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Judge Refuses To Scuttle NRA Lobbyist Case

Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.
Wikimedia Commons
The Florida Channel
Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.

A federal judge has refused a request by a California man to dismiss part of a lawsuit in which the National Rifle Association’s longtime Florida lobbyist alleges she received harassing and threatening emails in the aftermath of the February mass shooting at a Broward County high school.

Lobbyist Marion Hammer filed the lawsuit in July against California attorney Lawrence Sorensen and three other men because of emails they sent to her after the Feb. 14 shooting that killed 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School and amid the subsequent debate on gun-control issues. The lawsuit sought damages and an injunction against further emails.

Sorensen, who works as an arbitrator and mediator, argued in seeking dismissal that a federal court in Florida does not have “personal jurisdiction” over him. The argument was based on Sorensen saying he lacks any substantial connection to Florida and arguing that two emails he sent to Hammer in March do not provide such a connection.

“Mr. Sorensen simply sent two email in one half hour in March to an email address that was published to the world on the internet,” the motion to dismiss said. “That email address, on its face, gave no indication that it was in Florida. Nothing in the text of the email mentioned or suggested a connection to Florida. In today's age, those two email could have been opened anywhere.” 

But U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle on Friday rejected dismissing the case against Sorensen.

“To be sure, Mr. Sorensen says he did not know his email would be routed to Florida,” Hinkle wrote. “But this record shows that Mr. Sorensen could easily have learned --- had he cared where he was sending his email --- that Ms. Hammer was a Florida resident. In short, Mr. Sorensen intentionally sent the email to Ms. Hammer, wherever she might be, and he should have known the likely destination was Florida.”

In a document filed last month, Hammer’s attorneys wrote that the emails caused harm to Hammer, a former national president of the NRA, and argued that the case against Sorensen should continue.

“This court has specific personal jurisdiction over Mr. Sorensen because he made a conscious decision to seek out Ms. Hammer, a well-known Florida resident and lobbyist, and sent her two emails containing graphic images of gunshot victims, including a photo of President John F. Kennedy’s exposed cranial cavity and photographs of gaping wounds to an unidentified man’s leg,” Hammer’s attorneys wrote.  “Without doubt, Mr. Sorensen selected and sent these particular images to Ms. Hammer because of their gruesome nature and immediate shock value.”

Hammer filed the lawsuit against Sorensen, Connecticut resident Christopher Risica and two men, Howard Weiss and Patrick Sullivan, whose places of residence were unknown. The lawsuit alleged that the men sent harassing and threatening emails, with at least some of the emails using vile language.

Hinkle’s ruling last week also found that Risica was in default for failing to respond to the lawsuit and approved a request by Hammer’s attorneys to conduct investigative “discovery” to determine the identity and residence of Weiss. Hinkle, however, denied such as discovery request related to Sullivan.

“His (Sullivan’s) email was profane and disgusting, but he threatened only to scream in Ms. Hammer’s face if ever he encountered her,” Hinkle wrote. “This is unlikely to be actionable and is not enough to warrant disclosure of Mr. Sullivan’s true identity.”

Hinkle also turned down a request from Hammer’s attorneys to issue an injunction barring the men from sending threatening emails to her during the lawsuit.

“A defendant would show poor judgment at a near-world record level to send Ms. Hammer another threatening email --- or any impolite email at all --- while this litigation is ongoing,” Hinkle wrote. “The likelihood that a defendant will send such an email is remote. If it happens, Ms. Hammer may renew her motion, and an appropriate injunction can promptly issue.”