(June 16, 2003)

Lawyer fends off flurry of new lawsuits
By Susan Lundine Orlando Business Journal

Jun. 16 - ORLANDO -- Three new lawsuits have been filed by the family of an injured worker against a Maitland attorney. That's in addition to three others previously filed by the Dreggors family.

Four of the suits allege local lawyer Mark Spangler ordered a conversation between another area lawyer and her client to be secretly tape recorded, the better to win a workers' compensation case for his own client, Wausau Insurance Co. Two of the suits allege that Spangler defamed the family in a television news report by accusing them of workers' compensation insurance fraud. In addition, Spangler and his firm, Mark Spangler P.A., already have been sued by Faith Horning-Keating, the lawyer whose discussion was recorded. "You've got a husband, his wife and brother filing six cases in two counties for the same thing," says Robert Mansbach, attorney for Spangler. "If you feel you were wronged, you have the right to file suit, but it is one case," says the lawyer, who is trying to get the Dreggors' cases consolidated, at least for the purposes of the discovery phase. "It's like they want a clutch of different judges and juries."

Hearing aids All seven suits focus on a workers' compensation case involving 70-year-old Barney Dreggors, who suffered a head injury in a 1991 industrial accident. Four years later, Dreggors was suing Wausau Insurance for workers' compensation benefits to pay his wife and an employee for 24-hour attendant care. He was represented by Keating. Spangler was legal counsel for Wausau Insurance, which felt that Dreggors did not, in fact, need attendant care. According to court pleadings, Spangler persuaded a witness in the case to carry a hidden microcassette tape recorder to secretly tape a meeting with Keating, Barney Dreggors and his wife, Kerry. Keating's suit charges that Spangler wanted to create the impression that Keating was engaging in workers' compensation insurance fraud. To do so, he sent in the witness -- Louise Rothstein, who was the Dreggors' tenant -- "to gather what she believed was incriminating evidence against Barney Dreggors and Kerry Dreggors in order to exact her revenge" against them for not repaying a loan she had made to the couple, according to Keating's suit.

In addition, Keating's suit states that Spangler tried to persuade Rothstein to endorse a $51,000 check from Wausau Insurance for providing attendant care to Barney Dreggors, care that she never actually gave. Spangler allegedly wanted Rothstein to endorse the check in the hopes of getting Keating to co-endorse it, "thereby entrapping, framing and implicating" Keating in insurance fraud. Spangler allegedly pressed Rothstein to believe that a criminal prosecution of Keating and the Dreggors was already under way, and that Rothstein had to cooperate in the illegal tape-recording or face jail time for not cooperating in the criminal inquiry. Finally, the suit contends, when the secret tape recording didn't implicate Keating in wrongdoing, Spangler altered the tape.

'All about money' "That is a blatant lie," says Spangler. "I never heard it. I never had anything to do with instructing anyone to tape that." Spangler, a member of the Florida Bar in good standing, has no current open complaints and no public disciplinary history, according to the Bar. In his reply to Keating's suit, he denies all wrongdoing. In addition, in his motion to dismiss Keating's suit, Spangler argues that a conversation between an attorney and client in the presence of a non-client "is not privileged, and there can be no reasonable expectation of any privacy." Spangler also faults Keating with failing to serve her complaint within 120 days of filing the complaint, which he states is cause for dismissal. "I think what this will come down to is whether a workers' compensation carrier can allege fraud and turn it over to the state attorney for prosecution," says Spangler. Criminal complaints have emerged from the case -- but not against Spangler. In 1999, Keating was charged with workers' compensation fraud. "That case ultimately was abandoned," says Daniel DeCiccio, Keating's attorney. According to the 5th District Court of Appeal, the tape-recorded conversation was obtained illegally and could not be used in conjunction with the case. Barney and Kerry Dreggors were charged with grant theft and perjury in 1999 as part of alleged workers' compensation fraud.

According to a 1999 affidavit, Barney Dreggors allegedly was seen driving an auto transport truck alone to a car dealer in Fort Pierce, during the time his attorney, Keating, was seeking 24-hour attendant care for him. Tom Egan, attorney for the Dreggors, declined to comment at this time. But DeCiccio says the case against Barney Dreggors was dropped after he was found to be incompetent, and that Kerry Dreggors was found innocent. Spangler says the suits filed against him by the attorney and her former clients "appear to be retaliation" for his going after them for their alleged fraudulent activities. Spangler's own attorney, Mansbach, says he doesn't know if the flurry of suits against his client are retaliation or not. He has a different slant on the litigation: "It's entirely about money."