Holmes Beach wins fees in Bert Harris-Key Royale case

Judge Diana Moreland came right to the point Oct. 30, pointing out in the courtroom that a settlement was already on the record.

She noted the settlement was struck between the city of Holmes Beach and the owners of 626 Key Royale in their attorneys’ email exchange.

In the aftermath of the Bert Harris case won by the city in March, she granted a city motion to enforce the settlement, finding an agreement on “no uncertain terms,” which entitles the city to $47,702.50 in fees and costs from complainant Kathy Morgan.

The judge directed the city attorney to draft a proposed order for $25,000 in attorneys’ fees and $22,702.50 in costs.

The dispute between the city and Morgan has festered since December 2013, when the city red-tagged the single-family residence for work beyond the scope of the remodel permit and Morgan claimed city actions inordinately burdened her property.

Morgan and her company, Leah Marie Enterprises LLC, filed several lawsuits against Holmes Beach under the same facts, including the 2015 litigation under the Bert J. Harris Jr. Private Property Rights Protection Act.

Twelfth Circuit Judge Gilbert Smith Jr. entered judgment March 23 for the city on the Bert Harris suit — saying the city didn’t create the plaintiffs’ problems, they did. The judgment retained jurisdiction to rule on attorneys’ fees and costs.

Ruling on the settlement motion, Moreland said an April 4 email counteroffer by Sarasota attorney David P. Johnson, for Morgan, his wife and paralegal, was accepted the same day by the city’s insurance-appointed attorney, Jay Daigneault of Trask Daigneault LLP of Clearwater, also via email.

Earlier in the exchange, Daigneault had offered to settle the case for $50,000 and $22,702.50 in costs, plus a waiver of plaintiffs’ right to an appeal.

Before the ruling, the court heard testimony from Johnson and Daigneault.

Johnson testified he didn’t have authority to settle for Morgan.

Johnson said his April 4 email, which states: “Can you check with your client to see if payment of all costs and $25,000 legal fees will finalize the case,” was part of pre-settlement negotiations.

Johnson maintained his April 13 email, stating: “Kathy is trying to obtain the cash — she has some REITS that are liquid and is attempting to apply for a home-equity loan,” did not pertain to a settlement. He said it was an attempt to obtain funds “to repair the house or tear it down.”

The judge called Johnson’s testimony “incredible,” considering the emails and the backdrop of Morgan being Johnson’s legal assistant and wife.

Daigneault’s testimony, describing the dealings with Johnson and Morgan, was “credible,” she said.

Of interest to Moreland was that Johnson gave his client/wife/paralegal and owner of 626 Key Royale notice of the email exchange with Daigneault, copying her into the April 13 email.

Morgan and her corporate entity filed a suit seeking a court-ordered permit in 2014 and a negligence suit in 2015, claiming the building staff erred in imposing a non-existent 30-percent rule to limit their remodeling.

The plaintiffs settled the negligence case in January for $2,000.

The permit claims were combined into their Bert Harris claim, but dismissed after the 2016 trial.

“We appreciate the court’s thoughtful consideration of the motion. We’re glad it’s been resolved in our favor,” Daigneault said after Moreland’s ruling.

Neither Morgan nor Johnson responded to Nov. 1-2 emails from The Islander requesting comment.

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