Texas attorney Dustin Kolodziej is once again suing Florida criminal-defense lawyer James Cheney Mason and his firm for breach of contract over a challenge that Mason allegedly issued on “Dateline NBC” in December 2006. Kolodziej alleges in his original complaint in Kolodziej v. Mason, et al., filed June 29 in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia, that the suit arises out of Mason’s representation of Nelson Serrano, who was convicted and sentenced to death for the 1997 murders of four people in Central Florida. As alleged in Kolodziej’s complaint, security cameras at the La Quinta Inn in Atlanta showed Serrano at the hotel within a few hours after the murders. Mason argued on “Dateline NBC” that there was no way Serrano could have committed the murders and been at the Atlanta hotel by the time the video showed he was there, according to the complaint. Kolodziej alleges that Mason challenged anyone to show him that Serrano could have deplaned in Atlanta and been at the hotel five miles away within 28 minutes. As noted in the complaint, according to the “Dateline NBC” transcript, Mason said, “I challenge anybody to show me, I’ll pay them a million dollars if they can do it.” Mason has claimed that "Dateline NBC" edited his statement, which referred to the prosecutors in Serrano’s trial, but Kolodziej alleges in his complaint that Mason’s version of the statement “contains in substance the same challenge as broadcast by Dateline.” According to the complaint, Kolodziej, who was then a student at South Texas College of Law in Houston, accepted the challenge in December 2007, retraced Serrano’s route and made the last leg of the trip within 28 minutes. Kolodziej alleges in the complaint that he sent Mason a video tracking his trip along with a demand letter, but Mason wrote back in January 2008 that it was just a joke. When Kolodziej wrote a second letter demanding to be paid for successfully completing the challenge, Mason threatened to have him prosecuted, Kolodziej alleges in the complaint. So Kolodziej sued Mason. “Mason made an offer of a unilateral contract when he issued the challenge,” Kolodziej alleges in the complaint. He further alleges that he accepted the contract when he performed the challenge and that Mason has breached the contract by refusing to pay him. All of this may sound familiar. In June 2009, Kolodziej filed a suit in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas in Houston. But on Oct. 23, 2009, U.S. District Judge Gray Miller granted the defendants’ motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction. Mason’s attorney, Louis Bonham, of counsel at Osha Liang in Austin, says, “We think the suit was baseless and was dismissed properly the first time and will be dismissed again.” Connelly Baker Wotring partner David George of Houston, Kolodziej’s attorney, says the suit Kolodziej filed last month in Georgia is essentially the same suit filed last year in Texas. “We’re just bringing it in a venue that pretty clearly has a connection to it,” George says. Kolodziej, who now lives in San Antonio, declines comment on the suit, George says. Sheila Hansel, South Texas College of Law spokeswoman, says Kolodziej graduated from the law school in May 2009. Texas Board of Law Examiners records posted online show Kolodziej passed the bar exam in February.
-- Mary Alice Robbins