A complaint in Bradenton Beach about the city attorney made to the state bar could soon cost taxpayers $5,000.
During the Jan. 24 city commission meeting, Commissioner Jake Spooner re-opened discussion about fees incurred by city attorney Ricinda Perry to defend herself against an allegation made by former planning and zoning board member John Metz to the Florida Bar Association, claiming Perry plagiarized content in an email to board members and city officials.
At a December 2017 commission meeting, Perry said she fought the allegation and it was dropped, but her defense cost $5,000. She said she did not request the city pay her legal fees, even though Mayor John Chappie said she was defending the city and should not have to pay.
The commission and mayor voted Jan. 24 to approve payment of the costs.
The vote was 4-1, with Commissioner Randy White voting “nay.”
The dispute started with a June 29, 2017, email from Perry to P&Z board members and elected officials that included information on quasi-judicial hearings and ex parte communications from the Florida planning official’s handbook. The email was one of two Perry sent to the board and commissioners warning them of actions by members of the board that she alleged could leave the city open to a lawsuit.
Because Perry had not cited the source of the information in her email, Metz claimed in a July 28 email that she plagiarized from the handbook.
In an email response to Metz the same day, Perry said public information such as the handbook is not subject to copyright requirements.
Perry claimed Metz and five other board members ignored her warnings when she encouraged the city to join a lawsuit filed in August 2017 by ex-Mayor Jack Clarke against the members for allegedly violating Florida’s Government-in-the-Sunshine Laws at meetings, as well as through emails and phone calls.
When discussion on Perry’s cost to defend herself against Metz’s complaint was re-opened Jan. 24, Spooner said Perry should be reimbursed.
“(Perry) was trying to protect our city and the judge ruled she was free from any wrongdoing,” he said.
However, White was concerned the suit stemmed from personal issues between Perry and Metz and the city should not pay.
Chappie, defending Perry, said the issue is in no way personal and, if she seemed passionate, it was because Metz tried to have her disbarred.
Chappie also said Perry has statutory rights to the same protection as staff when defending the city.
However, Metz sought a public reprimand in his complaint to the Florida Bar. He did not suggest Perry be disbarred.
The Nov. 21 response from Richard Coombs, bar counsel, stated the information provided by Metz did not establish “by clear and convincing evidence that Ms. Perry has violated any of the rules regulating the Florida Bar. Coombs stated, “Continued disciplinary proceedings in this matter are inappropriate and our file has been closed effective Nov. 20, 2017.”
Perry’s response to the complaint — 27 pages, including seven pages of “evidence” — lacked any reference to outside legal representation and appears to have been written by Perry.
At a December 2017 commission meeting, Perry said she fought the allegation and it was dropped.
“When you ask your attorney to get information and come forward with a position, you want them to use the facts,” Chappie said. “To be accused and brought before your peers for plagiarism? In my opinion, Mr. Metz should be embarrassed.”
Spooner motioned to approve reimbursement of Perry’s legal expenses, not to exceed $5,000, pending an invoice.
Commissioner Marilyn Maro seconded the motion and said if people had heeded Perry’s initial warning, the lawsuit and associated expenses likely would not have occurred.
“We tried to listen as a commission,” Maro said. “Other people did not.”
Perry, who had declined to be reimbursed for the expense, said she would reluctantly provide the city with an invoice.
Metz’s complaint to the Florida Bar, Perry’s response and Coombs’ letter are available to read on The Islander website at islander.org, along with this story.
Response to Florida Bar ruling:
John Metz maintains Ricinda Perry wrote a letter that “plagiarized all or parts of seven pages of the “Florida Planning Officials Handbook” without any reference, citation or quotation marks.
Metz wrote to The Islander Jan. 20, stating: “Plagarism is a form of deceit. She does not deny it. Rather she claims that she has so thoroughly referenced this handbook to the city staff (not P&Z) that it is like the Gettysburg address and that everyone recognizes it!
“The Florida Bar bought this wild assertion despite my affidavit testimony to the contrary that in three plus years on the P&Z board, Ms. Perry never even appeared nor referenced this handbook.
“Ms. Perry also has asserted that she spent $5,000 to defend my complaint. Obviously she felt the complaint was credible. However, although by law she is required to copy me on all correspondence, there has been no outside lawyer referenced in the paperwork. The only paperwork served on me in her defense was her characteristically perfuse character assassination allegations on her opponent.”