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.

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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.

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