Florida case illuminates judicial weaknesses here

The Florida filing. Photo: A.M. Costa Rica

A man who ran a business in Costa Rica lacked confidence in the court system here so he filed a case in Florida and haled a number of Costa Ricans into civil court there.

The man is Craig A. Brand, who is a Florida-licensed lawyer. But he also operated Farmacia Express Rx Ltda,, a chain of at least 15 outlets in the Central Valley.

Brand alleged in his suit that Costa Rican lawyers conspired with some of his investors to bring false criminal charges against him and that these continuing efforts destroyed the company.

His case also raises some critical issues in Costa Rican jurisprudence. For example, Brand said that he was unaware that a criminal case existed against him and that a judge had issued an impedimento de salida, a prohibition to leaving the country, until he was at Juan Santamaría airport prepared to leave on a honeymoon.

Costa Rica procedures are such that individuals hardly ever are told that a judge has restricted their movement. Foreigners are particularly vulnerable to this practice.

Brand also alleged in his Miami-Dade County Court filing that he was the victim of malicious and false criminal cases brought simply to extort money from him and his new wife. A number of expats have complained that they were victims of false criminal cases brought for strategic reasons.

A.M. Costa Rica was one victim in an unrelated case.

In a footnote to his filing, Brand writes about how hard it is to get a dismissal of a criminal cases that does not have a basis in fact:

“There is very little motion practice and oral hearings and not much in the way of early resolution or case management,” he said in the filing. “There is little chance or opportunity for a defendant to have procedurally heard a motion to dismiss, motion for summary judgment or a motion to strike a frivolous action . . . .”

“In fact,” he adds, there is no classification for frivolous complaints and no way for a defendant to procedurally respond to them as such.”

This means that a tricky lawyer can tie up individuals for years with baseless allegations because even the most hollow case usually goes to trial.

Brand filed his case against Federico Torrealba Navas and Gianna Cersosimo, who he identified in his filing as the two lawyers who conspired against him. But then he also sued partners of the prestigious Facio and Cañas law firm because Ms. Cersosimo works there as an associate.

Neither the law firm or Ms. Cersosimo commented on the situation, although Ernesto Hütt Crespo, managing partner for the law firm, said Monday such a comment was forthcoming. He was not named as an individual in the suit. Torrealba could not be contacted.

The Florida case that was begun in November said that some limited partner investors in the pharmacy business wanted their money back when they got in trouble with their personal finances, according to the initial court filing.

Essentially Brand alleges that Torrealba and Ms. Cersosimo recruited investors to plot against him and the pharmacy firm and then filed a string of false theft and fraud criminal cases here involving the business. The plan was to extort money so that the investors and the lawyers would withdraw the cases, said the filing.

It was Jan. 3, 2007, when Brand and his new Costa Rican wife tried to leave the country and found out about the criminal actions.

According to the filing, Tico prosecutors dismissed a case against him and his wife and a forensic accountant reviewed the financial books of Farmacia and found them to be accurate. He said that the lawyers then filed private criminal actions that eventually were rejected after multiple appeals.

Brand also said in the filing that a false labor case also was filed and that unsuccessful complaints were lodged against his Florida law license twice.

Brand is suing for loss of income, loss of assets, loss of business, public embarrassment and humiliations, among others. The reason he is in Florida court is because some of the investors live there, and he said in his filing that Torrealba and Ms. Cersosimo traveled to Florida to continue what he called a pattern of criminal activity.

Florida law provides for triple damages and punitive damages. Brand said he has served summonses on the defendants here.

Florida court files are open, of course, but those in Costa Rica are not. So it is hard to tell if similar cases have been filed here. Still some expat investors report that they have been the target of false criminal cases, which have the effect of freezing civil trials.

Brand’s filing is one-sided because there were no responses from the defendants. By telephone Brand did say that the Costa Rican defendants have filed a reply but it was mostly to dispute jurisdiction in Florida.

Brand does have some ammunition. A man identified as Yosvani Alfonso, a Miami businessman, has filed a notarized affidavit to support Brand. Alfonso admits to being part of a conspiracy to extort money and said that Torrealba and Ms. Cersosimo had him file a fictitious labor lawsuit against Brand.

Alfonso also said in his affidavit that the two lawyers instructed him to file a fictitious Florida Bar complaint.

“Until recently, I was a client of the defendant lawyers and law firms and was used by them as a means of creating undue and unjust pressure against the plaintiff, as stated in the complaint, so that the plaintiff would pay us to go away,” said Alfonso in his affidavit.

“I do not agree with the tactics taken by the defendants against the plaintiff as these tactics are all rooted in fraud, bolstered by fictitious Costa Rican legal actions and deceit,” he added

This entry was posted in Costa Rica News. Bookmark the permalink.