TALLAHASSEE – A circuit court judge is allowing a lawsuit to go forward that was brought against vendors funded by the Seminole Tribe.
The vendors are alleged to have worked to block a citizen initiative that would expand casino gaming in the state by paying petition gatherers to stop collecting signatures.
The Seminole Tribe hasn’t been shy about its opposition to citizen initiatives seeking to expand gambling in the state.
The tribe has funneled $10 million into Standing Up for Florida, a political committee advocating against the initiatives.
The committee is also at the center of a lawsuit brought by those backing one of the petitions, which would expand casino gaming in Florida.
Time isn’t on the side of the groups trying to get the citizen initiative on the ballot.
They’ve got 20 days to collect nearly 650,000 more verified signatures.
The backers of the citizen initiative claim vendors paid by Standing Up for Florida have made that goal nearly impossible.
They alleged the vendors have intimidated some petition gatherers and paid others to leave the state or stop collecting signatures.
“They’re being paid simply to not work for the plaintiffs and being paid in fact to leave the state,” said James McKee, the attorney representing the petition backers.
The vendors being sued argued the case should be dismissed, telling the judge it’s not illegal to poach employees from another company by offering more competitive pay.
“That’s exactly what the plaintiffs are asking the court to do. To make a hiring restriction that would say, Burger King, you can’t hire employees from McDonald’s,” said attorney William Shepherd.
The judge, however, decided to let the case proceed.
“I’m going to deny the motion to dismiss,” said Circuit Court Judge Angela Dempsey.
A hearing on the merits of the case is scheduled for this coming Tuesday.
The ultimate ruling could determine whether Florida voters get to weigh in on the expansion of gaming next November.
If the citizen initiative makes the ballot, it would need 60 percent voter approval in order to pass.