Home News Local news Prosser Loses One Part of Belize Fight

Prosser Loses One Part of Belize Fight


Oct. 11, 2005 – Jeffrey Prosser, owner of the Virgin Islands phone company and other interests, has lost a skirmish in one of his legal battles in the mainland courts. (See "Court Actions Against ICC Multiply.")
An effort by his lawyers seeking judicial punishment of the Central American nation of Belize was ruled "frivolous," and Prosser's side was ordered to pay Belize's legal fees for this part of the case.
This ruling came unanimously from a three-judge panel of the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta, which had not previously ruled on any substantive matter in any of the Prosser cases.
This case grew out of the thwarted attempt by Prosser's Innovative Communication Company LLC to buy the monopoly phone company in Belize. After arguing it had not been paid an owed $57 million, the Government of Belize (GOB) seized the telephone system; Prosser took the matter to federal district court in Miami.
As part of long and complex litigation, the U.S. District Court judge at one point ordered an "in person mediation" in the hopes that such a process would lead to a settlement of the case.
According to the Belizean TV station, Channel5, "[Prosser's] attorneys were angry that only GOB's lawyers showed up and not an actual member of the government," and the Prosser people subsequently asked the district court judge to levy sanctions on the GOB. She ruled against the Prosser position, and ICC then appealed to the 11th Circuit.
The three circuit court judges, R. Lanier Anderson III, Susan Harrell Black and Rosemary Barkett, issued a brief ruling on Oct. 6 denying ICC's motion for sanctions against Belize and granting Belize's cross-motion for sanctions against ICC for filing a frivolous motion. Belize was given 14 days to file an "application for reasonable attorney's fees incurred in responding to" ICC's motion on this subject.
The Source asked a mainland lawyer – who is experienced in civil cases in the federal courts but who has nothing to do with any of the ICC cases — how often federal circuit court judges ruled a motion frivolous and levied attorney's fees.
"This is pretty unusual, but not unknown," the lawyer said. "Putting it in overly simple layman's terms, you might say that the judges had three choices in this case: to say yes to the ICC appeal, to say no to it or to say, 'hell, no.' They opted for 'hell, no' in this case."
The three judges made it clear they were ruling on the question of sanctions for Belize regarding the mediation session, and another minor issue only, and nothing else. In the language of the court: "We express no opinion regarding the merits" of the balance of the case.
The minor issue was one raised by Belize during the Miami trial: GOB had asked the appeals court to overturn two interim rulings against Belize, but the 11th Circuit ruled that these rulings "are not final and appealable." The Miami court subsequently decided the case almost completely in favor of Belize, and ICC is seeking to have that court reconsider its decision. (See "Prosser Loses, Belize Wins in Miami Court.")
Channel5 put the appeals court ruling in this perspective: "Belize has won a minor victory in its continuing legal battle with Jeffrey Prosser in the U.S. courts . . . Rulings on the substantive appeal by Prosser and GOB's own appeals against the district judge's [$50,000-a-day] contempt order are not expected any time soon."
The Miami judge at one point, at the request of Prosser's lawyers, levied the unusual fine of $50,000 a day against Belize because it was not moving swiftly enough on the court's orders.
The U.S. State Department has since weighed in with the 11th Circuit, saying that setting a precedent for American judges to levy fines against sovereign nations would be detrimental to America's foreign policy, as judges overseas might similarly seek to fine the U.S. government.

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