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The case of adolescent killer Lionel Tate has spawned a bitter, two-state legal battle over allegations of attorney misbehavior, defamation and the improper release of confidential documents by the Broward County Clerk of the Courts in Florida. World Wrestling Federation Entertainment Inc. has filed a multimillion-dollar lawsuit in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York in Manhattan against Tate’s trial attorney, James Lewis of Fort Lauderdale, Fla. The WWF suit alleges that Lewis made derogatory statements on the Larry King show and other television programs blaming Tate’s crime on the youth’s mimicking of pro wrestlers he watched on TV. The wrestling promoter filed the suit in late 2000, even before Tate’s January 2001 trial. Tate, now 15, is serving life in prison with no possibility of parole for killing 6-year-old Tiffany Eunick in July 1999, when he was 12. According to trial testimony, she was beaten to death. Some medical witnesses said the injuries were consistent with someone who’d been body-slammed or thrown against a hard pole, similar to one in a wrestling ring. Tate has appealed the conviction to the state 4th District Court of Appeal in West Palm Beach. Meanwhile, documents disclosed by WWF attorneys as part of their defamation suit have prompted Tate’s appellate attorney to threaten the Broward Clerk of the Courts office with legal action. Richard L. Rosenbaum, of counsel at Atlas & Pearlman in Fort Lauderdale, alleges that a pre-sentencing investigation report allegedly obtained from the clerk’s office and included in the WWF’s filings in its defamation lawsuit was confidential under the law. Rosenbaum sent a letter this month demanding $1 million from the Broward clerk’s office for leaving the pre-sentencing report in the public court file. Disclosure of that report, he said in an interview, could hurt the teenager’s chances of winning his appeal or gaining clemency. Tate exercised his constitutional right not to testify at trial. But pre-sentencing reports typically include statements made by the defendant, statements of the examining psychologist and “all kinds of privileged information,” says Rosenbaum, who declines to detail the type of information in Tate’s pre-sentencing report. Rosenbaum says he has recommended to Tate and his parents that they sue Broward Clerk of the Court Howard Forman for releasing the information. Forman’s attorney, partner Susan Delegal of Holland & Knight in Fort Lauderdale, says the clerk anticipates that the Tates will file suit, explaining that government entities require a demand letter six months before filing. Though declining to comment on how or when the report was placed in the public file, she says that to her knowledge the pre-sentencing report is not publicly available at this time. The WWF also has subpoenaed records that Rosenbaum received from trial attorney Lewis. The WWF, according to Rosenbaum, wants to know what Lewis knew before he allegedly went on the air and blamed the Eunick killing on the WWF. Lewis, whose comments aired on several nationwide television shows, says he never blamed the WWF for the killing. “I simply said Lionel was imitating pro wrestling when he killed the girl,” Lewis says. “They’re a multimillion-dollar corporation that’s using the weight of its legal challenge to try to quash what I feel was free speech and my right to defend the boy.” Rosenbaum has hired Miami solo attorney Stephen Zukoff to file a protective order preventing use of the pre-sentencing report and to fend off the WWF demand for his records. Zukoff filed motions Jan. 22 in U.S. District Court in West Palm Beach, asking for sanctions against the WWF and its attorneys. Zukoff’s motion contends that one of the WWF attorneys, Kurt Stitcher, of the Pittsburgh office of Kirkpatrick & Lockhart, is not authorized to practice law in Florida. The motion also alleges that the WWF attorneys violated court rules by including the pre-sentencing report and correspondence between opposing attorneys as part of a public filing. The motion sarcastically describes the WWF as acting “with the grace, class and dignity of a publisher of a supermarket tabloid and with the same irresponsible callousness and reckless disregard for the subject of its expos�s.” The motion also alleges that Stitcher and his colleague Dan Casey, of Kirkpatrick & Lockhart’s Miami office, violated the federal court’s local rules by sending a letter to the judge in the case, Daniel T.K. Hurley. According to the motion, the letter dealt with a proposed request that Zukoff intended to submit in an effort to seal confidential information about Tate. The motion says the letter to Hurley “can best be described as an attempted ex parte communication.” Stitcher, who says he and Casey will not reply to the allegations except in court, confirms that he’s not licensed in Florida. But he says he could apply for authorization if needed. Until Zukoff filed motions, Stitcher contends, there was no need for him to apply. Casey did not return a call requesting comment. While the lawyers maneuver, Tate remains behind bars at the Okeechobee Juvenile Correctional Facility, a high-security jail. Rosenbaum is preparing briefs for Tate’s appeal. Likely lines of argument in the appeal include prosecutorial misconduct and Tate’s mental competence to stand trial, Rosenbaum says. He also contends that the statute under which Tate was convicted was misapplied. “The law never intended for a child to be convicted under a felony murder theory with aggravated child abuse as the underlying felony,” Rosenbaum says.

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