Florida judge retains case against top law firm here

A circuit court judge in Florida has asserted jurisdiction over a civil conspiracy and extortion case even though many of the wrongs alleged happened in Costa Rica. In doing so, the judge rejected a dismissal motion from one of Costa Rica’s most powerful law firms whose partners are defendants.

The 14 partners, who were ordered to answer the allegations within 20 days, includes Enrique Castillo, who is the Costa Rican foreign minister.

The decision came in a detailed, 33-page explanation by Judge John W. Thornton.

With one exception, the allegations do not say that the partners of the Facio & Cañas law firm did anything wrong but that the firm stood to profit from the case and that the two principal defendants used their association with the prestigious law firm to further their scheme.

The plaintiff, Craig A. Brand, is seeking triple damages for actions he said caused his Costa Rican pharmaceutical business to fail as well as for false imprisonment, loss of income and mental anguish.

As part of the decision to reject the defendant’s motion to dismiss due to lack of jurisdiction, the Miami-Dade County judge held that the Costa Rican legal system was ill-suited to handle the case. The judge’s decision does not address the facts in the case, simply in which jurisdiction a jury trial will be held.

Six of the defendants live in Florida and were investors in a Costa Rican business set up by Brand, who had been and still is a Florida lawyer.

The major allegations, as reported earlier HERE,are against Federico Torrealba Navas and Gianna Cersosimo, who Brand identified in his court filing as the two lawyers who conspired against him. The alleged conspiracy and extortion started in 2006 and continued into 2007 when Torrealba became a partner and Ms. Cersosimo became an associate of the Facio & Cañas law firm, according to the complaint.

Cañas and Facio replied to the initial news storyHERE! and said the case lacked evidence and probably would be dismissed.

The Facio & Cañas Web site says that Torrealba has represented a large number of economic crime and fraud victims.

Brand was CEO of Farmacia Express Ltda., a chain of drug stores, in Costa Rica and an investor in a medical waste business and a restaurant.  He claims that Torrealba and Ms. Cersosimo conspired with some of his mostly Florida investors to file false fraud and theft criminal charges in order to extort

money.  As a result they were able to institute a prohibition keeping Brand from leaving Costa Rica on his honeymoon Jan. 3, 2007, and kept him in the country until prosecutors determined there was no evidence to back up the criminal charge. That is where the false imprisonment allegation originates.

Still the two lawyers then filed a private court case alleging the same thing, and that keeps Adriana Soto Kuhn, Brand’s new wife, in Costa Rica and keeps him from visiting here, according to his complaint.

In making his decision, the judge considered some 150 emails that had been sent by the two lawyers to the Florida investors and meetings that Torrealba held with his client investors in Florida.

Lawyers for the defendants argued in the motion to dismiss that Florida was an inconvenient forum for them to have a trial and that a similar case was in the Costa Rican courts. One part of the test, the judge noted in his decision is that the defendants had sufficient minimum contacts with Florida such that hearing the case there does not offend traditional notions of fair play and justice.

The judge cited meetings alleged in Florida by Torrealba and Ms. Cersosimo with investors in 2008 and 2009 and concluded that although Brand may have sustained monetary damages in Costa Rica, the injuries originated in Florida with the Florida defendants.

The  judge also noted that allegations of extortion include claims that the two lawyers urged Florida investors to complain about Brand to the Florida Bar Association and to the U.S. Office of Homeland Security and also threatened legal action in Florida.

As to Facio & Cañas itself, the judge noted that the firm has some 50 law clients in Florida.

The judge also was critical of the defendant’s motion to dismiss, saying it contains scant facts and no legal opinions that prove that the case should be dismissed.

Brand said earlier that he lacked confidence in the Costa Rican court system and that was why he was pursuing the case in Florida.

Without giving an opinion on the Brand case, A.M. Costa Rica has editorialized against secretimpedimentos de salida that those involved in a legal proceeding only find out about at the airport. The newspaper has said that such orders are unfair unless the subject of the prohibition to leave the county is served with a notice and has a chance to counter the decision in court. That editorial is HERE!

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