Santa and his sleigh in the December 2013 Christmas parade presented by the Anna Maria Island Privateers. Ownership of the sleigh was disputed in a lawsuit. Islander File Photo: Bonner Joy
A battle over a Santa sleigh parade float has left no one feeling merry or jolly.
A final judgment was issued Feb. 6 in the 12th Judicial Circuit Court case between Rick Maddox and the Anna Maria Island Privateers in favor of Maddox.
The verdict was bad news for the Privateers, who are responsible for damages of $3,000 and Maddox’ legal fees, as well as their own attorney costs. The jury handed down a verdict with three counts in favor of Maddox.
Maddox’ attorney, Wade Thompson, has yet to file his fees with the court. According to the judgment, the Privateers’ are responsible for Maddox’ legal costs.
“We had a solid case,” said Rodger “Hoodat” Murphree, vice president of the Privateers. “We thought it was all lining up, it just happens the jury saw it differently.”
The verdict was civil theft for taking the sleigh from Maddox with the intent to deprive him of his property temporarily or permanently; trespass to chattel, the intentional interference of another’s movable property; and they were found not to be the rightful owners of the trailer turned sleigh.
“It’s a very sad day for the Privateers,” Maddox said. “A great many of the old Privateers are friends of mine. It’s just a darn shame.”
Maddox is a former member of the Privateers, having been inducted as a lifelong member but not an active, dues-paying member. He served as the vice president and was involved in the construction of the sleigh, along with Larry and Sandy Hand.
Maddox also served as an officer on the Bradenton Beach and Longboat Key police departments before becoming the chief of police in Holmes Beach. His position as chief was terminated in 1994 by then-Mayor Pat Geyer.
Maddox said the trouble began when the trailer was borrowed by the Privateers and never returned. He filed the complaint in July 2011.
The complaint began litigation that led to “somewhere in the ballpark of $26,000” in legal fees over the sleigh, which is valued at $4,500, according to Maddox. For him the case was about the principle and not practicality.
Murphree said, “This has colored our view of the world a little. It’s disappointing there are people out there that want to take an opportunity to hurt an organization like ours.”
“By the end of the case, win, lose or draw, we were just ecstatic it was going to be over,” Maddox said.
Maddox said he and wife Annette are donating their proceeds from the lawsuit toward a scholarship at New College of Florida in Sarasota.
The Privateers have turned over the sleigh and paid the damages. The group will take more precautions in the future, but are undaunted by the loss.
“We’re still going to be out there raising money, we’ll take on whatever bills they throw at us and continue with our mission,” Murphree said.