If everything goes as planned, at 10 a.m. Mon., July 30, U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan will walk into a U.S. Legal Support office in Orlando and be deposed under oath.
The action is part of the lawsuit filed against Buchanan by Sam Kazran, a former business partner who has accused the Sarasota Republican congressman of a wide variety of misdeeds, including instructing Kazran to collect illegal campaign contributions from employees at a car dealership the two co-owned. It is the first time Buchanan will face a deposition in the case, whose history stretches back to September 2008.
“I don’t know if he’ll show up,” says Kazran attorney Josh Kon. According to Kon, Buchanan “is taking the position that any questions about the campaign finance things are things he doesn’t have to answer.”
Those questions could prove to be the most explosive.
According to Kazran’s lawsuit, Buchanan instructed him to reimburse dealership employees for contributions made to Buchanan’s 2006 and 2008 campaigns, a violation of campaign finance rules. The Federal Election Commission filed suit against Kazran for the reimbursements in late 2010; Kazran acknowledged he participated in the scheme, but claimed he was unaware it was illegal. The FEC and Kazran settled the case earlier this year.
In court filings, Kazran’s lawyers have argued that Buchanan tried to coerce him into settling a business dispute in exchange for Kazran’s signature on an affidavit saying he would take full responsibility for the campaign reimbursements. Kazran’s legal team wrote that Buchanan used business-related lawsuits “to extort Kazran to take the sole blame for Buchanan’s willful violations of election-finance law.”
Buchanan attorney Mark Ornstein did not respond when asked whether Buchanan will attend Monday’s deposition.
Even if Buchanan’s deposition does proceed as planned, the case is unlikely to be resolved any time soon. A flurry of subpoenas have been sent out, and future depositions have been scheduled for as late as November. Twelfth Judicial Circuit Court Judge Lee Haworth has ordered a case management conference for Sept. 13, at which point, Kon hopes, a clear timeline will be laid out. In the same filing that set the management conference, Haworth indicated the case would go before a jury if it reaches the trial stage.
Buchanan’s deposition comes at an inopportune moment for his re-election campaign. His staff recently released internal polling numbers showing he has a 22-point lead over his Democratic challenger, Keith Fitzgerald, while Fitzgerald’s team has issued numbers suggesting Fitzgerald is within single digits of Buchanan.
Fitzgerald also recently touted the news that he out-raised Buchanan in the first two quarters of this year. The prospect of a long legal battle dragging through this year’s election can’t be welcome news for Sarasota’s three-term incumbent.