by Ryan Conley
The principals on both sides of a civil lawsuit involving Ocala Breeders' Sale Co. have agreed to settle the dispute out of court, just days before the four-year-old case was set to go to trial.
At the center of the lawsuit was a 20-page document plaintiff Second Chance Jai Alai said gave it contractual lease rights to operate Ocala Jai Alai, the Orange Lake, Fla., fronton OBS acquired for $2.5 million in July 2000.
OBS countered that the page bearing chairman Norman Casse's signature was taken from a separate letter-of-intent agreement signed with Second Chance managing partner Fred Harney at an Ocala area restaurant in January 2000.
The trial was to begin in Marion County, Fla., Circuit Court Jan. 17. Terms of the settlement were not made public.
Second Chance, which filed the lawsuit in 2001, was seeking $41 million in damages, based, in part, on the assumption that slot-machine legislation would eventually be passed for all Florida pari-mutuel facilities.
Legislation to allow slots in Florida has only been approved for Broward County, which includes Gulfstream Park. Gov. Jeb Bush signed regulations for the 2004 action into law earlier in January.
It is believed the lawsuit has been one roadblock in Magna Entertainment Corp.'s plans to develop a multi-use racetrack complex near Ocala. OBS currently has territorial protection on pari-mutuel wagering in the greater Marion County area, carrying permits MEC needs to acquire before it can proceed with its project.
MEC chairman Frank Stronach, who first proposed the Ocala racetrack concept in 2002, said last November negotiations with OBS were ongoing.
"All the feedback I get is very positive," Stronach said at the time. "We hope to have an agreement with OBS very soon."
OBS officials have never commented publicly on the negotiations.
OBS and Second Chance were tightlipped about the settlement when it became public Jan. 11. They cited restrictions set forth in the agreement. Settlement terms were hammered out a few days earlier in a private nine-hour mediation session held at the Ocala Hilton. The settlement will become final when pertinent documents are signed in the next few days.
"There are some complex details to this settlement, as you can imagine," said Dock Blanchard, the Ocala attorney who led OBS' legal team. "We are happy with it. Both sides are happy--or both sides are equally unhappy, depending how you look at it."
OBS officials did not immediately return a call seeking comment.
Harney, who has been involved with other jai alai operations, also was mum when queried about the settlement.
"Happy? I can't say I am happy. But I'm satisfied," Harney said. "Both sides agreed to the settlement and were satisfied. Both sides got some of what they wanted."
Second Chance was represented by a legal team that included flamboyant South Florida attorney Willie Gary, whose firm has won multimillion-dollar judgments against such companies as Anheuser-Busch and Walt Disney Corp.