An attorney representing a woman who filed a civil suit against a Fairhope restaurateur for committing a 2018 assault is raising questions about a Baldwin County judge’s handling of the case and asking the Alabama Supreme Court to intervene.
David McDonald, who is representing Paula DiNardi in a case against McSharry’s Irish Pub owner Ronan McSharry, filed a petition of mandamus in late August asking the high court to review and reverse several of Baldwin County Circuit Judge J. Clark Stankoski’s rulings.
The lawsuit itself stems from a Nov. 23, 2018 Black Friday incident in which McSharry was convicted of public intoxication and third-degree assault in Fairhope Municipal Court earlier this year.
He was accused of knocking DiNardi off a barstool at the Little Whiskey Christmas Club that night, and she claims she hit her head and suffered a concussion as a result. In her civil suit, DiNardi is seeking damages for McSharry’s assault and allegations of battery and conspiring to “harass and intimidate” her from testifying against him.
McSharry is appealing his 2019 criminal conviction, but the civil lawsuit against him is moving forward. In the background, though, McDonald has petitioned the Alabama Supreme Court for a writ of mandamus over rulings Stankoski made that he believes favored McSharry and his attorney, James B. Pittman Jr.
According to the definition of the Legal Information Institute at the Cornell School of Law, a writ of mandamus is an order from a higher court instructing a lower court “to properly fulfill their official duties or to correct an abuse of discretion.” McDonald’s petition is a formal request for the state’s high court to send one to Stankoski.
Specifically, it alleges Stankoski has repeatedly made findings of fact “based solely on McSharry’s unverified representations, while prohibiting DiNardi from obtaining public records and sealing a number of files in the case at McSharry’s request without holding a hearing as to why they shouldn’t be public.
“The new trial court has granted nearly every motion filed by Mr. McSharry before Ms. DiNardi has had a reasonable opportunity to respond,” McDonald wrote. “Further, the trial court has repeatedly made findings of fact without a hearing, based solely on the unverified representations of [Pittman].”
McDonald highlights specific instances in the full petition, which is available along with other public documents related to McSharry at lagniappemobile.com.
The document also notes Stankoski wasn’t the original judge assigned to hear DiNardi’s case. According to the circuit clerk’s office, cases in Baldwin County are assigned to judges randomly, and records indicate DiNardi’s case was originally on Judge Jody Bishop’s docket.
However, five days after McSharry was served notice of the lawsuit, Bishop entered an order transferring the case to Stankoski’s docket that offered no explanation for his decision. In a conversation with Lagniappe last week, though, Bishop said he transferred the case after Stankoski personally asked him to.
Stankoski and Pittman are certainly well acquainted, having worked as co-counsel on cases prior to Stankoski taking the bench. Pittman is also contracted to handle indigent defense work in Stankoski’s court.
Bishop said the request to move the case was made because Stankoski presided over a previous case McSharry filed in Circuit Court appealing an unrelated criminal conviction from Fairhope Municipal Court.
In that case, McSharry pleaded guilty to “breach of the peace” last year — admitting to allegations he’d threatened local artist Nall Hollis during a “violent, offensive or boisterous” altercation in 2017.
While that 2017 case is referenced in DiNardi’s civil complaint against McSharry, court records indicate that at the time Bishop transferred the civil lawsuit to Stankoski’s docket, the 2017 criminal case was fairly dormant.
McSharry had been adjudicated and his sentence included a year of probation requiring him not to drink distilled spirits or become intoxicated.
Things changed in August, though, when Fairhope sought to revoke McSharry’s probation due to his conviction for DiNardi’s assault. Lagniappe reached out to Fairhope municipal prosecutor Marcus McDowell seeking information about why so much time passed before the city sought to revoke McSharry’s probation, but a response has not been received.
Stankoski recently stayed the city’s motion to revoke McSharry’s probation pending the outcome of an appeal the bar owner filed hoping to overturn his 2019 municipal conviction for assaulting DiNardi.
The Alabama Supreme Court has yet to say whether it will consider McDonald’s mandamus petition, though if it does, Stankoski and Pittman will have an opportunity to respond to it. In the meantime, Pittman has sought to bring a number of third parties into the litigation, from news outlets to city officials.
As has been reported, John Beck, McSharry’s attorney from his criminal trial in Fairhope Municipal Court, attempted to have the case dismissed based upon alleged interference by Mayor Karin Wilson. Beck claimed meetings between Wilson and DiNardi and text messages in which Wilson referred to McSharry as a “tyrant” who “tarnishes Fairhope” amounted to a “politically motivated” prosecution.
Court records indicate Pittman is now seeking to subpoena Wilson as part of his defense in McSharry’s civil lawsuit. He has also claimed local media outlets, including Lagniappe, have defamed McSharry. In fact, that claim was the basis for his request to Stankoski to seal some of the case files from the public eye.
In August, Pittman wrote that DiNardi made “sweeping, unfounded, irrelevant and inadmissible statements in her [lawsuit]” and alleged those statements were “intended to defame Mr. McSharry, to harm his business interests and were intended for use in conjunction with a Lagniappe article.”
It should be noted that McDonald has represented Lagniappe in the past and is currently serving as local counsel for the paper in a pending First Amendment lawsuit against the Baldwin County Sheriff’s Office. Lagniappe has also written stories about McSharry — a prominent business owner in the area — for years, and McSharry’s Irish Pub continues to advertise with the paper.
Any reporting Lagniappe has done on McSharry was largely derived from public records. For instance, records from Fairhope’s municipal court, easily available to anyone with internet access, indicate he has been cited several times over the years in incidents and offense reports.
- On April 5, 2010, McSharry was the subject of a harassment complaint on Echo Lane. That case was nolle prossed on Feb. 10, 2011.
- On June 23, 2010, McSharry was cited for public intoxication on Equity Drive. That case was nolle prossed on Feb. 10, 2011.
- On Nov. 17, 2014, McSharry was cited for domestic violence on Echo Lane. That case was nolle prossed on Aug. 28, 2015.
- On March 18, 2017, McSharry was cited for harassment on Equality Street in the case involving Nall Hollis. Records indicate he pleaded not guilty, but was convicted on Oct. 19, 2017. Court records indicate the case was appealed.
- On Nov. 23, 2018, McSharry was cited for public intoxication and third-degree assault in the case involving DiNardi. Court records indicate he plead guilty on April 17, 2019, but the case has since been appealed.
Meanwhile, Pittman has also filed a notice of his intent to subpoena various records from Lagniappe, Baldwin County Bureau Chief Gabriel Tynes and other media figures in Baldwin County. On Monday, Co-publisher Rob Holbert said Lagniappe will challenge the legality of those subpoenas when they arrive.
“Mr. Pittman’s efforts to subpoena Lagniappe’s email, phone and personal communications over the past year violate not only Alabama’s Journalist Source Privilege, but also attorney-client privilege and we intend to fight it as such,” Holbert said. “Efforts like this designed to silence news coverage have routinely been struck down by higher courts, so there is little reason to waste everyone’s time and energy. We would expect the judge will concur.”
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