Judge Tosses Bandmates' Claims Over Rush Guitarist's 2003 Scuffle

By John Henderson, Naples Daily News, August 9, 2006

Two members of the internationally known rock band Rush and their production companies won't win damages from deputies in a lawsuit tied to a New Year's Eve brawl at the Ritz-Carlton, Naples.

A federal judge has ruled that band members Geddy Lee Weinrib and Neil Peart, who weren't in the skirmish in 2003, don't have legal standing to argue they lost business due to the lead guitarist's injuries in the fight.

Lead guitarist Alex Zivojinovich, who tumbled down the stairwell in the scuffle, is seeking millions against the deputies and the hotel in a civil lawsuit that has been filed in U.S. District Court in Fort Myers.

The civil case is far from over despite the ruling, lawyers from both sides said.

The federal judge also agreed that Zivojinovich still has many legal arguments that can be made.

Zivojinovich's Naples lawyer, Michael McDonnell, said he still believes Zivojinovich, a seasonal Naples resident known onstage as "Alex Lifeson," has a strong case.

"We still have our primary case against the Ritz, which is negligence," McDonnell said.

Weinrib and Peart allege their tour and recording suffered business losses as a result of Zivojinovich's injuries.

But a federal judge declared this argument shouldn't be part of the lawsuit.

"The court doubts that there is a free-standing claim under Florida law for 'loss of business revenue,'" states a ruling by U.S. District Judge John E. Steele, issued Aug. 1. "Plaintiffs have not identified any legal basis for such a claim. Assuming, however, that such a cause of action exists, the court agrees these plaintiffs have not alleged any standing."

Lawyers from both sides said they expect that Alex Zivojinovich's case will go to trial some time close to Feb. 5, 2007.

That begins a federal trial week, and a judge will determine which date works best for all parties.

A deputy broke Zivojinovich's nose as he charged up the stairwell of a hotel to come to the aid of his son, Justin, who was being zapped by a stun gun.

Deputies alleged that Justin wouldn't comply with their orders to leave the hotel after getting onto a platform several times at the New Year's Eve bash and taking over the house band's microphone.

They also accused Justin of using foul language, resisting them, and making an aggressive move in the stairwell of the hotel as he was being escorted out.

During the fracas, deputies also zapped Alex several times with the stun gun. They accuse Alex Zivojinovich of pushing a deputy down a stairwell and spitting his blood onto another deputy.

The deputies' lawyer, Fort Lauderdale attorney Richard A. Giuffreda, said he was pleased that the judge granted the motion to exclude the other band members from the lawsuit.

He said he doesn't believe the case is going to be settled out of court before trial.

"I don't see any way to resolve this case. I really don't," he said.

Zivojinovich and his son, Justin, no longer face criminal charges tied to the exchange.

In April, Zivojinovich and his son accepted a plea deal that included no jail time. They were facing felony charges that could have resulted in several years behind bars.

As part of their "no-contest" plea agreements, they had to pay $190 in court costs, $25 in prosecution costs, and investigative costs.

Deputy Christopher Knott had testified at Justin's trial that he felt threatened when Justin broke one arm free of a grip a deputy had behind Justin's back in the stairwell.

But Senior Circuit Judge Charles T. Carlton reduced the third-degree felony charge that Justin was facing to a misdemeanor.

The judge declared that Justin's move wasn't enough to constitute a felony resisting charge, and the plea deals were made before Alex's case went to trial.

Alex Zivojinovich and Peart recently came to Florida to give sworn statements in the case after defense lawyers in court demanded they be forced to come from Canada to answer questions here.

McDonnell said it wasn't an imposition on their part to do that.

"I don't believe it is an inconvenience for either one of them," McDonnell said. "They are so dedicated to one another. They have been together for 30 years."

McDonnell said the band members are quality people.

"This is not a rock 'n' roll band that trashed a hotel. This is a very fine human being who was a guest of the hotel who got trashed by the hotel," he said.

Lawyers for both sides said Weinrib is scheduled to come to town soon to give a similar sworn statement, called a deposition.

McDonnell was reluctant to give the time and place of that deposition, noting security concerns.

Giuffreda also wouldn't give out the information, but he questioned whether the deposition would now be necessary, considering the judge's ruling.