The judge has ruled on the first decision in a Bradenton Beach lawsuit.
A motion to sequester nonparty witnesses during depositions for a suit initiated August 2017 by ex-Mayor Jack Clarke and joined by the city against six now-former board members was denied May 9 during a pretrial hearing at the Manatee County Judicial Center before Judge Lon Arend.
Clarke alleges the defendants violated Florida’s Government-in-the-Sunshine Laws by discussing city matters at a meeting of the now-defunct grass-roots group Concerned Neighbors of Bradenton Beach, putting the city in danger of being in violation of Sunshine Laws regarding open meetings.
Additionally, Clarke is alleging several of the defendants exchanged emails regarding city matters brought before them as board members.
Defendant John Metz, a former planning and zoning board member, filed a motion to sequester nonparty witnesses during the depositions, preventing nonparty access to the discovery proceedings.
Additionally, Metz filed a motion to compel production of documents from Clarke. However, this motion was continued due to time limitations.
During the May 9 hearing, Jodi Ruberg with Kirk Pinkerton P.A. of Sarasota, representing Metz, said the defendants anticipate the city will call nonparty witnesses to give depositions and it is “essential” that witnesses are not influenced by other testimony.
Ruberg referenced the Florida sequestration rule, which says, “at the request of a party the court shall order, or upon its own motion the court may order, witnesses excluded from a proceeding so that they cannot hear the testimony of other witnesses…”
Previously, Metz said since city attorney Ricinda Perry is not a party, she could be considered a nonparty witness.
However, Perry filed documents May 9, before the hearing, to appear as co-counsel, along with Clarke and Bradenton Beach’s attorney for the suit, Robert Watrous of Sarasota.
Arend asked Ruberg who the defendants are expecting to appear as a nonparty witness. Ruberg responded that because the suit involves city meetings and neighborhood gatherings, there are a variety of people, including “people who are in communication with city officials” that could be deposed as nonparty witnesses.
Arend said someone could get a copy of the transcripts as public record. He also said he has not had someone come before him with a sequestration request that was not specific.
Watrous said since no one has been deposed, neither the defendant’s nor plaintiff’s representation knows the identity of the nonparty witnesses. He said he inquired with the defendant’s counsel regarding the “mysterious nonparty witnesses,” who would not name names.
He also said the Florida rule of civil procedure states there must be “good cause shown” to approve the motion and there has been “no cause shown.”
Watrous said the city wants all proceeding to be open to the public, but the defendants want to keep out the press. He added he has seen the press attend depositions in his cases without a problem.
Ruberg said the motion was not directed at the media.
Arend asked if the concern was the depositions could attract a large crowd, interfering with the discovery.
Attorney Jim Dye, representing former planning and zoning board member Reed Mapes, objected to opening depositions to the public because “factions have formed” in the city regarding the case. He is concerned if word gets out that the depositions are open, they “could lose control” of the proceedings.
Watrous said that would be a separate motion and he is not making this “an open invitation” to the depositions. He also said space in the court reporter’s room would limit the number of people who could attend.
Arend denied the motion to sequester nonparty witnesses under the sequestration rule, but expressed concerns about how the depositions would be conducted.
Depositions for the lawsuit are set for May 23.
As of May 11, the lawsuit has cost the city $56,318.