BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (CN) – A brokerage firm and a lobbying company say they were defamed in a lawsuit involving the Jefferson County sewer bond disaster, by being falsely accused of “criminal and illegal conduct and political corruption.”
Plaintiffs Sterne, Agee & Leach – a Birmingham-based brokerage – and Fine, Geddie & Associates – Montgomery-based lobbyists – say the defamatory statements were published in a lawsuit the defendants filed against JPMorgan and others over multibillion-dollar Jefferson County sewer deals.
The lead defendant is the Hollis, Wright & Harrington law office in Birmingham, and its three named partners: L. Andrew Hollis Jr., Joshua Wright and Kathryn Harrington. The lobbyists also sued three of the law firm’s clients – Charles Wilson, David Harris III and Mike Agnesia – plaintiffs in Charles E. Wilson et al. v JPMorgan Chase et al.
The allegedly defamatory statements involved payments the plaintiffs made to former Jefferson County Commissioner Jeff Germany.
The lobbyists say they often do business with former legislators or officials, and that Germany was no exception. They say the underlying lawsuit did not show that any payments were made after Germany left office, so the transaction was “a legitimate contract that had no financial impact on the County’s sewer business.”
The plaintiffs accuse the defendants of “falsely painting customary and legitimate business arrangements as bribes and illegal payments.”
Jefferson County is suffering financial collapse over its sewer bond deals; a plethora of lawsuits have been filed over the transactions.
In their fifth amended complaint, the defendants claimed the plaintiffs were “engaged together in bribery, political corruption and similar wrongdoing in connection with the widely publicized travails of the Jefferson County sewer system,” according to the defamation complaint in Jefferson County Court.
The plaintiffs say the defendants based their allegations on a similar lawsuit filed by the SEC, but that the SEC complaint did not mention the plaintiffs and the defendants knew they had no “factual basis to make the allegations that such lobbying agreements with private citizens were bribes, kickbacks and pay-offs.”
The lobbyists say the defendants did not contact them before filing the amended complaint to “check the facts or attempt to verify the truth.” The plaintiffs say they sent a letter demanding a public retraction, but the defendants refused.
The plaintiffs demand $20 million in damages.
The plaintiffs are represented by J. Michael Rediker of Birmingham.