Sides settle lawsuit over Ocala Jai Alai


Published: Thursday, January 12, 2006 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, January 12, 2006 at 12:00 a.m.
OCALA - An agreement to settle a lawsuit between Ocala Breeders' Sales Co. and Second Chance Jai Alai has been reached in principle, and when all the papers are signed, a potentially juicy local trial scheduled to start next week will be history.
A nine-hour mediation session held last Thursday at the Ocala Hilton yielded the settlement agreement on the four-year-old legal action, which focused on a disputed contract to operate Ocala Jai Alai. Terms of the settlement were not released by either side, with final documents scheduled to be signed within the next few days. Second Chance was seeking at least $41 million in damages, according to court documents.
Principals on both sides said Wednesday that they were restricted in what information they could release about the agreement.
"It has been settled, but nothing has been signed," said Fred Harney, the Ocala-based manager of Second Chance Jai Alai. "Both sides agreed to the settlement and were satisfied. Both sides got some of what they wanted."
Second Chance was represented by a team of attorneys that included prominent South Florida lawyer Willie Gary, who was in attendance at the Ocala mediation session. Others on the Second Chance team included local attorneys Pat Gilligan and Edward McClellan. The latter's son, Ocala native Madison McClellan, was the lead attorney for the Gary firm, but died from cancer complications on Dec. 7.
"All I can say is that both sides were satisfied," said Gilligan, the spokesman for the Second Chance legal team.
A call to OBS president Tom Chiotta was not immediately returned Wednesday. OBS' lead attorney, Dock Blanchard, said there were a few issues left to work out before all documentation was finalized.
"There are some complex details to this settlement, as you can imagine," said Blanchard, whose team conducted more than 40 depositions in the course of evidence discovery. "We are happy with it. Both sides are happy -- or both sides are equally unhappy, depending how you look at it."
Depositions were taken of such local notables as developer R. Thad Boyd III, attorneys Steve Gray and Jimmy Gooding, restaurateur Ken DePasquale and several OBS executives and board members, including Chiotta, OBS chairman Norman Casse, and former Boston Celtics owner Harry T. Mangurian Jr., among others.
Some or all of the key parties could have taken the witness stand in a courtroom setting that would have featured the flamboyant Gary, the former migrant worker turned wealthy attorney who travels in his private Boeing jet.
Notification of the mediation session was not reflected in court filings.
"It was a last-minute thing agreed to by both parties," Blanchard said.
At the center of the lawsuit was a 20-page document that Second Chance claimed was a contract signed in January 2000 that allowed the company to operate Ocala Jai Alai for up to 15 years, paying OBS $300,000 per year. OBS, which in July 2000 paid $2.5 million for the jai alai fronton, countered that the page featuring OBS chairman Norman Casse's signature was fraudulently taken from a separate letter of intent signed by the chairman.
The damage figure of $41 million submitted on behalf of Second Chance was based, in part, on speculation that slots would be installed in Ocala Jai Alai at some point. Efforts to allow slots in all Florida pari-mutuel facilities failed in the years after the contract was allegedly signed in 2000, although a state amendment to allow the machines in Broward County was passed in 2004.
It is believed that the lawsuit has impeded movement on the Ocala racetrack complex proposed by industrialist Frank Stronach. OBS currently has territorial protection on pari-mutuel wagering in Marion County, carrying permits Stronach's Magna Entertainment Corp. needs to proceed with its plans for a gaming facility near the Interstate 75 and U.S. 27 interchange.
Ryan Conley may be reached at ryan.conleystarbanner.com or (352) 867-4123.

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