Million-Dollar Challenge Wasn't a Serious Offer
ORLANDO (CN) - A Florida lawyer did not make a serious offer when he promised $1 million to prove the state's timeline in his client's capital murder case, a federal judge ruled.
James Cheney Mason, a prominent Orlando criminal defense attorney, made the remark while speaking to NBC News about his client, Nelson Serrano, who was charged with killing four people.
Since a hotel security camera videotaped Serrano in the hours before and after the murders in Bartow, Fla., prosecutors aimed to prove that Serrano had flown between the cities using two assumed names.
NBC recorded Mason as saying that the state failed to show that his client could have gotten from point A to point B in 28 minutes.
"I challenge anybody to show me, and guess what? Did they bring in any evidence to say that somebody made that route, did so? State's burden of proof. If they can do it, I'll challenge 'em. I'll pay them a million dollars if they can do it," Mason said, according to a transcript included in the decision.
The interview did not air during the trial, however, and Serrano was sentenced to death after a jury convicted him in October 2006.
"Dateline" then included a portion of the Mason interview in its feature of the Serrano case after the trial.
Dustin Kolodziej was a student at the South Texas College of Law when he began following the trial in 2007 and saw the "Dateline" broadcast while exercising one day.
Taking Mason's remark seriously, Kolodziej used his own cellphone to record himself performing the "challenge" in 19 minutes.
He wrote to Mason on Dec. 15, 2007, and demanded the promised payment of $1 million.
When Mason rebuffed him, Kolodziej sued for breach of contract in Florida.
That case was dismissed for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, however, and Kolodziej sued again in Atlanta.
The case was eventually transferred to Orlando where U.S. District Judge Charlene Honeywell granted Mason and his firm J. Cheney Mason PA summary judgment Wednesday.
Ultimately Kolodziej's case fails because his challenge was predicated on an edited version of the Mason interview, according to the ruling.
"The court has determined that no unilateral contract was formed between defendants and Kolodziej because Kolodziej was unaware of the 'challenge' in the Unedited Mason Interview at the time he attempted to perform it and because the Edited Mason Interview that he did hear was not the same in substance as the unedited version he did not hear," Honeywell wrote. "Therefore, the court need not address defendants' remaining arguments - that Mason's communication did not constitute an offer and that, in any event, Kolodziej did not adequately perform the 'challenge.'"