The Sloppy Tuna in Montauk ()
A Long Island lawyer has been found in civil contempt for repeated interference with a receiver appointed to run The Sloppy Tuna, a sometimes-wild beachfront nightspot that has helped transform Montauk into a party destination.
The lawyer, A. Todd Merolla, also was found in contempt because he skipped a court-ordered hearing in January, telling Suffolk County Supreme Court Justice Jerry Garguilo in a note, “I have significant concerns regarding the procedural and jurisdictional posture of the scheduled contempt hearing for January 9-10, 2017 to the extent directed at me.”
Garguilo, who is presiding over part of a yearslong legal battle among four owners of The Sloppy Tuna, cited Merolla’s “audacity” in a lengthy May 9 contempt order. Then he criticized him repeatedly as he detailed Merolla’s actions over a year’s time.
“This court cannot stand idly by and simply accept the utter disrespect for this court’s directives,” Garguilo wrote of Merolla’s violation of orders not to interfere and to appear before him. “Additionally, Mr. Merolla has the unmitigated gall to suggest the appointment of a receiver in this most contentious litigation, represented a ‘usurpation’ of power.”
Merolla did not return multiple phone calls seeking comment. His firm, Merolla & Gold, has offices in Garden City and Atlanta, Georgia.
Merolla, who formerly represented Sloppy Tuna owner Drew Doscher, was found in contempt even though he was not a party to the action in Suffolk County and was apparently no longer involved in the case.
“Although Mr. Merolla is not a named respondent, he, as an officer of the court, can be punished for his disobedience of this court’s order,” Garguilo wrote, adding, “It is undisputed that he was aware of the ‘non-interference’ order.”
The tale of The Sloppy Tuna and its legal tentacles is a convoluted one, according to news reports. Its four original owners once worked together at a Manhattan securities firm. After building The Sloppy Tuna into a large, popular restaurant and club—one that Scott Disick of the Kardashian clan has called “trashy” and that has seen Rob Gronkowski dancing shirtless—the founders had a falling out.
Doscher, now represented by Michael Bowe, a partner at Kasowitz Benson Torres, has been engaged in litigation against both owner Michael Meyer and owners Michael Meagher and Stephen Smith in Suffolk County Supreme Court, the Eastern District of New York, Georgia state court and Georgia federal court.
The legal battles have often centered on who owns the land underneath the restaurant and, via trademark infringement and licensing actions, who owns trademarks, domain names, merchandise and other items associated with The Sloppy Tuna, including its insignia of a smiling fish wearing sunglasses and carrying a surfboard.
Last March, Garguilo appointed a receiver, Charles Russo, founder of Russo, Karl, Widmaier & Cordano on Long Island, to run the establishment’s business as litigation continued. In turn, Doscher, who also has been found in contempt by Garguilo, posted a public letter on Facebook in which, among other accusations, he said Garguilo appointed as receiver his “ex-law partner and good buddy and grant[ing] him over $800,000 in fees.”
But in his May 9 order, Garguilo focused on Merolla. He said that, time and again, Merolla had violated his March 2016 order disallowing any interference with Russo’s management of The Sloppy Tuna.
Garguilo said Merolla, while acting as counsel to a company run by Doscher, issued to Russo a notice of termination of a purported license agreement; Russo in turn told Merolla he would ignore the notice unless it was backed by a court order.
Merolla also demanded Doscher’s company be paid $727,624.
On the same date, according to the judge, Merolla filed an action in Georgia state court against a company that holds ownership of The Sloppy Tuna. The suit sought damages for alleged breach of a license agreement and injunctive relief.
Merolla also accused Russo of usurping power in order to run The Sloppy Tuna; and the lawyer later appeared at a Georgia court hearing on the alleged breach of the license agreement.
Russo did not return a call seeking comment. Bowe, the Kasowitz lawyer now representing Doscher, did not return a call. Neither did Michael Burrows, a shareholder at Greenberg Traurig in Manhattan, representing Meyer.
James Catterson, a partner at Arnold & Porter Kaye Scholer, who represents Meagher and Smith, declined to comment.