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Old 04-14-2006, 03:35 PM
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Palm Beach Post - Dueling lawn-care businesses back in court

WEST PALM BEACH A decade-old legal dispute over the lucrative lawn-care business in Palm Beach spilled over into criminal court this week with a special prosecutor being appointed to investigate whether one landscaping company is clipping its longtime nemesis.

Palm Beach County Circuit Judge Amy Smith appointed defense attorney Robert Gershman to determine whether Amy Habie should be held in criminal contempt for violating court orders stemming from her 1996 breach-of-contract lawsuit against Scott Lewis, his wife, Carol, and their company Scott Lewis' Gardening & Trimming Inc.

But before the former assistant state attorney steps in, Smith will decide whether to hold Habie, owner of Nical of Palm Beach, in civil contempt for violating court orders, as the Lewises charge.

A four-day hearing on the civil contempt charges concluded Thursday with the Lewises' attorney predicting the end was in sight for the litigation that has consumed both sides and produced tens of thousands of pages of legal documents since Habie bought the Lewises' company for $800,000 in 1996.

The Lewises started a competing company five weeks later, prompting Habie's suit.

"It is our fervent hope that this is the end of the line," said attorney Jack Scarola. The appointment of Gershman, who could punish Habie with jail time, should persuade the ex-wife of a Guatemalan textile tycoon to abide by the terms of the civil case settlement agreement, he said.

Habie's attorneys had a different view.

Bruce Rogow, one of her high-profile legal team which has included superstar New York lawyer David Boies, blamed the non-stop litigation on the Lewises.

"They have exploited the settlement agreement in a way that is very frustrating for us," he said.

For instance, one of the contempt charges thrown at Habie this week involved two of her workers going onto the property of one of the Lewises' clients to fix a sprinkler head. The settlement agreement prohibits Nical from soliciting business from the Lewises' clients.

Smith dismissed the charge, ruling the workers made an honest mistake, Rogow said.

The charges Smith will consider are whether Habie violated her November order by not providing the Lewises with detailed financial information. Another involves Habie's company doing work for one of the Lewises' clients.

The case, that virtually all involved describe as bizarre, has been fueled by Habie's highflying associates. Since the case was filed, she has been involved in a successful international custody dispute with her ex-husband, who kidnapped her twin sons and kept them in Guatemala for eight years.

Boies, her business partner and onetime lawyer, led the federal government's successful antitrust assault on Microsoft and was a lead attorney in 2000 Democratic presidential candidate Al Gore's unsuccessful recount fight.

Rogow, however, blamed the current dispute on recent hurricanes. When Hurricanes Frances and Jeanne in 2004 and Wilma last year felled trees all over the county, phones at both companies began ringing.

The business boom exacerbated conflicts between the warring firms.

Asked how the litigation might come to an end: "We're just praying for no more hurricanes," he said.

If only they had the seller sign a non-compete contract at the time of the sale, this would never have happened. Possibly a contract barring the seller from starting another lco for at least 5 years?
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Old 04-14-2006, 05:09 PM
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When I had employees they could not work for another lawn care company for a minimum 1 year after termination, in a 30 mile radius. *It was perfectly legal too, talk with my lawyer about it, and it was good to go.
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Old 04-15-2006, 02:04 PM
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That was good foresight on your part. Maybe you will need to use these contracts again in the future if you hire staff as you grow.
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