Saturday, September 4, 2021

Florida lawsuit fires back at Matrix founder/owner Joe Perkins, with allegations of "extortionate" demands for money, raising possible implications for Alabama Power and Birmingham's Balch & Bingham law firm

Joe Perkins

The former president and CEO of Montgomery-based Matrix LLC alleges in Florida court papers that Joe  Perkins, the company's founder and owner, demanded a $4.5-million payment or he would file a lawsuit against former president Jeff Pitts and possibly a key client of Pitts' new firm. Perkins filed such a lawsuit in Jefferson County Circuit Court in August. Pitts also alleges that Perkins engaged in harassing, defamatory, and threatening communications with Pitts' current employees and clients. In his complaint, Pitts describes Perkins' financial demands as "extortionate."

Jeff Pitts worked at Matrix for roughly 25 years -- and was considered Perkins' likely successor as head of the strategic communications and political-consulting firm -- but Pitts resigned in late 2020 to start his own competing company, Canopy Partners LLC, in Plantation, FL. Three other former Matrix employees left to join Pitts at Canopy.

Pitts and Canopy are co-plaintiffs in a complaint filed Thursday in Duval County, FL. (The full complaint is embedded at the end of this post.) Perkins, who has longstanding ties to Alabama Power and its chief law firm (Balch & Bingham), is the sole defendant. Pitts' complaint comes roughly five weeks after Perkins filed his lawsuit in Alabama, claiming Pitts and other former employees improperly retained Matrix's trade secrets and proprietary information; set up entities to serve as competition while still working for Matrix, effectively embezzling fees from the Alabama firm; and possibly compromised Matrix's computer server in its Birmingham office, apparently trying to hide or destroy data stored on the server.

In his Florida complaint, which is not styled as a counterclaim, Pitts asserts that Duval County is the proper venue for the controversy to be heard -- and he levels some unsavory allegations of his own. From the Pitts/Canopy complaint:

Over the last fifteen years, Mr. Perkins regularly initiated discussions with Mr. Pitts relating to Mr. Perkins’ retirement and plans to transition ownership of Matrix to Mr. Pitts. Despite these regular conversations, Mr. Perkins never followed through or allowed Mr. Pitts any real opportunity to obtain an ownership interest in Matrix.

Accordingly, on December 9, 2020, Mr. Pitts met with Mr. Perkins to advise that he and several other Matrix employees were leaving Matrix to start a new firm, Canopy.

Mr. Perkins was upset with this news and asked Mr. Pitts to reconsider. When Mr. Pitts declined, Mr. Perkins and Mr. Pitts engaged in several discussions regarding the transition of clients and personnel issues. 

Mr. Perkins agreed that Mr. Pitts and Canopy were entitled to take Matrix’s Florida-based clients, except that Matrix and Canopy could both perform work for one particular Florida client, referred to herein as “Client A.”

Although Mr. Perkins initially led Mr. Pitts to believe Mr. Perkins would cooperate with a professional transition and sent emails supporting Mr. Pitts to Matrix clients, Mr. Perkins began almost immediately taking steps to harm, undermine, defame, and destroy the reputation of Mr. Pitts and Canopy, as well as to extort Mr. Pitts to Mr. Perkins’ personal benefit. 

To this end, Mr. Perkins used Matrix staff and confidential information to develop a campaign of false information and intimidation.

How ugly did Perkins's campaign get, according to the Pitts/Canopy complaint.? The answer is "pretty ugly." -- and it appears "Client A," who must have a sturdy bank account, got caught in the middle of it. 

We will examine these and other issues in upcoming posts.


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