September 12, 2012When you're being sued, even when it's over, it's not over.
On April 5, 2011, the lawsuit by two police officers against The Rhino Times was dismissed on summary judgment, which means the judge ruled that the plaintiffs had no case and threw it out without a trial. On June 19, 2012, the North Carolina Court of Appeals unanimously upheld that decision
But on Sept. 6, The Rhino Times was back in court over the libel lawsuit filed in November 2007 by Greensboro Police Capt. Brian James and now retired Police Officer Julius Fulmore against The Rhino Times, John Hammer, William Hammer and Jerry Bledsoe, who are represented by Seth Cohen of Smith, James, Rowlett & Cohen.
The reason the case was back in court was that James and Fulmore had refused to pay the court costs they were ordered to pay by Superior Court Judge Edgar B. Gregory on April 5, 2011 when he dismissed the lawsuit.
After a brief hearing on Sept. 6, North Carolina Superior Court Judge William Z. Wood Jr. ordered James and Fulmore to pay The Rhinoceros Times $3,860 for costs.
Perhaps since two judges have ordered them to pay, they will now pay. But it would be unwise to bet on that because their attorney, Amiel Rossabi, appears determined to draw this case out as long as possible – even refusing to agree to the written order to be submitted to Wood.
In most civil cases of this type, the judge makes a ruling and the attorney for the winning side draws up the order; the attorney for the losing side approves that order; and it is sent to the judge for his approval and signature. Rossabi in this case refused to approve the one paragraph order that said the judge ordered James and Fulmore to pay The Rhino Times $3,860 that Cohen wrote and sent to Rossabi for his approval.
So Cohen rewrote the order, which is mostly boilerplate, even though there was no dispute about the amount or that the judge had ordered the payment, just the wording. Rossabi said he didn't like the second order either, and on Friday, Sept. 7, wrote his own order, which has the same outcome, and turned it in to the court.
Presumably, dueling one-paragraph orders that state that the plaintiffs have to pay the defendants $3,860 are before Judge Wood this week.
At the hearing in the Guilford County Courthouse on Sept. 6, Cohen said the case was once again before the court because an agreement on the amount of court costs awarded could not be reached. Cohen said that Judge Gregory had granted summary judgment and awarded costs that Cohen said, according to the statute, were the cost of mediation and depositions. Cohen said, "It appears to me to be extremely clear."
Rossabi said it was clear what the defendants could ask for in this case. He said, "That is all they can ask for, there is no doubt about that."
He added, "I represented the plaintiffs and took the case pro bono."
As Rossabi noted he lost every motion he made except maybe for one request for an extension of time. Rossabi presented the judge with a Court of Appeals decision, which according to Rossabi said that the court had no discretion in setting costs since they were set by statute.
So the case Rossabi handed to Judge Wood made the case that Rossabi's clients had to pay, which he kind of argued against, although he admitted that is what the courts had decided.
But Rossabi took his opportunity before the court to launch into a long tirade about how awful The Rhino Times is and about his whole theory of a grand conspiracy and that Bledsoe conspired with The Rhino Times to write a series of articles about the Greensboro Police Department. This is certainly true, although in most cases it is not referred to as conspiring. The Rhino Times certainly worked with Bledsoe on a daily basis to produce the 92-part series. Newspaper editors and reporters meet on a daily basis, sometimes at night behind closed doors, in order to produce newspapers. Most people do not see that as diabolical.
When Rossabi paused, Judge Wood said, "You lost on that issue." And he asked Rossabi to move it along.
The case before the court involved the fact that Rossabi's clients – one of whom is a police captain – were refusing to pay the costs they had been ordered to pay by the court. And Rossabi agreed that the Court of Appeals ruled that the judge had no discretion in setting those payments.
Cohen noted that Rossabi had agreed with his opening statement that, "It is required." And had given the judge a Court of Appeal decision that also stated that this judge had no discretion and had to order the payment set by statute. Cohen said he wished all of his cases before the court were so clear-cut.
Wood read some of the Court of Appeals ruling and said, "That's the law right now. So I will award the costs." He then borrowed a calculator from a clerk and added up the mediation and deposition costs coming up with the figure of $3,860.
As of Wednesday, Sept. 12, The Rhino Times has not received a check and we are not holding our breath.