The ownership of the USA Drug pharmacy chain has to go forward with its civil suit against a former executive, his wife and her sister and must defend itself against a countersuit alleging defamation, Pulaski County Circuit Judge Wendell Griffen ordered on Thursday.
In an order denying a motion to dismiss the civil suit by USA Drug’s parent company, Griffen also said he was considering sanctions against the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Little Rock for temporarily moving the case from state court to federal court. That unilateral decision to move the case against Garret and Katherine Sorensen and Shannon Walters has been found to be improper and has already resulted in sanctions in federal court.
The Sorensens and Walters have also been indicted in federal court on criminal charges for allegedly funneling advertising commissions from USA Drug to a business they set up without the knowledge or permission of Garret Sorensen’s employer.Their criminal trial is scheduled to start May 1.
In a six-page order that followed a hearing on Tuesday, Griffen joined U.S. District Judge Bill Wilson in criticizing lawyers for USA Drug’s parent company, Stephen L. LaFrance Holdings Inc., and federal prosecutors for over-the-top efforts to avoid sharing information with and giving depositions to the Sorensens’ attorneys.
"The Court is bewildered by the Plaintiffs’ and Government’s reticence to engage in discovery," Griffen wrote, and later, "Judge Wilson was not fooled by the conduct of lawyers for the Government. The same is true for this Court."
Pat James, the Little Rock lawyer who is defending Garret and Katherine Sorensen in the civil case, expressed satisfaction with Griffen’s order.
"It’s clear that he read and studied Judge Wilson’s order, and he has a clear understanding of what took place," James said.
Because he said he was "not content to trust that discovery will proceed in the usual manner," Griffen himself set out a speedy schedule of events:
- The Sorensens have until next Friday to amend their countersuit. James told ArkansasBusiness.com that the amended complaint will be more specific in its claims of defamation by the LaFrance organization.
- LaFrance Holdings, represented by Ryan Solomon of the Rose Law Firm in Little Rock, then has until March 5 to respond to that counterclaim.
- Until March 5, the parties are limited written discovery. But on March 5, depositions can begin. James said LaFrance’s lawyers had already scheduled a March 5 deposition of Garret Sorensen, but James will try to get that delayed until after he can conduct the depositions of Stephen L. LaFrance Sr., Stephen L. LaFrance Jr. and Jason LaFrance that he has been attempting for more than two years.
- Discovery will end on April 5 and a jury trial will begin on June 25.
Neither Solomon nor U.S. Attorney Chris Thyer was immediately available for comment on the order Friday morning.