DISPUTES

Miami developers hit with $2 million judgment want new hearing in jet-set dispute

 

Millions are on the line Friday when attorneys for prominent Miami developers Craig Robins and Ugo Colombo head back to court in their long-running dispute over a private jet.

dsmiley@MiamiHerald.com

Design District developer Craig Robins says a $2 million judgment issued last month against his companies in a dispute over a private jet is illegitimate because of juror misconduct.

With attorneys for Robins and former partner-in-flight Ugo Colombo set to meet again in a Miami courtroom Friday afternoon, Robins’ attorney Dennis Richard is arguing that the jury verdict against his client should be thrown out and a new hearing granted. The grounds: he says three of six jurors who sided with high-rise developer Colombo and his company, CMC Group, omitted criminal records and past litigation when being vetted by attorneys.

“Multiple jurors concealed their involvement in multiple lawsuits. One juror concealed that he was a twice convicted felon,” Richard wrote in the March 25 motion. He added: “In the annals of reported cases we have not found a situation where as much as half the jury provided false answers when asked if they had been sued.”

Colombo attorney Jim Robinson said there’s no merit to the argument, nor several others by Robins’ camp in their quest to toss the $2 million judgment.

But Richard questioned the jurors’ impartiality on a case that centers on allegations of unpaid bills and manipulated invoices.

The legal fight between Colombo and Robins began in 2008, when a 50/50 partnership on a $22 million Bombardier Challenger jet began to deteriorate. Colombo said Robins flew the jet around the world and then declined to pay his bills, resulting in a lawsuit by Turnberry Management, the company the two developers had paid to manage the aircraft.

Robins, in turn, alleged that Colombo had actually agreed in conversation to buy the plane only to renege after the economy tanked. He said Colombo then orchestrated a “sham” lawsuit by Turnberry meant to force Robins into paying half the debt on the jet while Colombo kept it for his sole use.

Turnberry Management, owned by the Soffer family behind Miami Beach’s Fontainebleau Hotel, eventually settled with Robins and signed affidavits supporting his case against CMC Group and Colombo.

But a jury sided with Colombo last month and deemed Robins’ DACRA Development and CL36 Leasing liable for $2 million in damages.

Now, Robins’ attorneys are questioning the jury’s credibility, saying one juror denied ever being charged with a crime despite old convictions on felony charges related to fraud and embezzlement in California that resulted in a one-year prison sentence in the late 1980s. Two others had been sued over failure to pay bills, they said.

Reached Wednesday, Richard declined to comment.

Robinson said he doesn’t believe the jurors withheld information, but rather Robins’ attorneys didn’t vet the jurors properly. He questioned the timing of the argument, saying legal and criminal histories could have been found and raised in the weeks leading up to the verdict.

“Judgment day came and DACRA didn’t like it. Now they’ve filed a motion that throws everything including the kitchen sink,” Robinson said. “There’s nothing we’ve seen in any of the motions about the substance of the verdict they can take issue with.”

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