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Vaz, Rainforest Seafoods prevail in hate-mail case

Florida court awards $6 million against Prof David Rowe

Thursday, March 20, 2014    

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JAMAICAN-BORN Florida-based attorney, Professor David Rowe has so far chalked up US$56,261, or just over J$6 million in court-ordered costs, in the long-running libel case against Daryl Vaz, the former information and telecommunications minister, and Rainforest Seafoods.

The libel suits were filed against Rowe on April 9, 2012 in the Circuit Court of the Seventeenth Judicial Circuit in and for Broward County, Florida, on grounds that Rowe circulated an email under the pseudonym "Paul Azan", in which allegations of corruption were made against several Jamaican politicians and businessmen, including Vaz and Rainforest Seafoods.

The latest judgement in favour of the Jamaicans and against Rowe came on January 13, 2014 when the court ordered the Florida attorney to pay $51,347.50, plus interest from the date of the judgement, after he failed to produce the computer on which the libel was allegedly created. In a separate judgement, Rowe was ordered to pay fees of US$4,913.50 after improperly removing the case from a state court to federal court just prior to a scheduled state court hearing.

The emails, which were globally circulated on the Internet on March 22 and 23, 2012, also libelled other prominent Jamaican politicians and businessmen, including former prime ministers P J Patterson and Bruce Golding; former Finance Minister Audley Shaw; former Agriculture Minister Christopher Tufton; Gordon 'Butch Stewart', chairman of the Sandals group which includes the Observer; and Brian Jardim, the principal of Rainforest.

The libel suit claimed that Rowe, "hiding behind pseudonyms... fabricated and published a document purported to be an official US Law Enforcement Memo to Turks and Caicos Special Investigation and Prosecutions Team". The document made "direct accusations of bribery, money laundering, corruption and close affiliations with a notorious convicted drug lord", the complainants said in court papers.

Rowe denied being the author of the document in question and filed an unsuccessful motion to dismiss the lawsuit.

Vaz and Rainforest requested that Rowe produce for copying and inspection the computer he used during the March 22 and 23, 2012 time frame. Rowe first agreed then failed to do so, causing the court to make a second order. When Rowe eventually produced a computer on July 18, 2012, a forensic expert for the complainants told the court that it was not the computer Rowe had used and that the accused had produced a new computer that, among other things, "had no user activity on it until May 2012, was not online or capable of sending emails or connecting to the Internet until after the lawsuit was filed and had a new operating system installed on it in June 2012".

On a sanctions motion by the complainants, the court on January 13, 2014 awarded plaintiffs attorney's fees and costs against Rowe in the amount of $51,347.50, plus interest from the date of the judgement.

Rowe then produced a second computer which the forensic expert testified to the court had been wiped clean, despite Rowe's obligation to preserve the computer unaltered. The expert also testified that software used by advance computer users was utilised to delete or alter information on Rowe's computer. In addition, he said, this second computer had a new operating system installed on it in September 12, 2013.

During the course of this litigation, Rowe improperly removed the case from state court to federal court just prior to a scheduled state court hearing on a plaintiff motion for sanctions. The court granted a motion to remand the case back to state court, and entered a judgement against Rowe in the amount of $4,913.50.

The claimants are represented by Jennifer Glasser and Michael Marsh of Akerman LLP. Rowe is represented by David Brown, Rosemarie Patterson and Steve Rossi who has since withdrawn as counsel for Rowe. The case is continuing.

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