Sunshine Law trial delayed until July

Sunshine Law trial delayed until July
Former Planning and Zoning Board member John Metz was the only defendant to attend the Feb. 7 city commission meeting. - Joe Hendricks | Sun

BRADENTON BEACH – The trial for the Sunshine Law lawsuit filed against six former city advisory board members has been rescheduled for July 15. The trial was previously scheduled to take place in mid-March.

A pretrial conference has been scheduled for July 8.

The depositions for City Planner Alan Garrett, City Attorney Ricinda Perry and defendant John Metz also have been rescheduled. Perry is now scheduled to be deposed by Metz’s attorney, Thomas Shults, on Wednesday, March 20.

On behalf of the city of Bradenton Beach and co-plaintiff Jack Clarke, attorney Robert Watrous is now scheduled to depose Metz on Thursday, May 30. Garrett’s recently-postponed deposition has not yet been rescheduled.

The attorneys also have submitted the lists of witnesses they will or may call upon to testify during the trial.

Paralegal Michael Barfield is assisting Watrous and said the trial was pushed back due to temporary health issues experienced by some witnesses and Shults’ plans to soon take a long vacation out of the country.

The court-ordered mediation session previously scheduled for Monday, Feb. 25 is expected to take place as planned. The mediation will provide all parties involved an opportunity to discuss a potential settlement, but Perry previously told the city commission she doesn’t believe a settlement is likely.

The only known settlement offer to date occurred in September 2017, when the defendants, minus Metz, offered to pay their own legal fees and pay $100 each toward the legal fees incurred by the city and Clarke. That settlement offer included no admission or denial of liability or fault and noted that all six defendants had resigned from their positions as city advisory board members. The city rejected that settlement offer.

Additional actions

During the Feb. 7 city commission meeting, Perry said Shults now plans to depose Mayor John Chappie, commissioners Ralph Cole and Jake Spooner and Building Official Steve Gilbert as well.

Sunshine Law trial delayed until July
City Attorney Ricinda Perry provided city commissioners with a lawsuit update on Feb. 7. – Joe Hendricks | Sun

Perry also said former Concerned Neighbors of Bradenton Beach (CNOBB) webmaster Michael Harrington may be deposed a second time due to discoveries made during his first deposition in January.

During his deposition, Harrington testified under oath that he thought he had deleted all of his email correspondence pertaining to CNOBB. He later realized that was not the case and turned those and other emails over to Barfield and Watrous.

Harrington also testified under oath that he asked for the hard drive in his malfunctioning computer to be destroyed and he confirmed that former Planning and Zoning Board and CNOBB member Reed Mapes asked him to delete two CNOBB-related emails.

While deposing Clarke in January, Shults laid the groundwork for a potential line of defense based on the legal argument that the city and Clarke filed the lawsuit in bad faith due to contentious relationships between Metz and Clarke and Metz and the city.

In 2015, Metz filed an unsuccessful lawsuit against Clarke. In 2016, Metz filed a still-pending lawsuit against the city and Gilbert. In 2017, Metz was unsuccessful in his efforts to prevent Cole from continuing to operate his Coastal Watersports rental business on beachfront property leased from the Silver Surf resort.

The lawsuit

The 2017 lawsuit seeks a ruling from 12th Circuit Court Judge Ed Nicholas as to whether four former Planning and Zoning Board members (Metz, Mapes, Patty Shay and Bill Vincent) and former Scenic WAVES Committee members Tjet Martin and Rose Vincent violated the Florida Sunshine Law by discussing past, present and potential board and committee matters during CNOBB meetings that occurred that summer at the Annie Silver Community Center and the Pines Trailer Park. Under the law, official board and committee member business is only supposed to be discussed at properly-noticed city meetings, most of which take place at city hall.

The CNOBB members discussed the potential pursuit of a citywide prohibition on parking garages. They also discussed the updated Community Redevelopment Agency that references parking and other potential CRA projects. Email exchanges obtained from the defendants and others during the pretrial discovery process also include several references to parking garages, the CRA plan and other city business.

While deposing Mapes, Shay and Bill Vincent, Watrous established that these matters were previously reviewed by the advisory board members and he asserted they could have foreseeably come before them again.