2024 jury trial scheduled in defamation case involving Eric Robinson

Plaintiff Sloan files new motion, seeking punitive damages

A jury trial has been scheduled in late February or early March 2024 in a civil defamation lawsuit involving Eric Robinson, a former chair of the Republican Party of Sarasota County, the 12th Judicial Circuit Court judge presiding over the case has determined.

In the meantime, Paul Sloan, who filed the complaint in the Circuit Court in December 2022, has sought leave from the judge to state a claim for punitive damages in the case. His attorney, Robert E. Turffs of Sarasota, filed that motion on April 17. However, as of the morning of June 8, The Sarasota News Leaderfound no response from the judge in the court docket.

In regard to the trial: Circuit Court Judge Danielle Brewer has issued an order saying that it will be conducted during the trial period beginning on Feb. 26, 2024 and ending on March 8, 2024. The order notes that the parties expect the length of the proceeding to be three days. The trial will be conducted at the South County Courthouse in Venice, which stands at 4004 S. Tamiami Trail, the order says.

As  the News Leader has reported, in late 2022, Sloan, owner and administrator of Sarasota County Pain Management Clinic (PMC), filed a complaint against Robinson, contending that Robinson defamed him in Facebook posts. One of those posts described Sloan as a “Drug dealer,” while another said, “Paul Sloan makes money destroying peoples [sic] lives.”

A Certified Public Accountant, Robinson is one of the principals of the Robinson Gruters & Roberts firm in Venice. He routinely handles campaign finances for Republican candidates in the county, including, most recently, Teresa Mast, a former Sarasota County Planning Commission member who has launched a bid for the District 1 seat on the County Commission.

Sloan pointed out in his December 2022 complaint that he “is the official point of contact (POC) on [18] U.S. Department of Justice Drug Enforcement Administration Controlled Substance Licenses.” Therefore, he contends, Robinson’s social media statements “threaten [his] livelihood.”

Sloan also said that the Florida State Agency for Health Care Administration (AHCA) has licensed his clinic since 2009 and that his pain management clinic was the first to receive such authority. The complaint explained that the AHCA is “the same agency that licenses hospitals in Florida.” Sloan’s clinic still holds that license, the complaint noted.

Further since 2010, Sloan’s clinic has been licensed through the Florida Department of Health, the lawsuit added.

In his response to the complaint, Robinson has asserted that the Facebook posts Sloan cited were taken out of context, as they preceded “disparaging comments about [Robinson] by Paul Sloan.”

Robinson also maintained that he never implied that Sloan sells illegal drugs or that he sells such drugs to children.

The amended complaint explains that, according to Florida Statute 768.72, “a claim for punitive damages is not permitted until a reasonable showing by evidence in the record has been proffered which will provide a reasonable basis for recovery of punitive damages.”

Turffs attached to the document copies of the publications in which Robinson’s alleged defamatory statements appeared, as well as Sloan’s sworn answers to Interrogatories that appear to have been submitted to him by Robinson’s lawyer, Patrick J. Reilly of Venice.

Interrogatories are lists of written questions that “one party sends to another as part of the discovery process,” the Cornell Law School’s Legal Information Institute explains. “The recipient must answer in writing under oath and according to the case’s schedule. Because attorneys may help their clients answer interrogatories, interrogatory responses tend to be more finely crafted than answers to deposition questions,” the Institute points out. “Usually, lawyers use interrogatories to obtain detailed information about persons, corporations, facts, witnesses, and identity and locations of records and documents,” it adds.

Among the answers Turffs provided from Sloan are the following:

  • “I have never sold drugs to minors, and further never violated any laws pertaining to controlled substances.
  • “I have never sold illegal drugs or drugs illegally.”

In response to another question, which asked Sloan to describe in detail all the facts and circumstances “demonstrating that [Sloan] lost business opportunities and/or suffered harm to [his] reputation as a result of any Facebook Posting,” Sloan answered that harm to his reputation “is presumed under the facts of this case.”

Then his attorney cited the ruling in a 2011 Florida Fourth District Court of Appeal case, NITV, L.L.C. v. Baker: “Communication that imputes to another conduct, characteristic, or condition incompatible with the proper exercise of his lawful business, trade, profession or office is slander per se. In slander per se actions, general damages are presumed. General damages are those which the law presumes must naturally, proximately, and necessarily result from publication of the libel or slander. They are allowable whenever the immediate result is to impair the plaintiff’s reputation, although no actual pecuniary loss is demonstrated. Words which are actionable in themselves, or per se, necessarily import general damages and need not be pleaded or proved but are conclusively presumed to result.”

Yet another question among the Interrogatories said, “Please identify and describe in detail all evidence, facts and circumstances demonstrating that you are capable of quantifying and/or assigning a monetary value to the damages you alleged you suffered as a result of [Robinson’s] statements.”

Sloan’s response was thus: “Objection to this Interrogatory, as the question does not make sense. It is not clear whether the Interrogatory is seeking my qualifications to assess damages or seeking the basis on facts upon which an assertion of damages is based. Nonetheless, at this time, discovery is ongoing, and damages are accruing.”

Sloan’s witness list

One Interrogatory asked Sloan to identify all of the persons he expects to call as witnesses during the trial, including expert witnesses. In response to that, Sloan provided 31 names. Among them are Bernard Cassidy, a former federal prosecutor with “[k]knowledge of [Sloan]s] work with Boards of Medicine and FL Society of Pain Management Providers”; Robert K. Twillman, past executive director of the Academy of Integrative Pain Management; Larry McPherson, the retired executive director of the Florida Board of Medicine; Warren Pearson, the Florida Department of Health’s former chief prosecutor of pain clinics; Dr. Frank Farmer, the former Florida surgeon general; and former Sarasota County Commissioners Shannon Staub, Jon Thaxton and Joe Barbetta.

Yet another person on the list is John Mudri, who would serve as an expert witness. The document says he is retired from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, which he served as chief and a senior investigator.

Depositions in the case were continuing in late May, the Circuit Court docket shows.