The suppression of free speech
in Florida's 6th Circuit
gag the opposition
by Wesley M. Fager (c) September 16, 2006
For two years Manny Gonzalez ran a web page that was critical of Kane's™ Furniture, a Florida corporation. His web page had become a source of information for the state's Attorney General's Office which was building a case against Kane's™. Kane's™ retaliated by hiring attorney Leonard Englander to sue the state and to force Gonzalez to take down his web page. On December 19, 2002 Lenny Englander convinced Judge Walt Logan (without Gonzalez's knowledge) to sign a temporary injunction against Gonzalez based on a lame trademark violation excuse. The story made it to USA Today. Eight months later Lenny Englander represented Ambassador Melvin Sembler who wanted a certain article once belonging to him removed from an Internet sale site. On August 26, 2003 Judge Logan met in secret once again with Lenny Englander and signed a temporary injunction against Ray Bradbury. This one based on a flimsy charge of stalking. This story made it to the Washington Post. What has never before been reported is that Judge Walt Logan once did some legal work for Englander's law firm. Even more telling is that Kane's™ CEO and his wife, and Mel Sembler's son and his wife have been socially active with Judge Walt Logan and his wife Lin at a foundation founded by Sembler's business partner and on whose board sits Lenny Englander! Read all about it!
THE SILENCING OF MANNY GONZALEZ
1995: Kane's™ settles with AG. In 1990 Bob Butterworth, the longtime Democratic Attorney General for the state of Florida, launched a statewide investigation into the furniture business. That investigation culminated in 1995 when a group of furniture retailers were given fines for misleading advertising practices. Kane's™ Furniture of Pinellas Park (AKA Savon Furniture) , with annual sales of $90 million, was fined $80,000 (the second-highest fine levied) and the company signed an agreement with the Attorney General barring it from advertising prices as discounts unless they were lower than the bona fide price.  
Five years later complaints were mounting against Kane's™ Furniture once again. The Better Business Bureau of West Florida gave Kane's™ an unsatisfactory rating because of complaints about poor customer service and delivery of defective furniture. The Pinellas County Consumer Protection Agency received 29 complaints against Kane's™--but most had been fixed. And many, many alleged consumers were going to the Internet and to the press to express their dissatisfaction with Kane's™. In order for the reader to better appreciate the seriousness of the complaints against Kane's™ and the sheer numbers of complaints, we have included some Kane's™ web gripe sites and other publications below:
RipOff Report 4-20-2000
RipOff Report 2-11-03
St. Petersburg Times - Dec.9, 1998
St. Petersburg Times - 11/9/00
Orlando Sentinel - Jul.. 6, 2002
St. Petersburg Times - Jul. 10,2002
St. Petersburg Times - 4-27-01
St. Petersburg Times - 3-18-01
St. Petersburg Times - 3-6-03
St. Petersburg Times - 6-4-01
My 3 Cents
Gonzo's web page. But no consumer web page or newspaper article was as hard on Kane's™ as Manuel "Manny" Gonzalez (AKA Gonzo) was on his web page www.kanes-furniture.net. Thanks to the Internet's Wayback Machine Gonzalez's pages still exist:
www-kanes-furniture.net - main page captured on 11-30-02
letters received #1 - 63 - captured on 11-21-02
letters received #64 - 104 - captured on 11-28-02
letters received #105 - ?? - not captured
Worse for Kane's™ by 2001 the Attorney General's office was once again looking at the company for "misrepresentations in ads, delivery of incomplete orders, credit errors, and otherwise poor customer service." "It is by far, by far, the most complaints we've ever received about a retail business," said Jacqueline "Jackie" Dowd, an assistant attorney general with the economic crimes unit in Orlando. By early July 2002 Dowd reported that the Attorney General's Office had gathered 289 complaints in 18 months, "which is just an awful lot and significantly more than we receive about any other furniture store." A month later the total had risen to 515 (though Dowd admitted there could be some duplicates in that total).   
Worse still for Kane's™ the Attorney General's Office was reading Gonzo's web page. On 7-26-02 Angie Sheridan, an Assistant Attorney General, sent Gonzalez's this email giving him instructions to pass on to consumers instructions on how to make an official complaint to the state. If you have read some of the alleged consumer complaints above you will see that the alleged consumers were making some pretty serious charges against Kane's™. From 289 complaints to around 500 in a month--that indicates an alarming rate of growth in numbers of complaints. In the midst of this adversity, Kane™ CEO Irwin Novack claimed that 90% of the 289 complaints had been resolved and then [by apparently comparing an alleged 120,000 deliveries the company makes a year to 289 complaints] he added, "289 complaints (means) a satisfaction rate of over 99.9% and I think anybody would be happy with that. We'd like to have zero complaints, but I think that's an acceptable percentage."     
2002: AG offers to settle with Kane's™. At the conclusion of its investigation the Attorney General's Office charged Kane's™ with false advertising practices — including advertising that everything is on sale when it was not — and failing to respond adequately to customer complaints about defective furniture, incomplete orders, delivery and other problems. Like it did in 1995 the state agency offered to settle with Kane if Kane would sign an "assurance of voluntary compliance agreement" where the company would agree to not falsely advertise sale items, respond to customers' complaints immediately or refund their money, implement a system to track customer service requests and hire a customer service manager. (Apparently the company had already hired a customer service manager.) Also Kane's™ would have to agree to pay a $400,000 fine--the largest fine ever for a Florida furniture chain according to Ms. Dowd.     
2002: Kane's™ refuses to settle and sues the AG. Irwin Novack refused to sign this agreement. Instead Kane's™ sued the Attorney General's Office charging that the AG had exceeded its authority in its "investigation and the relief requested;" and alleged that the settlement terms would give Kane's™ competitors an unfair advantage. Pinellas Circuit Judge W. Douglas Baird dismissed the suit and Kane appealed.       [Also see Kanes vs Florida, 6th Circuit, 02002099CI, 3/13/02 and Kanes vs. Florida state office of the Attorney General, 6th Circuit # 02003694CI, 05/08/02 ]
Nov. 2002: AG sues Kane's™. In November 2002 the Attorney General's Office sued Kane's™ Furniture alleging, "Unfair and deceptive trade practices: scheme to defraud, civil theft, common law cheating, selling used goods as new, advertising misrepresentations and finance and warranty violations. This 15 store chain has generated an unprecedented number of complaints for a retail business about misleading ads, defective furniture, worthless warranties, unfulfilled promises of delivery and unfair billing practices." The case number is L02-3-1004. The defendants are Kane's™ Furniture and d/b/a Savon Furniture; Irwin Novack, individually and as director of Kane Furniture Corporation; Doug Bravata, individually and as a managing authority of Kane Furniture Corporation."      
The state had subpoenaed credit card charges from World Financial Network National Bank (an Ohio company that handles Kane's™ store credit card program) and had received "three file drawers of customer complaints about credit card charges," Dowd said. [See complaints against World Financial Network National Bank.] Ms. Dowd noted that there were thousands of complaints (not knowing how many were possible duplicates). Only 370 complaints were analyzed for the state's law suit. It was noted that each complaint of unfair business practices could cost Kane's™ up to $10,000 (up to $15,000 if it involves an elderly or disabled person). In addition to any fine, the state sought another $500,000 from Kane's™ to "make whole the initial 370 disputed claims." Kane's™ chief executive Irwin Novack was sued both as an officer of the company and personally based on state allegations that he controlled and directed the unfair practices. Actually, the state was so upset with Kane's that, according to Furniture Today, "The complaint also seeks to shut down Kane's, although "I would expect it not to go that far," Dowd said."     
Kane's™ donates money to Republican contender Charlie Crist for AG. But there was a problem of timing. After 16 years in office, Democratic Attorney General Bob Butterworth had been term limited out and could not run again for office in the November 2002 election. The leading Republican contender was Charlie Crist (now a contender for governor). On 10/01/2002 Kane™ Furniture donated $25,000 to the Republican Party of Florida. Irwin M. Novack contributed $500 (the legal limit) to Crist in 2000, 2001 and 2002. Charlie crist won the election.
Englander persuades Logan to issue a temporary injunction on Gonzalez to take down his web site while Kane's™ prepares to sue him. The allegations found on Manny Gonzalez's web page and other pages, plus other complaints filed with consumer groups and with the AG's office had given the state sufficient grounds to bring a law suit against Kane's™. It remained to be proved (or disproved) in court whether these serious charges were true. In the meantime, Gonzo's web page was really hurting business for Kane's™. According to USA Today [1-7-03] and to the AP, Manny Gonzalez said, "Their attorney called me and said if I didn't take the site down, they'd have me and my wife put in jail. Now they're suing me for quite a bit of money."
On December 19 attorney Leonard Englander of Englander & Fischer, P.A. got Pinellas County Circuit Judge Walt Logan to issue a temporary injunction to deny Manny Gonzalez his free speech by making Gonzalez take down his site. [6th Circuit # 02010017CI, originally brought incorrectly against Diane and Robert Gonzalez] This meeting was without notice to Gonzalez who found out when finally served court papers. Surprisingly the injunction was not issued because Manny Gonzalez was showing Kane's™ in a bad light. It was issued because Englander alleged that Gonzalez was violating Kane's™ trademark!
Kane's™ web page is at www.kanesfurniture.com.
Gonzalez's site was at www.kanes-furniture.net.
Lisa Brock, a PR specialist for Kane's™, said the sole issue is one of trademark infringement. "It is downright offensive to have false claims aired in such a way, she said, "particularly when a trademark that is respected and well-regarded is being unfairly assaulted like this." Kane's™ claimed that customers trying to reach its web site (www.kanesfurniture.com) were confused by the other site. 
State Attorney General officials were furious at Judge Logan's decision. Angie Sheridan, Assistant Attorney General in the economic crimes unit in Orlando stated, "We think it's the most outrageous thing." She said the state would file a "friend of the court" brief on Gonzalez's behalf, and she described the injunction as both "anti-consumer and a violation of free speech."   But Judge Logan agreed with Leonard Englander. Lenny Englander and Judge Logan were no strangers either. In 1988 Lenny Englander's law firm (then Stobla, Englander, Andrews and Shames) sued one Sandy Hall for collection of legal fees [88-2893-11] The firm's attorney was Walt Logan. Walt Logan also represented Englander's firm in another 1988 collection suit--this one against one Mark Deeb. [88-17380-19]. Logan signed the injunction in Dec. 2002. Leonard Englander is on the board of directors of the Florida Holocaust Museum. It was probably sometime in 2003 that a social committtee called the Diner Committee was formed for the museum's Awards Banquet that was held on Jan. 17, 2004. Judge Walt Logan and his wife Lin were on that committee. So were Irwin and Patty Novack!
SIDEBAR. Christopher Lamparello, a New York man, runs the web page www.falwell.com which advocates homosexuality. Rev. Jerry Falwell opposes homosexuality and sued and won the right to have the name transferred to himself. based on trademark laws. Lamparello, represented by Public Citizen with supporting briefs from the ACLU, the ACLU of Virginia, and Intellectual Property Law Faculty won an appeal in 2005 in the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit. Public Citizen argued that Lamparello’s speech is indisputably protected and not applicable to trademark laws because the site features noncommercial speech. Public Citizen argued that the District Court’s opinion should have been reversed because viewers of the web site were unlikely to be confused about whether Falwell sponsors the Lamparello web site. “Lamparello’s website looks nothing like Reverend Falwell’s,” the court ruled. “Lamparello clearly created his web site intending only to provide a forum to criticize ideas, not to steal customers.” 
Another excellent example is the Joseph Maxwell case discussed in CircleID in the article Non-Commercial Website Domain Names Using Trademarks. The Lamparello case and the Maxwell case are but two of many successful strikedowns of the trademark defense. The header on Gonzalez's site states the "Furniture Store From Hell . . Kanes-Furniture" and is underscored with animated, roaring flames. No one would mistake his page to be "The Kane's™ Furniture" page. His page was not a commercial page. I believe Gonzalez's would have won, had he not settled. Again this affirms that the injunction was not about trademark.
No one questions that Kane's™ was the rightful owner of the mark "Kane's" in 2002, but it had no trademark on the name "Kane's Furniture." Kane's™ Furniture of Pinellas Park, Florida was founded in 1948. Another store, Kane's Furniture of Sarasota, Florida, was founded in 1949. The two are separate companies. When Kane's™ Furniture of Pinellas Park opened a store in Sarasota, it took the name Sovan Furniture, presumably because there was already a Kane's Furniture in Sarasota. There's a Kane Furniture of Ormond Beach, Florida and a Kane Furniture in Charlottesville, Virginia. There's a Kane's Ace Hardware Inc. in Homosassa, Fl., a Kane's Ace Hardware Inc. in Homosassa Springs and a Kane's Appliance Service in Vero Beach, Fl. There are Kane's all over. Kane's™ did not seek injunctions against these corporations and the reason is clear. Kane's™ wanted Gonzo's site down because it was hurting Kane's™ business. Trademark infringement was just a trumped-up excuse.
A judge gagging a man who's performing a public service for a trademark infringement! Naturally, the story sparked national attention and was covered by USA Today and AP as well as by statewide papers such as the Tallahassee Democrat, the Orlando Sentinel, The St. Petersburg Times, plus Tampa's ABC TV Action News. Many free speech and trademark watchdogs still have their eye on the Englander/Logan gag order including Out Law dot com, Chilling Effects, Freedom Forum, The Trademark Blog, and Info Shop News.
THE SILENCING OF RAY BRADBURY
Prominent Pinellas County citizen Melvin Sembler is a multimillionaire who builds shopping centers. He is the former chairman of the national GOP Finance Committee. In 2001 after Mr. Sembler bought the ambassadorship to Italy, his company threw a going away party for him. Federal Judge Elizabeth Kovachevich was there. Leonard Englander and Irwin and Patty Novack were guests too. It was reported that they were discussing their up coming trip to the World Series. The Novacs were going to take in the shows, and "the Englanders were going for the sights."
Another business venture founded by Sembler is Straight, Inc. Straight treated kids for drug addictions and became the biggest chain of juvenile drug rehabilitation programs in the world. But Straight was also one of the most destructive teen rehabs the world has ever seen. Over 40 former clients have committed suicide. A man named Ray Bradbury had been forced into Straight when he was a teen. He says he was severely abused and "brainwashed" there. After graduation from Straight he became a Straight counselor. He says it dawned on him one day that Straight was not helping kids; it was destroying them. Ever since he has been a vocal critic of Straight.
Officially Straight stopped treating kids for addictions in 1993 and in 1995 changed its name to its current name the Drug Free America Foundation. Like so many Straight survivors Bradbury is not so sure that Straight really ever closed; and even if it did, he wants to make sure no existing programs which use Straight's therapeutic method, are abusive. So since Straight closed in 1993, and perhaps even before, Mr. Bradbury has being going through Mr. Sembler's trash looking for any data that will help him document Straight's crimes, and also looking to see whether Mr. Sembler has any financial or other ties to any of the new Straights.
Bradbury's purpose for going through Sembler's trash might have been to monitor Straight and the new Straights, but Ray Bradbury says he has found some items through the years that he just wasn't prepared to find. Take for instance classified documents. In a court document Bradbury claims that he has found records of travel times of very high-level government officials including former President Bush, arrival and departure times at airports, tail numbers of aircraft used and sometimes even the names of pilots. A would-be terrorist's dream sheet!
Another unusual item Bradbury says he found in Sembler's trash was a penile pump that the ambassador had discarded. Leonard Englander, Ambassador Sembler's attorney, has admitted in court documents that the penile pump had in fact belonged to his client, and Sembler is demanding it back. For several years Mr. Bradbury stored the items he has retrieved from Sembler's trash. And then one day in 2003 Mr. Bradbury did a most remarkable thing. He advertised for sale on eBay the penile pump. Why? He says he did it to bring attention to the plight of Straight survivors.
The Florida Holocaust Museum was founded by Walter Loebenberg, former president of Straight Foundation. Melvin Sembler and his wife Betty were founding board members. Former Straight board member Dr. Bruce Epstein is the former director of the museum. Former Straight board member Alen Alweiss is the General Counsel for the museum. Jay Synder, another former Straight board member, is also on the museum's board. Lenny Englander is also on the museum's board. In 2000 the Museum started a "To Life" Award. Walter Loebenberg and his wife Edie were the first recipients. In 2001 Bruce Epstein and his wife Amy received it. In 2003 Loebenberg's former Colony Bank business partner Barry Alpert and his wife Judith won the award. And in 2004 Mel Sembler's son Brent Sembler and his wife Debbie were recipients. For these reasons Straight critics like Ray Bradbury claim the Florida Holocaust Museum was founded as a smoke screen to deflect away human rights abuses by Straight officials.
In 2004 the museum's awards banquet was held on Jan 17. Awards' committees worked through 2003 in preparation for the banquet. One social committee was the Diner Committee. Prominent on the Diner Committee were Mel and Betty Sembler's son Greg and his wife Elizabeth; Bruce Epstein and his wife Amy; Craig Sher (CEO of Sembler Company) and his wife Jan (who is on the board of trustees for the museum); board trustee member Jim Soble who is legal council for Sembler Company and his wife Ann; Herb Goldstein and wife Alene (a Herb Goldstein was a founding director of Straight); Irwin and Patty Novack and Judge Walt Logan and his wife Lin.
Ambassador Sembler was understandably embarrassed about the eBay ad and he wanted it removed from the Web so he hired Leonard Englander to get the damn thing off. And so here's the situation on August 26, 2003. Leonard Englander's law firm had had various business dealings with Judge Logan back when Logan was just an attorney. In 2003 the Englanders and the Novacks, Semblers' son and his wife, Sembler company CEO and his wife, and other Sembler cronies and their wives were serving on a social committee with Judge Walt Logan and his wife. Just a year before Irwin Novack and Kane's™ Furniture were outraged because Manny Gonzalez's was exposing allegedly bad business practices at Kane's™, and to shut Gonzalez up, Walt Logan signed a temporary injunction against him on a trumped-up trademark infringement charge. In January 2003 Englander and Logan had embarrassed the Sixth Circuit because of the gag order they conjured up to get Gonzalez's stuff off the Internet--but it had worked.
And now just eight months later, on August 26, 2003, Lenny Englander had another extremely wealthy client who wanted something shut down on the Internet. So Leonard Englander approached Walt Logan again to sign an emergency Temporary Injunction Without Notice. This time Leonard Englander was claiming that Bradbury was a stalker and his crime so serious that if notice were given the Defendant he would just "accelerate the occurrences of stalking..." So Bradbury wasn't even notified that a hearing was being held!
Ray Bradbury is just one of many former Straight clients who continue to protest Ambassador Melvin Sembler for his role in the destruction of tens of thousands of American teenagers at Straight, Inc. Bradbury (second from left in photo) is shown picketing Sembler's home in 2001 along with many others. Leonard Englander sought an injunction against Ray Bradbury (and only Ray Bradbury) calling him (and ony him) a stalker.
Judge Logan has had social ties to Sembler and Novack, and he has done work for Englander before he was a judge. Neither of Logan's gags were sufficiently pressing that a hearing could not have been held between the accusser and the accused. Bradbury has written a complaint to the Florida Bar: complaint p. 1, complaint p. 2, complaint p. 3. Attorney Joy Demas has been assigned to the investigation by the Bar. But Bradbury will have high hurdles to clear. Leonard Englander is a Fellow of the Florida Bar Foundation and a Bronze Circle Lifetime donor of money to the foundation. From 2004 - 2005 he was chairman of the Business Certification Litigation Committee of the Florida Bar. Englander's law partner at Englander & Fischer, P.A. H. James Fischer (deceased 2004) was the former President of the St. Petersburg Bar Association. In 1991 attorney Howard P. Ross was the chairman of a committee formed to build an Ambassadorial Pavilion to Melvin Sembler and Joseph Zappala (another Straight cofounder) for their greatness as statesmen. In 2002 Englander served with Howard Ross on the Bar's Business Certification Litigation Committee.
SLAPP SUITS. Chilling Effects (a collaboration among law school clinics and the Electronic Frontier Foundation) links to the Joseph Maxwell trademark case mentioned in the sidebar above. In its lead-in to the article Chilling Effects states, "we are getting close to the point where companies that sue over such websites have to consider seriously the possibility that they will not only lose the suit, but face a malicious prosecution action or other counter-measure from the consumer critic seeking damages for having been sued." While suing one critic just to shut him up might be grounds for a malicious prosecution, a wealthy individual or corporation that sues its critics as a matter of course just to shut them up may be guilty of Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation (SLAPP). Ray Bradbury is not the only Stright critic to be enjoined by a court to silence him. In 1989 Ms. Tempie Fortson Worthy spoke out publicly against Straight - Dallas for allegedly abusing her daughter. Straight got an injunction to shut her up. Most people reading this article have never even heard of Straight even though Straight's abuses would put Abu Ghraib to shame. And there is a reason for this. For over 20 years Straight has sued or threatened to sue those who would expose Straight's abuse as this link documents. The Ray Bradbury injunction appears to be part of Straight's 20 year program of SLAPP.
Nevertheless, old complaints continue to haunt Kane's™. OutletFurniture.com links to Kanes Furniture Fraud, Donald Rehm's still active 2002 gripe site, as does Super Leather Furniture Guide. As a matter of fact if you do an Internet Google search on " "kanes furniture" fraud " you will get a bunch of sites that have nothing to do with alleged fraud at Kane's™ Furniture. But if you do a Google search on " "kanes furniture fraud" " you'll get about a dozen sites still linking to Kanes Furniture Fraud. And yes, Kane's™ continues to get new complaints as noted below:
1. Kane's accused of false advertising, St. Petersburg Times, 7-10-02
2. State accuses Kane's of deceptive practices St. Petersburg Times, 11-27-02
3. Kane's sues Fla. AG in ad, service dispute, Furniture Today 8-5-02
4. Florida attorney general suing Kane's Furniture Today 12/16/2002
5. STATE FILES LAWSUIT AGAINST KANE'S FURNITURE Orlando Sentinel, 11/26/02
6. Kane's sues over customer's web site Orlando Sentinel 1-7-03
7. Kane's silences critical Web site, St. Pete Times, 1-7-03
8. Public Citizens
9. Ninth Circuit # 02-CA-11358 o, State of Florida vs. Kane Furniture et al., Mediated Settlement Agreement
10. AG Consumer Complaints 2002
11. Biz Journal 4-8-02