A letter accusing candidate Ron Florance of having a tainted business background has escalated a bitter war of words in the Republican primary race for the 36th Congressional District held by Marina del Rey Democrat Jane Harman.
Florance, a former Palos Verdes Estates councilman, threatened to sue Rancho Palos Verdes Councilwoman Susan Brooks after she mailed the letter to members of the South Bay Young Republicans in April. The action led to a heated meeting between the Florance camp and Brooks' husband, Jim Brooks, an adviser to her campaign.
"You are trying to run a deceptive campaign," Allan Hoffenblum, one of Florance's campaign consultants, told Jim Brooks at the meeting.
A potentially fractured party could result when the winner of the primary faces Harman in the November general election, Hoffenblum said. The district is split almost evenly between Democrats and Republicans.
But Brooks' campaign argues that Florance's financial background is relevant.
"This is what a primary is all about," Jim Brooks said. "It's a shakedown to determine who is the fittest to go against Jane Harman."
In recent press releases, Brooks charged that Florance, who owned Carriage Realty on the Palos Verdes Peninsula from 1982 to 1988, has been named in more than 40 lawsuits in the last nine years.
But Florance said that only one of the lawsuits went to trial, and he prevailed. Many of the lawsuits, he said, were claims against Carriage Realty after a 1984 state Court of Appeal ruling that held real estate brokers responsible for disclosing all facts affecting property sales.
The court ruling exposed Carriage and other firms to a flood of frivolous suits, Florance said, and many claims were thrown out.
"We've been named in cases involving divorce, suicide," he said. "It was so ludicrous, so crazy."
But the Brooks campaign has also pointed out that Florance is still entangled in litigation involving the Wallace Ranch development, an uncompleted tract of 85 luxury homes that were to be built in the late 1980s on a 24.1-acre site at Armaga Spring and Highridge roads in Rancho Palos Verdes.
If Florance has to testify in a trial scheduled for October, Brooks said, he would be a weak opponent against Harman with the November general election just around the corner.
In the lawsuit, Florance and two partners are seeking at least $900,000 from Peninsula Wallace Partners, the company to whom they sold the Wallace Ranch development in 1988. Florance said that at the time of the sale, the buyers agreed to take responsibility for a disputed contract with Coast Construction Co. of Brea.
Coast, which was to have been the general contractor, was dropped from the project in 1988, and sought to recover more than $3 million in damages. Peninsula Wallace Partners, which includes developer Ed Miller and the Japanese bank Mitsui Fudosan, refused to settle the dispute, and Coast sought to recover damages from Florance and his partners.
Florance and his partners settled with Coast for $900,000 in September, but then sued Peninsula Wallace Partners.
"The issue is they knew full well about the controversy over the contract," Florance said. "We pointed that out to them. . . . They assumed responsibility for the contract."
Florance said that the Brooks campaign has been relying on "bum research" to hang a shady business background on him.
"What's the shady real estate deal in all of this?" Florance asked. "This is a desperate act. It is not right."