Attorneys for the defendants in a whistle-blowing case brought by a former Home Shopping Network Inc. executive argued Tuesday that their clients should be excluded from counts that don't relate to them.
But attorneys for Allen P. Allweiss, who was fired in February, countered that the complaint should remain intact because defendants "aided and abetted" each other in a scheme to extort his silence.
By the end of the full-day, pretrial hearing, Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Judge Horace A. Andrews asked attorneys to prepare memoranda on the question, which may prove critical to Allweiss' case.
In a lawsuit filed in April, Allweiss claims he was fired from Home Shopping over attempts to disclose a wide variety of financial improprieties at the company.
The lawsuit broadly alleges schemes in which executives of the St. Petersburg-based television retailer and others profited at the expense of shareholders through improper relationships with vendors.
Allweiss seeks nearly $1-million in Home Shopping stock and options he says he is already owed, and an additional $2-million in damages.
At the hearing, John F. Lauro, an attorney for Home Shopping consultant Francis R. Santangelo, said his client had nothing to do with counts such as those related to depriving Allweiss of his stock.
But an attorney for Allweiss, Ward A. Meythaler of Tampa, said each defendant was part of a scheme to defraud his client.
Among other things, the Allweiss suit accuses Santangelo of having ties to organized crime. Santangelo has denied the allegations, and filed a defamation lawsuit against Allweiss in Hillsborough Circuit Court.
At one point, nearly 20 attorneys were crowded into a St. Petersburg courtroom for the hearing. The case has attracted wide attention in recent months as Home Shopping has become embroiled in a scandal.
Home Shopping continued to assert attorney-client privilege because Allweiss was a lawyer for the company. Home Shopping had won a court order barring Allweiss from disclosing information, but it was later reversed.
Allweiss plans to continue providing evidence of criminal activity at Home Shopping to authorities, said his attorney, Robert W. Merkle.
Tom McCoun, an attorney representing the St. Petersburg Times, argued to keep the case open to the press. The information already in the public record cannot later be deemed privileged, he said.
On Tuesday, King & Spalding, an Atlanta firm that is representing Home Shopping in related matters, also took a leading role in the Allweiss case.
Rahdert & Anderson of St. Petersburg and Winkles & Trombley of Tampa are also continuing to represent the company in the case. Home Shopping general counsel Celia H. Bachman would not comment on the changes on the legal team.