Long-Running Embezzlement Case Yields 'A Legal Perfect Storm'

by Gwen Moritz  on Monday, Nov. 21, 2011 12:00 am  

Little Rock attorney Pat James is defending Garret and Katherine Sorensen in the civil case filed against them by Stephen L. LaFrance Holdings Inc., the parent company of USA Drug.

Having failed to persuade Judge Sanders, Judge Griffen or Judge Wilson to stop the civil discovery process, the LaFrances didn't just concede the battle: They abandoned the war - or tried to.

At 4:58 p.m. on Friday, Nov. 4 - a last-minute move that the Rose attorneys insist was not tactical - LaFrance Holdings filed a motion to dismiss the civil case altogether, and this time with no possibility of refiling it.

"[T]he reasons the depositions were to be taken in the first place," Solomon would later tell Judge Wilson, "was based on Judge Griffen's order, which said if you make allegations in a complaint against a defendant, that defendant has the right to conduct discovery. And that price seemed too high to our clients, so they moved to dismiss the case."

Judge Wilson was out of state and didn't immediately rule on the motion, and James, planning a countersuit, insisted on getting the chance to question Jason LaFrance that both Griffen and Wilson had ordered. James, with a court reporter in tow, arrived at the Rose Law Firm on the morning of Monday, Nov. 7, even though David Martin had told him repeatedly over the weekend that LaFrance was not going to be there.

Thus began a 14-hour day that included four telephone conferences with Judge Wilson, who scolded Solomon for "trying to stall this thing."

By mid-afternoon, the judge was clearly fed up with excuses. He repeatedly ordered the deposition to commence, even though Jason LaFrance said his pregnant wife was ill and he had trouble finding a babysitter for his 1-year-old child.

"You're required to have this damn deposition," Wilson said. "Am I going to have to send a marshal out there to conduct this deposition?"

Two days later, James filed a motion for sanctions against the attorneys who required him to depose LaFrance in a garage and who eventually banned him and his client, Garret Sorensen, from entering the house even to use the bathroom.

On Thursday, Nov. 10, Wilson held a 13-minute hearing in which he informed Martin, Solomon, LaFrance and the U.S. Attorney's Office that he was considering sanctions.

He advised them to hire lawyers: Martin and Solomon hired Ed Lowther of the Wright Lindsey & Jennings firm, and LaFrance hired Jim Simpson of Friday Eldredge & Clark.

If Wilson agrees with James that the U.S. Attorney's Office abused its authority by moving the civil case from state to federal court, he could impose sanctions on the federal prosecutors.

He would also then return the case to state court, which would mean "I may not have authority to hold the lawyers and [Jason LaFrance] in contempt," the judge wrote, although he could impose sanctions.

And Pat James?

Martin and Solomon have suggested that James should be sanctioned for making videotapes of Jason LaFrance's home with his cellphone and for "making threatening, physical contact" when Solomon ordered him to stop.

But nothing in Judge Wilson's notice of next week's hearing indicates that he is even considering sanctions against James. The only mention of James in the notice is to instruct him to make sure that the court reporter who recorded the deposition in Jason LaFrance's garage attends the hearing



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