Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Folio Weekly: Backpage Editorial by Faye Armitage -- "SAVING ST. AUGUSTINE"

Folio Weekly: Backpage Editorial by Faye Armitage -- "SAVING ST. AUGUSTINE"

St. Augustine’s small-town Spanish Colonial charm is in
danger of being ruined by schlock. We love St. Augustine
and must preserve the beauty of endangered Matanzas Inlet
sunsets, Anastasia Island beach mice, nesting leatherback
turtles, soaring families of bald eagles and frolicking schools
of manatees and whales. Florida’s First Coast deserves a first
class National Park for the 500th anniversary of Spanish
Florida (in 2013) and 450th anniversary of St. Augustine
(in 2015).
The late U.S. Speaker of the House
Thomas P. “Tip” O’Neill and Edward
Boland of Massachusetts made history in
1958, courageously working to protect
Cape Cod’s charm forever. Boland returned
in 1958 from a trip to Cape Hatteras
National Seashore. Within a fortnight, the
two Massachusetts Democrats introduced
the Cape Cod National Seashore Act
(backed by John F. Kennedy only after he
became president).
Commercial interests thought that a
national seashore would be bad for business.
They were wrong. Today we scoff at
the quaint story of O’Neill and Boland
being hung in effigy and booed in the Cape
Cod towns of Wellfleet and Truro, where
citizens, in their annual town meetings,
voted against the bill.
Even JFK, the Pulitzer Prize-winning
author of “Profiles in Courage,” feared local
commercial interests in Massachusetts
when it came to proposing a national
seashore. JFK later came aboard as president,
to consider the National Seashore the
best thing he ever did for Massachusetts.
Today’s visitors to Cape Cod come from
around the world to partake of its charm,
marshes, woodlands, beaches and towns
that were saved thanks to the vision of
Congressmen O’Neill and Boland.
A St. Augustine National Park was first
proposed before World War II. The idea is
five years older than President Harry S Truman’s
national health insurance proposal.
And as with national health care, Congress
too often resembles a herd of turtles trying
to write a symphony. It’s somewhat understandable
that our two busy U.S. Senators
(and Representative John Luigi Mica)
haven’t introduced a National Historical
Park, Seashore and Scenic Coastal Parkway.
Legislation moves glacially, except in emergencies.
We have one now.
Our local economy is in a state of emergency.
Businesses are dying. We’re ready for
Congress to stimulate our economy and
preserve our way of life by enacting a St.
Augustine National Historical Park,
Seashore and Scenic Coastal Parkway Act,
supported by a diverse group of citizens,
from octogenarian environmental activist
Robin Nadeau to former Republican
County Commission Chairperson John
Sundeman to St. Augustine Democratic
Club Chairperson Jeanne Moeller, among a
growing group of people concerned about
the declining quality of the tourist experience
in St. Johns County.
A National Historical Park would preserve
and protect St. Augustine’s historic
downtown with the dignity and experience
of the National Park Service, just as parts of
Boston, New Bedford, Philadelphia and
other historic cities are preserved. It would
step into the breach left by the Florida legislature,
Secretary of State, University of
Florida and city of St. Augustine, all of
whom have been unable to repair crumbling
buildings and historic monuments. A
national historical park would preserve
downtown streets and reduce congestion,
improving the tourist experience and making
it one that longer-staying (and biggerspending)
historic and environmental
tourists will enjoy.
A national historic park managed by the
National Park Service would portray history
and nature accurately, as done in Virginia’s
Colonial Williamsburg and the
Colonial National Historical Parkway.
There could also be a National Civil Rights
and Indigenous History Museum, aimed at
telling the region’s story of 11,000 years of
human history, honoring Native Americans,
African-Americans and the Civil
Rights movement here, which helped win
adoption of national antidiscrimination
laws in 1964. The struggles on St. Augustine’s
streets and beaches, including the
arrest of Massachusetts Governor Endicott
Peabody’s mother and Dr. Martin Luther
King Jr., need to be retold and told well.
soldiers monument in St. Augustine’s Plaza
de la Constitucion, paying tribute to Civil
Rights Era activists whose efforts helped
break the Senate logjam and enact basic
nondiscrimination laws.
A national seashore and coastal parkway
designation would protect the coast from
uglification, as at other national seashores.
We have 61 miles of coast here, and the
transfer from county to federal jurisdiction
would save local tax monies and make environmental
protection a priority on beaches
where turtles land to give birth, and where
beach mice and other critters scamper.
In September, watch Ken Burns’ PBS
documentary “Our National Parks: America’s
Best Idea.” Think of how uplifting it
will be to be able to drive from Ponte Vedra
to Marineland as a tourist or resident,
secure in the knowledge that the beaches
will survive and not be turned into some
unreasonable facsimile of Miami.
Think of the economic efficiency and
environmental benefits of entrusting city
and county parks, seashore water management
district land and at least five state
parks (including Anastasia and Guana-
Tolomato-Matanzas National Estuarine
Reserve) to one world-class organization
(the National Park Service) to protect, preserve
and interpret, rather than allowing
the land to be ripped apart by greed.
Think of the good jobs that will encourage
young people to stay here, working as
National Park Service employees and contractors.
Think of historic interpreters and
environmental tour guides who are
rewarded with a federal showcase, inviting
the world to a world-class destination.
Let’s enlist Congress and the president
to help us tell our region’s rich history —
including the story of the Indians, African-
American slaves and Minorcan and Greek
indentured servants (who escaped to St.
Augustine from New Smyrna Beach, “voting
with their feet” against slavery by contract.
Indentured servitude was outlawed
along with regular slavery with the 13th
Amendment in 1865.
Think of how our tourist economy will
be stimulated and jobs created and preserved
by preserving the stunning vistas
that draw people here, not uglifying them
with massive high-rises, suburban sprawl
and unsafe homes built in wetlands.
Think of how fourth-graders now and
in the future, from all over Florida, will be
rewarded for their studies of Florida history
by helping preserve “the real Florida” — St.
Augustine and St. Johns County — forever.
It is up to us to learn from the young
and to protect Northeast Florida for families,
flora, fauna and the future. Visit
staugustgreen.com for more information
and let your neighbors and national and
local leaders know what you think. 

Faye Armitage lives in Fruit Cove. In 2008,
she ran against nine-term Congressional
incumbent John Mica, receiving nearly 150,000 votes.

St. Augustine must have a national historical park, seashore and scenic coastal highway -- see www.staugustgreen.com

St. Augustine must have a national historical park, seashore and scenic coastal highway -- see www.staugustgreen.com

Guest Column: St. Augustine should have a national historical park

St. Augustine
Publication Date: 03/26/07

Real estate speculators (some foreign-funded) continue to destroy our local wildlife, habitat, nature and history. Roads are clogged. Noise abounds. Our way of life is being destroyed. Unfeeling, uncaring Philistines are turning St. Johns County into an uglier, unreasonable facsimile of South Florida. Unjust county government stewards allowed an asphalt plant near homes. Another plant reportedly emits 50 tons/year of volatile organic compounds into residents' and workers' lungs and brains.

Speculators are even trying to build homes on top of unremediated septic tanks/fields, while vacationing boaters pollute our Bay front with untreated sewage (the only boat-pumpout-station is at Conch House Marina). Our Bay front (which lacks a harbormaster) had an oil spill Jan. 15. Developers demand to build docks over city-owned State Road 312 area marshes for boat-owners' pleasure. Enough.

Let's invite environmental tourism by preserving an "emerald necklace of parks," including the city-owned marsh.

Ask Congress to hold hearings to map our "St. Augustine National Historical Park and National Seashore" (SANHPNS), using 1928-style trolleycars to save gasoline, uniting the Castillo and Fort Matanzas National Monuments, "slave market park," downtown streets, Government House, Red House Bluff indigenous village (next to historical society), marshes, forests, National Cemetery, GTM NERR, Anastasia State Park, Fort Mose and other city, county, state and St. Johns River Water Management District lands.

Let's cancel future shock/schlock/sprawl/ugliness/skyscrapers and eliminate temptations to abuse/neglect/misuse state parks and historic buildings for golf courses and rote, rube commercialism.

In December, State Sen. Jim King suggested Florida donate "deed and title" of state buildings to our city. I suggested that we deed them to the National Park Service (NPS), with St. George Street visitor center in restored buildings, saving millions (as in the New Bedford Whaling National Historical Park).

St. Augustine needs a national civil rights and indigenous history museum, celebrating local residents and national leaders, whose courage helped win passage of 1964's Civil Rights Act. Why not put the museum in the old Woolworth's building, restored to its former glory, with wood floors, lunch-counter and exhibits on the civil rights struggles that changed history (well- documented in Jeremy Dean's documentary, "Dare Not Walk Alone"), with "footsoldiers monument" across the street ?

Why not (finally) implement the 2003 National Trust for Historic Preservation and Flagler College study on how to protect our history? Let's tax tourists more to fund historic preservation, as in Charleston/elsewhere.

Let's preserve/protect the quality of our lives and visitors' experience (and property values) by preserving forever what speculators haven't destroyed (yet).

Let's adopt a three-year moratorium on growth, while we work to adopt truly comprehensive plans worthy of the name.

Colonial National Historical Park (NHP), Philadelphia's Independence NHP and NHPs in Boston, New Bedford, Valley Forge, San Francisco and Saratoga.

There's a Martin Luther King historical site in Atlanta, NHPs for "Rosie the Riveter" (California) and the "War in the Pacific" (Guam), and new parks slated for ten Japanese internment camps.

Florida hosts Everglades, Dry Tortugas and Biscayne National Parks and Canaveral National Seashore. Let's add St. Augustine to the list.

From sea to shining sea, America's coastal areas enjoy national parks. Where's ours?

Let's make parts of State Road A1A a National Parkway and hiking/biking trail, like the Colonial National Historical Parkway and the Baltimore Washington, George Washington, Rock Creek and John D. Rockefeller (Wyoming) Parkways and the Appalachian Trial and C&O Canal.

Let's add St. Augustine to the list of our nation's most beloved national parks, joining Zion, Yosemite, Grand Canyon, Bryce Canyon and the Great Smoky Mountains.

Florida's 500th and St. Augustine's 450th anniversaries are only six and eight years away (2013 and 2015). Enacting a national park and seashore will forever preserve the treasures that we love. It will halt the sprawl we hate, increase tourism and reduce local taxes, paying speculators to stop.

Mayor Joe Boles' mother graciously thanked me for speaking out on these issues after the Jan. 22 City Commission meeting -- issues that Mrs. Boles has been outspoken about for "30 years." Let's honor/heed Mrs. Boles' wisdom -- and those who proposed a national park before World War II. Let's save St. Augustine and our environment forever.


Ed Slavin lives in St. Augustine.

Click here to return to story:

© The St. Augustine Record

St. Petersburg Times: The maverick of Hobe sound

The maverick of Hobe Sound
Published May 30, 2004

HOBE SOUND - Nathaniel Pryor Reed is proud to be a Republican. Sort of.

He says, "I'm damned if the Republican National Committee will ever see a dime from me as long as it's in the hands of the Christian Right." He says the increasingly obese deficit "makes me sick to my stomach."

Reed worked for Presidents Nixon and Ford as assistant secretary of the interior but wasn't crazy about Ronald Reagan. He was downright contemptuous of Reagan's secretary of the interior, James Watt, calling him an "extremist" who "can't tell the difference between national parks and industrial parks." And while Reed has been good friends with George Bush the elder, he doesn't think much of George Bush the younger or Vice President Dick Cheney: "While I was in the Ford administration," says Reed, "Cheney tried to block every good environmental policy, every decent piece of environmental legislation."

Reed will tell you why Al Gore lost the 2000 election, and it wasn't dangling chad or butterfly ballots or even the fell hand of Katherine Harris. Gore refused to stand firm against the conversion of Homestead Air Force Base, wrecked by Hurricane Andrew in 1992, into a civilian airport, which would severely compromise the Everglades ecosystem. This "cost him 17,000 votes," says Reed, pained. Now we're stuck with a president whose "lack of environmental interest is a heavy cross to bear."

Reed helped to jumpstart the GOP in 1960s Dixiecrat Florida, and has, arguably, fought harder for Florida's environment than any Democrat, yet state Republican Party officials seem reluctant to comment on him. "Someone will call you back on that," said the party office. No one did.

The environment is Nat Reed's issue - it has been for 40 years. The environment used to be the Republican Party's issue, too, which may explain how Reed, who comes from the progressive (and progressively shrinking) New England wing of the party, can remain a Republican even in the face of the Bush administration's weakening of clean water, clean air and public lands protections. It was, after all, Republican Theodore Roosevelt who established Pelican Island in Florida as the first national wildlife refuge. The Endangered Species Act and the Clean Air Act were signed by Republican presidents.

Many of what environmentalists say are Reed's greatest accomplishments - preserving Biscayne Bay and Big Cypress Swamp, and requiring the state to regulate pollution - began under a Republican governor.

That was then. Now Reed will battle anybody of any political persuasion who threatens what's left of Florida's wild creatures and wild places: "We simply do not have the moral or ethical right to destroy life that has evolved over millions of years," he says. "We are all fellow passengers on Planet Earth."

"He's an icon for environmentalists in Florida and one of the chief champions of Everglades restoration," says Charles Pattison, executive director of 1000 Friends of Florida, an organization dedicated to growth management Reed helped to found. David Guest, a prominent environmental lawyer who has worked with Reed on Everglades and Lake Okeechobee lawsuits, makes him sound a bit like a Green Superman, fighting for truth, justice and an uncompromised ecosystem: "At crucial moments in the great environmental battles in Florida, Nat Reed has suddenly appeared and struck the decisive blow."

* * *

Nat Reed's particular patch of Planet Earth is Jupiter Island, a dune-decked barrier island set between the Atlantic and one of Florida's great lagoons. The Indian River is literally in his back yard. Not far away is the place where, in 1696, a band of Quakers was shipwrecked. Since the advent of Ponce de Leon and Old World pathogens, native people in Florida preferred to minimize contact with Europeans. They took the Quakers' livestock. Took the Quakers' clothes, too, forcing them to cover their nakedness with torn out pages from the Bible.

Subsequent visitors have found the area a lot more pleasant. Reed's parents bought Jupiter Island in the early 1930s; now it's usually described with the adjective "exclusive," dotted with mansions pretending to be everything from Low Country plantation houses to Loire chateaux. Still, much of the island is wildlife refuge. When Nat and Alita Reed married four decades ago, they built a place which is by no means the largest or the poshest (in his bachelor days Reed lived on a houseboat); indeed, it's just slightly frayed in an elegant, old-money way. Their living room calls up images of a pre-land boom Florida, with a vaulted ceiling painted with palm fronds, chairs upholstered in a banana-leaf pattern, and the shells of several of the species of turtle that nest on the Jupiter Island beaches hanging on the wall. The voluptuous scent of gardenias (Reed grows several kinds) floats through the big screen door.

On one late spring afternoon, Reed has a lot on his mind. Phosphorus in Lake Okeechobee. Stresses on the Loxahatchee Basin. This year's presidential election (he says green issues will again be decisive in Florida). And his trip to the Bahamas for some bonefishing. "Bonefish are the most fun to catch," he says, "I don't fight tarpon any more."

Reed, now 70, looks like one of those long-legged wading birds you see in the Everglades: tall, spare, elegant. He's descended from Nathaniel Pryor, a member of the 1803 Lewis and Clark expedition. Reed's father was a successful New York theater producer. His mother ran the Hobe Sound Holding Co. Nat Reed could have spent his life fishing in the Bahamas. But his parents seemed to have instilled in him an old-fashioned sense of Yankee social responsibility: his Republican father voted twice for FDR because he feared the economic inequities of the Great Depression would lead to a revolution. The senior Reeds could have developed the hell out of Jupiter Island, turned it into Miami Beach North. But that's not the Reed way: "People move to Florida for the "quality of life,' then destroy the "quality of life' by overbuilding and overcrowding."

Though Nat Reed prepped in New England, and his family lived half the year in Greenwich, Conn., he says he's always felt like a Floridian. "I've waded every inch of the Indian River," he says. In 1966, Reed helped Claude Kirk get elected governor, the first Republican since Reconstruction. Kirk, a bumptious former insurance salesman, exhorted Reed to join his administration in the newly created post of environmental counsel: "If you want to change the things that you have been hollering about for the last 15 years in Florida, there's a desk."

Some old-time Democrats in the Cabinet, the Legislature and around the state wondered what Kirk was doing hiring this tree-hugging, butterfly-catching, bird-watching "conservationist" (the polite term for environmentalists back then); surely it was weird and un-American not to make a profit off the earth God gave mankind. But Reed, who had plenty of money of his own, was a bargain - his salary was $1 a year. One drain-it-and-pave-it type sniffed, "The governor got what he paid for."

As one of Claude Kirk's biographers put it: "Working to protect the environment in Florida was similar to being a firefighter in a city inhabited by large numbers of pyromaniacs." Still, Reed put out a big blaze started by developers even before Kirk officially took office.

There was this plan to create a series of dredge-and-fill islands in Biscayne Bay for a new "city" called "Islandia." At first, Kirk thought this was a fine idea. Progress. It so happened, however, that the governor-elect wanted to take his glamorous German fiancee Erika Mattfeld - who would soon be famous as "Madame X" when Kirk squired her to his inaugural ball and refused to reveal her name - on a discreet romantic sailing trip in the Keys. Reed insisted Kirk take a Marine Patrol officer with him for "security." Unbeknownst to Kirk, Reed had briefed the officer, a pal of his. When the sailboat ran aground near Key Largo, they broke out the beer, waiting for the tide to turn, while the officer extolled the uniqueness and beauty of the bay. Kirk decided Biscayne Bay would be much better as a national monument. "Islandia" was dead.

Undeterred, Dade County politicos and businessmen floated a proposal to build a jetport in the Everglades. The muck hit the fan. John D. MacDonald published a piece in Life magazine charging that the project would "kill what was left of the Everglades." In 1969, Reed got Kirk to demand a meeting with the Flood Control District to assess the environmental effect of the jetport. The Dade backers refused to answer any of the land use queries, repeating "The question is under study" over and over till Reed called a halt. The boondoggle was exposed. Dade Mayor Chuck Hall bitterly called Reed "a white militant."

"One of the important things about Mr. Reed is that he sees through the short-term promise of economic prosperity based on development," says Pattison. "It's like Christmas tree lights to a little kid - looks good for a bit but isn't of real value compared to long-term environmental preservation."

The Associated Press declared 1969 "the year Florida was saved," crediting Reed. He had, among other forward-looking environmental policies, instituted a radical regime requiring permits for dumping, dredging and filling. Previously, towns and industries disposed of sewage and various noxious run-offs into the nearest water source. Despite these accomplishments, Reed's boss Claude Kirk lost his job in 1970, beaten in the election by Reubin Askew.

Reed, on the other hand, kept his job and his independence, too. He was happy to work for a Democratic governor; equally happy to mix it up with Democratic lawmakers who thought environmentalism would get in the way of capitalism. Once Reed ripped his telephone out and threw it in the trash so he wouldn't have to talk to legendary legislative power-broker Dempsey Barron. "Dempsey was giving me orders on what industries were, in his opinion, exempt from the laws and rules governing air and water pollution," says Reed. "I told him he would have to come to my office and put his demands in writing. He called me a variety of names and threatened me so I pulled the phone off the wall so I would not have to be bothered by him."

In 1971, Reed found himself bothered by a whole new class of politico when Richard Nixon appointed him assistant secretary of the interior. Reed told Nixon he was going to hire the brightest staff in Washington. "I'll bet they'll all be Democrats," Nixon groused.

"I'm not going to ask them what party they belong to," said Reed.

Nixon had his little ethical difficulties later, but he gave Reed a chance to save more than 80-million acres of Alaska for the nation, publicize the dangers of DDT, and impose a ban on the use of 10-80, a coyote-killing poison that killed other animals as well. "There goes my western base," sighed Nixon.

In Washington, Reed was ridiculed for trying to save the San Francisco saltmarsh titmouse. He got death threats from good ole boys who didn't want their right to shoot eagles interfered with. Reed shrugged it all off: "The president appointed me to defend the critters that couldn't come to Capital Hill to defend themselves."

In the late '70s and early '80s, many political observers expected Nat Reed to run for office himself, maybe challenge Bob Graham for the Governor's Mansion, maybe try for Congress. He had the money, he had the connections, he certainly had the energy. But he didn't do it and doesn't seem to have any regrets. He went back to Florida to carry on being an environmental pain in the backside to the powers-that-be. David Guest tells the story of how, late in the 2000 session, the Republicans were going to pass legislation that would potentially give away hundreds of thousands of acres of the most environmentally sensitive public land in Florida. Frantic environmentalists called Nat Reed at 8 o'clock one night and hollered "help!" He chartered a jet, flew to Tallahassee the next day and held a press conference calling on Gov. Jeb Bush to "exercise leadership." A few hours later, the vote shifted and the measure died. "Nat Reed could wade into a nest of vipers and make them behave through sheer moral authority," Guest says.

Reed is still at it, evangelizing on how close Lake Okeechobee is to dying and how the Scripps Institute development is a "land scam." Scripps, which Jeb Bush hailed as a great job-creator and intellectual adornment for Florida, could have located in an already-developed area. Instead, he says, "a new city, 28,000 houses" will be built, damaging the Loxahatchee Watershed. It's all "part of the scheme to develop in the Everglades," says Reed. "We either get (environmental) concessions or we'll see them in court."

He could just retire, enjoy his five grandchildren, sit around smelling his gardenias. But he'd have to shut off his outrage, and that isn't going to happen. It's appropriate that there's a portrait of Seminole Chief Osceola hanging in his front hall. Osceola never surrendered. Reed says he won't either, almost shouting, "I will go to my grave saying "I refuse to give up.' " Then he smiles: "Let's go look at my hibiscus garden."
[Last modified May 29, 2004, 23:54:21]

American Bar Association Journal: Meet Mongo

McElhaney on Litigation
Meet Mongo

Unleashing your inner beast in court hurts you, not the other side

By Jim McElhaney

You knew it was a bad question to begin with. You said “strike that” at least three times, “with reference to” twice, and included one each of “a time came, did it not” and “Would you indicate for the benefit of the judge and jury what, if anything, transpired next?”

But when your opponent suggested that your question was a little confusing, you refused to simplify it. You said the witness understood the question even if the other lawyer did not (which you thought was a pretty clever riposte). So you instructed the witness to answer the question. Then when the witness asked you to repeat the question, you asked the court reporter to read it back.

Because of all the bickering that had gone on, the court reporter had to go through 15 or 20 folds of stenotype paper just to find where the question started. When he finally read it back, you were too embarrassed to try to make it better even though it sounded awful.

What happened? While your opponent wasn’t really trying to make your question easier to understand, that’s exactly what she was doing.

Then why didn’t you just mellow out and take the opportunity to make your question better?

Because your inner beast was on the loose.

Everyone has an inner beast—a primitive set of emotions driven by a region of the brain under the cerebellum and close to the brain stem.

There, deep inside the skull, is what some folks call the reptilian brain. It processes basic drives: eating, sleeping, sex. When you are attacked, it sends out the signal to fight or run.

I call the inner beast Mongo. Mongo is your co-counsel in every case you try. You cannot make him go away. When Mongo is aroused, he takes absolute control over the nervous system and can put all reason on hold until the danger has passed.

Unfortunately, Mongo tends to misinterpret what happens in the courtroom. For Mongo, every lawsuit is a fight, every witness a potential enemy and every opposing lawyer a saber-toothed tiger—to be attacked and destroyed.

That’s what happened with your question. Mongo interpreted the other lawyer’s objection as a personal attack. Just because the other lawyer said the question was bad, Mongo said it was good and insisted on an answer.

Mongo can cause a lot of trouble.


It starts with an odd turn of phrase in a letter from the other side or a minor social slight, some disparaging remark about another lawyer in your firm, a critical comment about how you conduct discovery. Mongo takes it personally.

You probably have noticed that Mongo has pretty thin skin and is quick to take offense. You may have wondered why someone so primitive can be so touchy.

Because that’s Mongo’s job. He’s there to protect you from sudden attack, to stimulate the flow of adrenaline so you can fight, run or climb a tree. He’s got to be alert all the time.

But Mongo thinks he is still in the jungle. A suspicious comment becomes a dangerous rustle in the grass. A strange procedural move is a hissing serpent, coiled around the low-hanging limb of a tree. An odd phrase in a contract is a black widow spider waiting to strike.

With dangers like those, you can see why anything Mongo does not understand makes him angry and suspicious.

To his credit, Mongo has probably saved your professional life a number of times. But he still is difficult to work with. So Mongo gives the lawyer who has offended him as good as he got, and the other lawyer responds—perhaps through his or her own Mongo.

This punch and counterpunch advances from angry quibbling to major antagonism.

For Mongo, this is all very natural. As far as he’s concerned, the point of the lawsuit is not to get a favorable verdict but to kill the other lawyer.

When Mongo acts this way, you need to have a talk with him. He has to understand that, whether it is subconscious or deliberate, the other lawyer wants him to be angry. Once he realizes that the trash coming from the other side is designed to egg him on, Mongo won’t give the other lawyer the satisfaction of reacting to his or her game.

As Adam and Eve learned in the Garden of Eden, there are things we want just because we’re not supposed to have them. Lawyers are no different. There are lots of things we do, not because they will help our case but because we are told not to do them.

If you listen closely when that happens, you can usually hear Mongo mumbling, “Judge not let Mongo have cookies. Mongo need cookies. Mongo want cookies now.”

Take arguing during your opening statement. There are some lawyers who will tell you to do as much as you can. And there are some judges who will let you. Neither is helping your case.

You know that opening statement is a special time. It’s your opportunity to tell the winning story that shows the injustice that has been—or is about to be—done to your client. It’s the time when judges and juries tend to take sides, to pull for one party or the other. It is also the time when they pick one of the lawyers to be their guide—someone they can follow throughout the case.

But start arguing the case before the judge and jury even know what it is all about, and you are no longer the guide but someone with something to sell.

Mongo doesn’t know that. Mongo is sure he can smell the cookies because the judge said he can’t have any. The temptation becomes overwhelming, and your opening statement is filled with adjectives and adverbs—purple prose that rings with synthetic sincerity.

When you explain to Mongo that arguing in your opening statement is not actually the cookie he thinks it is, you’ve got a much better chance at one of the toughest jobs of self-control.

We have come to overvalue witness control on cross-examination. To be sure, the technique of asking short, leading questions is one of the essential tools of a good cross-examiner. But there’s a lot more to it than that.

Most of the time we only get a few facts on cross. Instead, one of the main purposes of cross is to show who the bad guys are. Cross-examination is actually more impression than it is information.

So the more unreasonable, argumentative, unresponsive and evasive the witness is on cross-examination, the more it rubs off on the side that called him to the stand.

Unless the cross-examiner’s behavior seems to justify the witness’s conduct.

Enter Mongo.

When a witness is evasive on cross, Mongo takes it as a personal affront. It is a challenge to his sense of self. So he browbeats and bullyrags the witness, slashes him with sarcasm and hurls argumentative questions at him like a barrage of stones.

In the unequal battle between attacking lawyer and cornered witness, the jurors don’t remember who started it. They just know who is throwing the stones.


It’s time for another talk with Mongo, who must understand that an unreasonable witness on the other side is just what he needs to show the judge and jury who the good guys are.

Rulings on evidence and procedure that don’t go his way are difficult for Mongo to handle. Left to his own devices, Mongo will snarl, make faces, shoot daggers with his eyes, make comments under his breath about how the court of appeals will have to straighten out what’s going on, slam books, crumple paper, break his pencil, roll his eyes or look to heaven for help.

Mongo needs to realize that the judge’s ruling was not an evaluation of your abilities or the level of your professional work.

Most of all, Mongo needs to know that the judge and jury do not add up all the debating points, the clever buzzwords, the little digs and jabs to decide who wins the case. Beating a point to death does not make it true, and repeating an argument again and again does not win it acceptance.

A lawsuit is neither a high school debate nor a boxing match. You do not win a case because you are perceived to be the superior advocate. On the contrary, if the jury is too aware of your persuasive abilities, it can hurt your case. You want the judge and jury to think your client has the better facts, not the better lawyer.

If Mongo understands that, he’s getting pretty sophisticated.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Appeal Being Filed on MORRIS PUBLISHING Bankruptcy and Declining Quality of Journalism Here in Our Nation's Oldest City

Thomas Jefferson said, "I have sworn before the altar of God eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind" of humankind.

We're filing an appeal of the Southern District of Georgia Bankruptcy Judge's February 10, 2010 and February 16, 2010 orders declining to hear an intervention petition from newspaper readers challenging the MORRIS PUBLISHING Bankruptcy.

The Judge took 20 minutes to approve a prepackaged bankruptcy, one in which MORRIS PUBLISHING said there would be "no change" seen by newspaper readers, whereby bondholders agreed to accept 36 cents on the dollar.

Here is laid-off former Albany, NY Times-Union business editor Marlene Kennedy's story about our petition from her blog, "One in 13,000" (link at left):

Here's a novel way to get your point across if you think your local newspaper has suffered too many cutbacks: Take it to court.

Keith Hempstead, a lawyer in Durham, N.C., did that in 2008 when he sued The News & Observer, alleging the Raleigh daily had breached its contract with him as a subscriber when it cut staff and pages soon after he renewed.

He later dropped the suit, but not before making headlines for his approach, which he said all along was designed to get the attention of an industry relentlessly cinching its belt.

Indeed, the Pew Project for Excellence in Journalism that same year underscored his quality concerns in a study titled "The Changing Newsroom: What Is Being Gained and What Is Being Lost in America's Daily Newspapers."

Now a complaint about cutbacks and quality has surfaced again, this time brought in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Georgia by a pair of subscribers in the case of Morris Publishing Group LLC. The two sought to make their point by gaining standing in the Chapter 11 case, whose reorganization plan is headed toward expected approval this week.

But the pair, Judith Seraphin and Ed Slavin, was turned back when a judge ruled they could not intervene as subscribers, readers or third-party interests in the case....

Morris, publisher of 13 daily newspapers in the South and Midwest, filed for bankruptcy protection last month. At the time, one of its lawyers said he expected the case "will be one of the fastest newspaper reorganizations in U.S. history."

But Seraphin and Slavin, who describe themselves as "local community activists" and "longtime readers and subscribers" to Morris' St. Augustine Record in Florida, asked to be let into the case last week, at the deadline for objections to the reorganization plan.

According to court documents, the pair says they are "horrified" at a perceived drop in the quality and quantity of news in the paper. And since Morris foresees no change in operations under the reorganization plan, other than relief of long-standing debt related to acquisitions in the 1990s, they predict disaster: that its smaller papers will head into "a death spiral of declining interest in newspapers" due to inadequate resources to report the news.

The judge, however, ruled that only the bondholders affected by the rejiggering of debt in the Morris case should have a say in the reorganization. And he said the pair's claims of lost quality and quantity in the Morris papers aren't relevant to "the purpose of this Chapter 11 case, which is to give the debtors the breathing space necessary to accomplish their financial rehabilitation."

Late Friday, it was reported that Seraphin and Slavin asked the court to reconsider.

No matter the outcome, it's heartening to see subscribers like Hempstead, Seraphin and Slavin -- anyone other than affected journalists -- show interest in the industry and what the ever-continuing belt-tightening is doing to the country's newspapers.

ALL THE NEWS THAT'S FIT TO OMIT: Why did WRecKord Omits Bernard B. Kerik Guilty Plea from Today’s Newspaper?

What do you reckon?

As the latest example of its increasingly inept and non-existent news coverage, consider the fact that today’s St. Augustine WRecKord omits the four-year sentence meted out to BERNARD B. KERIK yesterday.

KERIK was buddies with tawdry Republican ex-Mayor RUDOLPH GIULANI of New York (now a partner in BRACEWELL & GIULIANi).

KERIK was tatterdemalion Republican President GEORGE W. BUSH’s nominee to run the Homeland Security Department until his sleaziness led to the withdrawl of his nomination. See below.

Floridians will recall that KERIK lent his voice to illegal trash-talking robotic telephone calls lying about Senator John Kerry, only four days before the 2004 election, stating that KERRY could not protect America from terrorists. KERIK’s hate phone call was placed from a telephone bearing the caller ID 111-111-1111. I filed an FCC complaint about it. KERIK’s office declined comment.

BERNARD B. KERIK is as lugubrious a goober as ever made a chair squeak.

His sentence to prison was more than twice as long as that of our former County Commission Chairman, THOMAS G. MANUEL, who was sentenced for bribery earlier this year.

The fact that the St. Augustine WRecKord did not cover the news of Republican BERNARD KERIK’s four-year prison sentence, even with a two-paragraph story, is an indication of the extent to which Reighwing Republicans in Augusta dictate the agenda of the WRecKord.

In their bankruptcy action, MORRIS PUBLISHING stated there would be “no change” noticed by news readers. That’s a true statement. We see no change. The low-quality journalism of the St. Augustine Record endures.

Also continuing is our effort to hold MORRIS PUBLISHING accountable -- we're appealing the refusal of the Bankruptcy Judge to allow newspaper readers to intervene and be heard on the First Amenndent implications of the bankruptcy.

New York Times: Kerik Is Sentenced in Corruption Case


WHITE PLAINS — Bernard B. Kerik, a former New York police commissioner who rose to national prominence, was sentenced to four years in prison on Thursday after pleading guilty to eight felony charges, including tax fraud and lying to White House officials.

Under the terms of a plea agreement, the prosecution and the defense recommended that Judge Stephen C. Robinson sentence Mr. Kerik to 27 to 33 months in prison. But the judge departed from the sentencing recommendations, giving Mr. Kerik a longer sentence because he said he had betrayed the public’s trust.

“I think it’s fair to say that with great power comes great responsibility and great consequences,” Judge Robinson said. “I think the damage caused by Mr. Kerik is in some ways immeasurable.”

Federal prosecutors had denounced Mr. Kerik, a former police detective who rose to the upper echelons of power, as a corrupt official who sought to trade his authority for lavish benefits. He pleaded guilty on the eve of his trial in November.

Wearing a pinstriped navy-blue suit, Mr. Kerik was thinner and clean-shaven — without the mustache he was long identified with — as he entered the courtroom in United States District Court here. He surveyed the gallery, packed with friends and supporters, embracing some, nodding to others.

When Judge Robinson offered him a chance to speak before sentencing, Mr. Kerik rose from the defense table and spoke in a low and gravelly voice.

“I make no excuses,” he said. “I take full responsibility for the grave mistakes I’ve made. Believe me when I say I have learned from this and I have become and will continue to become a better person. I know I must be punished. I only ask that you allow me to return to my wife and two little girls as soon as possible.”

As the judge delivered the sentence, Mr. Kerik sat impassively at the defense table, flanked by his lawyers. Behind him, his supporters — including Geraldo Rivera and Steven McDonald, a former New York City police officer who was paralyzed from the neck down in 1986 — sat silently.

Mr. Kerik will begin serving his sentence on May 17. Prosecutors had requested that Mr. Kerik be sent to prison immediately, but Judge Robinson allowed him to surrender later to get his affairs in order in light of the length of the sentence. Mr. Kerik has awaited sentencing under strict house arrest at his home in Franklin Lakes, N.J.

The sentence follows a fall from a rarefied perch where he wielded power with a signature mix of brash confidence and tough-guy charm.

He was a close ally of former Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani, whom he served as a bodyguard and driver. Mr. Giuliani then tapped him for a senior position in the Correction Department, and he went on to become the agency’s commissioner. As testament to his clout, Mr. Kerik had a jail named after him in downtown Manhattan. (The name has since been changed.)

Mr. Kerik later served as police commissioner, and his performance after the 9/11 attacks turned him into a national figure, earning him the respect of President George W. Bush, who nominated him to lead the Department of Homeland Security. That bid quickly collapsed in scandal, marking the beginning of the end of Mr. Kerik’s career.

The case against Mr. Kerik centered on charges that a New Jersey construction company, the Interstate Industrial Corporation, which was suspected of ties to organized crime, had paid for renovations at his home in the Riverdale section of the Bronx. Prosecutors said company officials had hoped Mr. Kerik would help them obtain a city license.

In June 2006, Mr. Kerik pleaded guilty in State Supreme Court in the Bronx to two misdemeanors tied to the renovation of his apartment. He paid $221,000 in fines and penalties but avoided any jail time.

In the more recent federal case, Mr. Kerik pleaded guilty to two counts of tax fraud, one count of making a false statement on a loan application and five counts of making false statements to the federal government while being vetted for senior posts. Judge Robinson ordered him to pay restitution of $187,931 to the Internal Revenue Service.

Prosecutors had called for Judge Robinson to make an example out of Mr. Kerik, and to punish him for his “egotism and hubris.”

During the hearing, Judge Robinson said he admired much about Mr. Kerik, particularly his leadership in the 9/11 aftermath. But, he said, “the fact that Mr. Kerik would use that event for personal gain and aggrandizement is a dark place in the soul for me.”

Mr. Kerik’s lawyer, Michael F. Bachner, asked the judge for leniency, citing his years of public service, and the dozens of letters of support written by family members, former colleagues in the Police Department and even strangers who said they admired Mr. Kerik’s bravery.

When asked if Mr. Kerik intended to appeal the sentence, Mr. Bachner said, “No comment.”

After the sentencing, Mr. Kerik paused outside the courthouse, where he read a statement before being driven off in a black sport utility vehicle.

“I’d like to apologize to the American people for the mistakes I’ve made and for which I have just accepted responsibility,” he said. “As history is written, I can only hope that I will be judged for the 30 years of service I have given to this country and the city of New York.”

Times Topics:

Bernard B. Kerik served as New York City police commissioner when Rudolph W. Giuliani was the city's mayor. His reputation rose with that of his mentor after the Sept. 11 attacks, then plunged when his nomination to a cabinet position led to allegations of impropriety and eventually imprisonment on federal charges.

Mr. Kerik was sentenced to four years in prison on Feb. 18, 2010, after pleading guilty to eight felony charges, including tax fraud and lying to White House officials. Under the terms of a plea agreement reached in November 2009 on the eve of his trial, the prosecution and the defense recommended that Judge Stephen C. Robinson sentence Mr. Kerik to 27 to 33 months in prison. But the judge departed from the sentencing recommendations, giving Mr. Kerik a longer sentence.

The month before that plea agreement, Mr. Kerik had been sent to jail after Judge Robinson revoked his $500,000 bail and delivered a withering criticism of him from the bench, describing Mr. Kerik as a "toxic combination of self-minded focus and arrogance." Judge Robinson of the Federal District Court in White Plains said that Mr. Kerik had leaked sealed information from his future criminal trial as part of an attempt to generate public sympathy.

Mr. Kerik's prison sentence followed a fall from a rarefied perch where he wielded power with a signature mix of brash confidence and tough-guy charm.


Mr. Kerik pleaded guilty to two counts of tax fraud, one count of making a false statement on a loan application — the most serious — and five separate counts of making false statements to the federal government. These last charges stemmed from statements Mr. Kerik made to the White House during the vetting process after the Bush administration nominated him to lead the Department of Homeland Security. He later withdrew his name.

The case against Mr. Kerik centered on claims that a construction company suspected of having ties to organized crime paid for much of the renovation work at Mr. Kerik's home in Riverdale, in the Bronx, in the hope that he would help the company obtain a city license. One of the tax charges is directly related to the renovation case.

In 2006, Mr. Kerik pleaded guilty to two misdemeanors in state court stemming from the apartment renovation. Under an agreement that allowed him to avoid jail time and a felony conviction, he admitted accepting $165,000 in apartment renovations from a company accused of having ties to organized crime; he agreed to pay $221,000 in fines.

The arc of Mr. Kerik’s career — from high-school dropout to a leading candidate to head the Department of Homeland Security to the target of a criminal investigation — is a dramatic one.

Mr. Kerik was born in Paterson, N.J., in 1956. In his 2001 memoir, ''The Lost Son: A Life in Pursuit of Justice,'' he wrote that he learned only while researching the book that his mother was a prostitute and that she had died from a severe blow to the head, and was possibly killed by her pimp.

He dropped out of high school, enlisted in the Army and served in the military police. He trained members of the Special Forces in karate, in which he holds a black belt. After about four years working as an investigator and a guard for Saudi Arabian royalty, he returned to New Jersey, where he became warden of the Passaic County Jail.

In 1985, Mr. Kerik took a $27,000 pay cut to join the New York Police Department. He served as an undercover narcotics detective, a job that honed the street savvy that is still a part of his reputation. It was during that time that he met Mr. Giuliani, who would promote him and give him other opportunities for the next decade.

Mr. Kerik served as Mr. Giuliani's chauffeur and bodyguard during the 1993 mayoral campaign, and after Mr. Giuliani took office in 2004, he named Mr. Kerik director of investigations of the Correction Department. Mr. Kerik became first deputy commissioner there in 1995.

Mr. Giuliani named him correction commissioner in late 1997, and Mr. Kerik won praise for reducing violence in the city's jail system. Mr. Giuliani chose him as his third police commissioner in 1999. After Mr. Giuliani left office, he and Mr. Kerik became partners in a security consulting business, Giuliani Partners.

President Bush first met Mr. Kerik at the site of the fallen World Trade Center towers, while Mr. Kerik was Mr. Giuliani’s police commissioner. Later, President Bush sent Mr. Kerik to Iraq for three and a half months in 2003 with a mandate to help solidify the Iraqi police. In 2005, the former mayor pushed for Mr. Kerik’s nomination as homeland security secretary. But Mr. Kerik withdrew his nomination as questions were being raised about his conduct while a law enforcement official.

Since then, Mr. Giuliani has distanced himself from a man whose loyalty he once valued, especially as questions about their relationship kept cropping up during the former mayor’s run for president.

London Telegraph The 9/11 hero jailed for tax fraud: Bernard Kerik was a posturing buffoon when I met him in Baghdad

By Peter Foster

The news that Bernard Kerik, former New York police commissioner and 9/11 hero, has been jailed for four years for tax fraud brings back memories of a terrifying day back in June 2003. That was when I had the misfortune to spend a morning with him in Baghdad, where he was head of the nascent Iraqi interior ministry and the man in charge of putting Iraq’s police force back on its feet.

He was out sacking – he said “terminating” – a senior Iraqi police officer as part of the disastrous De-ba’athification strategy which sped Iraq’s descent into chaos. Mr Kerik was a standing joke among Coalition officials in Baghdad: he was known in the marble corridors of Sadaam’s former Republican Palace as the “Burning Carrot”.

A buffoon with almost no organizational skills, he postured around the palace while men with buckets and spades rebuilt Baghdad’s police stations, at a time when every citizen in the city was crying out for better security. They needed bulldozers, not buckets.

He was manifestly ill-equipped for the job, a political appointee who became a beacon of the hubris and incompetence that characterized the post-conflict handling of the Iraq invasion. Whether the war was illegal or not, what was certainly criminal was the handling of the aftermath of the conflict. I say this not with the benefit of hindsight, since we reported in The Telegraph at the time that everyone in Baghdad was painfully aware of the unfolding disaster.

In the words of a very senior British official I quoted in a front page article of the time (June 17, 2003), the Iraq reconstruction effort suffered from “a complete absence of strategic direction” and was “in chaos”. Mr Kerik, who astonishingly nearly became chief of Homeland Security the following year, was at the forefront of the madness.

It is at least to the credit of the US vetting system that he didn’t get the job, as I’ve absolutely no doubt about it. America is a safer place without him.

NY Daily News: Bye-bye, Bernie: Kerik is sentenced to four well-deserved years in prison

Bye-bye, Bernie: Kerik is sentenced to four well-deserved years in prison

Friday, February 19th 2010, 4:00 AM

All the arrogance, swagger and ego were gone. Bernard Kerik returned to Earth yesterday. And not just to Earth, but to the doorstep of prison, where he will serve four years for his crimes.

Federal Judge Steven Robinson slammed Kerik appropriately by meting out stiffer punishment than guidelines recommend for more run-of-the-mill offenders.

"I think the damage caused by Mr. Kerik is in some ways immeasurable," Robinson explained.

He gave the former correction commissioner and former police commissioner, who very nearly became U.S. homeland security secretary, until May to get his affairs in order.

Kerik was guilty of having a reputedly mobbed-up construction company pay for a quarter-million dollars in home renovations, and of lying about it, to the IRS and to the White House.

He had chewed up and spat out the trust the public placed in him, then thought he could saunter into history, his name adorning a city jail. Not anymore. Said the man himself:

"I know I must be punished. I only ask that you allow me to return to my wife and two little girls as soon as possible." Case closed.

Read more: http://www.nydailynews.com/opinions/2010/02/19/2010-02-19_byebye_bernie.html?print=1&page=all#ixzz0g0fMjyQk

USDOJ: Former NYC Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik Sentenced in White Plains Federal Court to 48 Months in Prison

For Immediate Release
February 18, 2010 United States Attorney's Office
Southern District of New York
Contact: (212) 637-2600

Former NYC Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik Sentenced in White Plains Federal Court to 48 Months in Prison

PREET BHARARA, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York; JOSEPH M. DEMAREST, JR., the Assistant Director-in-Charge of the New York Field Office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation ("FBI"); and PATRICIA J. HAYNES, the Special Agent-in-Charge of the New York Field Office, Criminal Investigation, Internal Revenue Service ("IRS"), announced today that BERNARD B. KERIK, the former Commissioner of the New York City Police Department and Department of Corrections, was sentenced today in White Plains federal court to 48 months in prison in connection with eight felonies. He was ordered to surrender on May 17, 2010.

KERIK was sentenced by United States District Judge STEPHEN C. ROBINSON in connection with the following federal crimes: one count of obstructing and impeding the due administration of the internal revenue laws from 1999 to 2007, one count of aiding in the preparation of a false tax return (for the 2000 tax year), one count of making a false statement on a loan application, and five counts of making false statements to the federal government. Two of the false statement counts relate to materially false statements that KERIK made to White House officials vetting him for the position of Secretary of the United States Department of Homeland Security.

At KERIK's plea hearing on November 5, 2009, he admitted, among other things, that in 1999 and 2000 he received substantial renovations to his Riverdale apartment through Interstate (a metropolitan area-contractor) and conceded that Interstate paid approximately $255,000 for the renovations. KERIK also admitted that around the same time, he contacted New York City regulators concerning Interstate, which at the time was seeking various approvals to do business in and/or with New York City. KERIK further admitted that he failed to report the value of the renovations he received through Interstate on his federal tax returns. And KERIK admitted that he made false statements to the White House concerning the renovations he received on his Riverdale apartment and his relationship with Interstate when he was being vetted for the position of Secretary of the United States Department of Homeland Security.

"It is a very sad day when the former Commissioner of the greatest police department in the world is sentenced to prison for base criminal conduct. Today's sentencing of Bernard Kerik is one of the most powerful recent reminders that no one in this country is above the law," said United States Attorney BHARARA.

Assistant FBI Director DEMAREST said, "The sentence imposed today reflects the gravity of Bernard Kerik’s crimes. By his own admission, Kerik committed serious felonies while heading the nation’s largest police department. Ethically, a high-level law enforcement official should be held to a higher standard of conduct than the general public. The legal standard is not as high, but it is iron-clad: No public official can behave as if he is above the law."

Special Agent in Charge HAYNES of the IRS, Criminal Investigation Division, said, "Today's sentencing emphasizes how the Internal Revenue Service continues to work with the FBI and U.S. Attorney's office to vigorously pursue those who use fraudulent methods in an attempt to corrupt our tax system. It is imperative that honest taxpayers know everyone will be held accountable to pay their fair share of taxes and that no one is above the tax laws."

KERIK, 54, was also sentenced to three years of supervised release and ordered to pay restitution in the amount of $187,931.

Mr. BHARARA praised the investigative work of the FBI and the IRS Criminal Investigation Division. Mr. BHARARA also thanked the New York City Department of Investigation, the Bronx District Attorney’s Office, the New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement, and the United States Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia for their assistance.

Assistant United States Attorneys ELLIOTT B. JACOBSON, PERRY A. CARBONE, and MICHAEL S. BOSWORTH are in charge of the prosecution.

Fishy, fishy, fishy?


Convicted felon THOMAS COGHILL controlled local business from federal pen

The St. Augustine WRecKord article (below) quotes a spokesman for "the developer of the project, Vilano Beach Town Center Partners LLC." The Florida Secretary of State website has no record of any company by that name.

Haughty realtor VIVIAN BROWNING, a business associate of controversial developer ROBERT MICHAEL GRAUBARD is listed as a principal in another company with a similar name, VILANO BEACH TOWN CENTER REALTY, INC. (BROWNING is also (she is also a controversial member of the board of the Anastasia Mosquito Control Board of St. Johns County, where she has supported construction of a new Taj Mahal building and shows contempt for public participation and dissent, using trite tropes about "personal attacks" when her agenda is questioned).

Below are prior blog posts and stories about how THOMAS COGHILL controlled GRAUBARD-related busineses from prison, pleading guilty to federal obstruction of justice charges (he was forbidden to be involved in any business without DOJ approval). The St. Augustine WRecKord never listed the names of the local businesses COGHILL controlled.

12 days later, WRecKord deigns to report on THOMAS E. COGHILL, JR. Guilty Plea to Charges of Controlling Local Businesses

See Record article below, reporting January 20 on a January 8, 2010 guilty plea. Compare the January 11, 2010 blog entry (below) and prior stories:

Tree-killing, Wetland-Destroying Land Speculator ROBERT MICHAEL GRAUBARD'S Felonious Business Partner, THOMAS COGHILL, JR. Pleads Guilty to New Crime

THOMAS E. COGHILL, JR. pled guilty Friday in Federal Court in Lynchburg, Virginia to obstruction of justice by violating terms of his bank fraud sentence by exercising "dominion and control" over St. Augustine real estate speculators' companies, including several involving ROBERT MICHAEL GRAUBARD, long one of the favorites of St. Augustine City Commissioners and St. Johns County Commissioners, who got everything he wanted (including forgiveness of a $15,000 tree-killing fine).

THOMAS COGHILL, Jr., former co-owner of Conch House Marina and other local businesses, pled guilty before Judge Norman K. Moon to a single federal felony count of obstruction of justice on Friday, January 8, 2010 to one county of obstruction of justice. He was sentenced to 30 months in prison, according to documents on the federal court website, www.pacer.gov.

COGHILL, already convicted of bank fraud, was prohibited from having any business dealings without permission of his probation officer. In violation of court orders, COGHILL continued real estate dealings in St. Augustine from federal custody.

The indictment to which COGHILL pled guilty said that he was involved in FLorida real estate developments from January 2005 to January 2009, when he "exercised dominion and control of the properties and projects through various collective entities, including: West Palm Beach Developers; Coastal Condominiums at Vilano Beach, LLC; Vilano Beach Condominium Association, Inc.; Riverfront Development Group Revocable Trust; Magnolia Estates of St. Augustine Owners Association, Inc.; Riverfront Development Group, LLC; Deerfield Beach Development, LLC; Windows of Virginia, LLC; Lauderdale Harbors Real Estate Development, LLC; 5810 Flagler Beach Club, LLC; 5000 Flagler Townhomes, LLC; West Palm Beach Real Estate Development Group, LLC; 5000 West Palm Beach Real Estate Development Group, LLC; St. Augustine Builders, LLC; St. Augustine Builders II, LLC; St. Augustine Development Group, LLC; Magnolia Estates, LLC Conch House Builders, LLC; Thomas E. Coghill Jr. Living Trust; THomas Coghill III Living Trust; Conch House Marina; Conch House Builders, LLC; West Palm Beach Developers, LLC; and NTT Investment Group, LLC.

The indictment to which COGHILL pled guilty said that he was involved in millions of dollars of realty transactions during this period, concealing them, while giving E-mail instructions to his business partners from the federal penitentiary.

Back when the Conch House deal was first disclosed, ROBERT MICHAEL GRAUBARD, et al. did not disclose the name of convicted felon bank fraudster THOMAS COGHILL, JR. as one of his partners. Will a federal grand jury now issue subpoenas for ROBERT MICHAEL GRAUBARD and partners? What do you reckon? And will the St. Augustine Record report the names of all the local companies over which COGHILL pled guilty to "exercis[ing] dominion and control?"

See prior blog posts, below:


On June 11, 2007, during a recess in a St. Augustine City Commission meeting, in a nearly-empty City Commission room, ROBERT MICHAEL GRAUBARD walked halfway across the room. City Commissioner SUSAN BURK walked across the room. He leaned over and kissed her. The two once dated. BURK has never recused herself from voting on GRAUBARD projects and investments.

No City Commmissioner ever answered my question at Commission meetings about any "agreements, understandings or relationships" with GRAUBARD.


GRAUBARD contributed to GARDNER's campaign last year and has contributed to other campaigns..

CITY COMMISSIONERS forgave a $15,000 tree-killing fine against GRAUBARD without good reason and without allowing citizens to be heard.

Want to build condos and a strip mall on top of a 3000-4000 Indian village with raised mounds signifying what the University of Florida considers significant human history at RED HOUSE BLUFF on RED HOUSE BRANCH? No problem. ST. AUGUSTINE CITY COMMISSIONERS approved 3-2 a GRAUBARD project (his Planned Unit Development or PUD has thankfully expired).

Want to clear-cut trees in support of other speculative developments? No problem, Our incurious pror County Commissioners allowed it to happen.

Now it can be told -- reform County Commission Chair Ben Rich was right -- the speculators were worse than the worst carpetbagger. ROBERT MICHAEL GRAUBARD is a landraping scalawag now caught in a web of his own lies.

GRAUBARD's kind of "government relations" require Federal Grand Jury subpoenas.

posted by Ed Slavin @ 5:40 AM 0 comments

Conch House fights foreclosure -- SPECULATOR ROBERT MICHAEL GRAUBARD SUED FOR FRAUDULENT SCHEME -- Case Pending Before Circuit Court

Conch House fights foreclosure
200-slip marina, restaurant, motel, homes, retail area part of dispute

Publication Date: 07/28/07

The family of David M. Ponce Jr., which has owned Conch House Marina Resort at 57 Comares Ave. since 1946, is now fighting a lawsuit by a New York bank to foreclose on that property.

Circuit Court Judge J. Michael Traynor issued an order late Friday denying Ponce attorney Jason B. Burnett's motion to dismiss the case outright. The judge said Burnett, or Gray Robinson, Jacksonville, had failed to create a basis on which to dismiss.

The foreclosure lawsuit initially was filed by Intervest National Bank of New York, which in 2006 loaned five real estate investors -- four St. Johns County residents and a Virginia man -- $17 million for six months to buy the Conch House and adjacent property.

On the table are a 200-slip marina, 17-room motel, three single-family homes across Comares, a restaurant, dockside tiki bar, Salt Run Tavern on Anastasia Boulevard, the antiques store on Comares and Anastasia Boulevard and an empty lot on Comares.

Documents at St. Johns County Courthouse show that the total selling price was $27 million.

At the time, Ponce said 2005 had been good for business.

"Even with all the storms, it was the best year we ever had," he said. "But it's time to move on and enjoy myself. All I've ever done is work."

The five investors, doing business under the name Conch House Builders LLC, consisted of local businessmen Robert M. Graubard of St. Augustine, C. Kelly Smith of Vilano Beach, Jay Culberth of Interstate Hotels and Resorts, Paul Braugart whose address is unknown and Thomas E. Coghill Jr., convicted in federal court of bank and wire fraud in Virginia.

An August 2005 story in The Hook, a Charlottesville, Va., news magazine, said Coghill, now 47, faced 35 years in prison and a $1.25 million fine. He was charged with defrauding merchants, banks and mortgage companies of about $3 million. One of Coghill's victims called him "a silver-tongued devil."

The Ponce family's suit claimed that Robert Graubard, the managing partner of Conch House Builders, negotiated a $17 million loan to buy the property, but that the loan was closed without their knowledge and before the property was transferred to the consortium's control.

They called it a "fraudulent scheme" by Graubard.

Graubard did not return phone calls about this lawsuit. Culbreath, Smith and Braugard could not be located.

Coghill broke his probation in 2006 by master-minding four new land deals in Florida, so he is now serving his 33 month sentence in prison, according to The Hook.

The Conch House Builders told the Ponces that they didn't have enough money to pay the entire $27 million, so they asked the family if they could help finance the acquisition by agreeing to become an investor themselves. For that, they would be paid $10 million in cash and be bought out over time.

The Ponces say that money was never paid. They also did not return phone calls.

Still unknown is who has the $17 million paid by Intervest National Bank.

Payments were made on the loan, bringing its principle down to $16.3 million.

But the last payment was made in February this year.

In their defense, the Ponces claim that the bank charged $3 million as collateral for the loan and charged high interest rates, and that the members of Conch House Builders and the bank "knew or should have known" of Coghill's felony record.

The suit also implied collusion, saying, "These individuals have business relationships in other real estate development projects."

They say the investors did not tell them there would be a third-party financing the deal. "The loan was not commercially reasonable," the Ponce's suit said.

The family is still running the Conch House for now.

In January 2006, when he announced the sale to the world, he said prophetically, "I'm sure it will be a shocker and one of the biggest land deals anyone has ever seen in St. Augustine."

Vilano Beach project revived?

St. Augustine Record
Plans revived for Vilano Beach Town Center
This time, funding is not the issue; getting the tenants is.


The proposal for a town center in Vilano Beach is back, a couple of years after a bigger plan died, the victim of the sour economy.

The new plan calls for a grocery store and two small buildings for retail space. The town center will be south of the east end of the Usina Bridge, the same location of the original proposal.

"For our community it's the right time because the streetscape -- water, sewer, drainage, all the infrastructure -- was finished in October 2008," said Vivian Browning, chair of the Vilano Beach Main Street group and the long-time leader of revitalizing Vilano Beach. The streetscape was a $12 million project funded by St. Johns County.

The developer of the project, Vilano Beach Town Center Partners LLC, said through a spokesman that the new plan calls for a 29,160-square-foot grocery store and about 14,000 square feet of retail space in two buildings.

"There's a definite need for this small commercial development," said company spokesman Bob Bentz. "And we have tremendous support from the community. We think it will be a successful retail center."

Bentz said funding, which killed the earlier proposal, is no longer an issue.

"Funding isn't the problem, it's getting the tenants," he said. "Funding is tied to the tenants. As long as we have the tenants," the project will be funded, he said.

Bentz didn't foresee any problems filling the spaces, though.

"We've had a number of phone calls and a lot of interest," he said.

The developer is in talks with a grocery store chain, but won't say which one, Bentz said.

"We hope to know in the next six weeks whether the grocery store is going to come in or not, or who it will be," he said.

It's hard to say whether Publix, Winn Dixie or Food Lion are interested in a store smaller than most of what they have now.

Publix regional spokesman Dwaine Stevens said the chain was interested in the Vilano Beach site a couple of years ago, before the real estate bust sunk financing for the project.

"When the developer's financing doesn't go through, the deal doesn't go through," he said.

He declined to comment on whether the chain is revisiting plans to locate a Publix in Vilano Beach.

Christy Phillips-Brown, Food Lion external communications director, also said she couldn't comment on possible future locations. A spokesman for Winn Dixie could not be reached for comment.

As the developers negotiate to get a grocery chain contract, changes nearby are improving the look of the neighborhood. On Thursday, construction crews demolished a mobile home park, long an eyesore on the streetscape. Browning said that change, along with the new streetscape and the pavilion, is an indicator of more improvements to come.

How it will look

Architecture in Vilano Beach differs from downtown St. Augustine because the community sprang up centuries later. Buildings on this peninsula, bordered by water to the east, south and west and Ponte Vedra Beach to the north, do not generally reflect the Mediterranean Revival or Spanish Colonial styles.

Instead, they are a variegated collection of Art Deco, mid-century modern and Florida vernacular styles.

The retail center would reflect those influences, said Bob Bentz, a spokesman for Vilano Beach Town Center Partners, LLC, the developer of the proposed town center.

"The community indicated they'd like to see a blending of the art deco style as well as the Florida vernacular," Bentz said.

To that end, the grocery store would have an art deco look, and the smaller buildings housing six to nine more tenants would be fashioned after the Florida vernacular style.

The smallest tenant space would span 1,000 square feet, and there would likely be a 3,000- to 5,000-square-foot space to accommodate a restaurant.

"There will also be outdoor patio and dining," Bentz said.

The abandoned buildings on the property would be demolished, he said, as would the current buildings now housing a surf store and a dry cleaner.

The majority, though, is just vacant land.

"Vilano Beach is a very unique location," Bentz said. "We're very excited about the project."

The way it was

The Vilano Beach area, a peninsula surrounded on three sides by water and bordered to the north by Ponte Vedra Beach, doesn't look the way it did 10 or 15 years ago.

Then, a wooden bridge funneled traffic over from the mainland and there wasn't a unified feeling. Since then, the streetscape has been revitalized and accented with recycled glass for a more "art deco" feel.

The bridge where seagulls used to roost is now a pier jutting out over the water and features modern accents.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

St. Petersburg Times: Democrats: McCollum's role in RPOF tainted, special prosecutor needed

February 18, 2010
Democrats: McCollum's role in RPOF tainted, special prosecutor needed

Given Attorney General Bill McCollum's close ties to the GOP controversy, Democrats are now calling on Gov. Charlie Crist to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate the secret contracts and accusations of misused money.

"Exactly what did Bill McCollum know about Jim Greer's secret sweet-heart deal to leave this job and precisely when didn't McCollum know it?" asked Democratic Party Chairman Karen Thurman in statement.

Thurman suggests McCollum has a conflict of interest that questions his "motivation not to investigator or get all the facts out on the table. Only an independent investigation by a special prosecutor can legitimately determine if crimes were committed by Republican politicians and officials."

Greer's term as head of the Republican Party of Florida officially ends Saturday when party activists will select a new chairman. But questions about party spending and contracts persist.

See full release below.

Thurman: McCollum’s Role in GOP Scandal Necessitates Independent Investigation

Florida Democrats Demand Crist Appoint Special Prosecutor To Investigate Republican Corruption

Today, Florida Democratic Party Chair Karen Thurman demanded that Governor Charlie Crist use his authority to start an independent investigation into the Republican Party of Florida’s alleged corruption by appointing a Special Prosecutor, as new information that has come to light raises questions about Attorney General Bill McCollum’s potential prior knowledge of corruption at the state GOP and his conflicts of interest in this case.

“Exactly what did Bill McCollum know about Jim Greer’s secret sweet-heart deal to leave his job and precisely when did McCollum know it?” asked Thurman. “Since McCollum’s conflicts of interest serve to question McCollum’s motivation not to investigate or get all the facts out on the table, only an independent investigation by a Special Prosecutor can legitimately determine if crimes were committed by Republican politicians and party officials. McCollum’s central role in the timeline of the case, and his refusal to take action, taint the integrity of this potential investigation. At this time, only an independent review will carry any merit. This is the only way to ensure Floridians have justice and officials are held accountable for their actions.”

Addressing Governor Crist directly, Thurman added, “Governor Crist, the ball is in your court. Please don’t repeat the mistake you made when you refused to order an investigation into disgraced Speaker Ray Sansom. On behalf of all Floridians, I ask you today to do your duty and appoint a Special Prosecutor.”

New accounts in the press over the last two days illustrate a ‘back-and-forth’ on whether there was a secret severance package deal finalized for the outgoing chair of the Republican Party of Florida. News accounts suggest Bill McCollum had some, yet to be detailed, knowledge of the alleged corruption at the Republican Party. Since McCollum chose to not make public the financial and other questionable practices of the state party, his ability to fulfill his responsibility as Attorney General and hold an investigation has become highly questionable.

While Attorney General Bill McCollum refused to call for a larger investigation, the controversy grew and members have had time to possibly try and cover up possible wrongdoing. The truth will not be known without an investigation independent of McCollum.


“Back And Forth Over Whether” Outgoing RPOF Chair Got “A Secret Deal” Continued Yesterday. The St. Petersburg Times reported that “the back-and-forth continues over whether the outgoing chairman of the Republican Party of Florida, Jim Greer, cut a secret deal to get severance and legal protections.” [St. Petersburg Times. 02/18/10]

RPOF Officials Acknowledged There Were Negotiations To Pay Greer A Secret Deal As Severance—But Insist The Deal Was Never Executed. Yesterday , RPOF officials acknowledged “that there were negotiations to continue paying Greer his yearly $130,000 salary and other benefits as severance. But they said the agreement was never formally ‘executed.’ Greer's ouster was precipitated by lavish spending, subpar fundraising and a grassroots rebellion.” The Sentinel reported, “the existence of a secret severance deal agreed to by Thrasher could damage his candidacy”. [Orlando Sentinel, 02/17/10]

Outgoing RPOF Vice-Chairman Insist The Deal Was “Sanctioned” And “An Agreement Was Formed, And Exists”. According to outgoing Vice-Chairman Allen Cox, “Greer critics … sanctioned a severance package that would pay Greer his $130,000 salary, health coverage and other perks in exchange for leaving with 11 months to go in his term”. In a letter, Cox stated, “I believe that an agreement was formed, and exists, and the truth will be revealed when Greer seeks its enforcement.” [Orlando Sentinel, 02/17/10 and St. Petersburg Times. 02/18/10]


--McCollum’s Office Admitted To Being “Aware” of Severance Negotiations But Denied Knowing “Any Specific Details”. According to the Sun-Sentinel, on February 8, 2010, a campaign spokeswoman for McCollum said, “ ’We were aware of [severance] negotiations taking place as Chairman Greer announced his resignation. We were unaware of any specific details.’ ” The severance package in question was reported to be $130,000, roughly Greer’s annual salary, along with health insurance coverage. [Sun-Sentinel, 2/8/10]

--McCollum Was Central To Ouster Of Greer And Johnson, Has Tried To Keep The Matter In The Dark. On January 9, “McCollum was given a copy of the two-page contract at the GOP’s annual meeting in Orlando…He immediately told Cannon and Haridopolos about it…” and, “They stormed over to GOP headquarters, and Greer and Johnson vacated the office soon after.” The Orlando Sentinel reported on February 12, that McCollum, “was a driving force in ousting former chairman Jim Greer and Executive Director Delmar Johnson.” “Attorney General Bill McCollum…has been deeply involved in the controversy, while trying to keep it quiet.” [Orlando Sentinel, 2/9/10; St. Petersburg Times, 2/9/10; Orlando Sentinel, 2/12/10]

Senator Bill Nelson: 450th presents opportunity for St. Augustine "to show her off"


U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Florida, said Monday the Republicans in Congress are abusing the filibuster process and prevented normal business from being completed by their blanket opposition to whatever the Obama Administration proposes.

"That's ground the Senate to a halt," Nelson said. "The (Senate) Majority Leader has several times had to cut off debate. We are going to have to figure out how we're going to work together."

Nelson, 68, spoke to St. Augustine and St. Augustine Beach city commissioners, St. Johns County staffers and other political contacts and emissaries -- including notables such as former Florida Congressman Don Fuqua, and former state Senator and Secretary of State Bruce Smathers -- at the historic Markland House on Flagler College's grounds.

St. Augustine Mayor Joe Boles, a friend of Nelson, said the senator is "a true son of Florida, since his family settled here in 1829, though that's not long in St. Augustine time."

Nelson is a fifth-generation Floridian, Boles said, who has served 38 years in Florida politics as a state senator, congressman, cabinet member and senator.

One of the highlights of Nelson's service was spending six days in space on the Space Shuttle Columbia.

"He's pretty well thought of and pretty well balanced," Boles said. "He's been carrying water for the people of Florida for more than three decades."

The 450th

Nelson said he was excited about the coming 500th birthday celebration of the Florida's discovery in 2013 and St. Augustine's 450th birthday celebration in 2015.

"We're going to appoint a great 14-member (national commemoration) board," he said. "It will be similar to the board created for Jamestown. I've asked Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar, an eighth-generation Mexican American, to carefully make the selection of the people on the commission." Nelson said he couldn't promise, but a good kickoff to the celebration would be to have Salazar in St. Augustine to make the announcement of who was chosen.

"We have 42 years on Jamestown. (To the Spanish), St. Augustine was the undisputed jewel in America. The city was not noticed for a long time but now is beginning to be noticed. (With the birthday celebration coming) we have an opportunity to really show her off."

In space

Nelson said his six days as a payload specialist on the Space Shuttle Columbia's STS-61-C mission from January 12 to Jan. 18, 1986, deeply affected his world view.

"Space is nothing," he said. "When I looked out the window and saw the Earth, I realized 'There is life, suspended in nothing.' It's so beautiful, but looks so fragile."

According to Nelson's on-line biography, he went through NASA training with Senator Jake Garn of Utah.

He described his trying to fly like Superman in the weightless atmosphere, but he pushed off too hard and crashed into an opposite wall. He also spoke about how he talked NASA into allowing a grapefruit aboard the shuttle, about how space food is mixed in a bag and eaten, and about the International Space Station's future if a U.S. plan to commercialize future booster rockets fails.

Ten days after his return, on Jan. 28, 1986, the Space Shuttle Challenger exploded shortly after lift-off.

Nelson praised Fuqua, whom he called "Mr. Space," for his work in making the space program a success.

The carrier

Nelson announced Monday in Jacksonville that, in his letter to the Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus, he will urge the Navy to "identify the nuclear carrier it intends to relocate to Naval Station Mayport."

At Flagler College on Monday, Nelson said the carrier being home ported in Northeast Florida will be one of five.

Congress has already appropriated $70 million for what he calls "long-lead items," such as dredging the harbor to 55 feet deep, but another $430 million is needed over four years to build nuclear facilities on land that go along with a carrier.

He said, "The decision (to move a carrier here) is a done deal. Unfortunately, the Virginia delegation said it will fight us every step of the way."

Specifying which carrier will be transferred is "helpful" as Congress considers defense spending for the next several years, his letter said.

"Spreading the fleet between two ports on the East Coast is a good idea," Nelson said. "The West Coast has five ports that share (those duties)."

Beach renourishment

The senator was asked what a St. Johns County lawsuit against the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to stop beach renourishment will do to the already funded plan by the Corps to study why the beaches here lose sand.

"The lawsuit says that the Corps of Engineers is taking sand from a shoal just offshore, which the homeowner says causes more erosion of his property," Nelson said.

He said the issue would be decided in the courts.

"Florida's got more coastline than any other state in the union except Alaska, and Alaska doesn't have a lot of beaches," he said. "It has double the coastline of California.

The census

Nelson was asked by Crescent Beach resident Marilyn Wiles to say something about the importance of the 2010 census.

He said Florida could gain one or two new congressmen and if so will get more federal grants, which are often based on population.

The extra congressmen mean that Florida would then get two more Electoral College votes to a total of 27.

"You can see that the importance of Florida would increase in electing any president," he said.

Bill Nelson facts

Name: Clarence William "Bill" Nelson

Born: Miami, only child of Nannie Merle Nelson and Clarence Nelson.

Grew up: Melbourne, attended Melbourne High School.

College: University of Florida then Yale University. Received Bachelor of Arts in 1965.

Law school: University of Virginia, 1968.

Military: U.S. Army Reserve, 1965. Served 1968 to 1970. Highest rank: Captain.

Florida Bar: 1968, practiced in Melbourne in 1970.

Politics: Legislative assistant to Gov. Reubin Askew in 1971.

Married: Grace Cavert in 1972. Two adult children: Bill Nelson, Jr., and Nan Ellen Nelson.

Home: Baldwin Park, Orlando.

Politics: Florida House of Representatives, 1972, re-elected in 1974 and 1976; U.S. House of Representatives, 1978, served 1979 to 1991; unsuccessful run for governor 1990; state Treasurer and Insurance Commissioner 1994 and 1998, elected U,S, senator 2000

Marlene Kennedy's One in 13,000 blog: It's déjà vu all over again

Tuesday, February 16, 2010
It's déjà vu all over again
Years ago, I worked in a type- writer factory.

Yes, type- writers.

Not because it got me closer to journalism, but because the factory was one of the better-paying employers in town.

I was a college undergraduate, unhappy with my major and where I was headed. I was on a track to become a high school teacher, likely in social studies, but didn't want to be a teacher. I wanted to be a reporter, but couldn't afford to attend a school that offered journalism as a course of study.

So in answer to that conundrum, I quit going to classes and dropped out of college.

I'm not sure how I thought that would get me closer to journalism either, but it got me closer to the machines on which reporters then composed their stories.

In those days, you could walk into the Smith Corona typewriter factory, fill out some paperwork, pick up your safety glasses and be on the floor by the afternoon.

Like most factories, you made your money by piece work -- how much product you could produce during your shift. And if you were good, your pay was too.

I, unfortunately, was lousy at soldering the small metal components that were the typewriters' guts. An inspector would reject so many of my solders that I never made piece rate; I fled for the first retail job I could find. A few months later, I returned to college part-time, changed my major and took a journalism minor when one finally was offered.

But the factory experience stayed with me.

Foremost, it taught me I didn't have the temperament (or dexterity) for piece work. Later, it offered a fundamental lesson in business: adapt or die.

Smith Corona, which traced its roots to 1886, didn't anticipate the personal computer and other electronic office equipment. By the time it recognized the sea change, the company already was several product iterations behind. It filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in 1995, reorganized and re-emerged two years later, but never caught up. Another filing, in 2000, kept the name alive but not much else.

That sounds a lot like the newspaper industry today: Caught by surprise by the rapid adoption of everything digital, it's scrambling to survive -- cutting expenses (staff, editions, distribution) and frantically trying anything that might sustain readership and revenue.

"Our first priority," a Smith Corona executive told the New York Times at the time of the first bankruptcy filing, "is to stabilize our operations in the very short term while maintaining and building upon our longstanding relationships with key customers."

It's eerie how that could have been uttered just yesterday by almost any newspaper executive.

(Photo by me: the Smith Corona portable Deville Deluxe)

One in 13,000 Blog: Newspaper too thin? Why not sue.

Monday, February 15, 2010
Newspaper too thin? Why not sue.

Here's a novel way to get your point across if you think your local newspaper has suffered too many cutbacks: Take it to court.

Keith Hempstead, a lawyer in Durham, N.C., did that in 2008 when he sued The News & Observer, alleging the Raleigh daily had breached its contract with him as a subscriber when it cut staff and pages soon after he renewed.

He later dropped the suit, but not before making headlines for his approach, which he said all along was designed to get the attention of an industry relentlessly cinching its belt.

Indeed, the Pew Project for Excellence in Journalism that same year underscored his quality concerns in a study titled "The Changing Newsroom: What Is Being Gained and What Is Being Lost in America's Daily Newspapers."

Now a complaint about cutbacks and quality has surfaced again, this time brought in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Georgia by a pair of subscribers in the case of Morris Publishing Group LLC. The two sought to make their point by gaining standing in the Chapter 11 case, whose reorganization plan is headed toward expected approval this week.

But the pair, Judith Seraphin and Ed Slavin, was turned back when a judge ruled they could not intervene as subscribers, readers or third-party interests in the case. (See the decision here by typing Morris Publishing into the search box.)

Morris, publisher of 13 daily newspapers in the South and Midwest, filed for bankruptcy protection last month. At the time, one of its lawyers said he expected the case "will be one of the fastest newspaper reorganizations in U.S. history."

But Seraphin and Slavin, who describe themselves as "local community activists" and "longtime readers and subscribers" to Morris' St. Augustine Record in Florida, asked to be let into the case last week, at the deadline for objections to the reorganization plan.

According to court documents, the pair says they are "horrified" at a perceived drop in the quality and quantity of news in the paper. And since Morris foresees no change in operations under the reorganization plan, other than relief of long-standing debt related to acquisitions in the 1990s, they predict disaster: that its smaller papers will head into "a death spiral of declining interest in newspapers" due to inadequate resources to report the news.

The judge, however, ruled that only the bondholders affected by the rejiggering of debt in the Morris case should have a say in the reorganization. And he said the pair's claims of lost quality and quantity in the Morris papers aren't relevant to "the purpose of this Chapter 11 case, which is to give the debtors the breathing space necessary to accomplish their financial rehabilitation."

Late Friday, it was reported that Seraphin and Slavin asked the court to reconsider.

No matter the outcome, it's heartening to see subscribers like Hempstead, Seraphin and Slavin -- anyone other than affected journalists -- show interest in the industry and what the ever-continuing belt-tightening is doing to the country's newspapers.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Editor and Publisher Magazine: Activists Won’t Go Away In Morris Bankruptcy

By Mark Fitzgerald

Morris Publishing Group is supposed to emerge from its brief stay in Chapter 11 protection next Wednesday -- but two gadflies from St. Augustine, Fla., remain determined to derail the prepackaged reorganization.

“This is not just about dollars and cents. This is about our community here, and we’re not being served well by the St. Augustine Record,” Ed Slavin told Fitz & Jen late Friday. As we’ve reported, Slavin along with Judith Seraphin tried to get intervener status in the Morris bankruptcy, arguing that under Morris family ownership the quality of the chain’s newspapers has deteriorated to the point they no longer serve as the public’s eyes and ears on corruption and malfeasance.

Thursday, Judge John S. Dalis, who is presiding over the Morris case from U.S. Bankruptcy Court in the company’s hometown of Augusta, Ga., rejected their attempt. He ruled they had no standing to object to the Morris plan, which has the blessing of its principal creditors. They are not creditors, the judge said, and they haven’t asserted some reason they should be allowed to intervene.

So Friday, the pair were at it again, filing a motion to reconsider the denial.

“The court has a mandatory duty to protect the public interest in every bankruptcy, but nowhere more when newspapers protected by our First Amendment, are in decline and being run into the ground by the Debtors,” their motion states, referring to Morris.

A lot’s at stake in this particular BK, the motion asserts: “Our Constitution is in shreds if Debtors are permitted to escape from their debts and to change nothing and to do nothing to improve the quality of the newspaper in our Nation’s Oldest City.”

Seraphin is CEO of Global Wrap, which wraps buildings, mostly during construction, and Slavin is the company's CIO. Slavin blogs at Clean Up City of St. Augustine, Florida.