Ashley Moody declares win in Ritz Theatre legal fight

Ritz Theatre inset art
"I am glad our office was able to protect this major community asset."

A little more than a year after then-Attorney General Pam Bondi started to fight for Winter Haven’s historic Ritz Theatre, her successor on Friday said the legal battle had “come to an end.”

Attorney General Ashley Moody said Circuit Judge Catherine Combee “approved an agreement eliminating the final remaining legal barriers, and the Ritz has resolved the problems that led to the Attorney General’s involvement in the case.”

Last March, Bondi filed a complaint against the non-profit group charged with renovating and operating The Ritz Theatre, alleging misconduct and mismanagement that “placed the future of the Ritz Theatre in jeopardy.” The Ritz Theatre 100, Inc. was named as a defendant, as was Stella C. Heath, its executive director.

“Despite substantial grants, gifts, and funding from the State of Florida, the City of Winter Haven, and others to pay for needed renovations and operating costs, the Ritz Theatre remains underutilized, strapped for cash and in peril of closure,” it said.

Moody now says, “I am glad that our office was able to protect this major community asset, and these final Court actions will allow the theatre to thrive as a historical landmark in Polk County.”

“The Attorney General’s Office sought an appointment of a receiver, an accounting, and the withdrawal of a lien on the theatre’s assets in favor of its executive director, who has since resigned,” according to a press release.

“The Court granted the Attorney General’s motions to prevent the sale of the Ritz property and to appoint as its receiver the Honorable Charles A. Davis Jr., a former 2nd Circuit Court of Appeal judge,” the release added. “This immediate request for an appointed receiver gave full authority of the Ritz to the receiver, including reviewing all financial decisions and controlling further expenditures until legal resolution.

“In the most recent action, the Court approved the settlement of the Ritz’s dispute with its former executive director, resulting in the release of her lien. The Ritz’s outside insurance carrier funded the majority of the settlement proceeds. The Court also approved the proposed refinancing of the Ritz property.

“With these final legal agreements in place, the Ritz is now well-positioned to become the centerpiece of downtown Winter Haven and the community asset so many have envisioned it could be.”

Staff Reports


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