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Libel lawsuit is the latest twist in Strunk Funeral Home legal drama

STORY BY RAY MCNULTY (Week of December 30, 2021)

The legal drama surrounding the dispute over the ownership of the property on which the Strunk Funeral Homes & Crematory operate has spawned a new lawsuit.

This time, it’s a libel action filed in circuit court here by James Young Jr., owner of the Millennium Funeral Home & Crematory, which claims to have purchased the Strunk properties in Vero Beach and Sebastian from Glenn Strunk’s widow, Dorothy, for $3.1 million in June.

In the lawsuit, Young accuses Strunk’s daughter, Mary Kopchak, of “falsely and maliciously” posting defamatory comments about him on a Facebook page titled “Indian River County Community Round Up” on Nov. 23.

The filing states that the remarks written by Kopchak, who succeeded her father as the Strunk company’s president in the days prior to his death in February 2020, damaged Young’s reputation for “honesty, integrity and trustworthiness in this community and in his profession.”

Young claims in his complaint that Kopchak’s social-media post has subjected him to “hatred, distrust, ridicule, contempt and disgrace,” and that he should be compensated for the “mental anguish, torment and humiliation” he has suffered as a result.

In addition to general damages, attorneys’ fees and the cost of the lawsuit, Young is seeking punitive damages from Kopchak “to deter her from any such future actions,” the suit states.

Reached by phone, Young said he hadn’t yet thought about monetary amounts. “I sued her, personally, and not the Strunk Funeral Home,” Young said. “I’m tired of her saying untrue things in public. I want her to shut her mouth and leave me alone.”

Kopchak’s Vero Beach attorney, Kevin Rollin, responded to Young’s complaint with a motion asking Circuit Judge to dismiss the lawsuit on both its merits and procedural grounds.

He declined to comment on the lawsuit. “I’d rather let the publicly filed papers do the talking,” Rollin said, adding, “My client doesn’t want to litigate any legal or personal matter in the press.”

Rollin did find it curious that Young included Kopchak’s maiden name in the complaint, saying “Strunk” is not her legal name and questioning why the plaintiff would use it in court document. “It’s not for any legal purpose,” Rollin said, “so there must be some ulterior purpose.”

Asked if that purpose might be connected to the ongoing legal clash between Young and Strunk’s adult children, Rollin chose to not answer.

Young’s libel suit was filed Nov. 30 by Jacksonville-based attorney Clive Morgan, but Vero Beach’s Louis “Buck” Vocelle was added as co-counsel last week.

As of last weekend, Croom had not yet ruled on Kopchak’s motion to dismiss – which she could do without a hearing – and Rollin said he didn’t know when she would do so.

The remarks for which Kopchak is being sued came in response to comments made by other Facebook users after a Vero Beach 32963 story was posted on the page Nov. 22 about Young involving the Florida Division of Funerals, Cemeteries and Consumer Services in his nasty dispute with the Strunk siblings

In her post, Kopchak identified herself as “one of Glenn Strunk’s children” and stated, “We know the truth. This is a pretty miserable time in our lives.”

She wrote that Young is “trying to undermine our business, hoping to gain something for which he is not worthy.” She stated that Young worked for her father many years ago and was fired “for character unbecoming of a funeral director,” adding, “That is fact.”

Young, however, denied that he was fired, saying he chose to leave because Strunk Funeral Home’s then-manager refused to pay him overtime – “and the manager who was there at the time can verify it.”

Kopchak went on to write: “Unfortunately, unscrupulous people do unscrupulous things, which I am afraid is the case with Jim Young & Dorothy Strunk, as will be shown as our legal matters unfold.” She wrote in the post that allegations she had her father “sign over his funeral home” to her while on his death bed – a claim made by another commenter – was “utterly absurd.”

Kopchak and her siblings are “carrying out the duty” their father asked of them, she continued, and they’re looking forward to the entire story being told in court.

Young said he spoke with Kopchak during a break in Dorothy Strunk’s two-day deposition earlier this month and offered to pay the Strunk siblings to vacate the properties he claims to own or, if preferable, purchase the business from them.

“I tried to make it easier, be civil about it,” he said. “But she blew up.”

Unless something changes, the case will be decided in court.

Something could change, though: The Florida Department of Financial Services is “conducting a legal review of the status” of the Strunk Funeral Homes & Crematory’s license, the agency’s press secretary, John O’Brien, wrote in an email to Vero Beach 32963.

When the review is complete, O’Brien added, the agency will present its findings to the board of the Division of Funerals.