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.

Save The Tarpon legal fund drive prompts PTTS lawyer threat

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A PTTS lawyer is once again threatening to haul Save The Tarpon into court – this time in an apparent effort to cripple the group’s legal defense fundraising efforts.

Save The Tarpon is seeking to raise a minimum of $20,000 to fight a Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation (aka, “SLAPP Suit”) filed by Port Charlotte boat dealer Gary Ingman and the owners of the Professional Tarpon Tournament Series.

Ingman and the PTTS filed their retaliatory lawsuit against Save The Tarpon less than a month after Florida’s fish and wildlife regulators banned the notorious “PTTS Jig” from Boca Grande Pass in September of 2013.

Save The Tarpon was also a key player in the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s earlier decision to adopt rules making tarpon a catch and release species, a move that effectively outlawed the tournament’s televised “gaff and drag.”

Dennis A. Creed III, a partner in the Tampa law firm hired by the Professional Tarpon Tournament Series to silence Save The Tarpon, issued his latest threat in a demand (made pursuant to Florida law) 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 raise more than $5,000 in less than 24 hours.

Monday’s email threat is the latest in a long string of attempts by PTTS lawyers to silence Save The Tarpon. Last year, the PTTS lawyers went before a Charlotte County judge to unsuccessfully demand Save The Tarpon stop writing about them and their clients on the group’s website, its Facebook page and elsewhere.

“Prior restraint,” as the PTTS lawyers were seeking, 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.

In his email, 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.” (There are no “previous orders.” Further, as Creed should know,”orders” don’t “ask.” Orders order.)

“I will file a motion for sanctions in the current case, and I will file a personal defamation case against Save The Tarpon,” Creed’s email went on to threaten. 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 latest demand follows the script the tournament’s lawyers have followed throughout the ongoing PTTS Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation designed to silence Save The Tarpon.

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 that 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, Creed’s attempt to short-circuit the group’s ability to raise money won’t slow 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 attempt to spend Save The Tarpon into silence, is expected to go before a Charlotte County jury within the next few months.

Slapping back at the SLAPP-happy PTTS

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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 …)

PTTS quietly pulls a flip-flop on the once-despised ‘J’ hook

Take a quick moment to compare these two short excerpts pulled from the current and past “rules” found on the Professional Tarpon Tournament Series website. First this:

From the 2013 PTTS rules: “Hooks: Only single ‘Circle’ hook rigs are permissible.”

Now this:

From the 2014 PTTS rules: “Hooks: Only single ‘Circle’ hooks are permissible for use when fishing with live and or natural baits.”

Can you spot the difference? (Hint: We italicized and underlined the language that was quietly added to the tournament’s 2014 rules when the PTTS rule writers reckoned nobody was looking.) It’s circle hooks only for “live or natural baits.” For the unnatural “baits” favored by the PTTS jig bombers, it’s anything goes. And in 2014, with the bottom-weighted jig now a memory (sort of), that “anything” includes the once-reviled “J” hook.

So what happened? Why the change? We know, of couse. So do you. And, obviously, so does the PTTS. Between the 2013 edition of the Professional Tarpon Tournament Series and its 2014 season, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission met in Pensacola and unanimously voted to do this:

Actual headline from the September 8, 2013 edition of the Sarasota Herald-Tribune. We’re showing you the actual headline because if we didn’t, one of the “git ‘er done” wrap boat nut cases would probably go on Facebook or some fish forum and claim that this never happened, that the jig is still legal and that … What? Dave Markett already did?  Good grief.

The Sarasota Herald-Tribune called it the “Boca Grande Jig.” The FWC called it something else: A device that is, and always had been “since the tournament’s inception” nine years earlier, designed and enthusiastically used by PTTS “competitors” to foul-hook or “snag” or “snatch” or “floss” tarpon in Boca Grande Pass. In other words, “illegal.”

The PTTS, according to the FWC, had spent those nine “organized chaos” years breaking existing laws prohibiting anglers from foul-hooking tarpon. Although the PTTS basic cable TV show existed only because the so-called Boca Grande ” jig” existed, tournament host Joe Mercurio didn’t appear to be the least bit concerned by the FWC decision when interviewed by his hometown paper.

This was plainly evidenced by the unrepentant and prophetic response he gave the Herald-Trib reporter:

New Baits

Clip taken from the Herald-Tribune story quoting PTTS host, vice-president and All-American boy Joe Mercurio.

We’ll find a way – we’ve already found a way?” Just one problem.  The redesigned “new baits that we can use” didn’t seem to work very well. Not like the old snatch hook jig. And certainly not as Mercurio’s “adapter” anglers had hoped. Further, it was discovered all those “new baits that we can use” didn’t work at all when they were lashed to a circle hook. Because, as Mercurio had explained two years earlier: Nbc2 Header Nbc2 Headline Joequote But true to his “we’ll find a way” promise, Mercurio, tournament owner Gary Ingman and the PTTS gang “found a way.” It was easy. All they needed to do was change the rules. Quietly.

With their bottom-weighted gear (required to change the circle hook’s angle of attack) now illegal, the “adapters” discovered their beloved circle hook was useless when mounted on one of the jig wranglers’ “new baits.” Take away the bottom weight, the adapters told Mercurio, and the damned thing absolutely refused to snag. Mercurio had been right all along.   Not without a half pound of lead weight dangling underneath it to point the hook at the fish. But, the “adapters” told the PTTS, the “new baits” sort of worked with a “J” hook. Same mechanics. Drop the rig to the bottom, reel up twice, wait for a tarpon to bump the line above, and let ‘er rip. Gills, anus, eyeballs – didn’t matter. Not when you’re making TV.

Although not nearly as good as a circle hook, a “J” hook gave their promised “new baits” a fighting chance, they said. Which, of course, was more than the jig bombers ever gave the tarpon. Without the “J” hook, they told Mercurio and Ingman, they could forget about filling the big screen with bent rod and dead tarpon shots. But this left Mercurio with a problem. And an awkward electronic paper trail.

“The PTTS remains one of the only inshore fishing tournaments that require the use of circle hooks, which have been found to greatly reduce the catch and release mortality on Tarpon.”

The author of this one, dated Feb 19, 2010, is identified as one Joe Mercurio, Professional Tarpon Tournament Series host and vice-president. It appeared on his short-lived “For the Record” blog, which he later read nearly word-for-word when he stood before the FWC in Tampa to defend his tournament and its style of fishing.

He further demanded the commissioners stop all this jig snagging nonsense and go after the real threat. The “J” hook.  The same “J” hook his jig bomber “adapters” were now telling him was their only hope in hell of catching, or capturing, a Boca Grande tarpon on camera. Oops.

Then, of course, there was the little problem known as Mark Maus, Craig Abbott and the PTTS mail drop front group with the catchy title “Florida Tarpon Anglers Association.”

Which, while all this “adapting” and “way-finding” was going nowhere,  had gone on its Facebook page, the only tangible evidence of its existence,  to echo the Mercurio “J” hook party line. Or, more accurately, what had once been the Mercurio “J” hook party line. Apparently Maus, Abbott and the FTA didn’t get the memo. They wrote: FTAA Circle Hook

Naturally, when the new PTTS rules – the rules that now covertly blessed the once-killer “J” hook – were quietly published to the PTTS website, Maus and Abbott and their mail drop non-profit could barely contain their outrage.

As promised, they stood tall for their members. They dropped the “J” hook hammer on Mercurio, Ingman and the PTTS. They ruthlessly, courageously and deservedly let ’em have it with:

Facebook Page Not FoundThe bullies.

The PTTS has yet to acknowledge it’s allowing “J” hooks to be attached to the “new baits” being used by its “adapters” under the “adapted” 2014 rules. The same  “J” hook the PTTS campaigned to have tossed from the Pass.  Just as the FWC did to them and their bottom-weighted, circle-hooked  jigs in September.

It was, they figured payback time. Instead, the PTTS discovered karma really is what they say karma really is.

This year, with all their major sponsors now gone, perhaps the PTTS might wish to consider a new promotional approach. Something far more appropriate than a few crappy boats and cheap watches. It’s called “product placement.”

 

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

The ‘new jig’ is here, and it’s the same old scam

Boca Grande Jig 2.0Save The Tarpon, along with its more than 25,000 members and supporters, welcomes you to Boca Grande and our iconic fishery, the migratory home of the storied Silver King. We wish you the best of luck, as well as some great tarpon fishing stories and memories that will last forever.

There’s a situation we’re dealing with that you need to know about before dropping that first line in the water. Late last year the rules governing tarpon fishing in Boca Grande Pass were changed by the people who write Florida’s fish and game rules. And, as expected, not everyone is playing by those rules. There is a very real risk your fishing trip of a lifetime could become a very real nightmare.

The promised “new jig” has made its long-awaited debut in Boca Grande Pass. It’s a clumsy and obvious ruse that isn’t fooling anyone, including law enforcement. All it takes is a flick of the wrist, and the familiar-looking contraption in the photo transforms into the same old notorious bottom weighted tarpon-snagging machine outlawed last year by a unanimous vote of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

How? An oversized hook is flimsily rigged to pierce the edge of “Jig 2.0’s” latex tail. This is designed to change the angle of the thing and, in theory, elevate the weight above the hook. To temporarily make it look all legal-like. As you can see from the photos, it comes close. But not quite.

…if this gear is on board a fishing vessel while inside the boundaries of the Pass, it cannot be attached to any rod, line or leader and must be stowed.

Once the device hits the water, the captain gives it a quick jerk, the hook breaks free, the rod and its now-bottom weighted and illegal “jig” are handed off to the unsuspecting client and they’re back to fishing and flossing like it’s 2013.

The regulations (and they’re regulations, not suggestions) adopted by the FWC are pretty specific. In the FWC’s words: “Fishing with gear that has a weight attached to a hook, artificial fly or lure in such a way that the weight hangs lower than the hook when the line or leader is suspended vertically from the rod is prohibited.”

Further, “if this gear is on board a fishing vessel while inside the boundaries of the Pass, it cannot be attached to any rod, line or leader and must be stowed.” Beyond not using these things, the FWC says you can’t even have them on you or on your rod or anywhere you might be able to get at them while afloat.

The FWC didn’t stop there. The FWC tossed in a little something these geniuses seemingly forgot. The folks at the FWC knew who they were dealing with. The FWC saw them coming when the new Boca Grande gear restrictions were drafted. The FWC anticipated the die-hards would attempt to find a way around the “suspended vertically” test. And, as we’re now seeing, the FWC was right.

While the FWC knew it WOULD happen, the FWC didn’t know exactly HOW it would happen. So the commissioners also adopted language designed to literally “cut them off at the Pass.” It reads: “Snagging, snatch hooking, spearing and the use of a multiple hook in conjunction with live or dead natural bait is prohibited.”

Simply put, snagging and snatch hooking is illegal. Attempting to snag and snatch hook tarpon is illegal. And because the rig in the photo is designed to do just that, you might want to take a close look at what’s on that rod before putting it in your hands. If it looks like the thing in the photo, don’t do it. Your friendly guide is setting you up. If he gets busted, you get to go along for the ride. Cute. And how much did you pay for that charter?

Welcome to Boca Grande. We’re the “Tarpon Fishing Capital of the World.” We want you to enjoy the time you spend with us, and take home some great memories. Getting rung up on a misdemeanor fish and wildlife charge shouldn’t be one of those memories, however. It’s not worth the risk.

Judge slaps PTTS owners with sanctions, legal fees over ‘baseless’ lawsuit claims

Mr. Lew Hastings & Capt. Tom McLaughlin

Lew Hastings, Executive Director of the Boca Grande Chamber of Commerce (left), and Capt. Tom McLaughlin, Chairman of Save the Tarpon (right) at the 2013 Save the Tarpon Shindig on March 3. It is this photo which led the PTTS to name Lew Hastings personally in the suit against Save the Tarpon.

This article was originally published in the Boca Beacon on January 29, 2014.

The owners of the Professional Tarpon Tournament Series and their Tampa attorney will be paying the legal bills of three Save The Tarpon Inc. directors after a Charlotte County Circuit Court judge slapped them with sanctions on Tuesday, Jan. 28 under a rarely-invoked state statute aimed at curbing so-called frivolous litigation.

Judge Joseph G. Foster ruled that Silver King Entertainment Inc., which owns and operates the PTTS, and their lawyer Dennis A. Creed of the Tampa firm Feldman Morgado must pay legal fees incurred by Save The Tarpon directors Chris Frohlich, Lew Hastings and Tommy Locke III.

The three were initially named in a lawsuit filed against the Boca Grande-based conservation group last year in which the tournament claimed Save the Tarpon had cost the PTTS more than $500,000 in sponsorship and other revenues. Frohlich, Hastings and Locke were subsequently dropped from the suit.

Read the rest of the story…

You made it happen in 2013, but the job is far from over

Protest Boats At Dock

Back in the spring of 2012, a defiant Gary Ingman proclaimed his Professional Tarpon Tournament Series wouldn’t stop the gaffing, the dragging, the snagging and the televised hijacking of Boca Grande Pass – all brought to you by his “controlled chaos” wrap boat spandex rodeo – until “someone tells us to stop.” In 2013, you told him enough was enough. In 2013, you told him to stop.

As we look ahead to 2014, we can look back at 2013 as a watershed year that saw our combined efforts produce two landmark regulatory reforms that will, with aggressive enforcement and your continued vigilance, give Florida’s most iconic tarpon fishery the kind of fighting chance that once seemed so beyond our reach. But you made it happen.

In 2013, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission listened to your more than 23,000 voices. It responded by unanimously adopting rules that laid the groundwork needed to continue the job of preserving, protecting and growing the “Tarpon Fishing Capital of the World” for us, our children, our children’s children and beyond. And you made it happen.

You told the FWC the time had come to put an end to gaff, drag, weigh and dump. In 2013, the seven-member commission heard you. It unanimously adopted a rule making tarpon a catch and release species. And we’re going to be in the Pass this spring to make certain this rule is strictly enforced.

Save Some Tarpon For MeYou also told the FWC the time had come to outlaw the bottom weighted snatch hooks popularized by the PTTS and promoted as a legitimate fishing lure to its cable TV “audience.” In September, the FWC listened. Save the Tarpon made your voices heard that day in distant Pensacola as the commission voted 7-0 to beef up its outdated foul-hooking rules and ban the so-called “tarpon jig” from the waters of Boca Grande Pass. You made it happen. And yes, we’ll be there this spring to make certain this rule is strictly enforced.

Your educational efforts also bore fruit in 2013. Your continued support helped us spread the message to those who have since come to understand they were underwriting the potential destruction of a fishery. In 2013, MillerCoors, Yamaha, Costa del Mar, Miller’s Ale House and others showed us and the world they truly are responsible corporate citizens. And you made it happen.

While 2013 will rightfully be remembered as the year you made it happen, 2014 will continue to present opportunities and challenges. In 2013, sport fishing enthusiasts across the globe became aware of the issues threatening Boca Grande Pass thanks to your efforts. They made their voices heard. But we all understand we can’t collectively afford to declare victory, drop our guard and go back to the era of silent indifference that nearly brought us to the brink.

Yet there are those eager to see a return to the days of “anything goes.” As you know, the man who once so defiantly challenged you to make him stop, the man who brought “controlled chaos” to Boca Grande Pass and has signaled his willingness to pay any price to keep it there, has dispatched a small armada of lawyers intent on silencing your voices and reversing the grassroots gains we worked so hard to achieve together in 2013.will rightfully be remembered as the year you made it happen, 2014 will continue to presen challenges.

Flight To Fwc MeetingYou stood up for the future of our fishery in Lakeland, in Pensacola and in Tallahassee. But all we’ve accomplished remains at risk absent the resources we now need to head off efforts by Ingman and others to undo what we’ve worked so long and so hard to make happen over the course of this past year. While our legal team has been supportive in our defense and committed to our shared cause, the fight to keep your voice from being silenced continues to drag through the courts as we enter 2014. Silence didn’t make catch and release happen. Silence didn’t ban the bottom weighted snatch hook. Silence didn’t end the corporate underwriting. Silence did not, and will not, make it happen. We will not be silenced.

We’re grateful to those who have provided so generously of their time, their talents and the resources that have allowed us to stay in the fight and make our voices heard. But despite a continuing string of reversals, the PTTS persists in what has become a transparent bid to shift focus away from the Pass, to thwart our efforts to protect and preserve the fishery, and to return to business as usual. And with every dollar spent, that risk becomes increasingly real. At your urging, we’ll soon be establishing (and, yes, it’s a cliche we hoped to avoid) a “legal defense fund” that will enable us to aggressively put this matter to rest and turn our full attention back to the job that needs to be done. Also, on Sunday, March 2, 2014, we’ll be gathering once again in Boca Grande for the 2nd Annual Save the Tarpon Shindig. Please save the date for Save the Tarpon.

For more information, please don’t hesitate to drop us an email at contact@savethetarpon.com or give Jennifer McLaughlin a call at 941-457-0845. It was a great 2013 for us, for you and the future of our fishery. It’s not going to be an easy act to follow. But, as 2013 revealed, “easy” isn’t in our dictionary. It’s 2014. Together, let’s keep making it happen.

Become a member today.