Bridge may be just a card game, but at the top of the game, players take it very seriously.
Some would say far too seriously.
The Vero Beach Bridge Club, a venerable 63-year-old institution that has become one of the top 10 bridge clubs in the country, is currently facing the threat of a lawsuit from its highest-ranking member, Reanette Frobouck.
With more than 21,000 MasterPoints, far more than any other Vero club member, Frobouck is among the top 100 bridge players in the country.
A petite 80-ish snowbird with homes in Orchid for the winter and Pittsburgh for the summer, Frobouck recently was given a reprimand and put on probation for three months for allegedly questioning the integrity and impartiality of a game director who happened to be one of the club’s new co-managers, George Weber.
The probation had little practical effect since it was handed down at the beginning of the summer season. Frobouck had been scheduled to spend the summer up north anyway at her home in Pennsylvania and playing in major tournaments, where she regularly competes with teams of bridge professionals that she hires.
But Frobouck didn’t meekly fold her cards. To the contrary, she upped the ante and used her considerable means to pay her Pittsburgh attorney to fire off a “demand letter” to the Vero bridge club, demanding that the reprimand be rescinded, that the letter accusing her of misconduct be removed from the club’s bulletin board, and that she be given an apology for the alleged mistreatment.
If no such apology was forthcoming, the letter said, the club should get ready to defend itself in a libel suit, since the wrongful accusations against her had caused Frobouck considerable “embarrassment and humiliation” in the community of bridge players.
Bridge club president Denis Conlon, in a second stint as head of the local nonprofit’s board, said the club simply acknowledged receipt of the letter. “We did not think it was appropriate to respond to it,” Conlon said.
Conlon’s letter of reprimand to Frobouck, displayed on the club’s bulletin board, accuses her of an “ad hominem attack on the character” of director and club manager George Weber and expressed “absolute confidence in George’s professional competence and personal integrity.”
Since neither side has shown any signs of backing down, a lawsuit appears likely.
The altercation started at a normal weekly club duplicate game last month when during one hand, Frobouck put her cards down on the table and “claimed” the rest of the tricks.
Such claims are encouraged in duplicate bridge matches to save time. In this case, the claim was “defective” because Frobouck did not precisely state how she would play the rest of the remaining tricks.
One of her opponents, who happened to be Jan Weber, a co-manager of the club and director George Weber’s wife, disputed the “claim.” Weber still had a small trump left and might have taken one of the remaining tricks depending on how and in what order Frobouck played her cards.
Director George Weber sided with the protesting player – his wife – disallowing Frobouck’s “claim,” and awarding her opponents an additional trick.
The rules of duplicate bridge formulated by the American Contract Bridge League (ACBL) state that claims, even defective ones, should be upheld if the only way the opposition could take another trick would be by a “totally irrational or illogical” play. But what is totally irrational or illogical can sometimes be subjective.
What happened next is the subject of considerable he-said, she-said. Director Weber says Frobouck loudly argued against his ruling (a definite no-no) and tried to intimidate him, saying her type of “claim” was normal at the higher levels of the game where she plays.
He also said Frobouck made mention of the fact that George Weber’s ruling benefited his own wife, insinuating a lack of impartiality on the part of a game director (an even bigger no-no).
Frobouck, on the other hand, merely alleges that she sought a private meeting with George Weber after the game in his office at the club to discuss the matter, but that Weber refused to see her.
Although she has been known to be brash at times, Frobouck can also be very sociable, has many friends at the Vero bridge club, and has no trouble finding partners to play with her among the best players.
But it’s not the first time that Frobouck has been involved in a dispute here. Just before the Covid pandemic shut down all face-to-face bridge for a couple of years, Frobouck launched a major letter-writing campaign trying to get the club to discipline a fellow member and former friend who had allegedly disparaged her bridge-playing ability, saying she had “bought” her MasterPoints by paying professionals to play with her.
The club refused to intervene, saying it was a personal matter, but for months afterwards, Frobouck hounded the then chairperson of the club’s Conduct and Ethics committee who had refused to act.
Disciplinary measures against members are fairly rare in the bridge world. The last suspensions handed out over the past five years by the local club were for defying the vaccinations-only policy and recklessly exposing fellow-members to Covid, for loudly berating a partner for making the wrong lead, and for telling an off-color joke in mixed company.
Lawsuits against clubs by disgruntled members are even rarer, but not unheard of. In a celebrated 2010 case, the Fort Lauderdale Bridge Club, then one of the largest in the country, expelled Samuel “Sandy” Rosen for “behavioral issues.” He was a feisty retired litigation lawyer who had become famous for aggressive courtroom tactics defending the Church of Scientology, and he sued the bridge club over his expulsion, winning the case when he was able to prove that the club’s board did not have the quorum required under its own bylaws at the time it voted to expel him.
The case ran for four years with hundreds of motions and filings until 2014, when the club was forced to reinstate him and pay him $75,000, which was raised from member donations. The club eventually underwent a Chapter 11 bankruptcy court reorganization.
The local Vero Beach Bridge Club is a member-owned registered nonprofit organization.
Declining membership and attendance in the wake of Covid have caused the club to put half of its building up for sale. The club is trying to save money wherever it can and under the leadership of its new co-managers, the Webers, it is also trying to attract new players and members. A successful fundraising campaign this month netted $20,000 to re-upholster 200 chairs.
The club has not yet hired outside counsel to defend itself against the lawsuit threat.
Several of its members – even some of its board members – are retired attorneys, but none is believed to have substantive experience in the field of libel.