Billionaire South Florida energy tycoon Harry Sargeant III is off the hook for costs in a lawsuit he voluntarily withdrew from federal court after the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit found that a rule reserved for similar scenarios didn’t apply in this case.
Sargeant, a former U.S. Marine Corps officer and fighter pilot, is a major Republican Party donor and runs a network of global companies focused on aviation, oil and asphalt shipping. One of his companies, International Oil Trading Co., supplied aircraft fuel to the U.S. military during the Iraq War.
The underlying legal dispute began in February 2018, when Sargeant accused his brother, Daniel, and others of hacking into his email account and a computer server belonging to the family business. Sargeant’s complaint alleges hundreds of private files were taken from the Palm Beach County-based server.
Among them: sex tapes—or, “extremely sensitive videos and photographs of intimate activity and private consensual relations,” as the lawsuit describes them.
Sargeant alleged the defendants, as part of a smear campaign against him, also accessed information about his private business ventures, including testing of a new steam generator system that was in development.
One of the defendants, U.K. solicitor Daniel Hall, a director at legal services firm Burford Capital, and was investigating a “bitter, global feud” with Harry Sargeant for a client who allegedly sought to exploit a rift between the brothers, according to the lawsuit.
Hall moved to dismiss for failure to state a claim, prompting a report from a magistrate judge who recommended U.S. District Judge Beth Bloom grant the motion. But before the judge could decide, Sargeant ended the case himself by withdrawing the suit and refiling inPalm Beach Circuit Court.
Hall sought to recover costs from the first case under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure Rule 41(d), which says that if a plaintiff dismisses their complaint in one court, then brings the same claim in another, a judge can order them to pay all or some of the previous case’s costs. The judge can also halt the second case until the plaintiff complies.
Defendant Hall argued that rule should apply to him, but the district court disagreed.
That was the right call, according to the appellate panel, which analyzed the rule’s language and found its hands were tied because Sargeant had filed his second complaint in state court—not federal.
The panel also found Hall can only move for costs in the new case, even though there seems to be no remedy for him in Florida.
“We recognize that there may be situations where a plaintiff dismisses a federal action and refiles it in state court it in state court in a state lacking a procedural mechanism equivalent to Rule 41(d), leaving a defendant like Mr. Hall without a remedy for obtaining the costs of the previous action,” the opinion said. “But ‘[w]hatever merits th[is] and other policy arguments may have,’ we cannot ‘rewrite [Rule 41(d)] to accommodate them.’ ”
Sargeant came under scrutiny in October 2019 for meeting with two businessmen at an industry convention, sparking allegations that he helped shepherd contracts between Ukraine’s state-owned oil and gas companies to help allies of President Donald Trump obtain compromising material on former Vice President Joe Biden.
Sargeant has denied any involvement, and his attorney released a statement stressing that Sargeant has no ties to Ukraine.
This was a case of first impression for the appellate panel, which conceded there was little case law to go from.
“It does not appear that any other circuit has tackled this question, and the handful of district courts that have reviewed the issue have reached different conclusions,” the opinion said. “but the two district courts that awarded costs where the second action was filed in state court did not conduct a textual analysis.”
The two courts that have analyzed Rule 41(d) ruled the same way, according to the opinion.
Harry Sargeant’s attorneys, Christopher Kise, Joshua Hawkes, Melissa Coffey, Ramon Abadin and Gregory Coleman of Foley & Lardner’s Tallahassee, Coral Gables and West Palm Beach offices, did not respond to a request for comment by deadline.
Counsel to Hall, Andrew Goldsmith and Derek Ho of Kellogg Hansen Todd Figel & Frederick in Washington, D.C., and Armando Cordoves and Samuel Danon of Hunton Andrews Kurth in Miami also did not respond.
Eleventh Circuit Judge Adalberto Jordan wrote the ruling, backed by Judge Jill Pryor and Chief U.S. District Judge L. Scott Coogler, sitting by designation.
A Florida Man was arrested yesterday on a felony battery charge after allegedly dumping a bucket of cow manure over the head of a victim, police report.
According to a complaint affidavit, Jose Ramirez-Callejas, 47, attacked the victim at a dairy farm in Crystal Springs, a community about 30 miles north of Tampa. The complaint does not indicate whether Ramirez-Callejas or the victim work at Spoto’s Palm River Dairy.
Investigators allege that Ramirez-Callejas “scooped the cow manure into the bucket and dumped it over the victim’s head” early Wednesday afternoon.
Ramirez-Callejas, who is listed as a transient in the complaint, was booked into the Pasco County jail.
Ramirez-Callejas’s rap sheet includes convictions for battery, aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, and probation violation. He was arrested in mid-November for allegedly threatening a man with a rifle, but prosecutors declined to pursue the case. (1 page)
Probation officers in the state’s 13th Judicial Circuit file thousands of violations, and they’re heard by a judge known for his harsh, punitive style.
On Jan. 9, Mia Davis, a 36-year-old Black woman from Tampa, stood in the courtroom of Nick Nazaretian, a judge in Florida’s 13th Judicial Circuit. Her husband Ray sat in the gallery of the Division K courtroom, ready to testify on her behalf. Mia (pronounced Maya) violated the terms of her probation stemming from a February 2019 arrest for battery domestic violence against Ray. Her public defender explained that Mia missed an Oct. 27 appointment with her probation officers because she had been hospitalized during a mental health crisis. “I can only remember that I woke up at the psych ward at Northside [Hospital],” Mia told Nazaretian. “I don’t know how I got there. I believe my husband is the one who placed me there.”
It was Mia’s first probation violation, but a warrant was issued for her arrest. On Nov. 1, police showed up at her home and took her to the Hillsborough County jail, where she was held for two months. Mia, wearing the jail’s orange jumpsuit and with handcuffs chained to her wrists, ticked off a list of her medications from memory: Risperdal, Benadryl, Depakote, BuSpar, Celexa. Ray acknowledged to Nazaretian that Mia had a criminal record that included aggravated assault, resisting police, possessing a weapon, and “throwing a deadly missile”—which Ray later explained was a brick. In Florida, “throwing a deadly missile” is a second-degree felony punishable by up to 15 years in prison, but what constitutes a “deadly missile” has no precise definition in state law. In 1984, an appellate judge in Florida’s Second District ruled that a grapefruit was a missile in the case of a man who threw the fruit at a tanker truck.
Ray told Nazaretian that Mia’s violent incidents occurred when she could not afford her medication. A retired military veteran, Ray told The Appeal that he does not qualify for Veterans Affairs’ Permanent and Total disability benefits, so he and Mia do not have health insurance. Without insurance, Mia’s antipsychotics cost $395 per refill. Ray also explained to the judge that the February 2019 battery domestic assault that initially put her on probation stemmed from a mental health crisis. “When she don’t get on her medication, she hallucinates—starts hearing stuff. Seeing stuff,” Ray told The Appeal. He said Mia wrapped her legs around his torso and beat him over the head. “It sent me to the hospital,” Ray said. “I don’t have the right to lay a hand on a woman, but I do have the right to defend myself, so instead of me doing something, I called the police.”
Mia was arrested that day. In July, Mia pleaded guilty to charges of battery and domestic violence stemming from the February incident and placed on three years of probation. This meant reporting monthly to a probation officer, performing community service, and completing anger management training.
At the hearing, Ray, who stands at over six feet tall, bent over the microphone to tell the judge that even though he called the police on Mia, he wanted her probation reinstated—not jail. “She’s a different person without her medication,” he said.
“So you’re basing her criminal history, not only in this aspect, but on previous aspects, on lack of medication?” Nazaretian asked Ray.
“I really do believe—” Ray began, before the judge cut him off.
“All right, just wanting to make sure what your viewpoint is. What’s next? What else do you want to tell me?”
Mia’s probation officer spoke up. “I just have one comment,” she said, leaning into the microphone. “I’m not a medical licensed provider or anything like that, but if Ms. Davis is having the problems that she is having, then maybe she needs to seek some kind of inpatient long-term mental health care, as opposed to probation.”
Moments later, prosecutors from the state attorney’s office for the 13th Judicial Circuit declined to recommend a sentence for Mia, instead deferring the decision to Nazaretian. Mia’s public defender cut in quickly before the judge could make a determination: “Again, I’ll request the same thing I requested yesterday, that the jail anger-management program is a solution, without a prison sentence.”
“I appreciate that, but I have to consider the whole ball of wax here,” Nazaretian said. He turned and addressed Mia. He told her that she was clearly a different person than what her criminal record suggested. He acknowledged that “sometimes in the street you become a different person, probably because of mental health issues.” But he said he also had to consider the safety of the residents of Hillsborough County and the state of Florida.
“And considering that, you’ll be sentenced according to the guidelines, which is 24.9 months in Florida state prison,” Nazaretian said. “Once that is over, hopefully you can live your life and be crime free. Have a good day.” The judge banged his gavel.
To Ray, the outcome was devastating. “[Nazaretian] said, ‘Well, I got to lock her up to keep society safe.’ Those were his words. I don’t think it’s safer. I think they didn’t address the problem—because now [she’s] sent to prison. She still has the same problem she has. Now she’s punished for it, but it’s not being addressed. … I just wanted to see her get some help.”
The judge “considered that to be a trial,” Ray said. “But I consider that to be a butchering.”
Mia’s probation hearing in Judge Nazaretian’s courtroom lasted 40 minutes, an eternity compared to other hearings where a determination is made in a matter of minutes. Like many probation courts nationwide, probation court in Hillsborough County—which has nearly 1.5 million residents with Tampa as its largest city—moves so quickly because people are encouraged by their attorneys to waive their right to a hearing. Here, the standard is not a presumption of innocence but the much lower threshold of “preponderance of evidence.” “What this means is, if the judge thinks you did it, you’re done,” Dirk Weed, a defense attorney in Tampa who takes probation violation cases almost daily, told The Appeal. “That’s it. He doesn’t have to justify why he did, as long as there is a possibility that there’s a reason that you violated.”
According to Cecelia Klingele, an associate professor at the University of Wisconsin Law School who focuses on probation revocation, the lower standard comes from the idea that probation is a privilege because it is an alternative to custody. Indeed, Nazaretian has described his decisions as “gifts.” “That was a gift from me to you,” he told one person. “It may not seem like that, but how I operate, it was a gift.”
“Often we talk about probation as an alternative to a sanction,” Klingele told The Appeal. “But it is a sanction. And so it becomes the default noncustodial option—if you don’t go to jail, you’re always going to get probation. And we send people into probation who do not need to be on probation at all.” Because probation is viewed as a lesser punishment, she said, it’s easy to underestimate just how punitive it actually is. “You have this contingent liability hanging over [you]. All minor infractions, including noncriminal, can snowball into revocation.”
In other circuits in Florida, any new probation violation, whether technical or from a new felony, puts people back in front of the judge who initially tried them. But in the 13th Judicial Circuit, technical—generally noncriminal—violation cases are heard only by one judge: Nazaretian, who takes cases Monday through Thursday from 9 a.m. until around 4 p.m. “He’s a character to a certain extent,” Weed said.
The Appeal watched Nazaretian hear cases from Jan. 6 to Jan. 9. In that time, the judge asked a defendant if “they had a brain” and if he “had any common sense at all in any way, shape, or form.” He brought a woman to tears by musing that she seemed “loaded,” and then threatened to drug test her on the spot, despite her having tested clean during her probationary period. He accused another person of dishonoring his dead mother. He warned someone else who said he had a job in North Tampa, an area with high levels of poverty, to watch out because “you never know who’s around that area.” He told several men that they wouldn’t do well in prison because of their small size. After he asked one man about his weight—“What are you, a buck-fifty?”—and laughed at his response. “He’s done up there,” he told another.
Nazaretian interrupts people appearing before him and says that their stories of life struggles “aren’t going to fly” in his court. He calls them “sneaky sneaks”; incarcerated people who don’t participate in classes are dubbed “TV-watchers.” He corrects grammar and tells people that if he sees them again, they’ll have to “pack their bags” for prison. In an aside directed to the gallery, he said that a man may have broken curfew because he was “trying to get laid.” Nazaretian sometimes demands that defendants write a three-page report on Lake Butler, a small town two and a half hours north of Tampa that is home to a state prison known for its deadly violence. “Beautiful Lake Butler,” he says, raising his eyebrows suggestively. “Know what that is?” When the defendant shakes his head, he chuckles. “Well, you’ll learn all about it.”
Weed said that although “it’s good to have a judge that scares the life out of you,” it’s not always the most effective way to prevent someone from staying out of the criminal legal system. He says some of his clients are so terrified of Nazaretian that they avoid going to court, even when issued a summons. “And then what happens? He’s very difficult on absconders,” Weed said. “So it almost becomes a circle to a certain extent.”
“Based on judicial ethics rules, judges are severely restricted from commenting on matters that are pending with the court,” Mike Moore, the circuit’s public information officer wrote when asked for comment. “However, he [Nazaretian] strongly believes that the Thirteenth Judicial Circuit’s Violation of Probation (VOP) Division provides a meaningful, sometimes therapeutic, resolution to many probation violations.”
In Florida, judges have the discretion to deny issuing a warrant even when alerted to a probation violation. They are also empowered by state law to depart from even the lowest possible sentence if circumstances permit. Still, the state has a long history of punitive probation policy. In 2003, the state Department of Corrections imposed a “zero tolerance” policy, in which every violation, no matter how small, had to be reported to a judge along with a warrant issued for the violator’s arrest. Though the policy was found to overburden courts and was rescinded in 2008, vestiges of it remain. During the proceedings observed in Nazaretian’s court in early January, many people were there simply because they had missed an appointment for a work conflict, one of the minor violations that the rescindment was meant to eliminate. Weed said probation officers in the 13th Circuit still hew to the zero-tolerance policy in spite of its retraction.
Indeed, according to Florida Department of Corrections data, in the last fiscal year alone, probation officers in the 13th Circuit filed 7,969 violations. Although there are four judicial circuits in Florida with higher populations than the 13th, including the 11th (Miami-Dade County), 17th (Broward County), Ninth (Orange and Osceola counties), and Sixth (Pinellas and Pasco counties), the 13th led them all in the number of probation violations, often by substantial margins. Although the 13th presides over 1.3 million fewer people than the 11th, it puts five times as many people into prison for technical violations. With Florida having the 14th-highest incarceration rate and the third-largest prison population in the country, the 13th Circuit disproportionately feeds one of the most incarcerated states in the U.S.
Of Hillsborough’s 7,969 violations, 69 percent did not allege the commission of any new criminal offense. Despite the lack of a new offense, 40 percent of these technical violations resulted in jail or prison time. In addition, according to Florida’s Office of Economic and Demographic Research, imprisonment rates for technical violations statewide fell from 33.7 percent in the 2014-15 fiscal year to 31.9 percent in the 2018-19 fiscal year. The 13th Circuit’s imprisonment rate for such violations remains well above the state average.
According to Kelly Mitchell, executive director of the the University of Minnesota’s Robina Institute of Criminal Law and Criminal Justice, this probation to prison pipeline is partly due to the myriad conditions imposed on people, often with no relation to the reason the person is under supervision. “When conditions are imposed en masse and without being individualized to the needs of the person, they serve as trip wires, and can easily result in probation revocations,” she said. “This is a hidden population. You can’t tell by looking at someone that they are serving time on a probation sentence. But the collateral consequences that these individuals face—difficulty in obtaining employment, housing, access to education—are staggering. People entangled in the criminal justice system are facing other issues—all sorts of other untreated health needs that make it really hard to abide by even a few of the things we’re asking. Too often we think more is better and longer is better when it comes to length instead of stepping back and thinking: what is the big-picture goal?”
On Jan. 31, Mia was sent to the Florida Women’s Reception Center in Ocala, a prison about two hours north of Tampa that has a significant population of women entering the state Department of Corrections. She will most likely be transferred elsewhere to serve the remainder of her sentence. Because of the transient nature of its population, healthcare at the Florida Women’s Reception Center is notoriously poor. In 2015, the state’s Correctional Medical Authority audited the facility and found life-threatening conditions. In a Sept. 22, 2015, email, the Correctional Medical Authority’s executive director wrote that conditions there “require emergency notification” and “immediate attention” from the Department of Corrections.
Because Ray is still in the process of obtaining approval to receive telephone calls from Mia, he communicates with her through letters. He received her first letter recently. “She said she missed me,” he told The Appeal. “She drew a big old heart in the middle of it.” Ray doesn’t know if Mia is getting her medication, only that he was promised that her medical files would be sent with her. “She’s depressed.”
Ray still thinks about Nazaretian’s treatment of Mia in court. He had been waiting for her hearing in the gallery all morning, and he’d noticed the way the judge treated defendants. It made him suspect that Mia wouldn’t be treated any better. “Just because you’re educated … not everybody’s on the same level,” he said. “I can understand what he’s saying, sometimes, but maybe if he was in another setting—but the belittling part. You don’t have to do that.”
After eight years in an abusive marriage, Lisa LeBel got a job at the Ocala, Fl., Domestic Violence/Sexual Assault Center. After two years, she saw the side of domestic violence centers in Florida that was “so shady and disgusting that I had to leave,” reports the Miami Herald. Her position was funded by the federal Victims of Crime Act. LeBel had many grievances about the center, like women donating designer handbags for victims on Mother’s Day while her bosses kept the “nice ones” for themselves. An organization offering to donate turkeys for Thanksgiving was asked for cash instead. She complained to the Florida Coalition Against Domestic Violence, which has come under fire because its chief executive officer, Tiffany Carr, was paid $7.5 million over three years.
Complaints from dozens of former domestic violence staffers show a pattern of missing oversight and a lack of funding for employees and programs meant to serve survivors and their children statewide. The coalition manages $52 million in state and federal funds for 42 centers that serve as emergency shelters for victims of domestic abuse. While Carr and her friends who served the coalition enjoyed massive compensation packages and trips to her home in North Carolina, the centers suffered from little oversight. Not only did some lack the funding and resources to keep women and children safe, they also faced mismanagement. Complaints showed unsafe conditions, dirty facilities, and a culture that encouraged staff to fib on time cards and pilfer donations meant for domestic violence survivors. At one center, monitors found open packages of raw meat, rotting produce, dirty and sticky floors, large patches of black dirt on furniture and broken doors and gates.
A 14-year-old Florida Girl walked up to a man dressed up as Donald Trump and punched him in the jaw as her friends recorded the attack, police say.
The victim and two family members were waiting in line Friday evening outside the Naples Haunted Gross House at the Collier County fairgrounds when he was slugged by the teenage assailant, according to a police report.
After punching the man, the girl returned to her place in line with several other minors, at least one of whom recorded the attack and posted video to Instagram.
In a written statement, the victim told cops that, “I walked over to the girl and asked her why she had hit me. I told her I was with my family here to have a good time.” The man said he contacted a fairgrounds worker who then summoned police.
Cops, who noted that the teenager’s “sole motivation was to strike ‘Trump,’” cited the girl for misdemeanor battery.
The girl, whose name was redacted from an incident report released by the Collier County Sheriff’s Office, has been barred from returning to the fairgrounds.
With no remaining options, Lazaro Rodriguez could only beg Miami-Dade County Judge Andrew Hague for mercy. But his pleas were in vain. Hague was yelling at him now — in English, a language Rodriguez barely understood. With no one in the room to translate Hague’s words into Spanish, Rodriguez — a tall, burly man with a head of curly hair and, at the time, a long powder-white beard — appealed for help.
“Please,” Rodriguez begged Hague, according to a transcript of the hearing that day. “Please.”
But Hague wasn’t having it. Frustrated after a contentious morning trial where absolutely nothing had gone smoothly, the judge raised his voice, declared Rodriguez guilty, and demanded he write a letter apologizing to the cops who’d arrested him December 17, 2015, for, allegedly, refusing to obey their commands during a simple traffic stop. Humiliated, Rodriguez began to choke up.
“Mr. Rodriguez, this is how this whole thing happened,” the judge bellowed. “You have a temper, and you sit there and did not want to listen to what the officers wanted to say. The letter of apology is what’s getting you tearful?”
“No,” Rodriguez replied. “You don’t know the truth. That’s what hurts.”
One Pinellas County man’s love for “Frozen” ventured into the extreme.
Cody Meader, 20, was hit with a criminal mischief charge after allegedly getting a little too friendly with a “Frozen” stuffed toy.
Meader strolled into a Pinellas Park Target on Tuesday afternoon, authorities said. With lust in his eyes, he headed straight toward a display of Disney Frozen merchandise. The St. Petersburg resident surveyed his options before selecting a large stuffed Olaf the snowman.
That’s when the unthinkable happened.
“[Meader] then proceeded to lay it on the floor and ‘dry hump’ the item,” the arrest affidavit says.
The defilement of the animated character didn’t stop there.
“He ejaculated onto the merchandise before placing it back on display,” the affidavit continued.
But Meader wasn’t done yet. Deputies say he picked out another stuffed animal, this time a unicorn, and repeated the process.
Meader was eventually detained and taken to Pinellas County jail. He posted his $150 bond later that day.