Sunshine defendant accused of violating mediation confidentiality

Sunshine defendant accused of violating mediation confidentiality
Shown here during the trial in July, Sunshine Law lawsuit defendant Reed Mapes has now allegedly violated a Florida Statute pertaining to mediation confidentiality. - Joe Hendricks | Sun

BRADENTON BEACH – On behalf of the city of Bradenton Beach, attorney Robert Watrous has filed a motion seeking to impose sanctions on Sunshine Law lawsuit defendant Reed Mapes.

In July, Circuit Court Judge Edward Nicholas ruled Mapes, Tjet Martin, John Metz, Patty Shay, Bill Vincent and his wife Rose Vincent violated the Florida Sunshine Law in 2017. The Sunshine violations occurred when the then-city advisory board members repeatedly discussed advisory board business at their non-city-sanctioned Concerned Neighbors of Bradenton Beach meetings.

In November, Nicholas ruled the city was entitled to recover attorneys’ fees and costs from the defendants, but he did not issue a ruling at that time as to what the recovery amount would be. Nicholas later ordered the parties to participate in a mandatory mediation session and the parties agreed on Bonnie Marmor as their mediator.

The motion Watrous filed on Friday, Feb. 14. pertains to the court-ordered, closed-door mediation session that took place at the Manatee County Judicial Center in downtown Bradenton on Jan. 13.

The mediation session provided the defendants and the city an opportunity to broker a settlement as to how much the defendants were willing to reimburse the city for the attorney fees and costs the city and its taxpayers incurred in this case.

As of Tuesday, Feb. 18, the city had incurred $477,062 in attorneys’ fees and costs, according to City Treasurer Shayne Thompson.

Watrous’ written motion notes all parties who attended the Jan. 13 mediation session were advised by the mediator to keep the details of that session to themselves. And that any settlement offer proposed would have to be discussed with and either accepted or rejected by the Bradenton Beach City Commission.

Watrous’ motion cites Florida Statute 44.405, which says, “Except as provided in this section, all mediation communications shall be confidential. A mediation participant shall not disclose a mediation communication to a person other than another mediation participant or a participant’s counsel. A violation of this section may be remedied as provided by s. 44.406. If the mediation is court-ordered, a violation of this section may also subject the mediation participant to sanctions by the court, including, but not limited to, costs, attorney’s fees, and mediator’s fees.”

According to the motion, the mediator contacted Watrous on Jan. 14, the day after the mediation session, to facilitate communication of a new settlement offer. Watrous then communicated with Metz’s attorney, Thomas Shults, who in turn relayed mediation-related information to his client and the co-defendants who no longer retain the services of their own attorneys.

Watrous’ motion notes that on Jan. 28, the Bradenton Beach Commission held a closed-door shade meeting that provided city commissioners an opportunity to consider and respond to a settlement offer tendered by Shults.

“On January 29, a media article appeared in the Islander stating that ‘Reed Mapes, one of the six defendants alongside John Metz, Tjet Martin, Patty Shay, Bill Vincent and Rose Vincent, told the Islander that John Metz offered $200,000 to settle with the city after a Jan. 13 closed-door mediation session failed to result in an agreement,’” Watrous’ motion states.

Watrous’ motion states that on Feb. 10, he sent Shults the city’s written response to the settlement offer Shults tendered on Jan. 14. Watrous’s motion does not indicate what the city’s response was.

“At present, the defendants have not responded to that offer,” the motion states.

Sunshine defendant accused of violating mediation confidentiality
A fee award hearing has been scheduled before Judge Edward Nicholas on Wednesday, April 29. – Joe Hendricks | Sun

If the parties can’t reach a settlement on their own, Nicholas will eventually be asked to determine how much the defendants must reimburse the city and its taxpayers.

Barring a settlement, the parties are scheduled to see each other in court again on Wednesday, April 29, when they appear before Nicholas at 1:35 p.m. for a three-hour hearing pertaining to award/amount of attorney fees.

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