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Date of Issue: March 17, 2005

Lawyers divorce court in Davis case

Taking a page from Judge Judy's television show, lawyers reportedly on the same side in defending a lawsuit against Holmes Beach and property owner Frank Davis now appear headed for divorce court.

Gregory Hootman, representing Holmes Beach in the lawsuit, wants Davis' attorney, Peter Mackey, dismissed for "improper communication."

Davis is represented in the suit by the Mackey Law Group of Bradenton and Hootman claims a Mackey attorney spoke improperly with City Commissioner Roger Lutz, himself a lawyer, about the lawsuit.

At the same time, Mackey is claiming that Hootman's actions as city counsel in the matter are "obstructive and aligned with the plaintiffs."

Mackey wants Hootman to "at least cooperate with us halfway in moving this matter to a judicial conclusion."

Court TV?

Hey, this is the Island.

The case stems from two variances the city commission granted Davis in February 2003 to build a four-unit condominium on his property at 5622 Gulf Drive.

Adjacent landowners Ruthanne McLean and Barbara Coloney filed suit to stop the construction, naming both Holmes Beach and Davis as defendants.

The law firm of Dye, Deitrich, Prather, Petruff, and St. Paul, which is contracted as the Holmes Beach city attorney, recused itself from representing the city on the issue, citing a conflict of interest.

That resulted in the city hiring Hootman and the Florida League of Cities to defend its portion of the lawsuit, while Davis originally had Bradenton Attorney Mark Barnebey.

Davis eventually dumped Barnebey and hired Mackey.

Hootman claims in court papers that Matthew Taylor, an attorney with the Mackey Group, made an "unauthorized communication" to Lutz on Nov. 21, 2003, at the instigation of Mackey.

On the same day, he spoke with Mackey in "an effort to resolve a dispute" over a deposition by city staff member Susan Corsi.

During that conversation, according to Hootman, Mackey said "his office was contacting City Attorney Patricia Petruff and Commissioner Roger Lutz (who is an attorney) to express criticism of the representation which [Hootman] was providing to defendant CITY (sic) in this case."

Hootman said he then told Mackey that he was "not authorized to speak with members of the city commission," at which time Mackey hung up.

But it was too late.

Even Mackey conceded in a letter to Hootman the same day that Taylor had contacted Lutz earlier on Nov. 21.

Lutz, said Mackey, did not speak to Taylor because "he deemed the contact inappropriate.

"This contact does," continued Mackey, "appear to have been inappropriate under the circumstances and we apologize for the appearance of impropriety."

Mackey took full responsibility for the call, although he claimed Taylor only wanted to talk to Lutz about "procedural aspects, not substantive aspects" of the matter pending in the court.

He said that after speaking with Hootman, he went to Taylor to tell him not to call Lutz, but Taylor had just gotten off the phone with Lutz, Mackey said in his letter.

"You can be assured that even though you and I do not see eye-to-eye, there will be no further contact of any nature whatsoever," he concluded.

No more contact with Mackey is apparently fine with Hootman.

He filed a motion Nov. 26 asking the circuit court to disqualify the Mackey Law Group as Davis' attorney, for sanctions against Davis and the entry of a default.

Judge Charles Williams has set a hearing on the Hootman motion for 1:30 p.m. Jan. 23, 2004.

But the bizarre circumstances surrounding the entire case seem to be far from over.

Mackey has filed a counter-motion to the McLean/Coloney suit, asking the court to find in favor of Davis, award him damages in excess of $15,000, and pay for attorney's fees and costs associated with the action.

In fact, Mackey has even claimed in a separate motion that Holmes Beach owes Davis' attorney fees, and has asked the court to "enter an order awarding reasonable attorneys fees to Mr. Davis, to be paid by the city and its counsel."

In addition to asking the court for a divorce from Mackey in defending the suit, Hootman has also filed a separate motion asking the court to refer the matter to mediation.

No date to hear that motion has yet been set by the court.