Tarpon, its more than 28,000 members, its directors, its former directors and a number of names apparently drawn at random from the phone book. The PTTS decision to take a hike comes on the heels of a number of pre-trial setbacks, combined with an attempt by the tournament’s own lawyer to get out while the getting was still good,  and less than 24 hours before the case was set to go before a jury in Charlotte County Circuit Court. Feel free to pop some popcorn, crawl into a comfy chair and read all about it here.

Trust MeAfter nearly a week of silence spent dodging media calls seeking comment, the PTTS has now spoken. Although the following slice of twisted whimsy isn’t signed, it’s littered with You-Know-Who’s “controlled chaos,” sweet as honey fingerprints. And because it’s understandable that a wannabe would-be, make-believe barracks lawyer can become easily disoriented and confused by the most simple legal stuff, our comments, clarifications and corrections have been helpfully highlighted in big bold type, with replies from the three (former) remaining individual defendants (who had been patiently holding back for nearly three years and have never pretended to be lawyers) in ital.

The PTTS website post is cleverly headlined “Welcome.” That’s pretty much where the reality part ends and the fantasy stuff begins. The text follows:

This last Monday, November 16, 2015, Silver King Entertainment, LLC, locally known as the Professional Tarpon Tournament Series (PTTS) dropped two counts of its complaint against the Save the Tarpon organization and some of its individual directors.

Individual defendant (and Save the Tarpon board member) Mark Futch: That’s because there were only two counts left – out of how many? And those last two were about to get kicked to the curb. Did they forget the judge had gutted most of their case less than a week earlier? And that their own lawyer had attempted to bail on them? 

This decision was due to many considerations, but first and foremost let us be clear the case is not over, as the PTTS is appealing the Courts decision to grant a summary judgment on the PTTS defamation claim against the Save the Tarpon organization and its directors.

Individual defendant (and Save the Tarpon chairman Tom McLaughlin: Yeah, right. Good luck with that. So where’s your appeal? Oh, yeah. You don’t have a lawyer anymore. No problem. Joe (PTTS television host Joe Mercurio) can probably handle it. After all, he’s got three years of college. 

Futch: Don’t forget his Daddy … he’s a judge. When he’s not trolling Sarasota kwikie marts, that is.

The Court without record evidence …

McLaughlin again: Record evidence? Is there any other kind of evidence nobody knows about? Like maybe double secret, off the record evidence?

… ruled that Save the Tarpon and its directors were media defendants because their statements had been published in news outlets

Individual defendant (and Save the Tarpon board member Frank Davis: She did? No she didn’t! We never argued anything like that. She granted the motion because she found we WERE a news outlet by every definition of the term. That we WERE media defendants in the eyes of Florida’s courts. And that Gary Ingman, Mercurio and their little Silver King tee-vee thing didn’t follow the law. Right? (Yes, Frank. That’s exactly what Judge Lisa Porter determined.) 

We believe decision was clearly erroneous …

Futch: So file your (bleeping) appeal already!

… as Save the Tarpon and its directors are competing fishermen, who are not neutral media members …

McLaughlin: Neutral media members? You mean like Fox News? Like MSNBC? Like the Huffington Post? Where in the statute, the one you couldn’t be bothered to obey, do the words “neutral media members” reside?  Competing fishermen? When’s the last time a wrap boat has been spotted 50 miles offshore? Because that’s where I do the bulk of my fishing. 

… and who have a vested interest in damaging the PTTS, along with its sponsors and participants.

Futch: What? Your sponsors and participants have a “vested interest” in damaging the PTTS? You should get a lawyer and sue ’em! Anyhow, why would we have the slightest interest in damaging the PTTS, when Mercurio and Ingman were doing a perfectly good job of damaging the PTTS without any help whatsoever from us?

Further, the Court did not rule that Save the Tarpons statements were not defamatory, but only that Save the Tarpon and its directors should have been given the chance to retract the alleged defamatory statements prior to filing a lawsuit.

Davis: Wait! Didn’t Mercurio just say it was because we were quoted somewhere in some newspaper? Are you guys messin’ with me again? (No, Frank. That’s what he said. Yeah, he did. Really.)

On the morning of November 16, 2015, the Court heard two different Strategic Lawsuit against Public Participation (SLAPP) motions filed by Save the Tarpon attempting to show the PTTS lawsuit had no merit, and the Court denied both motions.

McLaughlin: Uh … no. Judge Porter actually set aside SLAPP for procedural reasons. We just wanted to get it on the record. For later on. When the real fun begins. She never addressed the merits. Was Mercurio at the same hearing we were at? Oh, wait. Never mind. He never showed his face in court. Ever. My apologies, Joe.Pretend Lawyer

Silver King Entertainment intends to pursue prevailing party attorneys fees for both successfully defended SLAPP motions.

Futch: (Unintelligible through the laughter.)

McLaughlin: How in the hell are they gonna do that? They voluntarily dismissed their own case?

Davis: You guys are messin’ with me again, right?

After this hearing, the PTTS decided that it did not want to put its sponsors and participants through a trial on two counts that would have required testimony from its sponsors and participants, when the main defamation claims dismissal was being appealed.

Futch: What sponsors? What participants? They still got sponsors? They still got participants? 

The PTTS did not want to subject its sponsors and participants to any more inconvenience due to actions by Save the Tarpon and its leadership.

McLaughlin: Inconvenience? You frivolously sue someone in the wrong courthouse, in the wrong county, for half a million dollars in losses you couldn’t begin to prove, you go through three judges, you attempt every delay imaginable simply to run up the cost, you hire a lawyer who skips out on scheduled hearings without notice – and then quits at the 11th hour – and you’re suddenly worried about inconvenience?

Futch: The judge said it was the 12th hour.

The case is not over, and the PTTS feels strongly in its defamation claim winning on appeal.

Davis: Okay, now I know you guys are messin’ with me.

The PTTS may reconsider going forward, if after discussions with its participants and sponsors, it is decided it is better to take away the Save the Tarpons leaderships vehicle to enrich themselves at the continued detriment to civil discourse.

Davis: In other words, the PTTS and Ingman know they’re going to have to pay through the nose. And that they’ll likely take a few others down with them. Aren’t the rats always the first off a sinking ship? Unless you guys are messin’ with me again.

McLaughlin: “Reconsider going forward?” Good grief. Is quitting all they know? 

Davis: “Take away the Save the Tarpon’s leadership’s vehicle?” Well, I guess if they need it that bad, I reckon they can have the old pickup out back behind the shed. Gonna need tires, though.  

The PTTS has always taken the high road throughout the trial and has exhibited the utmost professionalism towards Save the Tarpon and its members. The PTTS will continue to conduct itself ethically, professionally and will stand up for the rights of all fishermen.

McLaughlin: Really? The high road? The only road the PTTS knows is I-75. 

Futch: Don’t forget the Skyway Bridge … 

McLaughlin: Okay, that too. But that $1.25 toll is kinda pricey. 

Davis: You guys gotta be messin’ with me. 

Are You Serious?

Ingman, PTTS walk away from $500,000 lawsuit against Save the Tarpon

FireShot Capture 5 Outlook

After a nearly three year battle waged in two counties and before three judges, the PTTS surrendered in a two-paragraph motion to dismiss on Monday.

After seeing its case gutted and its lawyer publicly called out by a Charlotte County judge, the owners of the Professional Tarpon Tournament Series capitulated and walked away from its nearly three year old lawsuit aimed at silencing Save the Tarpon and the group’s more than 28,000 supporters. The sudden PTTS surrender on Monday came less than 24 hours before the case was set to go before a jury the following morning.

Silver King Entertainment LLC, headed by Port Charlotte boat dealer Gary Ingman and his front man Joe Mercurio, had sued Save the Tarpon and its officers for $500,000 in losses it attempted to claim were pegged to the group’s boycott and other efforts aimed at preserving and protecting the Boca Grande Pass tarpon fishery. Ingman and Mercurio’s Silver King owns and operates the controversial Professional Tarpon Tournament Series, a NASCAR-style fishing event described by its lawyer as a cable TV reality show.

Following a brief hearing Monday (November 16, 2015) in Charlotte County court, Silver King’s Tampa attorney Dennis Creed – who had unsuccessfully sought to withdraw from the case following a string of preliminary losses the previous week – filed a terse two paragraph motion dismissing the lawsuit, ending a protracted and costly legal battle that had drawn the attention of free speech and First Amendment advocates nationwide.

Save The Tarpon was represented by Punta Gorda attorney Tauna Bogle. It is anticipated Bogle will pursue costs, fees and additional recovery against Silver King and others who could be found personally and jointly responsible – along with their businesses – for bringing the ill-fated lawsuit. Although an amount has yet to be determined, estimates place Save the Tarpon’s potential claim at more than $200,000.

“I am extremely proud of Save the Tarpon and the individuals named in this lawsuit,” Bogle said. “Like the Minutemen and those who founded our nation many years ago, they stood their ground and refused to back down. They stayed true to what was right. They held firm to their mission to protect the tarpon fishery and to exercise the right we all share – our constitutional right to free speech and assembly.”

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Frank Davis and Tom McLaughlin celebrate Monday’s win at a local watering hole.

Save the Tarpon had characterized Ingman and Mercurio’s case against the group as a Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation, a tactic outlawed by the Florida Legislature in July. A SLAPP suit’s purpose is to silence opposing voices by dragging them through the courts with frivolous claims and endless delays as the costs continue to mount. The side with the most money, not the most merit, typically prevails. In testimony taken prior to the scheduled trial date, Ingman and others associated with the PTTS and Ingman Marine admitted the lawsuit’s goal was to silence Save the Tarpon.

The local community and the group’s supporters worldwide were quick to rally to Save the Tarpon’s defense. In one instance, the group raised $25,000 in less than two weeks in an online funding campaign as the case crawled through two courthouses and three judges – including a botched bid to have the case tried in Sarasota County where PTTS TV host Joe Mercurio’s father sits as a judge.

Judgefred

Judge Frederick P. Mercurio’s week wasn’t much better than his son’s. The Sarasota County judge found himself under investigation for shoplifting. Police declined to press charges after learning their suspect was, in fact, a judge.

The elder Mercurio was recently investigated for shoplifting a snack from a convenience store. Police declined to press charges against the judge who frequently presides over criminal matters brought before him by law enforcement.

“The PTTS tried to stifle this group’s right to free speech, but the community stood behind Save the Tarpon and said ‘no, our voices will not be silenced’.” Bogle added. “Because of their unwavering stance, free speech is alive and intact in Charlotte County. The tarpon will remain protected in Charlotte Harbor and Boca Grande Pass.”

At an upbeat gathering of board members, supporters and others held in the aftermath of Ingman’s capitulation earlier in the week, Save the Tarpon Chairman Tom McLaughlin – who was among a number of community members individually and seemingly randomly targeted by the PTTS lawsuit – echoed Bogle’s characterization of the PTTS case.

“This case was ultimately about free speech and the growing threat these frivolous SLAPP suits pose to your right, our right, to speak up and speak out on matters of public policy that are vital to this community and, in a larger sense, this nation. The danger is real, and what happened with us could happen to anyone. But this week the good guys won, the people of Boca Grande won and the people of Charlotte County won. ”

McLaughlin said it was his belief there was an expectation within the PTTS ranks that Save The Tarpon would roll over, be silenced and abandon its efforts to preserve and protect Charlotte Harbor and the iconic Boca Grande Pass tarpon fishery.

“Ingman, Mercurio and the PTTS underestimated Save The Tarpon’s resolve as evidenced by efforts to caricaturize us as little more than a ragtag mob of unsophisticated dolts,” he said. “It’s no secret Mercurio fancies himself as some sort of make-believe barracks lawyer who likely convinced Ingman that Save the Tarpon would cave in and go away the moment those lawsuit papers were served. It didn’t happen. Instead, it was Ingman and Mercurio who did the caving and the going away.”

In the 18 months following Save the Tarpon’s formation, the PTTS found itself on the receiving end of a sophisticated social media and public advocacy effort that resulted in nearly all of the tournament’s sponsors – including beer giant MillerCoors – disassociating their name and withdrawing their support from the televised tarpon tournament. Save the Tarpon also spearheaded efforts to end the PTTS practice of gaffing and dragging tarpon, and was successful in having the “PTTS jig” banned as a foul-hooking device employed by many tournament participants.

“We didn’t drive sponsors and PTTS participants away, we simply showed them what was happening in Boca Grande Pass and what they were underwriting,” McLaughlin said. “Most didn’t know. And they shared our outrage once the truth was explained to them by us, by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and by some of the world’s most noted tarpon experts. The PTTS didn’t like what was being said so they retaliated with a frivolous lawsuit designed to spend us into submission. They clearly didn’t anticipate the community’s response to this attempted tactic. Unfortunately, it took Ingman, Mercurio and their lawyers nearly three years to figure out that their SLAPP suit wasn’t working.”

McLaughlin said the PTTS and its lawyers knew or should have known the lawsuit had no possible expectation of success. In a landmark ruling dating back to the civil rights struggle of the 1960s, the Supreme Court held that a lawful boycott similar to Save the Tarpon’s effort was a fundamental and essential right. “History and the law were against them from the start. They brought this lawsuit in the knowledge they had little or no chance of prevailing. And, as every lawyer was taught, that’s pretty much the definition of frivolous. And when we get to fees and costs, that’s what we’re clearly going to show based on the evidence, the PTTS’ own admissions and long-established law. It’s kinda hard to win when you have the United States Supreme Court standing in your way.”

McLaughlin noted that “the right to speak freely is the first among our rights. This is something every citizen, every Southwest Florida editorial board, every organization that advocates for a cause clearly understands. There is an opportunity for a statement to be made by the court that this nonsense won’t be tolerated here in Charlotte County.”

Prior to Monday’s decision by Creed and the PTTS to walk away from the case, Judge Lisa Porter had summarily tossed defamation and conspiracy claims against Save the Tarpon and removed a number of individual defendants for Silver King’s failure to make a case against them. One former defendant, Boca Grande Area Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Lew Hastings, was sued simply because he posed for a photograph with McLaughlin. McLaughlin, along with board members Frank Davis and Mark Futch, were the only remaining individual defendants when Creed dismissed the suit.

Creed dropped the two remaining counts of contractual interference in his motion to the court on Monday. Neither Ingman or Creed have responded to media attempts to obtain comment. Mercurio texted Save the Tarpon with a demand no contact be made.

 

Game changer: Noted media law expert joins Save The Tarpon fight

In the face of renewed threats by Professional Tarpon Tournament Series lawyers seeking to silence Save The Tarpon and its more than 27,000 members and supporters,  we’re fighting back. And, thanks to you, we just changed the game.

Your resolve helped us raise nearly $25,000 – money we’re already putting to work, money we’re using RIGHT NOW to go toe-to-toe with  Gary Ingman and his stable of PTTS lawyers.

You sent them a message. Ingman and the PTTS now understand we mean business. That we won’t be bullied, we won’t be intimidated, that we won’t be financially handcuffed, that Ingman can’t buy back all that’s been gained, that we’re not going back to to the days of snag and drag, that we’re not going away and that we won’t back down.

Thanks to you, we now own the initiative. We’re doubling our resolve with the news that David M. Snyder, a game-changing nationally known media law expert whose clients have included CBS Broadcasting and the New York Times, has joined Save The Tarpon’s legal team. And make no mistake. The game has changed.

David M Snyder PA Meet David Snyder

Nationally known media law expert David M. Snyder has joined Save The Tarpon’s legal team.

As you know, Save The Tarpon has been embroiled in a prolonged and costly Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation brought against the group by Port Charlotte boat dealer Gary Ingman and his Professional Tarpon Tournament Series partners in October of 2013.

Ingman and the PTTS retaliated against Save The Tarpon with their SLAPP suit less than a month after Florida’s fish and wildlife regulators banned the notorious “PTTS Jig” from the Boca Grande Pass tarpon fishery. Save The Tarpon and its more than 27,000 supporters played a central role in outlawing the snagging device popularized by the TV fishing tournament.

Save The Tarpon’s supporters were also instrumental in pressing the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission to adopt rules making tarpon a catch and release species. FWC passage of the new regulations ended the tournament’s controversial “snag, gaff and drag” by prohibiting the PTTS and its participants from hoisting its harvest of large breeding females from the water to be weighed in front of the cameras and then posed for so-called “hero photos” by the event’s Spandex-clad competitors.

‘Intimidate And Silence’

The PTTS retaliatory SLAPP suit claims the efforts of Save The Tarpon’s supporters have caused the TV tournament to lose more than $500,000 in promotional and other revenue. A  SLAPP suit is a perverse legal tactic typically used by deep pocket plaintiffs to intimidate and silence advocacy groups like Save The Tarpon.

Judgefred

The PTTS seriously thought this stunt would work. It didn’t. But it was just the first of many … and they still haven’t stopped.

After nearly 18 months of expensive and unsuccessful legal maneuvering designed to spend the local advocacy group into submission, Gary Ingman’s day in court is now approaching. Initially filed in Sarasota County where (coincidentally, of course) tournament TV host and PTTS vice-president Joe Mercurio’s father Frederick P. Mercurio serves as a judge, the case was subsequently moved to Charlotte County. Punta Gorda Circuit Court Judge Lisa Porter will preside.

Snyder’s addition to Save The Tarpon’s legal team was, in part, the result of your support of our online “defense fund. As you know, we set an initial goal of raising $20,000 in seed money to help counter the tens of thousands of dollars Ingman and his boat dealership continue to pump into the ongoing PTTS attempt to financially handcuff Save The Tarpon and its future ability to protect and preserve the historic Charlotte Harbor fishery.

You Stood Up to Ingman and the PTTS

Within days of the online campaign’s launch, and after the group raised more than $5,000 in one 24 hour span, the PTTS once again attempted to retaliate – this time in a baseless and transparently desperate threat to sue Save The Tarpon over its fundraising efforts.

Refusing to be intimidated and spent into submission by Ingman and his flotilla of lawyers, nearly 150 individual donors – both locally and from across North America – came together to help Save The Tarpon not only equal, but surpass, its initial legal defense funding goal in less than two weeks. You got their attention, and you got it in the only way Ingman and his SLAPP-happy lawyers understand.

In the face of escalating PTTS legal threats, efforts on the organization’s behalf will continue even more vigorously, Save The Tarpon chairman Tom McLaughlin promised.

“David’s extensive expertise and experience, combined with his tenacity and reputation as a widely respected champion of free speech, will be used by Save The Tarpon and its supporters to bring Ingman, Mercurio and the PTTS to account,” McLaughlin said.

“We didn’t pick this fight, Ingman and Mercurio did. But there are more than 27,000 people who are going to finish it. With David’s help, and the continued support of our members, this is where it ends. We’re putting it all on the table. No more bullying, no more intimidation, no more lies.”

Tauna Bogle, the former prosecutor who serves as Save The Tarpon’s local lead counsel, said Snyder will be a formidable addition to the legal team being brought together as Ingman’s day in court – and his day of reckoning – approaches.

“The free speech aspects of this case, and the potential impact of the issues involved, are beginning to resonate among Florida’s First Amendment community and beyond,” she said.

“David understands the First Amendment implications of this case, and the threat it poses to our fundamental right to speak openly and without fear here in Charlotte County and wherever people unite to affect a common good. That’s what this case is truly all about.”

A Need And A Right To Know

McLaughlin said the importance of bringing the case to trial goes beyond obtaining a verdict.

“There’s a tremendous amount of information gathered throughout the course of this case that our members and supporters have a need and a right to know. And make no mistake, the unfiltered truth is coming out. Inside that courtroom, there’s nowhere to hide. Not for Ingman and certainly not for Mercurio,” McLaughlin said.

“Our supporters ARE Save The Tarpon. They’re the people Ingman and Mercurio have dragged through one court after another. They’re the more than 27,000 voices Ingman and Mercurio are seeking to silence. This is, and always has been, their fight. And given the resources, Tauna and David can and will finish it.”

Your continued support matters

Ingman, Mercurio and their PTTS partners know they don’t have a case.  But SLAPP suit lawyers don’t care. They know money trumps merit. And that all-volunteer, grassroots advocacy groups like Save The Tarpon are easy targets. Because they often lack the resources to keep pace, groups like Save The Tarpon are being spent into surrender by big money interests across the nation. It’s not how the system was meant to work. That’s why Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation are illegal in a growing number of states. Florida isn’t on the list. Until the legislature acts to end this abuse of our state’s legal system and send the SLAPP-happy lawyers packing, we’re on our own. Together.

The message you’re sending goes beyond Ingman, Mercurio and the PTTS. It goes beyond Boca Grande Pass. It goes beyond Charlotte County and Southwest Florida. It’s now being heard nationwide. The SLAPP suit industry is watching this case with interest and alarm. Why? Because here, right here in tiny Charlotte County, you’ve stepped forward. You’ve drawn a line at the courthouse door. You’ve made your voices heard. “Not here,” you’ve told them. “Not here.” They’re listening.

It was a defiant Gary Ingman who, little more than two years ago, told a fledgling Save The Tarpon that he and his PTTS would stop “when someone makes us stop.” You met the challenge. Gaff and drag – stopped. The PTTS snag hook jig – stopped. The lucrative promotional deals – stopped. Thanks to you and your support, Ingman, Mercurio and the PTTS have been stopped at nearly every turn. Except one. It’s now time to make it end. To finish the fight Ingman brought upon himself and his fishing tournament not so very long ago. “When someone makes us stop.”

 

Meet David Snyder

In addition to publishing hundreds of articles during his stint as a metro reporter for the former St. Petersburg Times, Snyder has written on a wide range of legal topics from habeas corpus to voting rights. He co-authored “Rediscovering Florida’s Common Law Defenses to Libel and Slander,” which has been authoritatively cited by the Florida Supreme Court. He graduated summa cum laude from Stetson University College of Law where he was selected by his peers to edit the school’s law review.

Enlisting fresh from high school, Snyder worked his way through the ranks until his retirement from Navy reserve duty in 2001 with the rank of captain. His military resume includes the Navy Meritorious Service Medal (three awards), the Navy Commendation Medal, the Naval Reserve Meritorious Service Medal, the Navy Expeditionary Medal, Navy Unit Commendation, the Navy Meritorious Unit Commendation, the National Defense Medal (two awards), the Armed Forces Reserve Medal (three awards), Navy Overseas Service ribbon, Rifle Marksmanship (Sharpshooter) and Pistol Marksmanship (Expert).

In addition to his media law practice, Snyder is an adjunct professor of communication law at both the University of Tampa and Florida Southern College. His professional affiliations include the American Bar Association, its litigation and business law sections, its Forum on Communications Law as well as its committees on First Amendment litigation, professional ethics, and torts and insurance practice.

Snyder also serves on the Florida Bar Association’s Media and Communications Law Committee. He has also worked with the Florida First Amendment Foundation to encourage public participation and open access to government throughout the state.

Slapping back at the SLAPP-happy PTTS

SLAPP Jpg 800x1000 Q100

A SLAPP suit is a perversion of the legal system eagerly embraced by Gary Ingman and the PTTS.

Eighteen months ago, the owners of the Professional Tarpon Tournament Series and their big money lawyers lodged a retaliatory lawsuit against Save The Tarpon, its directors and a number of people they seemingly picked at random from the phone book.

The PTTS action quickly revealed itself to be little more than a transparent ploy – one largely bankrolled by Gary Ingman, his Port Charlotte boat emporium and its unwitting customers – commonly known as a Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation.

A SLAPP Suit is a tactic of last resort typically employed by deep pocket plaintiffs, a maneuver designed to spend advocacy groups like Save The Tarpon into submission by endlessly dragging them through the court system – and keeping them there until they ultimately run out of money.

Two counties and two judges later, that’s where Save The Tarpon finds itself. The people who brought us gaff and drag, the Boca Grande Pass snag hook, the wrap boats, the Spandex ballet and, of course, the “controlled chaos,” have now brought us dangerously close to the point where our ability to SLAP(P) back could be in jeopardy.

The Public Participation Project is a non-profit coalition dedicated to enacting anti-SLAPP laws. The group has assembled an excellent primer entitled “FAQs About SLAPPS.” Take a moment to check out why these PTTS-style lawsuits are so potentially destructive:


1. What is a SLAPP?

The rights to speech and petition are enshrined in the First Amendment to the United States Constitution. Free speech and healthy debate are vital to the well-being of a democracy. In fact, the United States Supreme Court has said that the right to petition the government is the very foundation of our democracy.

SLAPPs are Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation.  These damaging suits chill free speech and healthy debate by targeting those who communicate with their government or speak out on issues of public interest.

SLAPPs are used to silence and harass critics by forcing them to spend money to defend these baseless suits.  SLAPP filers don’t go to court to seek justice.  Rather, SLAPPS are intended to intimidate those who disagree with them or their activities by draining the target’s financial resources.

(Read More …)

FWC rules ‘new jig’ is illegal

Illegal "Jig"It’s official. And it didn’t take long. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission is telling its law enforcement officers that the “new and improved” tarpon jig (see photo) that turned up recently in Boca Grande Pass isn’t new and it isn’t improved.

It’s illegal.

And like the vote that banned the bottom-weighted hook last year, the decision was unanimous.

Thomas Graef, the FWC’s regional director for Southwest Florida, agrees. Capt. Guy Carpenter, FWC law enforcement supervisor for Lee and Charlotte counties, agrees. And Nick Wiley, executive director of the FWC, agrees. And they’ve put it in writing.

They all agree. And there’s no wiggle room on this one. It’s simple. Use the new jig and you’re breaking the law.

“The jig depicted in the drawing (the photo above) is not legal as the weight appears to be designed to slide down the shank,” Carpenter wrote.

“If a fisherman in Boca Grande is found to be in possession of one, it’s prohibited use will be explained and properly documented.”

Carpenter continues. “If the fisherman is found to be fishing it, the violation will handled appropriately based on knowledge and prior contact.”

Translation: Use the “new jig,” get caught using the new jig, and the FWC will give you a warning. Do it twice, and the FWC will give you a second degree misdemeanor prosecution.

The determination was made and announced by Carpenter late Monday night. “A tug pulls the eye of the from under zip tie and hook point rips from plastic soft body tail,” the FWC said. In other words, a flick of the wrist turns the “new jig” into the “old jig.”

A memo detailing the FWC’s determination has been circulated among the area’s FWC law enforcement officers. According to the FWC, those law enforcement officers will be in the Pass and they’ll be looking for violators.

Unless stowed out of reach, just having a new jig or an old jig while in Boca Grande Pass – whether it’s used or not – is also a violation.

(How does the “new jig” become the “old jig?” All it takes is a jerk. And a quick tug on the line. Check out the video below.)

Incident Summary Report Salem Perry 1 6

Florida FIsh and Wildlife Conservation Commission

Save The Tarpon seeks to block ‘hoax’ PTTS bid to force forum to turn over names

Internet Forum TrollSave The Tarpon Inc. took action, Monday, Nov. 18, 2013, aimed at blocking attempts by Gary Ingman and the company that owns the Professional Tarpon Tournament Series that, if the PTTS gets its way, would  force the popular Florida Sportsman online forum to reveal the identities of its members.

In a two-page motion filed Monday with the Charlotte County Circuit Court clerk’s office, attorneys for the Southwest Florida-based conservation group argued that the subpoena sought by Ingman and the PTTS “is not reasonably calculated to lead to the discovery of admissible evidence” and that the forum’s more than 18,000 members “have an expectation of privacy and confidentiality.”

The motion is the latest exchange in the protracted legal battle Ingman and his company, Silver King Entertainment Inc., have been waging in the courts as part of an ongoing PTTS strategy to silence Save The Tarpon, its more than 22,000 supporters and those who have spoken out against the PTTS and its methods. Ingman claims the group’s efforts have cost his controversial Boca Grande Pass TV tarpon tournament more than $500,000 in sponsorship and other revenues since Save The Tarpon’s formation in May, 2012.

Save the Tarpon Objection

Click to read full documents.

In its written objection, Save The Tarpon’s attorneys formally entered a copy of Silver King’s contemplated Florida Sportsman Forum subpoena into the public court record as an exhibit in support of its motion.

Silver King’s lawyer, Tampa attorney Dennis A. Creed III, had omitted the actual subpoena on Monday, Nov. 12 when his “Notice of Non-Party Production,” a reference to the Florida Sportsman Forum, was initially filed.

PTTS supporters among the forum’s ranks have claimed a copy of the subpoena posted last week to Save The Tarpon’s website wasn’t real, that it was a hoax contrived by the group as a ruse to further sway opinion against the tournament.

As word of the PTTS attempt to ferret out the identities of Florida Sportsman Forum members began to circulate online last week, reaction from forum members ranged from approval of the PTTS move to harsh opposition and even claims Save The Tarpon had somehow invented or fabricated the court records the group published to its website.

Forum regular Gary S. Colecchio was among the deniers, repeatedly urging his fellow Florida Sportsman members to “never believe anything posted on STT,” as he argued that the subpoena was a Save The Tarpon ploy designed to “cause outrage at PTTS among forum members” while continuing to insist “again, you simply cannot believe anything posted on that site and forum.”

When a forum member, in a reference to Colecchio’s earlier hoax claims, asked “are you saying that the subpoena for the forum information is a fake made by STT?” Colecchio, who has tallied nearly 9,500 forum posts since June of 2011, did not respond.

The subpoena sought by PTTS lawyer Creed targets Wick Enterprises Inc. as the supposed owner of the fishing forum. While Blair Wickstrom, publisher of Florida Sportsman Magazine, is also vice-president of Wick Enterprises Inc., the Stuart, Fla. company does not own the publication or its related online forum.
Colecchio, in yet another post to the forum, noted the PTTS lawyer’s apparent error, then cryptically hinted that despite its attested filing with the courts, “the PTTS knows that the Wickstoms (sic) don’t own Florida Sportsman.”

PTTS demands Florida Sportsman name names of its forum members

Silver King Entertainment Save The Tarpon Subpoena To Wick Enterprises, Inc. 1 Page 1

Click to enlarge image.

Southwest Florida boat dealer Gary Ingman and the outfit behind the Professional Tarpon Tournament Series are back in court again, this time in an attempt to force the owners of a popular online outdoors forum to publicly name names and fork over other personal information contained in its corporate database of more than 18,000 members and nearly 1.7 million posts.

The latest maneuver by Silver King Entertainment LLC in its protracted legal battle to silence Save The Tarpon Inc. and others critical of the PTTS surfaced November 12, 2013 in papers filed with the Charlotte County Circuit Court.

Port Charlotte-based Silver King is claiming Save The Tarpon, its directors and its more than 22,000 supporters worldwide have caused the televised Boca Grande Pass fishing tournament to lose more than $500,000 in sponsorship and other revenues since the tarpon conservation group’s efforts began in May of 2012.

MillerCoors, the signature sponsor of the PTTS through its Miller Lite brand, recently moved to sever its ties to Ingman’s controversial NASCAR-style, made-for-TV tournament after the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission voted in September to outlaw a fishing method commonly used and promoted by PTTS participants throughout the event’s nine-year Fox Sports-affiliated cable television run.

SUBPOENA TO PRODUCE THINGS WITHOUT DEPOSITION
TO: WICK ENTERPRISES, INC.

YOU ARE COMMANDED to appear at Feldman Morgado, PA, 501 N. Reo Street, Tampa, Florida 33609 December 12, 2013 at 5:00 p.m. and have with you at that time and place the following:

1. Any and all documents, records, correspondence, legal documents, files and information regarding the user accounts of forum participants for user names RJ Kirker, WhiteBacon, Joey Buttons, OldHewes18Red, Jirvin70 and RestlessNative in connection with the website forums of http://forums.floridasportsman.com.

If you fail to appear, you may be in Contempt of Court.

Ingman and his Silver King partners are directing their current legal salvo at Wick Enterprises Inc., a Stuart, Fla. company that publishes Florida Sportsman Magazine and operates a companion Florida Sportsman Forum. The Florida Sportsman Forum is a widely-read online message board that hosts a broad range of candid member discussions centering on local and statewide fish and game topics.

In a two-page notice filed with the court, Ingman’s company revealed its intent to go after Florida Sportsman’s business records in an attempt to ferret out the identities of forum members who have posted comments critical of the PTTS and its methods.

The PTTS move comes close on the heels of a now-deleted Florida Sportsman Forum conversation that centered on certain documents offered up by the tournament’s lawyers as potential evidence in its lawsuit against Save The Tarpon and others.

The PTTS documents that triggered the short-lived forum discussion were, according to information posted to the Florida Sportsman site, found to contain links associated with sexually explicit and compromising material reproduced by the tournament’s host and general manager Joe Mercurio.

The PTTS is seeking to force Florida Sportsman to turn over private personal information about its forum members.

The PTTS is seeking to force Florida Sportsman to turn over private personal information about its forum members.

Following a brief, two-page discussion contained within a 2,068-post conversation boasting 108,569 views, Florida Sportsman moderators locked the thread and ultimately deleted all references to Mercurio and the compromising material turned over by the PTTS lawyers.

In apparent response, PTTS attorney Dennis A. Creed III of the Tampa area firm of Feldman Morgado P.A., is aiming his latest legal broadside at the Florida Sportsman Forum and six of its 18,000-plus hunting and fishing enthusiast members. His notice filed with the court, and the corresponding subpoena, both fall under Florida’s sweeping public access and broad open records laws.

His demand that Florida Sportsman produce the identities of its members, who traditionally post under so-called “screen names,” is a move likely to draw the interest and ire of online privacy advocates. Florida Sportsman could also opt to invoke privilege under Florida’s “Shield Law” in response to Creed’s forthcoming subpoena.

If Creed prevails in his bid on behalf of the PTTS to pry open Florida Sportsman’s books, the tactic also runs the obvious risk of creating a precedent-setting chilling effect.

There are, among the thousands of registered forum members, many who would likely be alienated or driven away by the potential prospect of having their personal and professional identities revealed if they permit their screen names to be attached to future Florida Sportsman forum posts.

Creed’s subpoena would give Wick Enterprises Inc. and Florida Sportsman until December 12 at 5 p.m. to turn over “any and all documents, records, correspondence, legal documents, files and information regarding the user accounts of forum participants.” Creed then identifies six of those forum members by their adopted screen names.

Creed also delivered a warning to Florida Sportsman’s owners, threatening that if they fail to turn over the forum member identities demanded by the PTTS and its lawyers by the December deadline, “you may be in contempt of court.”