Donald Trump
Donald Trump (Amy Beth Bennett)

Both sides in the Fort Lauderdale Trump International Hotel & Tower litigation took away positives from the verdicts favoring Donald Trump.

A Broward Circuit jury cleared the celebrity real estate developer of any liability to planned buyers for failing to complete a 24-story condo-hotel tower on Fort Lauderdale Beach. The decision went against two businessmen, but another 81 depositors have a lawsuit pending.

The initial pair, who sought refunds on their construction deposits paid in 2005, were turned down Wednesday in separate jury verdicts in the trial before Circuit Judge Jeffrey Streitfeld.

The jury concluded the Trump Organization LLC and Trump did not use misleading advertising, did not violate of the Florida Deceptive and Unfair Practices Act and did not commit fraudulent or negligent misrepresentation.

Trump was accused by John Taglieri, a Boston restaurateur, and Michael Goodson, a New Jersey manufacturer, of posing as the project developer when he was not. Goodson appeared as the plaintiff in the name of Deer Valley Realty Inc., which he created to make the transaction.

Trump was the licensor, but he pulled out of the project a year before it halted in 2009 after the housing market crashed. Following a bank repossession by auction in 2012, the unfinished building was sold last year for conversion to a Hilton resort under its luxury Conrad brand.

“All the parties in the two cases—Mr. Trump, John Taglieri and Deer Valley Realty—were fortunate to have these cases tried before an experienced and outstanding judge and a jury that diligently paid attention and listened to all of the evidence and the law and reached a fair and just verdict,” said Trump attorney Herman Russomanno of Russomanno & Borrello in Miami.

Trump, known for his cutting comments, went to Twitter to gloat, “I will now sue for millions of $’s in attorney fees, for which the plaintiffs are liable,” and, “I just beat a lawyer from Yale and a lawyer from Harvard, who teamed up against me in a major case.”

The husband-and-wife team of Jared Beck and Elizabeth Lee Beck of Beck & Lee in Miami represented the would-be buyers. Jared went to Harvard and Elizabeth went to Yale. They had no comment by deadline.

Trial To Come

In one way, the Taglieri and Goodson cases were a trial run for the larger trial to be set later this year.

“While each trial is different, we believe that the issue in the case with regard to the testimony and what occurred are closely related,” Russomanno said. “We believe that if the jury listens to the evidence and the law, we are confident that verdict could be the same.”

Joe Altschul, a Plantation attorney representing the remaining plaintiffs, observed the eight-day trial. His clients are seeking nearly $8 million in damages plus interest.

“I’m thankful for the opportunity to observe the Deer Valley trial,” he said. “The takeaway is that I had the opportunity to see my opponents present their defense in advance, which will permit me to better prepare for trial. The Deer Valley verdict will not have any negative impact on our case. Our case will be tried on the merits to a different jury and by different plaintiffs lawyers.”

Altschul also noted the Deer Valley jury did not appear to be entirely sympathetic to Trump. Early in the deliberations, the jury asked if they agreed the marketing materials were misleading but found that was not the cause of the losses, should they keep deliberating.

Streitfeld told the jury to rely on the instructions they were given.

The crux of the plaintiffs cases have been the marketing materials, which appeared to come directly from Trump and his organization. The investors alleged the materials implied Trump control the development and it would be built by his development team.

In his defense, Trump relied on the prospectus and contract documents, which explained in detail that SB Hotel Associates LLC was the developer and Trump was providing a revocable license that would leave his company to manage the hotel.