While we were in the briefing process at the Florida Supreme Court, my firm received a letter from Greg Gaebe that stated if we dropped all appeals, Pine Island Farms would not seek court costs against the Castillo family. These assessable costs would be well into the hundreds of thousands of dollars.
When the appellate decision came down, we had gone from being winners to being losers, which gave Gaebe’s clients the right to collect court costs from the Castillo family if they wanted to. In reality, a company such as DuPont or Pine Island Farms would very rarely seek to recover costs against the family of a blind child. Imagine that headline.
In any event, Ana Rivero, who was still very green in these types of matters, took it upon herself to call the Castillos and share the contents of the letter without explaining the reality of what it meant.
If I had made that call, I would have explained that DuPont would never attempt to collect money from them, and then I’d do my best to put the family at ease so we could properly continue with our appeal. Ana did none of that. Instead, she instilled fear in the Castillos, who couldn’t afford to pay a sum like that.
One afternoon, Ana walked into my office with a scared look on her face. She was pale; she looked as if she were about to drop a nuclear bomb on me.
And she was.
“I’ve got bad news, Jim,” she said, her voice shaking.
“What bad news?”
“The Castillos want to drop the appeal.”
I asked, “What do you mean they want to drop the appeal? Why would they do that?”
This was the first time Ana told me about Gaebe’s letter. I expressed to her how ridiculous that attempt was, because obviously Pine Island would never do that.
“I need to talk to them right away,” I said.
“I don’t think it will do much good. They seem very adamant about dropping the appeal.” Ana was practically in tears.
“I don’t understand,” I said. And I didn’t. I was completely baffled; how could we have gotten this far only to have the family bail out now?
“You know Juan; he’s an accountant. He’s very conservative and doesn’t want to take any financial risk at all,” she said.
I was fuming. I was so livid I couldn’t see straight. My blood pressure went off the charts. Doing something like this was as inexperienced as it gets. After all the Castillos had been through, how could Ana possibly have put them through yet another emotional trauma? It was so unnecessary, and totally senseless. This family had endured so much already.
I should have fired Ana on the spot, but I didn’t, because I still had the 29 other cases pending in Delaware, and she was the only person in my office other than me who had any knowledge of those cases.
I called Juan and Donna and did my best to explain the realities of the situation. Despite my best efforts, Juan still didn’t want to take the chance and affirmed my worst fear—they wanted to drop the case.
I asked Juan to allow me one week to work something out with Pine Island Farms to make sure they wouldn’t come after the family for costs. I gave them every assurance that nothing would happen during that window of time.
After hanging up with the Castillos and getting over my barely controllable frustration, I called Gaebe and asked him if he wanted to play a round of golf at the Riviera Country Club in Coral Gables, where we were both members. This was neutral territory, unrelated to law and not on anyone’s home court. Knowing that Gaebe was cagey, I had to be careful about how I handled this delicate situation. I couldn’t just wing this; I needed a plan. I decided that the only real chance we had was not to address the issue head-on with Gaebe but instead to do it surreptitiously after a round of golf and a couple of drinks.
Our outing took place on a clear, cool Saturday morning. We played 18 holes and talked about our children, sports, other members of the club—anything but the Castillos. When we finished our game, we retired to the clubhouse and downed a couple of cold beers. It was probably sometime around our third beer when I nonchalantly said, “By the way, Gaebe, why did you send that fucked-up costs letter to the Castillos?”
“You know, it’s just standard bullshit, Jim,” he said.
“You scared the fuck out of my clients for no good reason.”
“I didn’t mean to scare anyone.”
“How about I cap Pine Island Farms’ potential damages at $1 million regardless of any appeals for agreeing to drop any claim for costs, so these people can stop pissing in their pants,” I proposed.
“That sounds like a good deal.”
“Thanks a lot, Greg. There’s no reason to scare them after all they’ve been through.” Little did he know they were about to drop the entire case, and in getting him to agree to this proposal I had just saved all our efforts from being flushed down the toilet.
First thing Monday morning I sent Gaebe a letter confirming our deal and let the family know the good news.
In my next post, I recount my oral arguments before the Florida Supreme Court.
You’ll find much more about Castillo-DuPont in my book, Blindsided, where I provide a detailed insider’s look into this landmark case.