Rick Scott couldn't have found a better man than Bill Scherer to be special counsel in the Digital Domain fiasco. A veteran litigator with more than his share of courtroom wins, Scherer is sure to look for every possible legal grounds to sue the authors of flim-flam man John Textor's all-star scam -- a scam in which star-struck politicos shoveled millions of public funds into the self-proclaimed Tinsel Town magnate's hands.
The beauty part for Scott is this: Scherer is also, in addition to a strong litigator, a GOP political operative and fundraiser of many years standing, and sure to do everything humanly possibly to plaster Charlie Crist's name all over the intended, high-profile lawsuit.
It was during Crist's term as Governor that John Textor sold state officials on the wisdom of a $20 million grant to support creation of an animation and special effects production house in Florida. Textor arrived bearing tales of Hollywood connections and hi-tech glory, some of them true and others not so much. Crist was knee-deep in the unorthodox arrangements.
City leaders in South Florida jumped aboard too, Port St. Lucie with a $40 million bond issue and West Palm Beach with a gift of 2.4 acres of prime downtown property and the promise of a $15 million loan.
No one bothered with due diligence about Textor's finances, and the scheme crashed to earth and declared bankruptcy in September 2012. There is a painfully detailed analysis about it. (Textor's $16 million salary didn't help.)
Now comes Bill Scherer to, in the words of Rick Scott's general counsel Peter Antonacci, "identify any and all legal action available against the company and any other individuals involved in wrongdoing related to this bad deal."
Scherer has a long and controversial history in Broward County, frequently recounted in the pages of New Times by our former investigative ace Bob Norman. (Norman and his wife, Sun-Sentinel reporter Bittany Wallman, continue to dog Scherer to this day.)
How partisan is Scherer? Enough so that as counsel to the George W. Bush campaign his shenanigans during the 2000 Recount in Broward got him repeatedly chastised and ultimately, bounced from the room. Partisan enough that he's given oodles of bucks to the state and national GOP over the years, including $10K to Rick Scott's "Let's Get to Work" campaign last year.
Scherer's cleaned up -- and we do mean "cleaned up" -- after scandal before, savoring the additional delight of political payback in the process. His firm racked up an estimated $50 million in fees picking the bones of the Scott Rothstein debacle, in which political rival Rothstein's multi-billion dollar Ponzi scheme went belly up.
Scherer's getting a sweet deal from Scott for the Digital Domain headhunt: $200K guaranteed and a 25% cut of the spoils -- if there's any to be had from the wreckage of Textor's all-star scam -- with the state to foot the bill for up to $100K in litigation costs. (The deal was inked in March. Announced just now, as the governor's race is heating up.) Scott's counsel Antonacci has promised legal action "in the coming weeks."
Can Scherer actually recover anything from Digital Domain (and pin the tail on Charlie Crist)?
Aside from the fact that whatever assets the company had left in place have already been parceled out in bankruptcy court, there's the awkward fact that just last year the state Inspector General prepared a post-mortem on Digital Domain, with findings that were equivocal at best:
Although a statutorily prescribed process in place for determining Digital Domain's eligibility for a QACF award did not result in a recommendation to fund Digital Domain, an award of $20 million to Digital Domain still occurred. However, we found no apparent violations of law, rule, or regulation in the award of $20 million economic development incentive funds to Digital Domain in 2009. While this award does not appear unlawful, gaps in available written documentation combined with limited or conﬂicting recall, unavailability of key witnesses, and assertion of legislative privilege by a key witness precluded our ability to make a complete determination of all factors considered in the decision to award funds to Digital Domain.
Faint heart ne'er won fair lady, though, and if, as it is said, a good prosecutor can indict a ham sandwich, there's no reason to think Bill Scherer can't cook up some sort of complaint and keep it active in court right through Election Day. (What judge will be assigned the case, we wonder?) After all 1) this is America, where anyone can sue anyone about anything and 2) this is Florida, where the weirdness never ends.
Fire Ant -- an invasive species, tinged bright red, with an annoying, sometimes-fatal sting -- covers South Florida news and culture. Got feedback or a tip? Contact Fire.Ant@BrowardPalmBeach.com.
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