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Lawyer in road suit found in contempt

Published Oct. 7, 2005

A lawyer who assisted in Pasco's unsuccessful defense against a $2-million road construction lawsuit was held in contempt of court Wednesday for telling witnesses about prior trial testimony.

But David Tegeler, an associate with Bull and Associates of Orlando, got off with just a $1,000 fine and no formal pronouncement of guilt.

After hearing the contrite Tegeler talk about his lack of trial experience, about how swamped with work he was at the time, about his pure motives, about his wife and two children, about his clean record, and on and on, Circuit Judge Lynn Tepper agreed to withhold adjudication.

That means the $78,000-a-year associate's record won't show a contempt of court conviction, although Tepper said she planned to refer the matter to the Florida Bar. Tegeler could have faced nearly six months in jail for violating the court's order of sequestration, which required that no witnesses in the trial be exposed to any prior testimony.

Tepper said she was sympathetic to Tegeler's explanation that he was inexperienced with the rule and that at the time of the trial he was overburdened with work. Because of the resignation of another lawyer at the firm, he said he was working more than 70 hours a week then.

"This is another example of where the law schools have failed, and where the big firms have been a little too anxious to have the billable hours," Tepper said.

Tegeler refused to comment after the hearing.

The contempt finding was the latest mishap in what has turned out to be a disastrous lawsuit for the county. While the hearing was going on, former County Attorney Tom Bustin was cleaning out his desk. He resigned this week after facing months of criticism from county commissioners, much of it related to the S&E lawsuit, which is under appeal.

The lawsuit involved charges from S&E that the county intentionally held up progress on widening and paving Hudson Avenue, stretching a one-year project to 2{ years. Among other things, S&E charged that county inspectors unfairly and arbitrarily picked apart S&E's work in retaliation for the company winning a prior lawsuit. The county hired Bull and Associates to handle the case.

During the two-week trial, S&E's lawyer established that in the middle of the trial Tegeler had spoken to two of the county's potentially key witnesses, inspectors Richard Hollingsworth and Bruce Henderson, about some of the testimony witnesses had provided during the first week of the trial.

Tegeler denied it. He and his boss, Stephen Bull, insisted that Henderson and Hollingsworth must have been confusing that conversation with others Tegeler had had with them before the trial, including allegations that surfaced during depositions.

Tepper heard that argument from Bull and Tegeler at a hearing in August and decided to continue the matter until this week so that the inspectors could be subpoenaed. On Wednesday both of the county inspectors showed up in court, without any county attorneys at their side, and repeated that Tegeler had told them about trial testimony.

"This is a difficult situation. I know what I remember, and obviously it is different from what other witnesses remember. I'm telling the truth," Tegeler said, suggesting Hollingsworth and Henderson had "clouded memories."

Tepper, however, said she found Tegeler's testimony "not as trustworthy" as the inspectors', and Tegeler acknowledged later that he could have unintentionally revealed or "seemingly revealed" prior testimony.

Bull and Associates is not handling the county's appeal of the S&E suit. Commissioners last week agreed to hire a new lawyer, Fleming Lee of the Daytona Beach firm Kinsey Vincent Pyle.