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.”

Picture 004

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

Frivil

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.

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.”

Judge guts PTTS lawsuit against Save The Tarpon, orders owners to put up or pay up

Judgefoster2

Judge Joseph G. Foster, pictured, ordered the owners of the PTTS  to pay Save The Tarpon $200 for failing to turn over financial records and sponsorship deals to the group’s lawyers. The fine goes up by $500 late next week if the tournament’s owners don’t comply.

Professional Tarpon Tournament Series principal owner Gary Ingman found himself watching helplessly from the sidelines Wednesday as a Charlotte County Circuit Court judge gutted his company’s lawsuit against Save The Tarpon Inc., dismissed all of Ingman’s claims against the group’s officers, and then ordered the PTTS owners to fork over $200 in sanctions for violating the court’s rules governing discovery and the production of records.

In addition to dismissing Save The Tarpon’s directors from the lawsuit filed in May by Silver King Entertainment LLC, which owns and operates the PTTS, Judge Joseph G. Foster hit the plaintiffs with a $200 assessment for attorneys’ fees for failing to turn over documents demanded by Save The Tarpon’s attorneys.

Foster gave the owners of the PTTS until Friday, September 6, 2013 to produce the records. If the PTTS ownership doesn’t meet that deadline, Foster said he would up the sanction by an additional $500.

Lawsuit Failed

The records the PTTS owners have been ordered to turn over to Save The Tarpon include all tax returns and financial statements for the past several years. Silver King is also being forced to produce its corporate sponsorship agreements as well as copies of its rules and regulations, along with any and all correspondence with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. The FWC is poised to adopt a rule in September that would restrict the use of bottom weighted hooks in Boca Grande Pass. This rule would apply to the so-called “pass jig” favored by PTTS competitors.

Save The Tarpon’s counsel Brian M. Beason, a partner in the Port Charlotte law firm of Frohlich, Gordon and Beason, argued the group’s case before Judge Foster on Wednesday. Beason said Judge Foster’s decision to sanction Silver King was significant, and that he would “absolutely” be seeking reasonable attorneys’ fees from Silver King at the conclusion of the case. Beason said both Ingman and PTTS host and general manager Joe Mercurio are being scheduled to be deposed under oath. Additional depositions are likely, he said.

While Foster is allowing Silver King’s case against Save The Tarpon Inc. to move forward for the present, Beason noted that Silver King has already had to correct numerous deficiencies in its lawsuit—including filing the case in the wrong venue and misidentifying its own corporate name.

PTTS claims $500,000 boycott loss, wants court to silence Save The Tarpon

PTTS LawsuitClaiming it has lost more than $500,000 in sponsorship, TV advertising, entry fees and other revenues, the company that owns and operates the Professional Tarpon Tournament Series (PTTS) has gone to court in an attempt to silence Save The Tarpon, Inc. and its more than 20,000 members and supporters.

Silver King Entertainment, Inc., which operates the PTTS, is seeking an emergency injunction against the organization in a 235 page civil complaint filed April 29 in Sarasota County Circuit Court. In addition to the injunction aimed at restraining Save The Tarpon, Inc. and its board members from speaking out on issues concerning the PTTS and the Boca Grande tarpon fishery, Silver King Entertainment, Inc. is seeking unspecified damages from the non-profit advocacy group and selected members of its board of directors.

Tom McLaughlin, chairman of Save The Tarpon, Inc. and one of the defendants individually targeted in the complaint, said that he is not particularly surprised that Silver King Entertainment, Inc. filed the PTTS lawsuit given the apparent effectiveness of the group’s efforts in making the voices of its members and supporters heard.

McLaughlin, who referred legal questions to Save The Tarpon, Inc.’s attorneys, said the PTTS charted its own course nearly a year ago when tournament organizers told the fledgling organization it would continue engaging in practices the conservation group considers harmful to the fish and the iconic fishery until “someone tells us to stop.”

Noting Silver King Entertainment, Inc.’s claim that it has since lost more than $500,000 attributable to the actions of Save The Tarpon, Inc., McLaughlin characterized the tournament’s stated injuries as “self-inflicted” and contrary to Silver King’s prior public comments that the group’s efforts were having no impact on the PTTS, its sponsors, or its participants.

“They refused to listen to the voices of those whose only goal was to preserve, protect and grow this storied fishery,” McLaughlin said. “And now they want to make those same voices shut up and go away. As the courts have repeatedly and clearly stated, this isn’t how it works in this country.”

Save The Tarpon, Inc. is represented by Brian M. Beason, a partner in the Port Charlotte law firm Frohlich, Gordon and Beason, P.A. Beason declined comment, noting that the lengthy PTTS complaint is still being reviewed. According to court records, the lawsuit was filed on behalf of Silver King Entertainment, Inc. by Tampa attorneys Mitchell L. Feldman and Dennis A. Creed.

In addition to McLaughlin and Save The Tarpon, Inc., board members Lew Hastings, Frank Davis, Chris Frohlich, Mark Futch, Walton “Tommy” Locke Jr. and Rhett Morris are also named as defendants in the lawsuit. Richard Hirsh, who no longer serves on the Save The Tarpon, Inc. board, is also listed as a defendant. Hastings, recently appointed executive director of Save The Tarpon, Inc., also serves as executive director of the Boca Grande Area Chamber of Commerce.

McLaughlin said Silver King Entertainment, Inc.’s lawsuit and its request for injunctive relief ask the court to invoke the rarely successful legal tactic of “prior restraint,” a maneuver designed to prohibit Save The Tarpon, Inc. and the individual defendants from publishing or voicing opinions or concerns that could potentially cast the televised tarpon tournament in a poor light.

McLaughlin noted that former Chief Justice of the United States Warren Burger, in the Supreme Court’s 1976 landmark Nebraska Press Association v. Stuart ruling that declared the tactic unconstitutional, wrote that “prior restraints on speech and publication are the most serious and least tolerable infringement on First Amendment rights.”

Pointing to a lengthy list of sponsors who have withdrawn their support of the tournament in recent months, Silver King Entertainment, Inc is also asking the court to force Save The Tarpon, Inc. to end its member-driven online boycott of businesses that support the controversial event. McLaughlin said the legality of the group’s voluntary boycott efforts was affirmed in yet another landmark ruling, one that dates to the civil rights movement of the 1960s. In its ruling, the Supreme Court found that a peaceful boycott was a constitutionally protected form of legitimate free speech under the First Amendment.

McLaughlin cited the words of Justice John Paul Stevens who, writing for the majority, stated “concerted action is a powerful weapon. And yet one of the foundations of our society is the right of individuals to combine with other persons in pursuit of a common goal by lawful means.”

Characterizing the PTTS lawsuit as “an act of obvious desperation,” McLaughlin said Save The Tarpon, Inc. will “aggressively defend the ability of our members and supporters to have their voices heard on this and any other issue that impacts the future of our fishery and our community. We will continue the fight to protect, preserve and grow this vital public resource. We won’t be silent, we aren’t going away.”

Help Fund the Fight to Protect the Pass

GoFundMe DashboardDon’t allow your voice to be silenced!

We want to thank everyone for their generous and continuing support of Save The Tarpon’s ongoing “Fight Back Fund.” In less than two weeks you helped us meet and exceed our initial $20,000 goal – 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.

We also have some game changing news to share. David M. Snyder , a nationally known media law expert whose clients have included CBS Broadcasting and the New York Times, has joined Save The Tarpon’s “Fight Back” legal team. And make no mistake, the game has now changed.

As you likely know, your efforts haven’t gone unnoticed. You got their attention in the only way Ingman and his flotilla of lawyers understand. Within days of our online campaign’s launch, and after you helped us raise more than $5,000 in a short 24 hour span, the PTTS panicked. You scared them with your outpouring of support. True to form, they’re now threatening to sue Save The Tarpon again. Why? They want to keep us from mustering the resources needed to continue to “Fight Back.”

It’s not happening.

In the face of this latest PTTS threat, and Ingman’s apparent willingness to spend whatever it takes to purchase our collective silence, we’ve taken a fresh look at what will be needed to put the unfiltered truth about the PTTS before a Charlotte County jury when Ingman’s day in court – and his day of reckoning – finally arrives. And with “snag, gaff and drag” a not-so-distant memory, we all understand what’s at stake and how easily it could all be lost.

With your help, we’ve turned the corner and we’re changing the game. Thanks for your continuing support of our efforts to protect and preserve the Boca Grande tarpon fishery.

The History…

In September of 2013, Florida’s fish and wildlife regulators heard you. They listened. They heard and they listened to your more than 27,000 voices as you demanded an end to the exploitation of one the planet’s most storied fisheries.

Your voices prompted the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission to stand up to the lawyers, the lobbyists, the legislative hired guns, the phony “Florida Tarpon Angler” front groups and the Tallahassee power players.

The seven FWC commissioners listened to your voices – to the voices of Save The Tarpon, its members and supporters – and cast a unanimous and historic vote to ban the notorious snatch and snag hook known as the “PTTS Jig” from the waters of Boca Grande Pass.

As anticipated, the Professional Tarpon Tournament Series and its owners retaliated less than a month later. The PTTS payback came in the form of a corruption of the court system known as a Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation , a perverse legal tactic typically used by deep pocket plaintiffs to spend advocacy groups like Save The Tarpon into submission.

The PTTS quickly deployed an armada of big-time, big-city, SLAPP-happy lawyers armed with truckloads of cash, bottomless billable hours and frivolous legal fictions, all designed to put money over merit by dragging Save The Tarpon from one courtroom to another – with the goal of keeping us in court until we ran out of money and the means to fight back. Two counties and three judges later, that’s where Save The Tarpon now finds itself.

In response, Save The Tarpon has established a legal defense campaign fund with a goal of raising a minimum of $20,000. Money we’ll use to fight back at Gary Ingman, Joe Mercurio, the PTTS and their SLAPP suit lawyers. Money we’ll use to aggressively defend your right to be heard as we work together to protect and preserve our historic fishery. And the PTTS is paying attention. They’re already taking steps to stop us by threatening additional legal action designed to cripple our strategic fundraising efforts. It won’t work.

The Gary Ingmans, the Joe Mercurios and the big money interests who brought us televised gaff and drag, the PTTS snag hook, the Wrap Boat Rodeo, the Spandex Ballet, the play-by-play shark attacks, the gutted tarpon and the tournament’s signature “controlled chaos” have now brought us perilously close to where our ability to carry the fight forward is in very real jeopardy.

“We’ll stop when someone makes us stop.”

With those words, Save The Tarpon was born. With those words, PTTS owner Gary Ingman dared Save The Tarpon into existence. “We’ll stop when someone makes us stop.”

Looking back, Ingman’s refusal to compromise, his refusal to even consider  the most modest of reforms proposed by early critics of  his high-flying TV tarpon tournament was, perhaps, understandable. Why should he?

In the spring of 2012, Ingman and his basic cable fishing  show had figuratively taken title to Boca Grande Pass, a claim underwritten by some of the biggest and most powerful names in the business. Names like MillerCoors, Yamaha, Tires Plus and Costa del Mar. Ingman was holding all the cards. He was on top. For the moment.

Ingman’s “controlled chaos,” as PTTS front man Joe Mercurio would later stand before the FWC and smugly boast, was being piped into “more than 47 million” cable converter boxes throughout North America via ESPN, Fox Sports and the Sunshine Network. Meanwhile, Save The Tarpon was little more than a dinky Facebook page with a handful of followers.  That was about to change.

“We’ll stop when someone makes us stop?” 

Save The Tarpon accepted Ingman’s dare and went to work. Ingman had picked his fight. But we were determined to finish it. Within 18 short months, the improbable happened. Gaff and drag – Gone. The PTTS snag hook – Gone. Also gone were the big names and the big money promotional deals.

Save The Tarpon’s online educational efforts had served to alert the TV fishing tournament’s sponsors to the ugly reality of the abuses they were unwittingly underwriting. Individual economic pressure was also brought to bear. Sponsors slowly began drifting away. Gary Ingman’s dare had been accepted. And Gary Ingman had been made to stop.

In a bid designed to stem the bleeding, Ingman tossed open the checkbook. The high-priced Tampa SLAPP suit lawyers were summoned. And we saw the battleground move away from the court of public opinion and into a court of law where Ingman and the PTTS were determined to buy back all that had been lost.

(Incredibly, the PTTS initially filed suit in Sarasota County Circuit Court. Where, coincidentally, Mercurio’s father Fred happens to be a judge! Nice try, but it didn’t work. The PTTS lawyers later claimed filing in what was clearly the wrong jurisdiction – the one where Joe’s daddy was a judge – was a paperwork error, nothing more than an innocent mistake. What do you think?)

Ingman and his SLAPP suit lawyers are attacking Save The Tarpon’s constitutionally protected right to speak up and speak out in defense of the fishery.  But they haven’t stopped there.

Our ability to work in concert to achieve a common good, a “fundamental freedom” etched into law by the Supreme Court, has also come under attack. As a result, Save The Tarpon now finds itself in danger of being summarily and arbitrarily gagged. And the danger is real. We’ve sadly come to learn that when money talks, the Constitution walks.

The intent of a SLAPP suit is to censor, intimidate and silence critics by burdening them with the expense of fighting costly and frivilous legal maneuvers until they have no choice but to abandon their criticism and opposition. And, absent your help, it’s about to happen to us. Our voices will be effectively and perhaps permanently silenced.

Tragically, there’s just one effective way to slap back at a SLAPP suit wielded by a SLAPP-happy, deep-pocketed Southwest Florida boat dealer out to buy back everything we’ve all worked so hard to accomplish.

Money.

Yes, money. Money for courtrooms. Money for lawyers. Money for motions, pleadings and appearances. Money we’ll need as we prepare to carry the unfiltered truth about Ingman, Mercurio and the PTTS into a Punta Gorda courtroom and place it before a jury of six Charlotte County citizens.

Money that sends a clear signal to the Ingmans, the Mercurios and the entire PTTS posse that we won’t be silenced, that we won’t be SLAPPed around, that we’re here to finish the fight they started and that no matter what, we won’t be bullied and we won’t back down.

Enough is enough.

We’re fighting for more than a fishery. And we won’t back down. We’re fighting for more than our shared right to speak freely and unafraid. And we won’t back down. We are, at the end of the day, fighting for our kids. For our kids and their kids. For future generations. That’s what this is about. What it’s always been about. It’s why it matters. And it’s why we can’t back down, why we won’t back down.

It’s why we’re asking you to take up our fight and once again make it your fight. To help us see it to the end, and to carry it forward in the months, years and decades to come.

Will you stand with us?

We once again need you at our side, to once again stand with us as we wage this latest battle to make our collective voices heard. To preserve all that has been won, with a keen understanding of how easily it could all be lost absent the resources needed to see this fight to the finish. We won’t be silenced. We won’t be bullied. We won’t allow a return to the days of snag, gaff, drag and dump. Together, we can send them a message..

We won’t be silenced.
We won’t be intimidated. 

We won’t be bullied. 
We won’t be spent into submission.
We won’t quit. 

With your help, we’re fighting back.
And we won’t back  down.