Court proceedings in the Sitzer/Burnett class action lawsuit continued on Wednesday, undeterred by HomeServices of America’s request for a mistrial. The company claimed that an unexpected video, which they referred to as an “ambush video,” had been introduced into testimony on Tuesday afternoon.
According to court documents, HomeServices’ attorneys argued that the video, which featured a BHHS executive’s commentary on the Tom Ferry Podcast Experience in 2019, was not included in the exhibit list. They contended that this deprived the defendants of the opportunity to review it beforehand, thus questioning its authenticity and credibility.
During the trial, the video was shown to HomeServices founder Ron Peltier, who was asked about the controversial tactics discussed in the podcast. In one segment, BHHS senior vice president Allan Dalton crudely discussed using intimidation tactics in response to a client’s request to lower their commission.
Defense attorneys raised objections, including references made by the lead attorney for the plaintiffs, Michael Ketchmark, regarding investigations by the Department of Justice. Both sides had previously agreed not to bring up this topic in front of the jury. Despite these objections, Judge Stephen Bough declined to declare a mistrial. However, he did reprimand Ketchmark and instructed the jury to disregard the video and other evidence objected to by the defense.
Ketchmark, in turn, voiced his own objections, including the allegation that HomeServices’ attorneys had not been transparent about their witness list.
The courtroom drama unfolded as the Sitzer/Burnett class action lawsuit continued, with both sides passionately presenting their arguments. The unexpected introduction of the “ambush video” added a twist to the proceedings, leading to heated objections and a request for a mistrial. However, Judge Bough’s decision to allow the trial to proceed, albeit with a reprimand and instructions to the jury, ensured that justice would be served. As the case unfolded, it became clear that both the plaintiffs and the defendants were determined to fight for their respective positions, leaving no stone unturned in their pursuit of victory.
During the morning session, Gino Blefari, President and CEO of HomeServices of America, concluded his testimony with a clear message: HomeServices distances itself from franchise operations. He emphasized that the HomeServices business model promotes independence between the company and its franchises, allowing them a significant level of autonomy.
While Blefari acknowledged that he takes ultimate responsibility for many aspects of the business, he made it clear that training is primarily overseen by independent offices. “The buck stops with me,” he admitted, but not when it comes to training. This approach ensures that each franchise can tailor their training programs to best suit their agents’ needs.
Blefari also addressed a video presented by the plaintiffs, where he discusses agents aiming for the full 6% commission. However, during his testimony, he clarified that his intention was to encourage agents to have the confidence to ask for the full commission rate. He believed that by doing so, they would increase the likelihood of actually receiving it.
The jury also heard from Rosalie Warner, a senior vice president of network services for HomeServices. Warner described the business relationship with franchises as relatively hands-off, indicating that HomeServices does not exert significant control over the decisions made by these independent offices. This approach allows franchises to operate with a sense of autonomy while still benefiting from the support and resources provided by HomeServices.
As the defense prepares to wrap up its case, Warner is expected to face cross-examination in the afternoon session. The defense aims to demonstrate that HomeServices’ hands-off approach to franchise operations is a deliberate and effective strategy. With the end of the week in sight, the defense is confident in their ability to present a compelling case.