The Broward judge being accused of trying to cheat the designer of a website is fighting back through supporters who claim that it's the web designer who's out to extort Peter Skolnik's campaign.
An activist with the Skolnik campaign says that Steven Smith of Made U Look Advertising approached the judge in May offering to design a web page for the judge.
Smith didn't mention money to the judge, says the activist, and the Skolnik campaign assumed that Smith was willing to help out simply because he was a fan of the judge.
If that seems far-fetched, the activist offered another possible explanation for Smith's free labor: that he wanted to endear himself to a judge who would be presiding over multiple lawsuits that involved Smith's clashes with a condo association.
UPDATE: I circled back to Smith to get his response to this allegation. He said: "Made U Look Advertising and its staff emphatically deny that there is any case that is currently in the court system that is in front of Judge Skolnik. That is absolutely absurd."
(Skolnik was at a political event when I reached him this afternoon. I hope to speak with him tomorrow.)
Whatever Smith's motive, the activist says it was a shock to the campaign when, in July, Smith demanded to be paid for his website management. In the dispute that followed, Smith changed the passwords to the web domains that Skolnik had purchased, which is why today judgeskolnik2010.com paints a rather unflattering portrait of the judge and will continue to do so until Smith gets paid.
"It's extortion," says the activist.
For his part, Smith calls the Skolnik campaign's claim "bullshit." He says that he first became involved with the judge's campaign in February and that he drafted an estimate of what it would cost for a full range of web marketing and advertising. The $6,800 price tag was too steep for the campaign at the time, says Smith, but the two made an informal agreement by which Smith would create Skolnik's website.
"He knew I was charging him," says Smith, who recalls the judge asking him to break the $1,500 cost into $500 increments. Smith claims that the judge provided one $500 check in June but then refused to cut another one in July, which is when Smith took the web domains hostage.
UPDATE: Smith explained his refusal to give those domain names back to the judge's campaign. "We would not turn them back over until he pays his bill -- because that's our work product."
On the website, Smith has posted a June 24 email that shows another supporter of Skolnick's, Nicole Malik, making reference to Smith's needing payment from the campaign. Above that, he posted a June 27 email from another Skolnik campaign operative, attorney Douglas Harrison, in which Smith is asked to complete the judge's website.
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In Smith's view, he had already made it known to the campaign that he wasn't working for free. If Harrison and the rest of the campaign had a problem with this, he reasons, they wouldn't have asked for more web work.
Smith did not have immediate access to the estimate he claims to have made for the judge. Nor did he have access to the check he says he received. I'll put up a post when those documents arrive.
We'll reserve judgment until then -- and after we've heard from the judge himself. But for the time being, this sounds like a case of bad communication on both sides. It seems like the kind of misunderstanding that is bound to happen when campaigns operate through informal agreements.
UPDATE: Smith says he's in the middle of preparing a document trail that will establish the truth of his claim. He has said he'll provide those materials to the Juice when they're ready.