Those of you who read either my blog [www.EarlStewart.com], my column in Hometown News, or listen to my radio show [Stream it Saturdays, 9-10 am at www.SeaviewAM960.com] know that I’m rarely at a loss for words! But when I got the letter from Ed Morse’s lawyers a few days ago, telling me that Ed Morse is suing me personally for defamation, I was temporarily speechless. However, words and phrases soon begin to float through my mind… like” unmitigated gall”, “chutzpah”, “You can’t make this stuff up”, “stranger than fiction” and “Fools Rush in”.
As I write this column I haven’t been served with the lawsuit but the letter from Ed’s lawyer said that the lawsuit will be based on two of my articles that appear in this blog. One is “Ed you went to far this time” and the second is “What my lawsuit against Ed Morse Honda means to you”. If you haven’t already read these, please do. It will give you a better understanding and appreciation of this article.
For those new readers, let me briefly recap the events that brought us to this point. Around mid 2008, Ed Morse Honda ran a radio commercial accusing me of deceiving my customers because I “concealed a dealer fee” in the price of my car. Now, if you don’t already know, I do not charge a dealer fee. In fact, I’m one of the very few dealers in Florida that doesn’t. Ed Morse Honda does charge a dealer fee and the amount is $699. A dealer fee is just profit to the dealer that is not included in the price quoted to their customer. Ed Morse Honda’s radio commercial raised a lot of concern among my customers, prospective customers, not to mention my friends and family. This is not to say that those who know me, feared that I was doing anything wrong, but when you’re publically accused on the radio of deceiving your customers it’s a matter of concern.
There are few things more important in life to me than my reputation. My business and I, personally, are known for our reputation of integrity and we’re both held to a higher standard in our community than other car dealers and dealerships because of this. I had no choice but to defend this attack by Ed Morse’s radio commercial and my defense was a lawsuit against Ed Morse Honda for slander.
Now, let’s get back to this most recent development of Ed Morse suing me for defamation. The reason that I was at a temporary at a loss for words when I received the notice, is because I could not believe it. At first, I thought it might be a joke! After I realized that it wasn’t a joke, I was still speechless because I had no understanding of why Ed Morse would do this. Gradually I began to formulate some theories on motives for this seemingly irrational act.
Theory number one is that Ed Morse doesn’t really believe that I’m serious about my lawsuit against him for slander and that my having to spend some more money to also defend against his lawsuit will “make me go away”.
Ed, read my lips: I’m not going away!
It isn’t about money; it’s about my reputation. I’ve stated publically that 100% of the proceeds that I receive from my lawsuit will be donated to charity. Ed’s flimsy attempt to frighten me off has had the opposite effect. Now, Ed Morse has impugned my reputation again.
Theory number two is that Ed Morse’s law firm is **“running amok”. Most lawyers make their money by billable hours and some lawyers feel that the more animosity they can stir up between their clients, the more money they can make. Ed Morse owns about a dozen car dealerships and, especially in today’s economy, has his hands full. I don’t need to tell you that most car dealerships are in crisis mode these days and owners are very busy doing damage control most of the time. Maybe Ed simply hasn’t looked at our dispute closely enough. Ed, if that’s the case I strongly advise you to learn all of the facts about my lawsuit against you and your new lawsuit against me. You’re obviously a smart businessman. You haven’t grown to be one of the largest dealership groups in the USA by accident. Frankly, I don’t know how you can efficiently manage 12 dealerships all over Florida at the same time. My hat’s off to you! I have my hands full just staying on top of my one dealership in North Palm Beach.
My final theory is that Ed Morse is reacting out of anger, ego, and not logic. Now, Ed, himself, may not be guilty of this, but maybe one of his senior managers is. Too large an ego has gotten lots of powerful men in big trouble. “Pride goeth before the fall”.
Lawyers will tell you that “the truth is an ironclad defense against defamation, libel, or slander.” When these two lawsuits go to trial, a jury of our peers will look at the evidence. It’s likely that most of those jurors will have driven to the courthouse in cars they bought in Florida. It’s also highly likely that all or most of the jurors paid a dealer fee when they bought their car. Some or all of them may not have even realized that the extra amount they had to pay for their car was just additional profit to the dealer. Because of this and the arguments presented by Ed’s and my lawyers, the jury will form an opinion on whether or not the dealer fee is deceptive to car buyers. That belief will dictate whether or not they believe that I am telling the truth or that Ed is telling the truth. “May the “honest” man win.”
*As lawyers would say, “in an abundance of caution” I ran this column by my lawyers and there are some clarifications that they felt were necessary. I refer to Ed Morse, Ed, and “he” in this column, but Ed, personally, isn’t suing me [Although, I am personally being sued]. My lawyer was very nervous about my using the term “running amok”. The word was in use in India during the British Empire, originally to describe an elephant gone mad, separated from its herd, running wild and causing devastation. I want to make it abundantly clear for the record that I in no way intend to compare Ed’s lawyers with “mad elephants”. I believe that journalists are allowed literary leeway for humor, exaggeration and satire. I also do not know that Ed’s lawyers are stirring things up between Ed and me for monetary gain, but not knowing his lawyers, I can’t rule out the possibility.