NEW TRIAL DATE IS OCTOBER 11;
WILLIAMS & CONNOLLY EXPANDS DEFENSE ROLE
By JANE AKRE
TAMPA (April 29) – A Tampa judge has granted Fox’s second request for a continuance and set a new trial date of October 11 in the case filed by this investigative reporter and co-plaintiff Steve Wilson. At the same hearing, three new Washington lawyers joined the defense team bringing to at least 13 the number of attorneys Fox has used to defend itself.
Fox delayed the original February trial date by arguing early this year that it needed a continuance to prepare its case. Judge Robert Bonanno then set the trial to begin May 10 trial, telling the defendants that was plenty of time for them to prepare their case and they should be ready to proceed then. At the end of April, a new judge rotated into the trial division and Fox moved for yet another delay.
Attorney John Chamblee representing this plaintiff told the judge a brief delay would be acceptable, while Wilson argued on his own behalf that no continuance should be granted. Since the case was filed more than a year ago (April 2, 1998) Fox attorneys have taken only 4 depositions in addition to Wilson's and Akre's. The plaintiffs have taken testimony from more than two dozen potential witnesses.
Attorney Tom McGowan, who spoke for Fox at the latest hearing, introduced Washington lawyer William McDaniels and asked that he and two of his colleagues from the Williams & Connolly firm be admitted to the case. The three were admitted without objection from the plaintiffs. The move likely means that the high-profile Washington firm will try the case instead of the St. Petersburg firm Rahdert, Anderson, McGowan & Steele which Fox originally selected.
"I don't think you pay those kind of lawyers that kind of money to second-chair a case," said Wilson. "I suspect the loss of their summary judgement motion was the final straw for the local team. With the case now headed for trial, it seems Fox decided it could use a little more juice. Jane and I have every confidence our own attorneys--John Chamblee and Steve Wenzel--will continue to do a superb job with this case."
As noted here recently, President Clinton's personal attorney David Kendall of the Williams & Connolly firm is also representing Fox's interests in the matter. His involvement came to light at the deposition of St. Petersburg lawyer Patricia Anderson who produced a recent letter from Kendall to Monsanto lawyer John Walsh. It was Walsh's letters to Fox News chief Roger Ailes that kindled the dispute whole dispute in early 1997.
Despite a plea from Wilson, trial court Judge Gaspar Ficcarotta said his calendar could not accommodate the trial any sooner than October 11. The jury trial in Florida state court in Tampa is expected to last three weeks.