COLLIER COUNTY — A Collier Circuit judge on Tuesday denied a preliminary injunction against Gov. Charlie Crist and his former Republican campaign for U.S. Senate, but said he’d rule Thursday whether a lawsuit filed by two donors seeking refunds can proceed as a class-action complaint.
If Senior Circuit Judge Jack Schoonover grants the motion to certify the plaintiffs as a class representing donors to Crist’s Republican campaign before his switch to a non-partisan candidate, it would be the first time a judge nationwide decided a lawsuit involving a candidates’ refunds.
After hearing 2½ hours of arguments over whether the plaintiffs should be certified as a class, Schoonover said he needed to review 400 pages of defense documents submitted that morning before ruling on the June 22 lawsuit involving Linda Morton, a Lely mother of four, and John Rood of Jacksonville, a retired U.S. ambassador and Republican Party finance chairman.
“I think everyone realizes my decision should be based on the evidence before me,” Schoonover said, telling attorneys to call at 4 p.m. Thursday, when he’d outline his ruling.
The prevailing party, not Schoonover, will write the order, a common practice. But it’s submitted to the opposing party for approval of form and content before Schoonover signs it.
To grant certification, the judge must find numerosity, that many donors were injured by Crist’s switch; commonality, a similar course of conduct by Crist against all; typicality, that the plaintiffs’ interests are aligned with the common questions affecting the class, that it was reasonable and expected Crist would run as a Republican; and adequacy of representation, that Grady and co-counsel David Shiner are qualified to represent all members of the class.
The judge must find common issues outweigh individual issues in order to find a class-action lawsuit is the superior means of resolution.
Schoonover also must balance the threat of irreparable harm to the plaintiffs and to Crist’s campaign if he freezes about $7.5 million in funds, orders a refund or requires Crist to write a letter to donors to his Republican campaign, offering refunds.
Schoonover heard four hours of arguments Tuesday, agreeing to hear a motion for preliminary injunction due to time constraints, the upcoming Nov. 2 election, without first ruling on certification.
Plaintiffs’ attorney Rep. Thomas Grady — who quit Crist’s campaign after Crist announced his switch April 29 — had indicated there were at least 2,000 affected donors, but now says there are 8,000, although some may support Crist and not desire refunds.
Although the Federal Election Campaign Act doesn’t require Crist to provide refunds, the plaintiffs sued under state laws, seeking compensation for unjust enrichment, breach of contract and breach of implied covenants of good faith and fair dealing. They allege they were deprived of the right to support a Republican and their money is being used to oppose Republican Marco Rubio, who is running against Crist and Democratic candidate Kendrick Meek.
It was the second time Schoonover ruled against the preliminary injunction, which he’d denied Aug. 30, saying he first needed to rule on class certification. Although he denied it again Tuesday, he ruled Grady could refile the motion after reviewing discovery, the parties’ exchange of documents, and depositions of Crist and a party official, which Schoonover ruled must occur despite Crist’s motion to delay it.
“The court found today we didn’t have sufficient evidence,” Grady said outside court as he was surrounded by reporters and cameras. “That’s because we haven’t had a chance to depose the governor. ... We really ought to hear from the governor because what he has said is: ‘It’s wrong to say one thing and do another.’ “
Crist’s attorney, Scott Weinstein, was pleased co-counsel Andrew Meyer won his motion against the injunction, but maintained dissatisfied donors should sue individually in small claims court.
“I understand there are a few people who don’t want the governor to use their money ... but they shouldn’t impose their views on the rest of the contributors,” Weinstein told reporters.
Although Schoonover interjected, asking numerous questions, it was hard to gauge where he was leaning.
Grady argued donors should have a choice, contending, “It should be made by the people who contributed the money, instead of the politicians who accepted it.”
But Weinstein argued it would be difficult to determine donors’ intentions when they contributed and he’d have to cross-examine each. He also contended the plaintiffs shouldn’t be certified because Rood, a former ambassador and GOP finance chairman, isn’t typical, and Morton’s check was from her husband, disqualifying her.
The judge will hear more arguments Monday, including Grady’s motion to expedite a trial.