Metro Networks stands absolved in helicopter lawsuit


In a case dating back many years, a Florida jury ruled in February against Pompano Helicopters in his lawsuit against Metro Networks. In the latest development, the judge has refused a motion by Pompano Helicopters seeking a new trial and held that “the jury returned a lawful verdict.”

RBR-TVBR first reported on the case in 2007, when Pompano Helicopters sued Metro’s parent company, Westwood One, in federal court, claiming that it conspired to drive Pompano Helicopters out of business. In its heyday Pompano Helicopters operated 25 aircraft for radio and TV stations in the Miami, West Palm Beach, Houston, Baltimore and Atlanta markets. The federal case was thrown out, but a state court case continued in Broward County, Florida against Metro Networks and Stephen Lentz, a former Pompano Helicopters executive who went to work for Metro.

The closest Pompano Helicopters came to winning any of its claims was that the six-person jury found that Lentz did slander his former employer and did tortuously interfere with its business relationships, but then found that Pompano Helicopters did not suffer any loss. So the trial in February resulted in the jury rejecting all of the claims against Metro and no damages being awarded to Pompano Helicopters.

“The jury’s verdict in this case is supported by competent substantial evidence. Six attentive, Broward citizens sat through (12) days of trial, heard the disputed facts and rendered a verdict in accord with the law and evidence. Although one side in the dispute was likely surprised by the verdict, the other was likely satisfied the jury did the right thing. As long as the verdict is supported by competent substantial evidence, not influenced by bias, prejudice or sympathy, it is not the task of the court to reweigh the jury’s work by substituting its’ judgment for that of the jury,” wrote Circuit Court Judge Jack Tuter this month. “There exists no basis to disturb the jury’s decision in this case,” he added as he denied the motion for a new trial.

Pompano Helicopters had originally sought $346 million in damages in the dismissed federal case and it attorney had asked the state jury to award more than $100 million. And while the case dragged on for many years, it appears there was never much progress toward any sort of settlement.

“Given the amount of money being sought by the plaintiff we had no choice but to try this case,” attorney David W. Field of Lowenstein Sandler PC, who tried the case for Metro and Lentz, told RBR-TVBR.

While the litigation was pending Pompano Helicopters owner James Howard was convicted in federal court of making false statements to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and mail fraud for selling a helicopter, keeping the proceeds, and falsely certifying to the FAA that lender Textron Financial Corp. had released its lien on the aircraft. That did not bear directly on the Metro lawsuit, but the jury was informed that he was a convicted felon.