A Florida judge has appeared sceptical about arguments made by a lawyer for golf superstar Tiger Woods’ ex-girlfriend who is trying to invalidate a non-disclosure agreement that would require the legal disputes between the two to be decided privately by an arbitrator.
During a 45-minute hearing, Circuit Judge Elizabeth Metzger repeatedly questioned why the mandatory arbitration clause in the couple’s disputed agreement would not invalidate Erica Herman’s lawsuit against Mr Woods.
She even appeared to agree with Mr Woods’ lawyer, JB Murray, that even the question of whether Ms Herman signed the August 2017 document or her signature is forged should, for now, be left to an arbitrator.
Neither Ms Herman, 39, nor Mr Woods, 47, was present. She is suing him and the trust that owns his 54 million dollar (£42 million) Florida mansion, seeking 30 million dollars (£23 million) from the latter amid unspecified allegations of sexual harassment.
“Contract law tells me I look at the document and I ask, ‘Is it valid on its face?’ I’ve got dates, I’ve got signatures, I’ve got terms,” Judge Metzger said.
Given that, she asked Herman lawyer Benjamin Hodas, what choice did she have but to invalidate the lawsuit and require that Ms Herman take the case to arbitration if she wants to pursue it further.
At the least, Mr Hodas asked that the judge conduct a future hearing to determine whether his client signed the document or if it was forged. He acknowledged that she signed a non-disclosure agreement at some point, but the one presented by Mr Woods’ lawyers may not be the true contract.
“We don’t know,” Mr Hodas told Judge Metzger. “My client cannot say for certain that is her signature and she does not recall signing this document.”
Mr Murray called the dispute over the signature “a bit of a red herring”, adding: “One thing you did not hear Mr Hodas say is that she did not sign it. They are not bold enough.”
Judge Metzger said she would issue her decision in writing, but did not say when.
Ms Herman is suing Woods to get out of the agreement, saying she was the victim of his sexual harassment. She has also filed a separate illegal eviction lawsuit against the trust that owns the mansion.
She alleges in court documents that Mr Woods threatened to fire her if she did not sign a non-disclosure agreement. Judge Hodas argues that is a type of harassment, treating one employee different to others because they have a sexual relationship.
But the sexual harassment allegation was barely mentioned during Tuesday’s hearing.
Judge Metzger told Mr Hodas she needed more information about what allegedly happened to consider it. He said he could not provide more information publicly in fear that he would be violating the non-disclosure agreement if it is ultimately upheld.
Mr Murray has called those accusations “utterly meritless”.
Ms Herman wants Judge Metzger to either void the non-disclosure agreement or at least give her guidance about what she can say publicly.
In her unlawful eviction lawsuit against the trust, she is basing her claim on how much it would cost to rent a property like Mr Woods’ beachfront mansion north of Palm Beach for six years of residence she was allegedly promised by the golfer and then denied.
Before they dated, Mr Woods hired Ms Herman in 2014 to help develop and then operate the golfer’s The Woods sports bar and restaurant in nearby Jupiter — but they do not agree when their romantic relationship and cohabitation began.