For years, campaign operative and erstwhile politician Dan Lewis has claimed that his 2006 run against incumbent Jim Naugle for mayor of Fort Lauderdale was undermined by a conspiracy led by his nemesis, super-lobbyist Judy Stern.
For years, Stern has said she had nothing to do with that campaign, even making the claim in court documents.
Well, a recent court filing shows that Lewis was right and Stern was, uh, wrong. And the new revelations shine more light not only on the shady and underhanded side of politics but also of our system of justice.
Before we get into the new evidence, a quick background. The case involves an out-of-the-blue candidate in the Lewis-Naugle race named Christopher Peer, whom Lewis describes as an "unknown barfly" and was certain was a straw candidate propped up by pro-Naugle forces to split the anti-incumbent vote.
In the heat of the race, Peer attorney Richard Rosenbaum filed a federal lawsuit claiming that Lewis had unlawfully acquired Peer's credit report. Lewis then filed a counterclaim alleging that Peer's lawsuit was untrue and frivolous and that it constituted an abuse of the courts in an attempt to influence the outcome of the election. The district court agreed with Lewis, awarding him a hefty $790,000 judgment against the hapless Peer.
Lewis claimed from the beginning that Stern, who supported Naugle, was involved in Peer's straw campaign and had pushed the frivolous lawsuit against him. Rosenbaum denied that and, in a letter that was admitted into the court proceedings, wrote to Stern: "I do not anticipate that you have any knowledge relevant to the Complaint or Counter-Claim, thus it appears to me that Mr. Lewis is simply 'on a fishing
expedition' and looking to waste your time."
Stern avoided being deposed by Lewis by claiming in court that she had no knowledge of the lawsuit, using Rosenbaum's rather unsubtle letter as evidence of it.
Rosenbaum's tune, however, has changed. Dramatically.
Lewis is now going after the lawyer for damages saying that he too abused the process and should joined in the Peer judgment. Last May, the federal appellate court agreed, writing that "there is overwhelming evidence that Rosenbaum knowingly pursued a frivolous case, and thus acted in bad faith."
More recently Lewis filed a complaint against Rosenbaum with the Florida Bar.
On January 26, Rosenbaum's attorney, John May, filed a motion to the federal court claiming that he had reason to believe that Lewis had in fact unlawfully obtained Peer's credit report at the time he filed the suit (Lewis actually obtained the information on a Westlaw database).
In the motion, Rosenbaum admitted that Stern had in fact worked on Peer's campaign and that she had written him an email the day before he filed the suit in which she claimed that Lewis had unlawfully obtained Peer's credit report.
Rosenbaum now claims that he met with Stern on January 31, 2006, just three days before he filed the suit. "Rosenbaum met with Christopher Peer, Judy Stern, and Charles Malkus (who were assisting Peer in his campaign)," May wrote, "to discuss how Lewis might have obtained access to Peer's TransUnion Credit Report."
So the truth comes out. Rosenbaum also produced an email that Stern wrote him the day before he filed concerning a conversation she'd had with then-Sun-Sentinel reporter Buddy Nevins. From the Rosenbaum motion:
Richard Rosenbaum sent an email to Charles Malkus, asking whether Peer was "ever able to ascertain how Lewis got the credit report." A few minutes later (7:49 p.m.) Rosenbaum received an email from Judy Stem, in which she reported a conversation she had with Buddy Nevins (editor with the Sun-Sentinel). In this email Ms. Stem states:
Buddy Nevins personally told me yesterday that Dan made the statement that a private investigator got him the credit report, and Buddy couldn't understand what difference did that make since Dan personally used it.
Stern acknowledged that she sent the email to Rosenbaum and also said that it was she who recommended that Rosenbaum, whom she says is an old friend, represent Peer in the first place. Yet she maintains that she was not involved in Peer's campaign nor the lawsuit.
She also says that she had no involvement in propping up Peer, whom she described as a "kook who came out of nowhere," to run as a straw candidate to help Naugle secure victory (Naugle won the primary with 6,622 votes versus Lewis' 3,173 votes and Peer's 473). Stern said she was too busy running Charlotte Rodstrom's campaign for city commission to involve herself in the mayoral race.
"I never worked on Naugle's campaign, but I certainly gave him money when Dan Lewis was running against him," she said. "I may have given [Naugle] some newspaper clippings about
Dan from his days in Miramar. But Dan never could have won that race. He never had the opportunity to win that race."
She also claims that, contrary to Rosenbaum's court filing, she doesn't remember ever meeting with Peer, who also denied meeting Stern during a deposition, though he acknowledged knowing that she was a powerful political player in town.
Lewis, meanwhile, says he feels vindicated.
"We knew she was involving in this from the beginning but we couldn't prove it," said Lewis. "I think people will be able to see the truth now."
To date, Peer hasn't paid a dime on the judgment and Lewis' case against Rosenbaum continues.
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