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A trial judge in Ocala, Fla., has thrown out charges of misconduct and ethics violations against prominent litigators Willie Gary and Madison McClellan. Circuit Judge Brian Lambert, acting as referee in the Bar disciplinary case, ruled on Wednesday that there was not enough evidence to back up 10 allegations filed against the two attorneys by the Florida Bar. “The judge thought it was penny ante, joking stuff,” Gary said in an interview after the charges were dismissed. “I never thought for one minute it would get this far.” The Bar will review Judge Lambert’s order and determine whether or not to appeal, said Francine Walker, the Bar’s public information director. Last month, Donald Spangler, the Bar’s chief discipline counsel, dismissed a related complaint against Tricia Hoffler, Gary’s partner. Spangler said the charge was dismissed after discovery showed that the allegation was unfounded. The Bar charges against the three Stuart, Fla., lawyers stemmed from the 2001 trial in which Gary, Williams, Parenti, Finney, Lewis, McManus, Watson & Sperando represented the family of baseball legend Roger Maris in a contract lawsuit against Anheuser-Busch. In August 2001, an Alachua County Circuit Court jury found that Anheuser-Busch had wrongfully terminated the Maris family’s distributorship in Gainesville and the surrounding area. The jury initially awarded the Maris family $139 million before a judge later reduced that amount and ordered Anheuser-Busch to pay $72.6 million, including interest. That verdict is on appeal. Each side accused the other of various acts of misconduct, such as packing the courtroom with African-Americans to favorably impress black jurors and improperly attempting to influence or coerce jurors. Gary was ejected from the courtroom at one point and silenced by the judge on another occasion for uttering a profanity. The trial judge, R.A. Green Jr., found both Gary and Anheuser-Busch attorney Peter Moll, a partner at Howrey Simon Arnold & White in Washington, D.C., in contempt of court. In the midst of the trial, Judge Green took the unusual step of appointing a special master to conduct a confidential investigation of lawyer misconduct in the midst of the trial. The special master, Stephen N. Bernstein, investigated allegations that Gary used profanity in court and harassed a witness. He also investigated allegations that Gary’s co-counsel, McClellan, made false claims to the judge and the news media that Anheuser-Busch counsel was violating court orders prohibiting them from having contact with witnesses in the case. Their partner, Tricia Hoffler, was accused of lying to the special master about the reason Gary had had a news conference six weeks before the trial. Bernstein ultimately concluded that the behavior of the lawyers in the case was “an insult to the integrity of the legal system.” The Anheuser-Busch attorneys also came in for criticism in the report. Bernstein’s findings were turned over to the Bar. Gary and McClellan claimed that the Florida Bar’s charges against them were driven by Anheuser-Busch. Gary noted that his firm is representing the Maris family in a related defamation lawsuit in Alachua Circuit Court, which is coming up for trial this summer. “[Anheuser-Busch] is just trying to make us look bad because another case is coming up in August,” Gary said. “I don’t hold anything against the Florida Bar. But [the Bar] got used by Anheuser-Busch, who paid big dollars to push these false allegations.” The Bar’s Walker denied that. “The Florida Bar weighs the alleged conduct against the rules and prosecutes if a rule has been violated. There are no outside influences,” he said. Gary mocked the disciplinary charges. On the charge that he used profanity during the Anheuser-Busch trial, he said that he said the word “bullshit” because of “flaring tempers,” though he didn’t say it to the judge or to any of the lawyers. “Have you never said a curse word or ‘damn’ or something?” he asked.

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