TALLAHASSEE — A Tallahassee judge refused Monday to dismiss a civil lawsuit by former Republican Party of Florida Chairman Jim Greer against the party and two prominent state senators.
Leon County Circuit Judge John Cooper heard for the first time the details of Greer's suit, filed after the party reneged on a 2010 agreement to give the embattled former chairman $124,000 in severance pay.
The deal was struck in secret as the state Republican Party tried to force Greer, accused of funneling $300,000 from the party to his private company, out the door.
Greer also named Senate President Mike Haridopolos, R-Merritt Island, and Sen. John Thrasher, R-St. Augustine, then the incoming party chairman, as defendants in the suit.
For two hours, attorneys for Haridopolos and Thrasher argued that their clients couldn't be personally responsible for the contract because they had signed the agreement as officials, not as individuals.
Greer's attorney, Damon Chase, retorted that Thrasher and Haridopolos weren't party officials at that time, and had no authority to sign on the party's behalf. At that time, Thrasher was in line to be party chairman and Haridopolos was in line to be Senate president. Haridopolos and Thrasher promised in the contract to do all they could to ensure Greer got his severance.
"I find a lot of your arguments very persuasive," Cooper said, leaning back in his chair and clasping his hands over his stomach. "I just don't think I can make the decision at this point about who's right and who's wrong."
Cooper heard arguments from behind his office desk, where he lobbed questions at attorneys huddled around a small conference table. After two hours of arguments, Cooper said he was still perplexed about whether Thrasher and Haridopolos could be held responsible.
The two sides, grappling for Cooper's favor, raised their voices and interrupted each other.
"If it's not a contract, if they had nothing to do with it, why did they sign it?" Chase said. "Why in God's name would they have signed a contract if they didn't expect to be bound?"
Haridopolos and Thrasher clearly didn't even try to honor the contract, Chase added.
In fact, Haridopolos denied the agreement existed. Later, after the contract went public, Thrasher said on television he'd never planned to fulfill the terms.
Greer is accused of steering money from the party to Victory Strategies, a corporation he created with former GOP executive director Delmar Johnson.
Johnson will testify against Greer in a criminal trial in exchange for immunity.
The lawsuit is a subplot in an embarrassing three-year saga for the Republican Party of Florida. During depositions in May, Greer called party leaders "whack-a-do, right-wing crazies" and accused them of conspiring to suppress the black vote.
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A grand jury in 2010 indicted Greer on multiple fraud counts. The criminal trial is scheduled for February.