A Trumped-Up Tempest
Broward Sheriff Ken Jenne won't testify in Donald Trump's case against the developers of the Seminole Hard Rock after a judge admonished the real estate tycoon's lawyers for hyping the case in the press and ordered them to name the Sun-Sentinel reporters to whom they had leaked information.
That's the news from the courtroom yesterday, but the inside story of the Sentinel's role in the imbroglio may be even more interesting. And it begins with the newspaper breaking the story last month that Jenne was going to be subpoenaed in the Trump case. The July 14 article, by reporters Sally Kestin and Paula McMahon, led the Metro section.
"Broward Sheriff Ken Jenne has become ensnared in a lawsuit Donald Trump filed against a former employee who helped another developer build the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino near Hollywood," the reporters wrote.
The problem was that it seemed a bit trumped-up from the beginning. There was absolutely no evidence that Sheriff Jenne had
any role in the development of the Hard Rock. And his connection to developer Richard T. Fields -- the former Trump employee whom "The Donald" accuses of ripping off the idea for the immensely profitable casino and cutting him out of the deal -- was tenuous at best. Jenne moonlighted with casino security contractor T&M Protection Resources, which had been hired by the casino on Fields' recommendation.
The story was nominal at best and seemed totally overplayed by the Sentinel. But there were aggravating factors involved. Jenne was under state and federal investigation at the time and the Sun-Sentinel and Miami Herald were in a heated competition to break news about the sheriff. On top of that, the Herald was not only beating the Sentinel on the sheriff's saga on a regular basis, but the Sentinel had published an erroneous story in June alleging the sheriff had cheated on his income taxes. He had not.
So for the Sentinel, the Trump story, as thin and dubious as it may have been, was a much-needed scoop in a heated fight that it had been losing in desperate fashion. But even the article by Kestin and McMahon was full of quotes about how ridiculous it all was. Jenne's attorney, David Bogenschutz, said: "It seems to me like this is a play by somebody to embarrass him or to make information public to try to embarrass him." Others called it a "fishing expedition" and said it was just more games being played by the Trump team to hound the developers.
Trump's attorney, Robert Reardon Jr., played innocent: "The Trump organization and Donald Trump have absolutely no knowledge of Ken Jenne. It came as a surprise to us that his name popped up in all of this."
Now fast forward to yesterday's court hearing on the Jenne subpoena. Broward Circuit Judge Jeffrey Streitfeld found that the subpoena wasn't necessary and went so far as to question Reardon's ethics, according to this morning's Sun-Sentinel story written by McMahon.
A key line in McMahon's story helps explain how the sheriff became "ensnared" in the Trump suit:
"Trump attorney Robert Reardon Jr. of New London, Conn., said in court that Jenne was subpoenaed in part because of questions Sun-Sentinel reporter Sally Kestin asked Reardon about connections between Jenne and Fields."
So the questionable subpoena, which was followed by an overplayed newspaper story, had actually originated with said newspaper's influence. The name of the sheriff apparently "popped up" to Trump's legal team when Kestin interviewed Reardon about Jenne. Told you it was interesting.
Streitfeld had apparently had enough of the nonsense. He scolded the Trump attorneys, who then withdrew the spurious subpoena. Then the judge demanded the lawyers to name the reporters to whom they had "leaked" information about the coming subpoena. They named both McMahon and Kestin.
That last bit of courtroom drama likely wasn't necessary -- and was something of an unwelcome intrustion into the Fourth Estate. Their names were already on the story after all. But, in fairness to the judge, Streitfeld was clearly concerned about the reporters' influence on the Trump attorneys as much as he was on the lawyers' leaking of information to the newspaper. And that seems to me to be fair game.
What you have, in the end, is a mess created both by lawyers -- who were bent on embarrassing their legal foe and happy to use the newspaper to do it -- and reporters desperate for a scoop. Unfortunately the tempest they created was played out not in a teapot where it belonged, but in the pages of the newspaper.