NAPLES — A state appeals court today upheld a Collier Circuit Court judge’s ruling involving a lawsuit filed by two donors who demanded refunds from Gov. Charlie Crist’s former Republican campaign for U.S. Senate after he switched parties.
The Second District Court of Appeal affirmed two rulings by Senior Judge Jack Schoonover, who denied an injunction that would have stopped Crist from spending the contributions and denied a motion to certify the lawsuit as a class-action complaint. The lack of a certification prevented it from moving forward as a class-action lawsuit, possibly representing about 8,000 contributors to Crist’s campaign.
Crist, who switched to a no-party affiliation, ended up losing to Republican candidate, Marco Rubio.
The ruling handed down today was a per curiam affirmance, meaning the three-judge panel issued no written opinion, just affirmed Schoonover’s rulings.
The lawsuit was filed June 22 by Linda Morton, a Lely mother of four, and John Rood of Jacksonville, a retired U.S. ambassador and Republican Party finance chairman.
In denying the certification, Schoonover had to balance the threat of irreparable harm to the plaintiffs versus Crist’s campaign if about $7.5 million in funds were frozen or he was forced to provide a refund. However, he ruled the plaintiffs’ claim was valid and they could proceed, but not as a class action.
“We have said from the outset this is not an appropriate case for class treatment,” said Crist’s lawyer, Scott Weinstein of Fort Myers, who was assisted by co-counsels J. Andrew Meyer, Rachel Soffin, and Tamra Givens of Morgan & Morgan. “Judge Schoonover agreed with us and he has now been vindicated by the appellate court.”
“Our position has always been this case has no merit, but at most is a pair of small claims court disputes,” he added. “It’s a shame plaintiffs, in the name of Republican values, have brought this frivolous claim and used scarce and valuable court resources.”
The plaintiffs were represented by Rep. Thomas Grady, who quit Crist’s campaign just weeks before Crist announced his switch April 29. Grady had indicated there were about 8,000 donors, but wanted to take depositions to determine how many supported Crist or wanted refunds.
When he filed his appeal, Grady contended nine out of 10 judges would have granted his motions and he and co-counsel David Shiner were confident Schoonover’s ruling would be reversed. However, he said Friday that he was hindered because they had to rush for a ruling before election.
In light of the election results, most issues on appeal were moot, Grady said, adding, “The money has been spent, so there was little the court could do.”
The plaintiffs are still proceeding in their lawsuit, he said, and hope to gather more evidence to argue again for certification. Grady said the plaintiffs believe their message was heard and noted that Crist, who was ahead in polls before they sued, then dropped behind.
“Any future candidate violating the same promise as Crist violated will be met swiftly by a lawsuit and will know, based on the findings in this case, that they will not get a free pass,” Grady said. “... My guess is that it will not happen again in Florida.”