Civil suit in Jordan Davis' killing settled?

Criminal defense attorney: It was done without Michael Dunn's approval

Author: Kent Justice, Weekend anchor, reporter, kjustice@wjxt.com
Elizabeth Berry, Evening assignment manager, beth@wjxt.com
Published On: Feb 13 2014 04:27:26 PM EST   Updated On: Feb 14 2014 01:09:08 AM EST
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -

As the criminal case in the shooting death of Jordan Davis nears an end, we're hearing that a parallel civil lawsuit that was supposed to be settled is still generating controversy.

The first week of January, the attorney representing Jordan Davis' family and two of the other teens in the SUV when he was killed announced the civil suit was settled. But Thursday, Michael Dunn's lawyer said his client didn't agree to it.

While defense attorney Cory Strolla confirmed the suit was settled, it was done without Dunn's agreement.

Strolla said the decision was made by a separate set of lawyers who didn't listen to his advice.

This issue came up in a news conference Strolla held as the jury in Dunn's first-degree murder trial were deliberating behind a courtroom next door.

"He absolutely did not settle. And I know the Davis family put in there that they were shocked that he did. There was never a phone call from the civil attorneys to Michael Dunn. In fact, there are letters from Mr. Dunn to the civil attorneys telling them, 'I am not agreeing it, to any settlement for any amount.' And under Florida law, if a person is found not guilty with justifiable use of deadly force, they are precluded from seeking a civil settlement."

Many are saying Strolla broke his silence by way of insulting the city of Jacksonville.

"To be honest, I think they thought it was another murder in Jacksonville. No offense, but you have the dubious distinction of the murder capital of Florida," said Strolla.

Strolla believes Jacksonville's reputation led investigators to make mistakes, which Strolla told the media leave Dunn unfairly charged with murder.

"I've basically ignored you the entire trial; I apologize for that," Strolla told the media Thursday.

Strolla followed his apology for not talking by speaking for more than 10 minutes, answering questions about his client, about the case and even about his theories on why Dunn is standing trial right now.

"I can see that the police and the detectives did not investigate what they should have been investigated," said Strolla.

Strolla is handing the criminal defense of Dunn, but did not represent him in the civil suits.

"This was between Mr. Phillips (the Davis family attorney), his clients, and a civil firm that did not listen to Mr. Dunn," Strolla said.

Phillips filed suit in January 2013 on behalf of Jordan Davis and two of the other teens in the SUV the night of the shooting. The suit accused Dunn of defamation for many things, including saying Jordan Davis and his friends had a weapon the night of the killing.

Weeks ago, Phillips said it was settled but that he couldn't go into the details.

"A lot of the things he said today I take exception to, I find offensive," said Phillips.

Phillips, who has been attending Dunn's criminal trial, refuted Strolla's statements.

"Did he agree or didn't agree?" asked Channel 4's Kent Justice.

"He did agree," said Phillips. "There was an offer, same as back in December. There was an acceptance, period. There was no negotiation other than, 'Will you accept?' OK, I was shocked they accepted."

"There was a proposal for settlement and it was accepted," Phillips said. "That was 'The estate of Jordan Davis vs. Michael Dunn.'"

Phillips again said he could not go into details about the private settlements, but did say that several hundred thousand dollars went into a trust account to show the civil suits were agreed to and settled.

Jacksonville attorney and Florida Costal Law Professor Rod Sullivan weighed in on the matter Thursday night.

"I don't see how it helps him at all, and I could see how it could possibly hurt him," said Sullivan.

Sullivan told Channel 4 it's very unusual to see someone in Strolla's position hold a news conference before the verdict.

"It's really a very dangerous thing to do for your client," said Sullivan. "I think sometimes lawyers tend to forget that this is the client's case, it's not your case as the lawyer, and so if you're using press coverage for your own personal advantage and not to your client's advantage, you're doing your client a disservice."