Benchslaps, State Judges

Slow-Played Benchslap Order Just Keeps Getting Better

There are two schools of thought on drafting a benchslap. One method involves laying out the most egregious behavior of the target right up front to set the tone for the scathing punishment to follow. The other, subtler method involves slow-playing the transgressions in a glorious crescendo of suspect conduct.

Senior Judge Victor Musleh of the 5th Judicial Circuit in Lake County, Florida ascribes to the latter school. When his February 28th order in Wells Fargo v. Granger hit the ATL tips inbox, I thought it was a mild story. But this page-turner of an order raised the stakes with each paragraph….

The subject of Judge Musleh’s order is Mark Stopa of the Stopa Law Firm (and a Fantasy Sports guru). From the first page, Judge Musleh lets the reader know that there are “many” problems in this case, but singles out a straight-forward technical issue as though it’s the most troubling.

As a preliminary matter, this Court finds that Defendants’ Motion is in many respects misleading, insulting, and contains too many falsehoods to list. However, one aspect that is especially troubling to the Court is that Defense Counsel has signed his name as a member of The Florida Bar to a Motion that he purports to be verified by Defendant Jeffrey Granger. Defendant Granger has averred under penalty of perjury that the facts in the Motion are true and correct, and yet Defendant Granger Was not present for the events in question, either in person or via telephone, and thus has no personal knowledge of What took place. It is therefore impossible for Defendant Granger to swear to the veracity of the Motion and has subjected himself, through counsel’s misguided need to verify his Motion, to a charge of perjury at most and sanctions detrimental to his ease for misleading this Court, at the very least.

Signing a document that purports to be verified when it’s not is a transgression, but nothing too exciting. I almost stopped reading here. But that would have been a mistake.

Defense counsel Stopa apparently believes that this Court is able to conjure a written Order of denial on rulings out of thin air as he asked for a written Order on his denied Motions in order to pursue appellate relief and now complains that the Court did not accommodate him.

Feel the snark dripping off the page. But still this is pretty standard slap-fighting so far. But then the order points out that Stopa got belligerent in a hearing. And here’s the follow-up:

Mr. Stopa then launched into an argument regarding the courtroom facilities and the fact that he was denied entrance to the court proceedings prior to being called for the instant case. Prior to calling the case, the undersigned judge and court personnel could hear loud banging on the door outside the conference room where the proceedings were being held and a loud voice demanding entry.

This is a full-on freak out. In a courthouse. Banging on doors and petulantly complaining that the facilities are not up to his standards. Judges can begin to feel a little too high and mighty, but they are entitled to expect that the lawyers won’t bang on the doors of the courtroom and kvetch about the decor.

Even more egregious than the falsehoods perpetuated in his Motion regarding the court proceedings are Mr. Stopa’s allegations that the undersigned “physically assaulted” him.

Now, most people would have led with that part of the story, but Judge Musleh is a goddamned master storyteller.

These are serious allegations whose purpose is unknown other than to discredit the reputation of a member of the judiciary, whose rulings he did not appreciate. Unlike his allegations, Mr. Stopa did not remain in his chair and speak in a normal tone of voice. He rose from his seat and addressed the court in a loud, arrogant, and extremely uncivil tone. He had to be warned by the court bailiff to calm down. As court had been in session for approximately four hours with only a minute break, the undersigned did rise, walk around the conference table in Mr. Stopa’s direction in order to stretch his legs, and intended to leave the room. But due to Mr. Stopa’s continuing diatribe, the undersigned circled the table and returned to his seat. While the undersigned may have pointed a finger in Mr. Stopa’s direction from several feet away while attempting to answer Mr. Stopa’s outbursts, in no way did the Court physically assault Mr. Stopa or prevent him from leaving the room. The allegations of physical assault and intimidation are preposterous and untrue.

The real kicker to this whole order is that Judge Musleh had already recused himself from the case. But Stopa refused to wait to receive notice of the Judge’s recusal and filed his motion to disqualify in the interim, prompting Judge Musleh to fire off this order that concludes by dismissing Stopa’s motion as moot.

And that’s really the most satisfying moment. When you realize the Judge went to all this trouble, not because he had to, but because he really thought the lawyer deserved it.

Order Responding To Renewed Verified Motion To Disqualify [Wells Fargo v. Granger, 5th Judicial Circuit, Florida]

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