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.
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.”